The Shakespeare Effect: Modern-day stories you didn’t know were inspired by Shakespeare
By Daniele Foti-Cuzzola
Few playwrights have left as much of a lasting legacy as William Shakespeare. His many works which were written between the late 1500s and early 1600s have been adapted countless times into operas, films and television series and have inspired works from some of the world’s most celebrated creatives. Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi was incredibly taken by Shakespeare’s works. Verdi went on to adapt three of Shakespeare’s plays including Macbeth, Otello and Falstaff and he briefly considered adapting the Tempest, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. The universal themes of Shakespeare’s works continue to inspire creatives today. To celebrate our upcoming production of Macbeth we have compiled a list of five modern-day stories that you probably didn’t realise were inspired by William Shakespeare’s works.
The Film: Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)
The Inspiration: Rome and Juliet (Premiere date 1595-1597)
Shakespeare’s tragic story of two star-crossed lovers in fair Verona is arguably his most renowned and adapted work. Notable adaptations include Vincenzo Bellini’s 1830 Opera I Capuleti e I Monetcchi, Charles Gounod’s 1867 opera Romèo et Juliette and Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 ballet Romeo and Juliet. The tragic story has been adapted for the screen several times, most notably by Baz Luhrmann in 1997 and again by Carlo Carlei in 2013, but it’s the 2011 animated film Gnomeo and Juliet that puts the most unique spin on the tale. As the title suggests, Gnomeo and Juliet retells the classic romance but this time the central lovers are two garden gnomes from neighbouring gardens. With a cast of dancing gnomes and frogs and an upbeat soundtrack from Elton John; this modern tale takes plenty of liberties from the source material and consequently ensures a happy ending for its young viewers.
The Film: She’s The Man (2006)
The Inspiration: Twelfth Night (1601-1602)
Believe it or not, this Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum starring rom-com is heavily inspired by Shakespeare’s play about shipwrecked twins and mistaken identity. Like the original play, the film centres around twins Viola and Sebastian, but instead of being set on the coast of Illyria the action takes place in a prominent boarding school, where Viola a passionate soccer player takes on her twin brothers identity to get a place on the boy’s soccer team. Complications, hilarity and chaos ensue when Viola falls for her teammate Duke, who happens to be in love with Olivia who in the meantime is smitten with Sebastian who is Viola in disguise. In addition to using a similar premise, the film has also retained several of the character’s names Shakespeare used in his original play. Several major plot elements from Twelfth Night were also used in the Academy Award-winning film, Shakespeare in Love and the original play also inspired Smetana’s unfinished opera, Viola.
The Film: 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
The Inspiration: The Taming of the Shrew (1590-1592)
The Taming of the Shrew has not aged as well as many of Shakespeare’s other works. The play which centres on a man who acquires a headstrong woman as his bride and then tames her to be an obedient wife has been blasted by critics in recent years as being barbarous, misogynistic and offensive. Despite its controversial nature, the play has been adapted countless times including Vittorio Giannini’s 1950 opera and the 1967 Franco Zeffirelli film starring on and off couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. However, it’s the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You starring Perth’s Heath Ledger that rewrites some of Shakespeare’s controversial plot elements. Set in an American high school, new student Cameron is smitten with Bianca but her strict father won’t allow her to date until her older sister Kat does. Cameron enlists the help of bad boy Patrick to win over Bianca’s anti-social sister. The film retains some of Shakespeare’s original names and dialogue from Shakespeare’s text including the iconic line, “I burn, I pine, I perish”. The film also launched a short-lived tv series spin-off in 2009.
The Film: The Lion King (1994) The Lion King (2019)
The Inspiration: Hamlet
In 1994, when Disney released The Lion King, it was proudly touted as the studio’s first animated feature to not be based on an already existing work. However, during production filmmakers noticed several parallels between the film and Shakespeare’s Hamlet which inspired them to make certain changes. Like Hamlet, the plot of The Lion King centres on a young prince, Simba who is banished from his kingdom after his evil uncle murders his father. Over time the young prince returns and avenges his father’s death. Unlike the Shakespearean tragedy, the Disney iteration includes a happy ending for the protagonist and his allies. While The Lion King shares many parallels with Hamlet, the film property has ties with other Shakespearean works. Chiwetel Ejiofor who plays the villainous Scar in the 2019 adaptation says he based his portrayal on Macbeth from the Shakespearean play of the same name, while the 1998 sequel Simba’s Pride was inspired by Romeo and Juliet. Other notable iterations of Hamlet include the 1868 opera by Ambroise Thomas, the 1990 Franco Zeffirelli film starring Mel Gibson and the recently released Ophelia.
The Film: Men of Respect (1990)
The Inspiration: Macbeth (1606)
Shakespeare’s classic story of the ill-fated protagonist gets a modern-day retelling in this 1990 crime drama. This time the central conflict revolves around an Italian-American hitman, Mike Battaglia and his wife Ruthie who plot to murder Charlie D’Amico the ringleader of a powerful Mafia family. After successfully pulling off the murder, Battaglia assumes control of the D’Amico family but his reign is short-lived when D’Amico’s banished son returns to avenge his father’s murder. The Stanley Tucci and John Turturro starring film is one of many adaptations that puts a modern-day spin on the Shakespearean classic. Another recent iteration is the film Scotland, PA which reworked the setting into a fast-food restaurant in Scotland, Pennsylvania. Other adaptations include Roman Polanski’s 1971 film, Orson Welles’ 1948 adaptation and Giuseppe Verdi’s two Macbeth operas, one written in 1847 and the 1865 revised version.
Have you seen all of these modern-day iterations of Shakesperean classics? If so let us know which one is your favourite in the comments below.