Thursday, 28 March 2013

Julia Stiles and Modern Adaptations of Shakespeare

Julia Stiles as Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You
What do I have in common with Dirk Bogarde, Lady Gaga, Nick Frost and Julia Stiles? We were all born on the 28th of March.

Now, I wondered for a while whether I could somehow weave a connection between Gaga and Shakespeare...has she ever worn anything Shakespeare-themed? If not, perhaps one day she will.

Nick Frost, on the other hand, could probably do some Shakespeare. Given his brilliant performance as Ed in Shaun of The Dead, it's not a stretch to imagine him as an impressive Falstaff or Toby Belch.

As far as I can discern, Dirk Bogarde didn't do any Shakespeare - if he did, there's certainly no reference to it on the all-seeing, all-knowing internet. I dare say, he could have made a very dashing Bassanio, though. And perhaps, in his older years, Antonio.

However, for the purposes of this blog post, I've plumped for Julia Stiles, because she has already starred in three modern adaptations of Shakespeare plays: 10 Things I Hate About You (The Taming of The Shrew), Hamlet and 'O' (Othello).

Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You

10 Things I Hate About You did not provide Stiles' with her first lead role in a film. However, it was the first to receive a commercial release in the U.S. It was the role that really launched her career, gaining her critical praise from many corners. 

And Kat Stratford, although very much a modern girl, does have undeniable similarities to her predecessor: Shakespeare's Katharina. Now, of course, Stiles can't take all the credit - part of the reason she makes such a great Kat/Katharina is that the film was very well written. And, for the most part, 10 Things I Hate About You is reasonably faithful (as faithful as any reworking that sets Shakespeare in a high school can be) to The Taming of The Shrew.

Julia Stiles in Hamlet

Julia's second modernization of Shakespeare came just a year after 10 Things..., playing Ophelia opposite Ethan Hawke's Hamlet. Here Stiles took on a very different Shakespearean woman - on the face of it, you can't get women more polar opposite than Katharina and Ophelia. Although, of course, they both have facets of unruliness that seems typical of all of Shakespeare's girls.

This adaptation took something of a machete to Shakespeare's original, making it a rather different story, despite the fact they were going for a Baz Luhrmann (keep the dialogue) approach. And, let's be honest, some of the performances leave a little to be desired. In fact, if you're looking for a film version of Hamlet, you're best sticking with one of the many others. Nevertheless, Stiles didn't do too badly. 

Julia Stiles in 'O'

And then, the following year, Julia Stiles took on another of Shakespeare's unfortunate heroines. This time, in an adaptation that takes place in another U.S. high school. 

O isn't always faithful to its original, either. However, Julia Stiles does give a belting performance as Desi, demonstrating her versatility beautifully if we compare her here and in her more comedic role in 10 Things...

It can't be denied that Stiles has talent, and it seems she has an affinity for Shakespeare, though whether that's through design on her part of the way the roles have fallen in her career, I don't know. It would be good to see her in more, though!

If you'd like to learn more about modern adaptations of Shakespeare's work, check out What's It All About, Shakespeare? An Introduction to The Bard of Avon.


  1. I loved Ten Things I Hate About You. And Julia Stiles was indeed great in it. You just made me want to watch it again.
    Have you seen the Shakespeare Retold BBC adaptations? If you have, what did you think of them?

    1. Hello Melissa,

      10 Things... brings back some memories, doesn't it? Certainly does not feel like 14 years ago.

      I've seen some, but not all of the retold series. I really liked Macbeth and The Taming of The Shrew; I think Shirley Henderson is great. How about you? What are your thoughts?

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Best wishes,