The goal of this piece of writing is to make a comparative study of the various works of Shakespeare, but not as they are presented in their written form. Rather, I am choosing to explore and compare his works as they have been presented and adapted for contemporary audiences through the medium of film. What is lost in adaptation? What is gained? Do contemporary accoutrements lend themselves to a deeper understanding of the original works; does the "magic" of editing and special effects lend itself to a similar deeper understanding, or does it instead make the work seem too "real?"
Rather than seek out various adaptations based upon their critical merits or demerits, I chose to instead focus only on the most recent adaptations of any given work. I feel that regardless of the quality, or lack thereof, of the films chosen in this manner, choosing them by this method best serves to illuminate how the perception and adaptation of Shakespeare's work has progressed for a contemporary audience. To serve this end, the focus of my work will be directed towards Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, O (the most recent adaptation of Othello) and Ten Things I Hate About You (the most recent adaptation of Taming of the Shrew).
While all of the films have been adapted so that their settings are in today's United States, what remains unchanged in adaptation from film-to-film is often quite varied, if not interesting and, perhaps overly, ambitious.
Two of the films, Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet, retain Shakespeare's original dialogue. While portrayed as 21st century college students, businessmen and gang-bangers, the characters spend the entirety of the films performing their lines as Shakespeare had originally written them (save for occasions where lines or scenes are simply left out, such as in the alterations to Hamlet where Hamlet does not discover his father's ghost while with Horatio and the others--he is instead told of the ghost by them and left to meet the spirit alone in his quarters), which, surprisingly, comes off quite successfully in most instances.
Where this proves least successful is where, in Romeo & Juliet, the dialogue adds a note of comedy and/or absurdity not suitable to the original work. In Act 1, Scene 1, the exchange between Abraham and Samson, joined by Gregory, Benvolio and Tybalt and leading to the brawl between them is much more serious in the original work. Understanding the cultural context of the time, and how offensive the biting of one's thumb is to an Italian, the scene gravely sets up the conflict between the houses Capulet and Montague. In the film, however, Samson's pink hair, Abraham's Latin ethnicity and Verona's obvious placement in Los Angeles, as opposed to Italy, causes the cultural context to be lost and makes the verbal exchange--at a gas station--almost absurd.
An equal difficulty for both of these films, in keeping Shakespeare's dialogue, is the business of sword fighting. In...