Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Network Romeo

Rumor has it that the ABC network has committed to producing a new period drama series, a retelling of Romeo & Juliet set in Renaissance Verona. Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the movie adaptation of another popular story about star-crossed lovers belonging to clans that are at odds with each other, Twilight, is in talks to direct the potential Romeo & Juliet.

As an educator, I’m not sure how to feel about this one. On the one hand, this seems an amazing opportunity to introduce Shakespeare to a new generation of thirteen year-olds hungry for another teenage love story to get hooked into. Sure the story is centuries old and most everyone knows how it ends, but I can imagine my thirteen year old self posting vigil by the television set weekly to watch [name your own hearthrob’s] doomed romance. On the other hand, can you adapt R&J into a television series and still call it Shakespeare? It is dubious that the screenwriters for this version will stick to verse or any likeness of the original text. Still, could the t.v. show be used to pique student interest in learning more about Shakespeare in Will’s words?

Adaptations of Shakespeare in High School have been popular for quite awhile but is there any track record for these adaptations actually bringing students closer to Shakespeare?


  • This makes me cringe for so many reasons. I don’t even know where to begin. Catherine Hardwicke turned Twilight into one of the worst novel adaptations I’ve ever encountered. Strike one. I have serious doubts about the feasibility of turning R&J into a show that in any way resembles the play. Mini-series, maybe. Regular show, nope. Strike two. Judging by the quality of teen-oriented shows around today, I shudder to think of what they’ll do to the characters. Strike three. They’re done before I even got around to complaining about the inevitable ignoring of Shakespeare’s language. Darn it.

  • First of all, I would not like to discount it until it is actually shown; there is no way of accessing the quality or usefulness of the product until it actually exists.

    However, even without the Shakespearean language, Romeo and Juliet is a great story with enduring themes that are, as always, very timely for this generation of young people. Even though something (or many things- as the case may be) will be lost due to the absence of the rich language, hopefully the depth of the story and the issues and circumstances that the characters create and then have to wrestle with leave quite a bit of promise.

    The great tragedy would be if we showed the TV show rather than having the students create their own dramatic renditions of the Bard’s work in the classroom. As long as teachers persevere and continue to inspire students and allow them to create, nothing Hollywood does or does not do should really matter all that much.

    In a best case scenario, we can use clips to teach audience or medium when looking at the director’s decisions. Also, from one who was inspired to read Taming of the Shrew as a result of the movie 10 Things about You, it is not altogether unlikely that at least a few students will be moved to read the play (perhaps even on their own) as a result of the television show.

  • Thanks for your input!

    I’m the office advocate for Shakespearean adaptation and “modern retellings,” but even I take a little issue with this idea. This has the potential to be “The Tudors, Jr.” with period costumes, tween-y romance, and the potential for violence.

    True – it’s an “idea” right now, and we’re not even certain of it actually coming to screen or how well it will be written. And R&J has been a TV show before – albeit it was anime, totally re-concieved, and a lot more fantastical: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewqfgNWU7Jg

    However, ABC and Hardwicke are hardly known for their intellectually stimulating teen dramas. So I’ll add it to my “to watch” list and either let my brain go numb with entertainment or tickle with interest, depending on how it turns out!

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