The mighty poet, playwright, actor and icon of British literature William Shakespeare shall be celebrating his 400th deathday this year. In celebration of the literary god, I shall be looking at how some of his work has trickled into mainstream modern literature (and some slightly older literature too) without you noticing.
Let’s start with the hugely successful Hunger Games trilogy. It follows the story of Katniss Everdeen as her world is turned upside-down and everything she knew and loved is placed on a knife edge. You can read the books or watch the films to find out what happens in the end but here’s something you might not have notice. Upon entering the Hunger Games, a crude activity used by the Capitol to exercise their will and demonstrate their power, Peeta and Katniss are assigned a prep team. The team quickly become famous for their work under their creative leader Cinna. Cinna is tasked with making Katniss look her best while his female counterpart, Portia, is to perfect Peeta’s appearance. Well, this pair might not only be known for their outstandingly creative means of make up application and costume design but they are also two characters from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. Cinna is a poet in the play who is brutally murdered after being mistook for Cornelius Cinna. While, Portia is the wife of one of the main characters Brutus. Portia dies after ‘swallowing fire’ (linking into a particular book and a certain district within that book, perhaps).
How about the ents in the Lord of the Rings? We’ve all heard about JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece and may even have seen the brilliant movies that accompany it now. But was everything entirely Tolkien’s idea? In the Lord of the Rings there is an ancient race known as the ents. These are effectively living trees, some of the oldest creature to walk Middle Earth. Very cool idea, but it might have been stolen from the Bard himself. In arguably Shakespeare’s most famous play Macbeth, a messenger runs to Macbeth and tells him the forest is moving. Macbeth, quite rightly, finds this to be absurd. I am more than sure that Saruman found it equally absurd when he looked out from Isengard and saw a load of trees wrecking his orc factory.
So we can see that Shakespeare has had an influence of some of the works we so dearly love today, but can we see Shakespeare being influenced from other works too? We most definitely can. Lady Macbeth, just like Tennessee Williams’ Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire, is perpetually cleaning her hands to try and wash away her sin. That sounds familiar…Yep, Pontius Pilate is said to have washed his hands when it came to deciding Jesus’ fate. There you have it, Shakespeare linked back to the New Testament and the trial of the Messiah.
There is most likely hundreds more cases other than those above in which Shakespeare’s work has trickled into modern works. If you can think of any, we’d love to see what you’ve found so leave a comment telling us about your discovery.