5 Shakespearean retellings worth your while

A brief overview of the best re-imaginings of The Bard
Third Folio Edition of Shakespeare's Complete Works
Third Folio Edition of Shakespeare's Complete Works / Hulton Deutsch/GettyImages

The Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon is celebrated in many films and television forms. As Jacques says in As You Like It, "All the world's a stage," and arguably, no one has ever contributed so much to that stage as William Shakespeare. If Charles Caleb Colton is to be believed and "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," Shakespeare has been flattered in many ways by modern storytellers. Let's take a look at five of the best retellings and what makes them great.

5. Kiss Me, Kate

73rd Annual Tony Awards - Show
73rd Annual Tony Awards - Show / Theo Wargo/GettyImages

This 1948 musical from Cole Porter with the book by Bella and Samuel Spewack is a play-within-a-play that Shakespeare would have approved of.

A company of players is adapting The Taming of the Shrew for musical theater and while this work itself was inspired by the trials and tribulations of a husband-and-wife team who had produced the same Shakespearean play in 1935, it is a convoluted plot in which this fictional life imitates reality. There is jealousy between lovers, misunderstandings, and legendary spats before a happy ending

The songs are memorable from "Another Op'nin', Another Show" to the title song of "Kiss Me, Kate." Even the gangsters coming as loan sharks get into the spirit of things with the endlessly quotable "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."

4. Romeo and Juliet Together (And Alive!) at Last

UK - "Romeo and Juliet" Performance in London
UK - "Romeo and Juliet" Performance in London / Robbie Jack/GettyImages

Turning to an even more unexpected source of hilarity, let us consider this 122-page novel by children's author Avi. It was released in 1987 under this tabloid title and is a classic comedy.

If you haven't heard of it, it might be because of the intended audience. The publisher recommends it for ages 11-13, though it is still a gem for older readers. A boy observes the unrequited love of his friend Salz for a girl named Annabelle and conspires to bring the school's own star-crossed lovers together with a production of Romeo and Juliet. Between the line butchering ("Oh lemon table day!") and collapsing scenery during the balcony scene, paired with a pyromaniac Tybalt and terrible costumes, from the depths of the costume closet, this is a gut-busting tale of woe.

3. Wyrd Sisters

Terry Pratchett
Oxford Literary Festival 2005 / David Levenson/GettyImages

It is absolutely unthinkable to post this list without mentioning one of Sir Terry Pratchett's finest satires. The 1980s were apparently a rich time for Shakespearean adaptations, because Wyrd Sisters came out just one year after the previous entry on this list.

It's not immediately obvious to some readers that this is a love letter to Shakespeare. It's true that he begins with a staging worthy of the Globe Theater as thunder rolls and the wind howls, but it takes a turn for the mundane quite quickly:

"As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: When shall we three meet again? There was a pause. Finally another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: Well, I can do next Tuesday."

Sir Terry Pratchett

Perhaps the occasional confusion for readers comes from the fact that this is a satire not just of the theater, but playwrights, superstition, modern feminism, and more than one Shakespeare play. It starts with Macbeth, but winds up with Hamlet as a major influence while the strolling players bring A Midsummer Night's Dream to mind. This is not our first encounter with the witches of Lancre, but it is certainly one of the most memorable as they happen to come to the rescue of a foundling and find themselves inextricably linked to his destiny.

2. She's the Man

Amanda Bynes
Dreamworks And Planet Hollywood Present "She's The Man" Handprint Ceremony / Peter Kramer/GettyImages

The tagline for this 2006 movie says it all:

"Everybody has a secret... Duke wants Olivia who likes Sebastian who is really Viola whose brother is dating Monique so she hates Olivia who's with Duke to make Sebastian jealous who is really Viola who's crushing on Duke who thinks she's a guy..."

She's the Man

Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum are two of the familiar names in this Twelfth Night retelling and these breakout roles are not the only reason to enjoy this film.

In the play, Viola is a shipwrecked noble who makes her way in the world by adopting a male disguise. Viola is a soccer player whose program is cut and her only way to find personal fulfillment as an athlete is to masquerade as her twin brother at a boarding school that takes the sport seriously. There are many humorous moments of mistaken intentions and even more mistaken identities.

As the principal says, “Sexual tension, male-female dynamics—all part of the high school experience.”

1. Hamlet by Utah Shakespeare Festival

Hamlet -- Courtesy of BritBox /

The final entry on this list is not available for streaming, unfortunately, but is an incredible reframing of the tale of the Prince of Denmark. It was brought to life as part of the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City during its summer and fall performances.

This 2019 production under the direction of Brian Vaughn set the story not in Denmark, but in post-Czarist Russia. As a result, the tensions within the court harken back to the turning of the people against the aristocracy and the uncertainty of the upper classes. The palace of Gertrude and Claudius is straight out of St. Petersburg and the costumes invoke the memories of Nicholas and Alexandra.

Most striking is the subversion of what we think we know at times because of the implication that there are forces at work that are even more sinister than in the original. Ophelia's death is reported as a suicide, but we see her murdered by officers by drowning her in a river; it is a deliberate act of malice that gives cause for war.


If you want more examples, you can find them in many places. Hear the allegation in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country that you haven't read Shakespeare until you've experienced it in the original Klingon. Find a production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Rewatch Doctor Who for "The Shakespeare Code" and hear the Bard shouting "Expelliarmus" at beings from another world. It's never too late to "brush up your Shakespeare and they'll all bow down."

Next. Doctor Who: Redacted podcast returns in September. Doctor Who: Redacted podcast returns in September. dark