On Rebooting Shakespeare

author Roxanne Carson at homeThis is a guest post from Rachel Caine, who has published more than forty novels, including the internationally #1 bestselling Morganville Vampires series in young adult, as well as novels in mystery, suspense, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and media tie-in. Her newest book, Prince of Shadows, is a period retelling of Romeo and Juliet from the point of view of Romeo’s criminally-minded cousin Benvolio. Visit her website: www.rachelcaine.com and follow her on Twitter @rachelcaine.

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Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is, in fact, itself  a remake.

Thought it was the original, didn’t you? It comes from an original Italian story, later written out in 1562 by Arthur Brooke, and again by William Painter in 1567. Shakespeare only got around to his iconic adaptation somewhere between 1591 to 1597.

So when we ask the question why are people always remaking Shakespeare … we have to remember that Shakespeare was, at his heart, an entertainer. He wanted to make those groundlings at the Globe Theatre laugh and cry, gasp and scream. He certainly wasn’t above drawing on other sources for his material and giving it his own unique, everlasting spin.

I don’t think he’d be unhappy at all that he’s become one of the most reimagined writers in history; after all, it’s a form of immortality of which most writers could only dream. There are hundreds of films borrowing from his work and reinventing it, from 10 Things I Hate About You to West Side Story. John Gielgud’s Romeo and Juliet, performed in the original language and in Elizabethan costume, is a far cry from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, with its chromed guns and street smarts. In fact, Romeo and Juliet has been remade in more than 150 times in film alone: a Native American romance in 1908, a Felix the Cat cartoon in 1927, a prehistoric caveman in 1958, star-crossed robot lovers in 1979, and garden gnomes in 2011, just to name a few.

That’s not even to speak of the hundreds of novels that either reference or reinterpret the plays. From the funny Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald to Stacey Jay’s 2011 release Juliet Immortal, which takes a paranormal twist on the tale, there are plenty of great reboots to be had. I also highly recommend Much Ado About Murder, if you like a little crime with your Shakespeare; it’s a great collection that combines mystery and the Bard, edited by Anne Perry. Rosaline takes center stage in Rebecca Serle’s When You Were Mine, and Benvolio gets his own story (just as he does in my Prince of Shadows) in Melinda Taub’s Still Star-Crossed.

So the question has to be, why does the story of two doomed lovers resonate so strongly across four hundred years? Some things are universal. Themes of passion, love, lust, loyalty and vengeance appeal to all of us, across cultures; those are human emotions and impulses to the core. They’re not dependent on time and place, or on culture or technology. If you can apply the same story equally to two young lovers in the late 1500s and two garden gnomes in the early 2000s, that theme is, by definition, something that transcends not just time, but all the other constraints of story. (One of my favorite out-there film adaptations, made in 1990, is an avant garde video of a bag lady wandering Venice and rescuing cats, with voiceovers from the play.)

So I suppose the question now would be, why did I decide to do it? And thereby hangs a tale, to steal from another great play … it’s a long story, but in short, I just loved the story that formed in my head. In classic Shakespeare fashion, it started as a comedy of errors, with a misunderstood comment from another author, and quickly became an epic journey that I’ll never regret taking.

I hope you enjoy Prince of Shadows, and the contagious energy of all of Shakespeare’s great works, from whom I, and so many others, borrow just a little light.

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