Last Friday, I received the birthday present I bought for myself: Ryan North's To Be Or Not To Be: A Chooseable Path Adventure. For those who have never heard of this literary work, it's basically a comedy choose-your-own adventure version of Shakespeare's Hamlet. And it is DELIGHTFUL. North, writer of Dinosaur Comics and editor of The Death Machine, is a pretty funny guy, and here he gets to let full loose with his humorous acumen. The book was funded through a kickstarter project, and stretch goals included adding Hamlet's father and Ophelia as playable characters. Ophelia is at least as well-fleshed out as Hamlet; Hamlet's Dad feels like more of an afterthought by comparison, but still gets some very respectable laughs. It doesn't stay very close to the source material (in fact, you're in for a lot of mocking if you make the same, bad decisions Hamlet made), but it does involve a text-adventure parody, a chess game, a book within a book, and a rather violent pirate battle. ("You're sure that, should you ever one day write a book about this story or perhaps a stage production, you'd DEFINITELY include this scene. Why, you'd have to be literally crazy to write a story where you journey to England, get attacked by pirates -- actual pirates! --but then just sum up that whole adventure in a single sentence. Ha! That'd be the worst.")
The interesting thing is, as much as North continually mocks the source material, at the same time, the book's absolutely dependent on it. If you don't know the original story, it's still funny, but it lacks that knowing connection that comes from recognizing how and when the book departs from the source material. So here we are, in the year 2013, with a book that intimately about the past--the lineage of choose your own adventure books, including the lineage of Shakespeare--but is also dependent on pop culture references, from Fresh Prince and rap battles to videogame achievements. What does that say about pop culture trends? What does that say about societal values? And what other works say something similar?
Where I'm going here is, if I were to construct a course about Shakespeare and Pop Culture, what would I put on it? What's the syllabus and master reading list here?
Well, here's some ideas. This book, obv. Also:
Kill Shakespeare!, the meta-comic book series where the villains of the Shakespeare plays team up to kill him.
Film-wise, every modern interpretation of Shakespeare ever qualifies--from the Whedon Much Ado About Nothing to the Mel Gibson Hamlet. I'd gear things more towards works that are loose adaptations rather than exact translations, though. The DiCaprio Romeo and Juliet, set in modern day, is as close to exact as I'd want to get--I'd much rather address 10 Things I Hate About You.
The Shakespeare issue of Neil Gaiman's Sandman is another obvious pick.
I'd love to force students to watch the Macbeth adaptation in Gargoyles, though that's so far from the source as to be barely recognizable. But on the other hand, exposing students to the voice acting of Keith Davids, Marina Sirtis, and John Rhys-Davies seems like the best idea ever.
I'd also like to include more music-based stuff, and pop culture that's less than current (yes, I'm counting "within my lifetime" as current.). Maybe even force students to read Dryden's version of Antony and Cleopatra, "All for Love"?
The Simpsons episode where they do Hamlet.
I'd like a videogame connection. It seems crazy to me we have a AAA game based on Dante's Inferno, but no Shakespeare games that come to mind.
I'll open the floor to comments: what else belongs on a list of Shakespeare and Popular Culture?