By sticking to original great works of literature, theatre, science and philosophy, students pursuing a liberal arts education know that they are obtaining information directly from the source. By the time a student obtains their liberal arts bachelor degree, they’ll have mastered the Great Books and have the ability to recognize the influence of these books on modern works. With this blog, we’ll be taking a look at some of the greatest modern masterpieces which derive their plots and thematic elements from the Great Books.
Volume One is Shakespeare:
The Lion King (Hamlet)
What Disney movie is based on a Shakespeare story that all students at liberal art colleges know intimately? The Lion King is the answer. This musical animated tale set in the African savannah parallels Hamlet, the tragedy of tragedies set in the stark opposite world of cold Denmark.
True, there wasn’t any singing in Hamlet, nor was there a happy ending, but the Bard’s classic and The Lion King do have some very similar elements. There’s the noble king murdered by a villainous brother, who then rules in his place. There’s the son who goes away for some time and returns to expose his uncle and avenge his father. The son even hangs out with two inseparable comic relief sidekicks and speaks with ghostly apparitions of his late father.
Brave New Wold (The Tempest)
Not only does Aldous Huxley’s dystopian 1931 science fiction masterpiece borrow its theme from Shakespeare’s final play, it takes its title from it, too. In the fifth act of the play, Miranda says “O wonder! How many godly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't.” Miranda doesn’t realize she is seeing unethical and disloyal people, just as Huxley’s John doesn’t realize who he is talking about when he makes a reference to the “brave new world” he sees.
The West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet)
The 1957 Broadway musical and subsequent 1961 film The West Side Story is pretty much Romeo and Juliet scene for scene, or rather note for note. Just swap out Verona for New York’s Upper West Side and two warring families for two youth street gangs.
House of Cards (Richard III, Macbeth, Othello, Julius Cesar)
The Netflix series House of Cards is not analogous to just one Shakespeare play, but actually incorporates prominent elements of several. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is clearly patterned on Richard III – with his soliloquies to the camera - while his wife Claire (Robin Wright) bears a striking similarity to Lady Macbeth. Together, they also embody Iago from Othello. At one point, Frank even recites a line from Julius Cesar: “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”
Can you see Shakespeare’s influence in other modern works?