Hollywood Honors Shakespeare with Recycled Plots

Shakespeare stole his plots from sources and ideas before his time, and now Hollywood is stealing from Shakespeare. A lot of recent teen films are adaptations of Shakespeare's plays. The most recent example: The new tweener comedy She's the Man is based on Twelfth Night.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

The movie company isn't pushing this in the ads, but the new tweener comedy, She's the Man, is based on Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. Bob Mondello says Hollywood has never heeded the bard's advice to neither a borrower nor a lender be.

BOB MONDELLO: In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, twins Viola and Sebastian are separated at sea when their ship hits the rocks. Viola washes ashore in Olearia, dresses up as a boy so she can work for the local duke and romantic complications ensue. In Hollywood's She's the Man, the twins get separated when Sebastian goes overseas to play rock music. Viola goes to Olearia Academy, suits up for the boy's soccer team headed by a guy named Duke, and romantic complications ensue. The language, as you might imagine, is not Elizabethan.

(SOUNDBITE OF "SHE'S THE MAN")

Unidentified Female#1: He did not dump me. We're just going through a little bit of a rough patch.

NORRIS: Oh, I heard he dumped you. He dumped you big. It was just like a big huge dumping. (LAUGH)

MONDELLO: The full title of Shakespeare's comedy is Twelfth Night or What You Will, and the filmmakers took most of their inspiration from that second phrase. There is one line of dialog that survived from the original, a bit of wisdom Duke says his coach keeps repeating. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them. This suggests that the coach read Twelfth Night. The screenwriters, I'm guessing, read Cliff's Notes, which sets She's the Man apart from some more faithful Shakespeare updates aimed at older teenagers. The most faithful is probably O, which moved the tragedy of Othello to a southern prep school where, instead of a Moorish general loving fair Desdemona, a black basketball player falls for the dean's blonde daughter, Desi, giving her that fateful lace handkerchief.

NORRIS: I feel over a hundred years old.

Unidentified Female#3: Over your price range is what it is.

NORRIS: It was my great grandmother's, and it's always been in my family. It's supposed to stay that way, but I feel like we're already family.

MONDELLO: If you know Shakespeare's Othello, you know that handkerchief is going to disappear and Deigo, here named Hugo, will use it to convince the title character that Desi is cheating on him. If the kid were older, he might question this, but he's 18 and insecure. So the tragedy runs its course.

In making the film the director rehearsed the cast in Shakespeare's original lines so they'd know where the emotional intensity was coming from. Most filmmakers don't bother. The makers of Scotland PA, for instance, weren't looking for intensity when they turned the tragedy Macbeth into a detective comedy.

CHRISTOPHER WALKEN: (as Lieutenant McDuff) Mr. and Mrs. McBeth?

JAMES LEGROS: (as Joe 'Mac' Mcbeth) Yeah.

WALKEN: (as Lieutenant McDuff) I'm Tom MacDuff. I'm here to drop off my cards, which are on the coffee table next to my wife's baba ganoush.

MONDELLO: The folks who turned Midsummer Night's Dream into the teen romp Get Over It were also pretty casual. As were the ones who turned Taming of the Shrew's battling Kate and Petruchio into argumentative high schoolers, Kat and Pat into Ten Things I Hate About You.

Female#3: Why?

Unidentified Male#4: Well then because I'd have to start taking out girls who actually like me.

Female#3: Like you could find one.

NORRIS: Oh see, that there. Who needs affection when I have blind hatred?

MONDELLO: Since Shakespeare stole most of his plots, purists can't get too upset when people steal from him. Though in fairness, Shakespeare generally improved on the originals. Teen Shakespeare movies mostly pare things away, though not always. A whole generation grew up, for instance, thinking a couple of lovers on a New York fire escape were just as cool as the lovers on an Elizabethan balcony who had inspired them.

(Soundbite of music from West Side Story) Tonight, tonight, the world is wild and bright, going mad, shooting sparks into space.

MONDELLO: Once Romeo and Juliet became 20-something Tony and Maria, it was more or less guaranteed that they'd be joined by teenaged Kat and Pat, Oden and Desi, and now a tweener Viola and Sebastian.

This is not always a good idea, as She's the Man establishes. But then in Hollywood some ideas are born great. Some achieve greatness and some have Shakespeare thrust upon them. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: