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The Contemporary Bard: 8 Modernized Adaptations That Do William Shakespeare Justice

By Rob Payne | Lists | June 11, 2013 |

By Rob Payne | Lists | June 11, 2013 |

I was very much looking forward to this past weekend’s release of Joss Whedon’s “let’s put on a play with my friends” approach to adapting William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and then I discovered it was only showing in New York and Los Angeles before a wider release on July 21st. This was rather heartbreaking since I’ve, frankly, needed to see this movie since it was first announced last year with that indelible black-and-white image of a martini swigging snorkelist. Classy and absurd all at once, exactly how I like my Shakespeare, especially the comedies. Even the only moderately enthusiastic critical reception can’t temper by excitement to see this movie.

Thankfully the Bard from Stratford-upon-Avon seems to be as popular as ever, so there are plenty of adaptations out there in the pop cultural aether that can tide us over until Whedon’s Much Ado gets a wider release. There isn’t a shortage of those that try to update the plays into contemporary settings for contemporary audiences, either, which also tend to be my favorite versions. But not all modernized Shakespeare adaptations are created equal, and just putting classical imperialists and monarchs in fascistic settings doesn’t automatically make them engaging, though it can’t hurt. Below are Eight Modernized Adaptations that Do Justice to William Shakespeare, either in translation of spirit or transliteration of text. Enjoy!

10 Things I Hate About You
“The Taming of the Shrew” as a high school rom-com.

Looking for Richard
Al Pacino and friends get pretentious with “Richard III,” and get away with it.

“Hamlet” with 1990s Ethan Hawke and the perhaps the best Polonius ever Bill Murray.

Scotland, P.A.
The movie that answers the age-old question, What if “Macbeth” was a McDonald’s?

“Slings and Arrows”
Shakespeare on Canadian TV, with Paul Gross, Mark Mckinney, and Rachel McAdams!

The Bad Sleep Well
“Hamlet” by Akira Kurosawa and starring the best “Hamlet” not named Olivier nor Branagh, but Mifune.

Romeo + Juliet
“Romeo and Juliet” by Baz Luhrmann, and all the beauty and headaches that implies.

Shakespeare as gory allegory, with Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jessica Chastain!

Rob Payne also writes the comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be purchased here. He feels like Ian McKellan’s Richard III and Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth cancel each other out.

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