NR Digital

The Bard in SoCal

by Ross Douthat
A review of Much Ado About Nothing

Discussions of movies like Joss Whedon’s new version of Much Ado About Nothing — filmed in his own well-appointed California home, remarkably enough, during a lull in the making of the ever-so-slightly-more-expensive film The Avengers — often revolve around how successfully Shakespeare can be adapted to non-Elizabethan periods of history, contemporary or otherwise.

But that framing misleads a bit. If the question is whether the Bard’s plays can be successfully picked up and dropped intact into the New York of 1950 or the America of 2013, the answer is mostly no, and the would-be adapter is usually better off keeping the story but writing his own lines — à la West Side Story or even 10 Things I Hate about You. The trick to pulling off a non-16th-century Shakespeare, rather, is to eschew historical exactitude and create a setting that can partake of both the original and some other, half-invented time and place.