Column: Shakespeare retellings bring fresh takes to classic tales


Pictured here, “First Kill” is a supernatural adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Courtesy of Netflix. © 1997-2016 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.

Laura Emde, news correspondent

The film “Rosaline,” which premiered on Hulu Oct. 14, tells the classic story of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” from the perspective of Romeo’s former lover. The film gives Rosaline, whose name is a reference point rather than a real character in the bard’s play, the voice and character she lacks in the original story.

“Rosaline” is far from the first Shakespeare retelling. From those that stay true to the period setting to others that put a more modern spin on them, there is a movie out there for all lovers of the famous bard.

“Rosaline” (2022)

The aforementioned film is a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet” from the titular character’s perspective. The film follows Rosaline as she finds out her former lover, Romeo, is now dating her cousin, Juliet. Set in Italy’s Renaissance period, “Rosaline” turns the story from a tragedy to a comedy, as Romeo and Juliet both make it out alive in the end. It also highlights the stupidity of these characters with a post-credit scene of the two trying (and failing) to find a common interest, as well as pointing out how idiotic their plan to fake their own deaths was.

Despite the film’s comedy, it also falls back on overused tropes such as the “strong female character” in Rosaline, whose outer assertiveness stands in for any deeper development, and the “gay best friend” in Count Paris, Rosaline’s companion, who aides Rosaline in her plan to separate Romeo and Juliet by marrying Juliet. Regardless, the film is a funny and entertaining watch for those familiar with the two ill-fated lovers.

“The Lion King” (1994 & 2019)

This animated (and later live action) Disney classic is a retelling of “Hamlet.” It tells the story of a young lion named Simba who must overtake his evil uncle Scar to take back the throne. It is, however, very clear the plot has been altered to make it more family-friendly. For example, both Simba and Nala survive to the end of the film, as opposed to their counterparts, Hamlet and Ophelia, who meet their ends via poisoned wine and drowning, respectively.

Although the film adapts the storyline of “Hamlet” for younger viewers, “The Lion King” doesn’t hesitate to depict the death of the lion king Mufasa in a wildebeest stampede, emotionally scarring children around the world. In the play, Hamlet’s father has already passed when the play starts. If you ignore what might be one of the most heartbreaking scenes known to man, then “The Lion King” is a vibrant and exciting adaptation of “Hamlet” that’ll grasp and hold the attention of young viewers.

“Romeo + Juliet” (1996)

This adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” tells the same story in a more modern setting. Romeo and Juliet belong to two families who own competing businesses in Verona Beach. Unlike the other retellings, the plot of this film stays exactly the same, with the star-crossed lovers still meeting their tragic ends.

Another aspect of the original that stays the same is the iambic pentameter in Shakespeare’s script. Although this language can feel somewhat confusing to the average viewer, the casting of popular 1990s actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Paul Rudd still made the film appealing enough to the masses for it to become a success at the box office and a cult classic.

“10 Things I Hate About You” (1999)

This romantic comedy is a retelling of “The Taming of the Shrew,” that follows two sisters, Kat and Bianca Stratford, the latter of whom cannot date until the former does. Cameron, one of their classmates with a crush on Bianca, bribes an older student to date Kat so that he can go out with her sister.

The film changes the ending of the original, as Kat’s personality stays the same instead of becoming submissive to the man in her life like her Shakespearean counterpart does. Instead, Kat is able to find someone who comes to love her for who she is. “10 Things I Hate About You” has come to be loved by audiences around the world, becoming a classic and entertaining rom-com.

“First Kill” (2022)

This Netflix original is yet another reimagining of “Romeo and Juliet,” this time with supernatural elements. Juliette is a member of a family of vampires trying to hide their heritage from the world, and Calliope comes from a family of monster hunters. In order to prove themselves to their families, they must make their first kill. They initially try killing each other, only to end up falling in love despite their opposing families.

Although some professional critics were not fans of the show, many viewers loved it and hailed both the representation for the LGBTQ+ community and how the show spins the feud between Shakespeare’s Capulets and Montagues into a clash between monsters and monster hunters.

These movies and shows spin these classic stories into new and exciting tales. For anyone who hated reading Shakespeare in high school, watch these now to get your more entertaining dose of Shakespeare.