I have a friend, a retired Literature Professor, who doesn’t like, or maybe approve of, Shakespeare in modern dress. I remember how great and scandalous Richard Burton’s Hamlet was: no sets and modern subdued dress. (IIRC) and I have seen many modern or non-Elizabethan dress Shakespearean plays that I loved. But I couldn’t summon a coherent argument against her position. That is, until I went to see Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing .
It was wonderful and funny and wildly creative. I am not anything of a Shakespearean scholar or expert but it seemed to me like Whedon didn’t mess at all with the meaning of the play, but he did make it relevant to today’s society (save the death defying value put on virginity. Because honor killings just don’t exist in the 21st century.)
What he did do was to take the artifacts of Shakespeare’s time and use in their stead the modern equivalent. The accouterments of princely power become bodyguards in suits with earpieces. The messenger holds up his smartphone when Leonato announces “I learn in this letter that Don Peter of Arragon comes this night to Messina.” The hinted at prior relationship of Beatrice and Benedict becomes a morning after the night before silent leaving. (Much less violent than Buffy and Angel’s “one true moment of happiness.”).
Whedon even puts in a comment on how times have changed with the exchange near the end. Claudio, has pledged to marry a substitute for the Hero who had “died” falsely accused.
Good morrow, prince; good morrow, Claudio:
We here attend you. Are you yet determined
To-day to marry with my brother’s daughter?
I’ll hold my mind, were she an Ethiope.
Whedon puts an African American woman wedding guest up front and everybody winces.
Anyhow, it was a great movie of a great play and I am going to see it again. If I can get my friend to see it, then we can talk about the Bard in modern dress.
As a comment on the yet unfinished state of the Internet, I was looking for a text of the play and happened upon playshakespeare.com. It had a lot of discussions of various productions of Much Ado, so I searched for “Joss Whedon”. The search engine got no hits but asked “Did you mean: ‘joy shed on’?”
“Joy Shed On X” sounds like a headline in The China Times English edition.