The Bard on Board

William Shakespeare has created some of the most memorable works in the history of the English language. So when you're a struggling writer, trying to find a good plot, why not take one of his?

A subtrope of Whole Plot Reference, and also of Setting Update. A lot of Recycled In Space would be these as well (especially the rash of IN HIGH SCHOOL! films like 10 Things I Hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew), O (Othello), and She's the Man (Twelfth Night).

This trope only applies to works that follow the plot of a Shakespeare play, not to works using his characters or written as sequels. So Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, despite being made entirely of characters in Hamlet, is not this. It would only be so if Rosencrantz was Guildenstern's evil uncle, who killed Guildenstern's father... So Alan Gordon's Thirteenth Night (being a sequel to Twelfth Night) doesn't count, but his An Antic Disposition (which follows the plot of Hamlet) would.

See also Shout Out: to Shakespeare. Not to be confused with Shakespeare in Fiction, which is about appearances by the man himself. Anyone who regards this as writers being unoriginal should consider that Shakespeare did this himself. Every Shakespeare play, with only two exceptions (The Tempestnote  and The Merry Wives of Windsor), was taken either from Real Life history or from pre-existing stories.

Examples

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    Hamlet 

  • Sons of Anarchy — Sometimes called the "biker Hamlet", it follows a motorcycle club whose membership resembles the roles in the play.
  • The Lion King — Evil uncle kills good king father, son overthrows him. The ending is a little lighter, though.
  • The Bad Sleep Well — Young man gets a prominent position in a corrupt postwar Japanese company in order to expose the men responsible for his father's death. It has its roots in Hamlet.
  • Let The Devil Wear BlackHamlet updated to modern-day southern California as a moody grad student is compelled to take revenge on his uncle for his father's death.
  • Legend of the Black Scorpion is the wuxia version of Hamlet.
  • Strange Brew is a fairly low-brow version of Hamlet, with, perhaps, Bob and Doug McKenzie as Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern.
  • The Dead Fathers Club is a novel that reimagines the story of Hamlet in modern-day England.
  • Wyrd Sisters, while mostly Macbeth, has a fair chunk of Hamlet as well; most notably the Catch the Conscience scene.
  • Scott G. F. Bailey's The Astrologer resets the action to the seventeenth century.
  • The Tragedy of Greenhilt from The Order of the Stick supplement Snips, Snails and Dragon Tales is a retelling of Hamlet by Roy Greenhilt, with himself as the hero, Big Bad Xykon as King Xlaudius, and the rest of the cast in various other roles. Classic literature, ruined in the way that only The Order of the Stick can!

    Henry IV 
  • My Own Private Idaho — The story of two hustlers on a journey to find peace and a long-lost mother, inspired by Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2.

    Henry V 
  • Shakespearean director and actor Kenneth Branagh (who has directed and starred in acclaimed versions of Hamlet, Othello, and Much ado About Nothing) stated that he based Thor on Henry V; a prince fights in a war, has a romance with a girl from another land, and undergoes some basic character development. He also drew inspiration from the subplot from King Lear concerning Edgar and his bastard brother Edmund, who tricks his father into exiling him.

    King Lear 
  • Akira Kurosawa's Ran is an interesting case. He said in an interview that he wrote a draft of the screenplay and showed it to a friend, who read it and said "Oh, it's King Lear!", to which Kurosawa responded, "It's what?" After he read Lear, he edited Ran to match it more closely, and threw in some quotes.
  • King Of TexasKing Lear set on a ranch in the Old West.
  • A Thousand AcresKing Lear on a Midwestern American farm, where three daughters despise their abusive father.
  • Harry And Tonto — After his life-long New York City home is torn down, a retired schoolteacher makes a cross-country journey to visit his estranged children in this adaptation of King Lear.
  • Moss Gown is a mix of Cinderella and King Lear with a Setting Update to the antebellum Sweet Home Alabama.
  • Honoré de Balzac's novel Le Père Goriot, in which the Lear figure is a wealthy merchant who gives his money to his status-seeking daughters.
  • Marcus Pitcaithly's The Realm Of Albion is the Lear story firmly in its original ancient British setting... from the viewpoint of the King's otherwise unknown wife.
  • The Arthur episode "Never, Never, Never" borrows elements from the story.
  • Ronald Harwood's play The Dresser takes place backstage in a regional tour of King Lear during World War II. The actor playing Lear, a former star known only as "Sir," suffers from dementia. Norman, his gay dresser, is the equivalent of both Cordelia and the Fool.
  • The My Parents Are Aliens episode "King Brian" is closely based on the play, with Brian asking the three kids who loves him best, and Lucy refusing to take part, playing the Cordelia role.

