Adapting Shakespeare, Part I

There are some stories we just never tire of hearing. Their characters seem like old friends, and we know exactly how they will end. As an avid reader of literary updates, sequels, prequels and pastiches, it seemed a natural choice for me to write one of my own. And for better or for worse, I chose to adapt the material of the biggest guy in the literary room: William Shakespeare, widely considered an inveterate stealer of plots himself. Shakespeare’s comedies and their many conventions—mistaken identity, false love versus true, controlling parents, the find love/lose love/get love back narrative—actually have their roots in early Roman plays. When it comes to romantic comedy, there really hasn’t been anything new in a couple of thousand years. Though Shakespeare is accused of stealing plots, he was actually adapting much older stories for his contemporary audience, using recognizable and well-loved conventions that he knew his audience fully expected; it’s a practice writers and filmmakers still employ today. In fact, you could say there’s a pretty straight line from Much Ado about Nothing to When Harry Met Sally. When I set out to adapt my four favorite  Shakespeare comedies, Much Ado about Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I strove to create fresh material while staying faithful to the definitive elements of the plays. While I’ve given them Jersey shore settings (in a happy coincidence, two of the four are originally set in coastal towns) added characters, and updated language, I’ve tried hard to preserve the heart of each story. In the books I use real life situations—a family wedding, the opening of a bed-and-breakfast, the renovation of a restaurant—with realistic characters, the essence of which are Shakespeare's originals. Beatrice and Benedick’s banter, Kate’s anger, and Viola’s faithfulness are as recognizable and relevant today as they were 400 years ago. I hope their 21st century counterparts express these things faithfully--even without the iambic pentameter.

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