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Shakespeare: The Father of Teen Rom-Coms

Rebecca May Ristow | Managing Editor

Shakespeare is inarguably one of the most famous playwrights in history. When you think of him, you often think of plays like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew, or the many, many Henry VI iterations. There’s a reason he is considered the father of modern English literature. His works truly set up a lot of the plotlines, mixups, and cliches that are still present today. We see them in more contemporary pieces of theatre, film, and television all the time. But, where does his work truly shine? It is perhaps in the contemporary teen rom-com.

Many don’t know that the film 10 Things I Hate About You is completely based on Shakespeare! This teen rom-com, turned cult classic, is well known for its iconic marching band scene, but those who are unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s works might miss the nod to him when Kat’s English project is actually a rewrite of one of his sonnets. The larger homage, however, is how the entire film follows the plotline of Taming of the Shrew. Sisters Kat and Bianca are each forbidden to date, clearly a common theme in Shakespeare’s works, but their father agrees that once Kat, the eldest, starts dating, Bianca can as well. Bianca is a bit vapid and full of herself, while Kat is short-tempered and assertive, fulfilling the role of the “shrewd”. A series of Shakespearian mishaps, miscommunications, and convoluted plans ensue as Bianca tries to trick Kat into dating so she can too. Understanding the Shakespearian version of the story definitely adds to the watching of the film in my opinion. It allows the viewer the chance to see how the story could be portrayed through adolescence and also corrects a lot of the anti-feminist undertones of the original script. Watching the women in this movie punch the dirtbag men, and the painting of the father as controlling rather than mature, helps create female characters with more depth and motivation than before.

Though Romeo and Juliet was technically based on the Greek story of Pyramus and Thisbe, Shakespeare’s script further developed and expanded the plotline beyond simple mythology. His expansion of the narrative is what has made it one of the most well-known stories of all time. Modern film adaptations range from the more literal 1996’s Romeo + Juliet to the silly films like Gnomeo and Juliet. One that many may miss, perhaps because of its less obvious title, is the romantic comedy Warm Bodies.

Warm Bodies is Romeo and Juliet with zombies. It doesn’t get much better than that. This film was produced in 2013, amidst the zombie movie craze following World War Z and during the height of The Walking Dead’s popularity. The film also dropped just a few months after the final Twilight movie, when teenagers seemed to be into the supernatural lovers craze. Though Warm Bodies wasn’t the most successful film that year, it's a highly enjoyable watch. For one, it's rare to see a zombie movie that feels so hopeful. The characters always want to get better, which helps the audience care for them more than the original Romeo who, let’s be honest, spends 90% of the play morbidly pessimistic. The adaptation, created by Jonathan Levine, centers on R, a zombie boy who is stuck in the midst of a government plot to kill all the undead (again). Despite hardship, when R meets the girl of his dreams, he slowly starts to recover his memory of what it means to be human. The movie is funny and romantic, with elements of horror, and overall is a very easy watch.

Speaking of light-hearted Shakespeare films, She’s the Man is actually based on the play Twelfth Night. This one uses a common theatrical trope: disguises. Viola, played by Amanda Bynes, is posing as her brother at his fancy boarding school. While there, she falls in love with the handsome Duke, but of course, cannot reveal her true identity. Duke is in love with Olivia and Olivia is in love with Viola’s disguised male self. Chaos ensues as every single character seems to be crushing on the wrong person and nobody really knows who each other is. It’s so Shakespeare!

This film is hugely known, capitalizing off of the clear success of 10 Things I Hate About You, though it received a lot of criticism for its bizarre ending and odd plotlines. She’s the Man is full of strange, sometimes tasteless jokes, as well as a quite famous ending scene where Viola flashes an entire crowd of people. Oddly enough, this also happens in 10 Things I Hate About You. In the end, many regard this movie as a classic, regardless of its eye-widening moments, and the importance of Shakespeare seems to live on in the entertainment world.

Shakespeare’s works, ranging from his comedies to his tragedies, have left their mark entirely. I hope to see even more adaptations of his plays in the future, with even more unique added elements.


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