    Macbeth 
  • Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood was directly and consciously based on Macbeth.
  • Scotland, PA, which transplants Macbeth to a fast food restaurant in rural Pennsylvania in the 1970s.
  • Men Of Respect — After hearing a prophecy, a hitman executes his superiors and rises to the head of a mob family with dire consequences. Men of Respect was a remake of the 1955 film Joe Mac Beth, which also recast the original story with modern-day gangsters.
  • The Outer Limits (1963) episode "The Bellero Shield" takes some elements from Macbeth without following the plot exactly. The Lady Macbeth role is filled by the greedy, ambitious wife of an idealistic scientist. When a gentle alien accidentally winds up in the husband's lab, he becomes the equivalent to Banquo's ghost; the wife kills him and tries to pass off his Imported Alien Phlebotinum as her husband's invention, only to learn that the alien is Not Quite Dead.
  • Wyrd Sisters is a parodic retelling, from the perspective of the (benevolent, in this case) witches.
  • Macbeth is a recurring Anti-Villain in Gargoyles and his story is re-told with Shakespeare's story as the basis but with the Gargoyles' characters in the mix, most notably Demona.

    A Midsummer Nights Dream 
  • Get Over It is based on A Midsummer Night's Dream, set in high school. Bonus points for the fact that the wedding tableau from the source material becomes a School Play of A Midsummer Night's Dream itself. The play goes Off the Rails when the Lysander analogue falls for the Helena one, and physically changes the ending to have them end up together.
  • One House of Mouse short is actually based on this play.
  • The Woody Allen film A Midsummer Nights Sex Comedy.
  • The musical The Dreaming
  • Discworld:
    • Lords and Ladies riffs on the play a bit, most obviously with Jason Ogg's Rude Mechanicals.
    • The Science of Discworld II: The Globe has the wizards battling elves on Roundworld to ensure that the premiere of A Midsummer Night's Dream goes ahead, as they correctly predict that it will lead to the cutesification of fairies in culture and rob the elves of their power to intimidate and prey on people.
  • Were The World Mine is a gay musical which clearly has A Midsummer Night's Dream as its primary influence.
  • Pibgorn did A Midsummer Night's Dream with Gender Flipped roles and actual fairies IN THE THIRTIES!.
  • An episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody has the school putting on a production of the play, and real life parallels the text when couples fall in love with other people after they're cast in the wrong parts.

    Othello 
  • All Night Long — An adaptation of Othello set in the contemporary London jazz scene.
  • Hell-Bent Fer Heaven is a stage play loosely inspired by Othello. Writer Hatcher Hughes borrowed liberally, with Sid being a war hero returning home like Othello, and Rufe being a scheming plotter like Iago, whispering things into people's ears to set them against each other rather than taking action himself. Rufe even parrots Iago's refusal to answer questions when exposed ("From this time forth I never will speak word"), saying "An' you needn't ax me no more questions, fer I ain't a-goin' to answer 'em."
  • Othello, a modern language adaptation of Othello that aired on BBC in 2001. John Othello, a cop promoted to police commissioner, is manipulated by his former partner Jago. Stars Eeamon Walker as Othello and Christopher Eccleston as Jago.
  • "O" — Odin James (Mekhi Phifer) is the captain of his high school basketball team, while Hugo (Josh Hartnett) plots to undo his popularity.
  • Omkara is a Bollywood musical version of Othello, where the title character is set apart by his half-caste status.

