William Shakespeare was an English playwright and poet who wrote many pieces that are still viewed as extremely influential and powerful over 400 years after his death.
It is undeniable that William Shakespeare has had an incredible influence on the arts and media, in songs, books, and especially in plays and films. Shakespeare’s plays were known for having complex relationships between characters, and being able to bring you to tears through his tragedies and cause hysterical laughter during his comedies, this means that they can easily be re-imagined as modern romantic comedies.
Romantic comedies are one of the most underrated genres of media, they are shown as a ‘guilty pleasure’ genre or not being a deep type of media. But since so many of them do take influence from what has been described as some of the most influential pieces of writing in history, because of this connection they are an incredibly important and valuable genre of media.
I care a lot about both of these topics and I was very interested to see how they intersect in popular media. So here it is, three movies that I believe do a pretty good job of following the original plot of the play and are really good rom-coms, and one movie that even though is a Shakespeare adaptation is way worse than the first two.
- “10 Things I Hate About You”
“10 Things I Hate About You” was released in 1999 and is based on the play “Taming of the Shrew” that was written by William Shakespeare.
This movie has a star-studded cast and was a breakout movie for many of the actors. This movie focuses on the story of two sisters, Katherine (Kat) Stratford, played by Julia Stiles, a spunky and opinionated 12th grader with no interest in relationships, and her younger sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), who desperately wants to go on a date. The sisters have an overprotective father, who does not allow Bianca to date unless Kat is dating too. When Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a boy who is smitten with Bianca (along with multiple other characters), finds out about the rule he decides he will find someone to date Kat so he can date Bianca. Using one of Shakespeare’s favorite writing devices, the plot has multiple miscommunications that start to ruin the relationships but end in a happily ever after. While the plot of “10 Things I Hate About You” does have a similar plot to The “Taming of the Shrew” there are some differences.
“Taming of the Shrew” features Katherine, an obstinate, opinionated, and supposedly unlovable woman who is being ‘tamed’ through physiological terrors by a man named Petrutchio who is courting her because Katherine’s father has asked him to. The subplot is that Bianca, Katherine’s younger, fairer, more wifely sister is being pursued by multiple men, one who is rich and does not have the best intentions, and a poorer man who is in love with her.
The plot is that the two sisters have different opinions about dating but they end up falling for boys who are quite different from them, but in the end, can get over their different personalities and find happiness and love in their relationships. The older sisters in both stories are reluctant to date and are described as argumentative and judgy by the people around them (and they are both named Katherine). In both pieces of media, the younger sister is seen as the more ‘date-able’ sister and has multiple men courting her. These important character traits really help connect the play and the movie, capturing the conflicts and romance that make the play so fun to watch. There are some differences though, like obviously the time and setting. It also can be said that some of the changes are for the better, like not having the man who is dating Kat be a weird guy who is trying to change everything about Kat and forcing her to be in love with him. Another major difference is the framing of the character Kat, in the play her obstinance and annoyance towards the world are seen as unlikeable but that may be because of the time this play was written; in the movie, Kat’s generally annoyed disposition contributes to her character and urge her to stand up for what she thinks is right and adds to her identity as a feminist.
“10 Things I Hate About You” is ranked first because it includes the plot of the play enough so that the viewer is able to tell that it was based on or took inspiration from “Taming of the Shrew” but it has enough of its own story that it is not just a direct modern adaptation of the play.
- “She’s the Man”
This staple of the teen romantic-comedy genre stars Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum. The movie “She’s The Man” draws its inspiration from the play “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare.
The movie tells the story of Viola (Amanda Bynes), a teen who is masquerading as her twin brother, Sebastian at a boarding school called Illyria as he travels across Europe. Her main reason for taking his place is that her old school did not have a sufficient girl soccer team and the boys’ school had a very impressive one. She is then transformed into Sebastian and attends school. She soon falls in love with her roommate Duke (Channing Tatum). Duke does not reciprocate those feelings (he has feelings for another girl). That same girl is not interested in Duke but instead has feelings for Viola as “Sebastian” but after Duke meets Viola (as herself) at a fair he develops feelings for her and tells “Sebastian” about them. Sebastian shows up and confusion follows. When the truth of who they are is revealed, Duke and Viola slowly realize the reality of their true feelings and go to Viola’s debutante ball together. The ending of this movie encapsulates the feeling the viewer is supposed to feel at the end of “Twelfth Night”, content, everything that had been going wrong has been resolved and everyone is in love.
