I happen to love Shakespeare and his many plays and sonnets. I also love when modern storytellers re-imagine those works for movies, shows, and books. There are spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen or read some of these and you don’t want to have anything spoiled it’s probably best to skip over it.

10 Things I Hate About You

In Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Katherina is a headstrong woman no man would be interested in marrying. Her younger sister, Bianca, has many suitors, but their father insists Katherina must marry first. Bianca’s suitors conspire to have Petruchio woo Katherina so they may pursue Bianca.

In the ’90s teen movie 10 Things I Hate About You, Kat is a headstrong teen that no boy would ever want to date. Her little sister, Bianca, is very popular, but their father insists she cannot date until Kat does. Boys interested in Bianca pay Patrick to woo Kat so they can take can Bianca to the prom.

Thankfully the names and early plot points are where the similarities between 10 Things and Taming of the Shrew end. In the play Petruchio is kind of a d-bag and Katherina becomes basically brainwashed, even agreeing with Petruchio that sun is the moon and that a male character is a woman. In the movie Patrick sings Can’t Take My Eyes Off You to Kat during soccer practice in a scene that made every girl swoon. Really Heath Ledger was just too perfect in that movie, a mysterious bad boy that turns out to be a softie. And in the end instead of Kat lecturing other girls about being obedient to their boyfriends, she’s still a heinous bitch, but a heinous bitch who found love. As a fellow teenage heinous bitch it definitely gave me hope.

Not to mention the supporting characters are just fantastic. Is there any role in which Allison Janney isn’t superb? Of course not.

Sons of Anarchy

In Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, the titular character returns home after the death of his father, King Hamlet, to find his uncle Claudius on the throne and hastily married to his mother, Queen Getrude. A lot of other stuff happens as well, but this basic set up is pretty much all you need for most modern, Hamlet-esque works. Oh and everyone should die in the end. The Lion King breaks this mold but it’s a kids’ movie so we’ll give it a pass.

Sons of Anarchy centers around a motorcycle club in California, specifically: Jax Teller, the son of the original president, John Teller; Clay Morrow, John Teller’s best friend and president since Teller’s mysterious death; and Gemma Teller-Morrow, John Teller’s wife and mother of Jax Teller, now wife of Clay. So the Hamlet stage is set. The Ghost is represented by the manifesto of John Teller that Jax finds in a storage unit that makes him doubt aspects surrounding the club and his life, and eventually question Clay’s involvement in his father’s death. Sons can get as twisting as Hamlet and there’s many people Jax Teller cannot trust, even within his own club, much like Hamlet couldn’t even trust his own friends in his home. While the similarities in story aren’t always on the surface the general feeling of the show is that Jax Teller, like Hamlet, has a plan, and while things don’t always seem to turn out how he expected them to, in the end he knows what he’s doing.

Gemma was my favorite character on the show. She may have not have been nice or even right most of the time, but she was strong and loyal and determined to help her family to the very end. Tara was a close second because she was a lot like Gemma. Smart and dedicated and drawn to a world that eventually consumed her. The dynamics between Gemma and Tara, who both wanted the best for Jax and his sons but felt fiercely that it lay in opposite directions, helped propel quite a bit of the story forward. All of the characters and the plots in Sons of Anarchy are fantastic and well worth a watch. Also here are some more Gemma .gifs just because.

Wyrd Sisters

Terry Pratchett was a very prolific author and most famous for his Discworld series. One of my favorites is Wyrd Sisters, and not just because Granny Weatherwax is so awesome (but that is a big part of it).

In The Tragedy of Macbeth a general is driven to regicide by a prophecy he receives from three witches and his wife’s insistence. You see Lady Macbeth is cunning and brave, but also ruthless and utterly determined to install her husband, the titular Macbeth, on the throne. Her ambition, coupled with her husband’s cruelty, leads to several deaths, including Macbeth’s, Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness, and the rightful heir of King Duncan being reinstalled.

