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5 Best Modern Shakespeare Adaptations

5 Best Modern Shakespeare Adaptations

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Known as one of the greatest writers of all time, William Shakespeare’s work has been adapted and reimagined countless times. The Bard was prolific, crafting 154 sonnets and 39 plays including tragic romances, satirical comedies, and retelling of histories. Here are some picks for the 5 best modern Shakespeare Adaptations.

1.       Romeo + Juliet [1996]

Where to watch: Max

Romeo + Juliet, the tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers, is updated in Baz Luhrmann’s slick adaptation. While the film is set in modern times, the dialogue is still the original Shakespearean English. In Verona Beach, rival families the Montagues and Capulets are in a constant state of war, trading swords for Glocks. The two wealthy families’ resentment passes to the younger generation, causing complications when Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) falls for Juliet (Claire Danes). After sneaking into a masquerade thrown by the Capulets, Romeo spots Juliet. They lock eyes and Romeo whisks Juliet into an elevator to steal a kiss. After the party, Romeo finds Juliet and climbs her balcony declaring his love for her. The young lovebirds decide to elope in secret the following day. Their marriage sets off a chain of events that results in the murder of Romeo’s best friend Mercutio (Harold Perrinneau) at the hands of Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (John Leguizamo), and Romeo in turn slays Tybalt. With blood on his hands, Romeo is now a wanted man, and the two lovers devise a plan to be together. Ultimately, true to the original tragedy, the two were only reunited in death.

2.       10 Things I Hate About You [1999]

Where to watch: Disney+ and Peacock

The Taming of the Shrew gets a modern spin. The story follows unruly Kat (Julia Stiles) and her popular younger sister, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik). Bianca is desperate to date the wealthy, self-absorbed Joey (Andrew Keegan) but her father won’t allow her to date unless Kat does — a fantastic loophole since everyone is terrified of Kat. Coincidentally, Bianca’s French tutor, Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) asks her out and Bianca suggests he finds her sister a suitor in order for their date to happen. Cameron seeks out bad boy Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) and asks for his help. Patrick scares Cameron off but is persuaded into going along with his proposal after Cameron dupes Joey into paying Patrick to court Kat. Joey doesn’t mind bankrolling Cameron’s plans and sees it as the perfect opportunity to finally deflower Bianca. Much like Katherine of the original play, Kat resists Patrick’s initial advances but slowly warms up to him. At the climax of the film, Bianca finally sees the light and goes to prom with Cameron while Kat attends with Patrick. Joey is enraged that Bianca chose Cameron over him and confronts Patrick about the terms of their deal. Kat overhears them and angrily rejects Patrick. Conflicted, Kat pours her feelings into her school assignment, writing her own version of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 141. She tearfully reads her poem in class, entitled “10 Things I Hate About You,” declaring her love for Patrick, and the two reconcile.

3.       Rosaline [2022]

Where to watch: Hulu

Rosaline is an adaptation of Romeo & Juliet told from the perspective of Romeo’s ex, Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever). The setting is fourteenth-century Verona, but the characters speak in modern English down to Rosaline’s bestie, a “yassified” Paris (Spencer Stevenson). Rosaline is supposed to meet Romeo (Kyle Allen) at the Capulet ball, but she’s thwarted by her father (Bradley Whitford) when he forces her to entertain a new suitor, Dario (Sean Teale). Rosaline is crestfallen when Romeo casts her aside for her younger cousin Juliet (Isabela Merced) after meeting her at the ball. Rosaline takes Juliet under her wing and sabotages any attempt of romance with Romeo. She convinces Paris to propose to Juliet and Paris agrees, as the marriage will distract from his disinterest of the “fairer sex.” Juliet’s parents accept his proposal, but Juliet is undeterred from seeing Romeo, deciding to elope after discovering Rosaline’s plan. Rosaline and Dario (whom she no longer despises) attempt to stop the wedding, resulting in a bumbling series of unfortunate events that leads to the tragic “deaths” of Romeo and Juliet. Rosaline for her part finds love in the most unlikely of places, and everyone gets their own happy ending.

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4.       O [2001]

Where to watch: Max

Othello is reimagined in O following basketball star, Odin “O” James (Mekhi Phifer). Odin’s success draws the envy of his teammate, Hugo (Josh Hartnett) who devises a plot to destroy him. Preying on the fact that Odin is a Black scholarship student, Hugo convinces outcast Roger (Elden Henson) to lie to the school dean, accusing Odin of raping his daughter, Desi (Julia Stiles). Odin is absolved after Desi convinces her father that she’s dating Odin and he would never harm her. Undeterred, Hugo engineers the suspension of their teammate Michael (Andrew Keegan) and instructs him to become close with Desi hoping she can convince Odin to talk their coach into letting Michael back on the team. Hugo gets in Odin’s ear accusing Desi of cheating. The stress of the season along with his relationship drives Odin to use drugs resulting in a two-game suspension. Hugo uses his girlfriend Emily (Rain Phoenix) to plant Desi’s scarf on Michael. Odin is now convinced Desi is cheating on him and strangles her to death. Emily discovers the body and reveals Hugo’s plot. Hugo shoots Emily to silence her and Odin takes his own life, declaring to the entire school that Hugo orchestrated his demise. Odin is avenged in death as Hugo is arrested for his treachery.

5.       Ophelia [2018]

Where to watch: AMC+Ophelia is a twist on Hamlet told from the perspective of his doomed lover. Often seen as a tragic figure who commits suicide after Hamlet spurns her, this Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) is no damsel in distress. Free-spirited and well-read, Ophelia is the favorite lady-in-waiting of Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts). She also attracts the eye of the queen’s son, Hamlet (George McKay). Ophelia falls deeply in love with Hamlet, and they secretly marry. Hamlet discovers his mother is having an affair with his uncle Claudius (Clive Owen). Ophelia learns Gertrude has a twin sister, the herbalist Mechtild, who was Claudius’s lover, accused by him of witchcraft after learning she was pregnant. Mechtild faked her death by taking a sleeping poison but ultimately lost her child. With this knowledge, Hamlet believes Claudius murdered his father to become king and openly defies them in court. Claudius affirms his suspicions and, enraged, Hamlet murders Ophelia’s father mistaking him for Claudius. Hamlet is banished and reportedly executed, devastating Ophelia. Later, Ophelia is cornered by Claudius, and she confronts him about Mechtild. He throws her in the dungeon but Ophelia escapes by feigning madness and uses Mechtild’s poison, faking her death by drowning. She disguises herself, sneaking back into the castle after learning her brother Laertes (Tom Felton) has challenged Hamlet (who escaped execution) to a duel, in retaliation for his father’s death. Ophelia pleads with Hamlet to leave with her but blinded by his revenge, he refuses. Hamlet kills Laertes and suffers the same fate as Laertes’s sword was poisoned. Claudius and Gertrude both meet their ends while Ophelia lives a quiet life in exile with the child conceived in love with Hamlet.


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