Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Shakespeare WAS an Adapter

Shakespeare is one of the most recognized figures in literature, and his works have been adapted and adapted and adapted over and over and over again for the last 400 years by people interested in exploring the stories and characters in new ways.

And that is exactly what Shakespeare did, as well.

However, Shakespeare didn’t title his work as Romeo and Juliet, inspired by Ovid, or Richard III with liberties from Holinshed’s Chronicles. His work was completely his own invention as far as the language and the way the story fell anew. He’s even been called on his artistic license!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxTim7fJLis]

Well, at least on Horrible Histories.

What’s still so interesting to me about how we adapt Shakespeare’s works for modern readers, filmgoers, and audiences is we often do use the original author’s name as a selling point, or blatantly use his (or his play’s) name in the title for recognition. This isn’t all the time, but it’s plenty enough.

If Shakespeare felt comfortable claiming his own work as his own, why aren’t we as secure in letting him go from our adaptations of him?

UPDATE: An article by Lev AC Rosen on his new book All Men of Genius which borrows from Twelfth Night as well as The Importance of Being Earnest – on why he chose those as inspiration and how it helped him as a writer:

” (I’m not trying to impress theatre people, after all – just trying to write a good book). I like to think that while there are a few obvious correlations between characters in my book and those in the plays, all my characters are unique, but the tone and flavor of the book definitely comes from the source material. “

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