In Wyrd Sisters the King is murdered by his cousin at the insistence of the cousin’s wife. The King’s crown and heir are passed off to three witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick. The witches hide the child and crown away with an actor’s troupe with the understanding that eventually the child will grow up to defeat the Duke and reclaim his throne. In the end the Duke dies and the Duchess is imprisoned (though she later escapes and is killed by forest animals, as is wont to happen in a Practchett novel) and the king’s heir is returned to the throne.

Wyrd Sisters is like Macbeth from the witches’ point of view with plenty of fun and captivating Pratchett-ness thrown in.

She’s the Man

In Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night Viola and her twin brother Sebastian are shipwrecked. Viola fears her brother is lost at sea, but she is rescued by a ship captain and enters the employ of Duke Orsino by disguising herself as a man named Cesario. Orsino is in love with Olivia, but Olivia is in mourning for seven years. Orsino asks Viola/Cesario to call on Olivia on his behalf, but Olivia ends up falling in love with her/him. All the while Viola finds herself falling for Orsino. It’s a funny little love triangle that is even further complicated when Viola’s twin, Sebastian, shows up, and apparently looks exactly like Viola in drag. In the end the triangle is resolved by Olivia and Sebastian getting married and then Duke Orsino and Viola doing so as well.

In one of my favorite Amanda Bynes movies, She’s the Man, Bynes plays Viola, a phenomenal soccer player whose school cuts the girls’ soccer team. After not being allowed to join the boy’s soccer team, Viola takes her brother Sebastian’s place at his new school so she can play soccer while Sebastian heads to London to compete with his band. While going to the new school Viola/Sebastian befriends Duke who likes a girl and asks for Viola/Sebastian’s help in wooing her. Duke likes Olivia, but Olivia likes Viola/Sebastian, and Viola starts to crush on Duke. It’s a funny little love triangle that is of course complicated by the real Sebastian’s return. In the end the triangle is resolved by Olivia and the real Sebastian dating and then Duke and Viola doing the same.

Bynes and Tatum are hilarious together, and Bynes is still one of my favorite comedic actors from my early teens. While her mental breakdown a few years ago was handled about as poorly as everything else the press does, I do hope she gets to a better place and maybe even starts making movies again.

Empire

So this show is often compared to Shakespeare’s King Lear, but Jefferson Grubbs over at Bustle does point out that it also bears striking resemblance to The Lion in Winter, a more modern tale by James Goldman of a British king and his three possible heirs. But, Lion in Winter has been compared to King Lear before, so it can most definitely be both.

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, the play’s namesake is the king of Britain and ready to retire from his duties as monarch. He offers his throne to his three daughters, but they have to prove they love him the most to win the crown. Death and tragedy of course befalls everyone.

In FOX’s Empire Lucius Lyon is a drug dealer turned record company owner that finds out he has Lou Gherig’s disease. He decides he needs to groom one of his three sons to take over the record company, but he wants them to prove themselves to him first. Drama and tragedy ensues.

While the show’s creator has often cited King Lear as inspiration, as pointed out in the article above there are some strong resemblances to The Lion in Winter, specifically the return of an estranged wife from prison (in Lion in Winter it’s actually the king that has his wife imprisoned, but he’s kind enough to release her for Christmas). In Empire Taraji P. Henson plays Cookie, Lucius Lyon’s ex-wife and mother of his three sons, who who has just finished a seventeen-year stint in prison. She’s strong and determined and not always on the right side of the law but still has her own set of morals and standards. Considering my affection of bad ass women who don’t play by the rules it’s safe to say I love her.

Do you have a favorite Shakespeare work, modernized or not?

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  • I love She’s the Man, such a great film, but I still like the Shakespeare play better! It’s one of his best in my opinion.

    My favourite has got to be Hamlet, though. I love all the characters and it’s so clever. I absolutely loved studying it in high school!

    • Hamlet is one of my favorites as well! It was a lot of fun to study it in my ENG212 class because our professor made little notes about all of the quotes that were misused in common society. The one that has stayed with me is: “Brevity is the soul of wit.” It’s funny because it’s said by Polonius who is definitely not a bright person, and Hamlet, probably the smartest person in the castle, is anything but brief.