Bard at the Box Office

Shakespeare in the 21st Century

“Something Wicked This Way Comes:” Macbeth in Pop Culture Part 2

One of my favorite Halloween traditions is watching the Harry Potter series (up to the Half-Blood Prince). Wizards, witches, ghosts (Nearly Headless Nick, anyone?), trolls, and renditions of other mystical creatures in mythology, what isn’t there to like?

I realize my last post on Macbeth became somewhat cynical. While I can’t say I regret that, especially given that American politics are pretty wide open for snarkiness and cynicism, I figured that this might be a good tip of the hat to a different, more fun genre.

I was definitely one of those kids who grew up on Harry Potter, and when the movie came out, I remember being absolutely ecstatic that it quoted Shakespeare…and in song! I remember downloading it from back when it took about 2-3 hours per song. But when it was Shakespeare mixed with Harry Potter I was sold.

Thinking back, I suppose that I also enjoyed every bit of justification I could find that Harry Potter was not only good literature in its own right, but that it also built on other great pieces of literature. Growing up with a fairly conservative extended family, I always liked it when I could justify my parents’ reasons for allowing me to read Harry Potter. And, honestly, you can get quite a bit from the old “it’s alright, this is culture” bit.

The choice to quote Shakespeare in the movie also has the benefit of lending credibility to Rowling’s work, as she was quite involved in the production of the movies at that point. Not only does the choice to include a nod to one of Britain’s greatest playwrights put her book in a comparable cultural bracket, it also allows readers to have some experience of Shakespeare without having to slog through pages of a much different version of English right off the bat.

This could be considered the modern-day version of the “humility topos,” which is a standard literary convention dating back to the Middle Ages, when an author would both be very self-deprecating towards themselves and their work, and at the same time would manage to place it amongst the greatest books of the time. While Rowling doesn’t go out of hwe way to be quite that humble, she still finds a way to bring in Shakespeare, giving her own book/movie some “borrowed glory” from the Scottish play.

So, this is another way to back up the entire premise of this blog. What is that premise? Shakespeare can still be fun and have an impact on modern-day society, even though he died around 400 years ago.

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