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Shakespeare Modernized: Web Series Adaptations of William Shakespeare’s Works

By: Erica Bianca Romero- University of the Philippines Diliman

Disclaimer: No video posted here belongs to me, unless specified otherwise. This post is meant for educational purposes only.

Adapting a classical story into a web series is one of the current trends on the internet. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (Austen’s Pride and Prejudice), Carmilla (Le Fanu’s Carmilla), Frankenstein M.D. (Shelley’s Frankenstein), Emma Approved (Austen’s Emma), and Classic Alice (Lewis’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) are just some of the few adaptations that succeeded in gaining a massive following. These series appropriated classical texts into modern settings, perhaps with the purpose of giving these stories their own tweaks and twists, paying attention to perspectives not given emphasis before; as a result, web series adaptations have become a successful platform of presenting the classics in such a way that is less fixed and more accessible and friendly to the youth, this demographic being the primary users of the internet.

Hence, it is possibly why Shakespeare’s works are also starting to assimilate themselves into this emerging medium. For now, the adaptations (posted below) are not as popular as the aforementioned web series but hopefully as more people get acquainted with the idea of Shakespeare and web television, more people will pay attention to these creative and innovative productions. Better, this younger audience will create their own versions of Shakespeare’s works, thereby spreading Shakespeare’s influence online.

A Bit Much– this is a mini web series (comprising of ten episodes) based on the comedic play Much Ado About Nothing. The clip below is basically the writer/director Colleen Scriven, and actors Liv Benger and David Dimitruk saying how what they’re doing is an updated version of the play, the arc essentially the same but with slight modifications: it being shot in New York instead of Sicily, the lords and ladies before are now campers and counselors, Camp Messina an obvious shoutout to Messina, the setting of the original play, and characters given updated names as well like- from Benedick and Beatrice to ‘Ben’ and ‘Bridget.’ Also, according to Scriven, the themes are retained (first love, deception, jealousy, war of the sexes, and schemes) and the storylines modernized (revolving around summer camp).

Here’s episode 1:

Jules and Monty– Certainly, Shakespeare’s arguably most known tragic lovers would have their own web series as well. This time, they meet as university students!  Juliet (Jules Caine in this alternate universe) and Romeo (Monty as a nickname for Montgomery) fall in love in a party but their love, as already written, comes with complications and oppositions. In this modern adaptation, however, it’s not because they’re from two feuding families. This time, their relationship becomes a scandal because Jules is the sister of the president of Kappa Alpha Psi, a rival fraternity of Monty’s fraternity, Mu Tau Gamma. These two quarreling groups are adamant in keeping them from each other thus putting a strain in their relationship. Because this is set in present time, Juliet’s nurse takes the form of Jules’ best friend Nancy while Mercutio is now Monty’s best buddy, Mark Matthews.

Here is the trailer for the 18-episode series:

Watch and find out if these two lovers meet a tragic end:

Kate the Cursed– loosely based on The Taming of the Shrew, this series follows the life of 17-year old senior student Kate, who’s talked into having her own vlog by her best friend Megan. Slightly taking after the premise of Shakespeare’s play (where Bianca can’t entertain her suitors if Katherina’s not married), Kate’s younger sister Britney is not allowed to date unless Kate dates. But as seen in the trailer, Kate has this general dislike of people so getting her to go out is proving more difficult than expected. The production apparently took liberty because they created a best friend for Kate (Megan), perhaps to serve as a balancing narrator to Kate’s negative view of things and as a better replacement to Britney (who never appears in the series but is rather simply talked about).

Watch Kate reluctantly talk about her blind-date in the first episode:

SHAKES– a personal favorite, this web series is described as “a mashup of three of Shakespeare’s plays: Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, and Romeo and Juliet.” What distinguishes this series from the others is it creatively and successfully incorporates all these characters (Ophelia, Hamlet, Benedick, Beatrice, Romeo, and Juliet) into a storyline, the interaction between them seeming genuine and actually making sense. As it is set in the modern world, the premise is that they’re a group of friends, and some of them are semi-living together. Ophelia and Beatrice are close, Romeo and Juliet have life-threatening dates (like in one episode Juliet mentions how the two of them will drag race), Beatrice and Benedick love-hate each other; Hamlet’s a lawyer, Benedick’s a student, Romeo’s a hipster, Juliet’s a sassy kleptomaniac, Ophelia is a soft-spoken columnist who also works for her dad. They’re the same in essence, they’re just given a 21st century update.

Start episode 1 and witness for yourself how Shakespeare’s popular characters interact in one universe:

The great thing about web series adaptations is that the people behind the production get immediate feedback (via youtube comments, twitter, and tumblr) while the public could easily ask questions and have them answered; this back-and-forth interaction between the creators and the audience encourages critical discussions not only about the adaptations but also the original texts themselves.

Lastly, similar to later web series (like the ones mentioned at the beginning of the post) one of these four shows (Kate the Cursed) provided a tumblr for one of the characters, Megan, where she answers questions in character and in real-time, making the experience more fun for fans.

 

Other links:

Jules and Monty (tumblr and twitter)

A Bit Much (twitter)

Kate the Cursed (tumblr and twitter)

SHAKES (tumblr and twitter)

Sources:

Ep 1- Sigh No More. 30 Jan. 2014. Youtube. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

I Have a Video Blog – Ep: 1. 24 Jan. 2014. Youtube. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

Jules and Monty Trailer. 1 Mar. 2014. Youtube. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

Jules and Monty Episode 10 Mar. 2014. Youtube. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

Kate the Cursed- Official Trailer. 17 Jan. 2014. Youtube. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

Scene 1, A Bit Much. 15 Jul. 2014. Youtube. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

What is A Bit Much?. 18 May 2014. Youtube. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

 

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Categories: Multimedia Essays
  1. Clarisse Peralta
    December 2, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    This is really interesting because teens, I think, are the least interested in anything that has to do with Shakespeare. Unlike children for example, teens are old enough to have experienced Shakespeare taught in class. They know how boring it is and for someone like me who has been conditioned to refuse anything Shakespeare after 2 years of talking about him in class, I understand the struggle. The hardest part about this is probably thinking about ways to reintroduce Shakespeare to teenagers and try to change their views and perceptions. Like I said in my comment on the TED-Ed videos, I think teachers have to really step up in terms of tapping into creative forms of media to help their students gain a better appreciation of The Bard and this is probably one way of doing that. Web series are extremely popular nowadays because they’re free, easy to access and short enough to accommodate the attention span of students.

    I’m excited because I will definitely check out more of this and I’ll probably introduce it to a couple of friends who could care less about Shakespeare lol!

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