    Romeo And Juliet 
  • Gnomeo and Juliet hangs a lampshade on it in the introduction, where one of the gnomes mention that "this story has been retold. A lot." Not just that. Later in the movie, a statue of Shakespeare himself shows up and talks over the story with the main character, Gnomeo. He even says, obliquely, that the original story was a tragedy and that he hopes Gnomeo's story ends on a happier note, setting Gnomeo further on his quest to make sure his story turns out differently.
  • West Side Story is a modernized, musical version of Romeo and Juliet.
  • An in-universe example: In one episode of Higher Ground, the students practice and perform a play written by their classmate, which eerily follows the plot of Romeo and Juliet, despite the writer's claim that he's never read Shakespeare. In the end, of course, it turned out he had, but his friend tells him that it's not a problem copying Shakespeare; writers do it all the time.
  • Romeo Must Die — Loosely based on Romeo and Juliet featuring Chinese and black mob families as the Montagues and Capulets and lots of kung fu.
  • Love Is All There IsRomeo and Juliet with two rival restaurant-owning Italian families in New York at constant odds especially after their children fall in love.
  • China GirlRomeo and Juliet in New York City, with rival Italian and Chinese gangs as the feuding families.
  • William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet keeps most of the original text, but relocates the setting to modern America.
  • The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, when it comes to Kiara (Simba's daughter) and Kovu's forbidden romance. The ending is a little lighter, though.
  • Warm Bodies, with humans and zombies. The girl's name is Julie and the zombie's name is R... something.
  • Magical Legend of the Leprechauns. Let's say the original Sheakespearean ending is thoroughly reversed.
  • Monica's Gang had Jimmy Five and Monica in the World of Romeo and Juliet, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, cuts out all references to death, and ends in a much happier note.
  • Romeo & Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss — Pretty much Romeo and Juliet WITH SEALS!
  • John Keats' poem "The Eve of St. Agnes" borrows heavily from the Romeo and Juliet plot.
  • In Unseen Academicals, one of the romantic subplots is based on Romeo and Juliet. Instead of Feuding Families, Trev and Juliet are from rival football teams. Glenda even describes them as "two teams, alike in villainy!" which is a reference to "two houses, alike in dignity." However, Everybody Lives, and the feud is stopped by the teams uniting against a common opponent and agreeing to more civilized rules of football.
  • The GM Advice section in the post-apocalyptic pen-and-paper RPG Atomic Highway has a sample plot that is explicitly inspired by Romeo and Juliet, which makes the feuding families post-apocalyptic gangs and gives individual members names like Cat Skinner.
  • The The Order of the Stick bonus material Haleo and Julelan is a parody where Haley plays Romeo, Elan plays Juliet, and several other other characters of the comic appear with similarly themed names.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Perfect Pear" used a similar setup to tell the love story of Applejack's parents, Bright Mac and Pear Butter, and the Apple/Pear family feud. While it's definitely toned down for kids and avoids the Downer Ending by virtue of its Foregone Conclusion (Applejack and her siblings wouldn't have been born if their parents didn't get together), it still ends on a very bittersweet note that's almost unheard of for such a light take: Pear Butter is disowned by her father at the wedding; both lovers are all but implicitly stated to have died before their time in the end, just not before spending years happily raising a family together; and it takes many more years after that for both families to reconcile.
  • Pocahontas is a fictionalised version of the real Pocahontas's life, depicting a Romeo and Juliet esque romance between her and John Smith - while their respective people are threatening war. The movie was actually pitched as 'Romeo & Juliet in 17th Century Virginia'.
  • Charmed's sixth season has an episode called "Love's A Witch", showing a feud between two witch families, the Montanas and the Calloways. In this however, the Juliet analogue was killed and her ghost is actively trying to keep the feud going in revenge.
  • The Smurfs made a parody episode of the Romeo and Juliet story with Clumsy and Smurfette as the leads, and threw in The Three Musketeers for good measure.
  • An episode of Peter Pan & the Pirates has the Lost Boys and the Pirates setting aside their differences (in theory) to play Romeo and Juliet with Wendy as Juliet and Starsky as Romeo. Yup...

    The Taming Of The Shrew 
  • 10 Things I Hate About You is based on The Taming of the Shrew, set in high school.
  • Deliver Us From Eva — Revolving around LL Cool J's character Ray being paid to date a troublesome young lady named Eva. To some extent, it is a modern, urban update The Taming of the Shrew.
  • Kiss Me Kate is a musical about a company putting on a musical version of the Taming of the Shrew, while the in-show actors' lives mimic those of their characters. And yes, the unfortunate implications about spousal abuse are intact.

    The Tempest 

    Twelfth Night 
  • She's the Man is based on Twelfth Night, set in high school.
  • Wicker Park contains many references to the story, since one character is an actress playing Viola. When the director is talking to her, his statement "you are in love with him, and he's asking you to help him get another woman" parallels the Love Triangle in the story.

    Misc/Multiple 
  • In the Twilight Saga Official guide, Stephenie Mayer says that New Moon was inspired by Romeo and Juliet and Breaking Dawn by A Midsummer Night's Dream and Othello.
  • The Consul's Tale ("Remembering Siri") from Hyperion is a literary example.
  • Simon Hawke wrote a series of books with a young Shakespeare and his buddy solving mysteries that bore a strong resemblance to Shakespeare's plays (which, In-Universe, he wrote much later). The first one was called A Mystery Of Errors followed by Much Ado About Murder, The Merchant of Vengence, and The Slaying of the Shrew.
  • Also in-universe, in The Curse of Monkey Island, a theatre performer on the pirate-infested Plunder Island rewrites a host of Shakespeare plays to better suit the local pirates' tastes, turning them into "Speare!", a revue of mishmashed Shakespeare plots with piratey undertones and new acrobatic stunts.
  • The Lion King 1½, which is essentially the first film, but told from Timon and Pumbaa's perspective. Therefore, since The Lion King is Hamlet, The Lion King 1 1/2 must be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which is surprisingly accurate given how both works poke at meta. Hell, from a plot perspective Timon and Pumba are the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern characters; both pairs fill the role of the Prince's friends who tell him to lighten up and not be so moody all the time. This had to be intentional.
  • Several Merlin episodes are based on Shakespeare plots, most notably "Sweet Dreams", which is a The Comedy of Errors type story in which a Love Potion goes awry. In "Goblin's Gold", Arthur ends up with donkey's ears, rather like Bottom from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  • The Discworld novel Wyrd Sisters combines elements of Macbeth (witches, a ghost, evil usurper, true heir in exile) with Hamlet (play-within-a-play, er, a ghost, evil usurper, true heir in exile...)
  • Simpsons Comics once did an issue parodying various Shakespeare plays, the highlight being Titus Andronicus as an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon.

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