On the surface level, some things are identical between the movie and the play. In both, the main character is a girl named Viola who is pretending to be a boy to get more opportunities and has a brother named Sebastian. In the play, the setting is not a prep school but an island where the brother and sister have been shipwrecked. The play version of Viola becomes a male version of herself out of necessity because no one would hire her as a girl, so she becomes “Cesario.” Viola as “Cesario” is then hired by Duke Orsino to confess the Duke’s love for his neighbor, Olivia. But during these interactions between “Cesario” and Olivia, Olivia begins to develop feelings for “Cesario,” which is very awkward for Viola because she has caught feelings for Duke Orsino, creating a very confusing love triangle (and creating a love triangle very similar to Viola, Duke, and the other girl in the movie). After a considerable amount of time has passed Viola has given up all hope of finding her brother, Sebastian, alive, but surprisingly he makes his way to Illyria where he comes in contact with Olivia. Once the whole knot is untangled, Olivia and Sebastian are happily in love and Duke Orsino and Viola announce their marriage. Ending a play full of miscommunication and ending with a classic “happily ever after.” This scene also happens in the movie but instead of happening on an island, it happens on a soccer pitch.
This movie is ranked second because it is too close to the original plot to be inspired by “Twelfth Night” but not close enough to be an adaptation, it still received generally pretty positive reviews and has become a classic of the (teen) romantic comedy genre. The writers of the movie included the spirit of Shakespeare’s quippy language and a fast-paced plot and molded it into something that had a modern context and became loved. Like any good movie, there are also critiques, and most of them are rightfully so. One of the most common dislikes is that the creators of the film took away the complexities of the plot and language when the creators of the movie made it more accessible to a younger, more modern audience. I think that this movie still takes the most important parts and emotions of the play and turns them into an equally beloved movie.
- “Warm Bodies”
This romantic comedy was released in 2013 and draws inspiration from William Shakespeare’s most well-known play, “Romeo and Juliet.”
In this adaptation, the setting is not the Italian city of Verona but instead a post-apocalyptic version of America. The Romeo character is a zombie named R and the Juliet character is a human named Julie. Julie has been sent to the airport where R and many other zombies reside on a mission for her family. On her journey, she meets R, and when he looks at he feels his heartbeat, which should not be happening because R is dead and a zombie. R then kills Julie’s boyfriend (which she somehow didn’t notice happened) and hides Julie from the hoards of oncoming zombies. During their time together Julie and R begin to develop feelings for each other but when Julie finds out he murdered and ate her boyfriend, she abandons him and returns to her home. R returns to the airport where he lives and finds the evil zombies “Boneys” attacking his zombie friends as they gain more human traits so they have to leave they try to go to the human city but are forced to engage in conflict with the “Boneys” and multiple of the humans in the city become involved including Julie. When R realizes that Julie is about to be attacked he saves her, but her father shoots him and when he bleeds they realize that he has become fully human. After this revelation Julie and R kiss and it symbolizes the end of the hopeless apocalypse.
This movie has obvious connections to “Romeo and Juliet”, especially in the names of the characters and the idea of forbidden love (the movie adds to the disapproving families aspect by adding the danger of a human and a zombie being in a relationship). The play “Romeo and Juliet” follows the story of two young people in Verona, Italy who fall in love in contrast to the hate between their families. Their love is forbidden and after a set of deaths they are forced to be separated, but because they are so young and stupid they decide that it would be worse to pursue relationships with other people than to die so they take their own lives. So different from the ending of the movie because instead of a kiss they are dead. Their deaths do have a similar effect as Julie and R’s kiss, it brings down a tradition of violence and evil, and it brings down the centuries-long hatred between their families, like how the movie’s kiss brings down the apocalypse.
This movie is third because I did not especially enjoy watching it and because even though it is supposed to take inspiration from an iconic piece of media it does not include some of the most important and influential plot points (including all of the deaths throughout the story). The movie does not include many of the lengths that the star-crossed teenage lovers go through to be together (secretly getting married, faking their deaths, getting banished, and even committing murder). The movie also chooses not to include some of my favorite characters in the play, the nurse and Friar Laurence, who play fairly important characters and help the plot move smoothly. Because the movie did not include all of these it does not capture this iconic play in a way that I think was fully successful.
Shakespeare’s influence on media is still there today, it can be seen in a semi-bad rom-com based on a play of his made over 400 years later. romantic comedies are a routinely underappreciated movie genre, and some are inspired by classic plays and novels but that is not what makes them good, although it definitely can. If after reading this article you are interested in watching the movies above or expanding your thinking about what romantic comedies are I would suggest the screwball-romantic comedy “Bringing Up Baby” or the classic “How To Lose a Guy in 10 days.”