Undeniably, the works of William Shakespeare have inspired contemporary adaptations that can appeal to audiences who have never read the Bard’s plays. But how appropriate is it to present to children, who lack the life experience and maturity to understand the depth of the works, the dark side of Shakespeare—the death of Juliet, the seductive nature of Caliban in The Tempest, and the violent struggles in Hamlet? There is no simple answer. In appropriating Shakespeare's works for young audiences, producers often alter elements that are deemed inappropriate for children—namely death, sex, and violence—but nonetheless play significant roles in the plays. Obviously, some value is lost in translation. However, the resulting recreations become gateways for young audiences to experience classic works of theatre, possibly outweighing the loss of thematic meaning. Ultimately, Shakespeare for young audiences is divisive, with valid arguments existing both for and against appropriation.
The significance of death in Shakespeare’s works is undeniable and conveys many themes in his plays. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare uses death to comment on the nature and consequences of conflict (Romeo and Juliet). These thematic elements are important in the text, but are practically absent in Disney’s The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, which directly appropriates the play. In the film, Kiara and Kovu, the children of two warring families, fall in love and inevitably quell their families’ feuds; they are Romeo and Juliet (The Lion King II). Death is not completely removed from the story, but in comparison with its source material, The Lion King II omits the most important deaths in Romeo and Juliet—those of the titular characters.
In the film, Kiara and Kovu, the stand-ins for Shakespeare’s young lovers, do not commit suicide, and their story concludes with Disney’s quintessential happily-ever-after (The Lion King II). This representation of death undermines the critical theme of conflict present in the original text, as well as the notion of “star-crossed lovers,” whose fates are predetermined. The film does not acknowledge the reality that conflict involves casualties and is often not easily resolved. That said, The Lion King II does introduce young audiences to a classic work of theatre and too much death would seem out-of-place in this adaptation. The question remains of whether the value of death lies in the action itself or its significance in the story that frames it.
Many of Shakespeare’s works include topics of sexuality and overly sexualized characters (Wells 1). Shakespeare’s motivation for sexualizing the behavior of his characters depends on the play in question. In The Tempest, Caliban is characterized as seductive and manipulative to highlight the theme of sensuality as persuasion, which is the nature of sex when stripped of physicality (The Tempest). Like all of the Bard’s works, this play is not immune to appropriation, and Caliban serves as a template in...