Re-writing history


He might possibly have been proud of the people who took his words to heart, and decided that history had to be interpreted in today’s terms and context in order to allow us to understand and appreciate it.

Even Foucault would likely be agreeable and delighted to see that the world of today was re-interpreting history in today’s terms.

Shakespeare, however, would like turn over in his grave. I’m referring to the range of shows in recent times that decided to rewrite his plays in modern imagery and language. Possibly modern imagery and Jacobean language might work, but we all saw how that turned out with Baz Luhrman – a show made only tolerable with the presence of two good-looking people making out like there was no tomorrow in the pool.

The list runs on. Ethan Hawke in a remake of Othello, which was a flop. Jet Li in Romeo Must Die, a martial arts remake of the play. My classmates a couple of years ago in a remake of Midsummer Night’s Dream, which became the story of “A Couple of Bitchy Schoolgirls in Bimbo Accents Acting Cute”. I could keep going, but I’d rather you did some audience participation, and enter “Shakespearean remakes” on Wikipedia.

To be fair, there are good shows out there. Ran, possibly Kurosawa’s most well known movie, is a powerful remake of King Lear that no one would say is a poor adaptation. My Own Private Idaho, which is loosely based on Henry IV, is another excellent choice. And of course, no one can miss out Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, an adaptation of Hamlet no one should miss.

The latest was She’s the Man, a remake of Twelfth Night. Unfortunately, the only resemblance it bears to the comedic play are the names of the characters. (Yes, I’m being judgemental here.) I have to give the director points for banging on the World Cup soccer craze it seems to impose on men and women all over the world (for very different reasons) as the perfect advertising for the show, which is about playing soccer.

Perhaps the most depressing result of all these remakes is that people assume it to be new – my friend, with whom I watched Twelfth Night on the soccer field, had no idea where it was adapted from.

Considering the number of ignorant people in this world who don’t bother to read anymore, and assume the television screen will deliver all the knowledge they will ever need from the voiceover of Bart Simpson, he probably wasn’t the only one.


Why did we enjoy Shakespeare so much? It wasn’t because he was a genius in thinking up plots which entertained. If plot was the emphasis of his plays, greater credit should go to Ben Jonson, the true genius at comedies of errors. Shakespeare was great because of his amazing use of language, which he wove into the most beautiful sentences than mankind has ever seen. Language which should not be reduced to today’s teenage prose. Ever.

However, using verse in a nightclub, or a party at the Montagut residence, simply evokes endless laughter, as does a priest in a Hawaiian shirt who dabbles in microbiology. It seems rather sorry to think that our generation is incapable of producing prose which might not be comparable to Shakespeare, but is nevertheless capable of evoking the passion that the great man is well known for.

If the Wachowski brothers can make alliteration cool by having Hugo Weaving recite it behind a Guy Fawkes mask, I am positive Jake Gyllenhaal can do a good Macbeth soliloquy, even if the modern setting is a cowboy ranch in Wyoming.

With any luck, one can only hope that the next production of Macbeth will be not be about a washerwoman being unable to remove a stain from her employer’s shirt, or some psycho-thriller with Sarah Michelle Gellar in it. Shakespeare should be with taste, even in this postmodern era.