Saturday, January 02, 2016

Reader's Diary #1236- Brett Wright and William Shakespeare: YOLO Juliet

I'm sure there are those who would turn up their noses to such a book as YOLO Juliet. It also might be questioned whether or not a book called YOLO Juliet, using texts and emojis to retell Shakepeareare's classic Romeo and Juliet, was ever meant to be considered serious or high art.

Nonetheless, I'm going to go on record: I loved this and thought it quite clever. Then, I also liked Baz Luhrman's adaptation and wasn't particularly upset that Oxford Dictionary named an emoji as word of the year last year, so you can take my praise with a grain of salt.

One of the best things about Wright's adaptation is the way it captured the personalities and ages of the characters but with a 21st century lens. The plot is still there, of course, and that should come as no surprise, but finally Romeo and Juliet come across as the young and naïve teenagers they are. Whether or not Shakespeare intended them to come across this way is difficult to ascertain. It wasn't as unusual for teens back then to marry. But also, there's something about the old English that lends his characters more sophistication (to our ears) than they always deserve. Here's where Wright's cleverness comes in. There's a lot of pseudo-swears in the book (OMFG, IDGAF) but many of Shakespeare's innuendoes and barbs are also kept in tact. Take this exchange:

Mercutio: Out with it then! So how was her pink flower?
Benvolio: Ugh. Mercutio.
Romeo: Let's just say it's been pollinated.
Benvolio: Ugh. ROMEO!

Reducing the original words down to their core and keeping the characters' identities in check, the interjections of modern text speak didn't clash as much as you might expect.

Wright does add humour and satire, which turns the play into a comedy rather than a tragedy, but let's face it, the tragedy angle's been told to death. I especially liked how Lady Capulet, perhaps showing her age, insisted on signing off on all of her texts, "Love, mom," "Love, LC" and so forth. There's also a great scene when Romeo's autocorrect fails him, not once but twice in a row:

Romeo: What the duck, Juliet?
Romeo: The duck.
Romeo: Ugh! Autocorrect.

Then there's another exchange between Friar Laurence and Father John, when Friar Laurence can't understand why Father John is yelling. It turns out that Father John just doesn't know how to turn off his caps lock.

It doesn't always work. Sometimes having the characters text one another when clearly they're meant to be in the same room takes a bit of belief suspension, but otherwise it's fun and a great adaptation for our times.


Eric P said...

I'm too much of a curmudgeon to think this is a good idea. Particularly for all those reviewers on Amazon who think -- yea, a painless way to introduce me to Shakespeare's greatest works -- how foolish are these students going to look when they think R & J has a happy ending.

I suppose when they get around to Lear they will have the alternate happy ending as well (following Nahum Tate's version that was popular for centuries).

I actually do not think Shakespeare is the be all and end all of English drama. Frankly, he sucks up too much oxygen in the room. But if you are going to study him, then I don't see the point in these shortcuts.

John Mutford said...

Eric: No, I wouldn't advocate reading it before the original. Hard to appreciate a parody unless you know it's a parody. But I may have mislead you by saying that it worked more of a comedy than a tragedy. To be sure, it doesn't have a happy ending. The death count is as high as in the original.

I don't know if a King Lear version is in the works, but there's a srsly Hamlet and a Macbeth #killingit.

Eric P said...

Ah, I see. The events are basically the same, but the tone is totally different. I probably was over-reacting to the many students -- and teachers! -- on Amazon who were seriously considering this as a gateway into the real thing. I think that is a terrible idea.

I'm surprised that there isn't a zombies meet MacBeth -- or perhaps there is -- given all the other cross-over parody books out there. I think the trouble is that the line between light-hearted romp and cynical ploy is so blurred nowadays. Nonetheless, these pop culture treatments don't do very much for me.