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William Shakespeare 'The Flower Portrait' (Wikimedia Commons)
Shakespeare for Australian Young Adults

(Status : Public)
Coordinated by Teaching Exhibitions
  • Adaptations of Shakespearean Tales in Literature for Young Adults

  • Shakespeare in Australian Stories

  • 2008 Edition

    Shakespearean tales have long been adapted and presented to Australian audiences in unique ways. Such as, early stage productions like Henry Thornton Craven's 1854 production Harlequin King Blear and His Three Daughters : A Grand Maniac-al, Demoniac-al, Fairy-gale, Scenic-al, Parodical, Dev'lish Goodical Christmas Pantomime, a musical adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear (1605), or The Yellow Dwarf and the King of the Hawkins' Hill Gold Mines ; Or, The Desert Fairy of Despair, the Gigantic Bon-Bon and the Princess of Pure Delights (1872), a musical featuring a burlesque version of the tragedy Richard III (1591). 

    Contemporary texts include reimaginings of Shakespeare himself in alternative or modern scenarios such as the collection of poems and short stories Jesus, Gandhi and Hitler Walk into a Poem : Stories of Famous People Turning up in Weird Places, which asks the question "What if Shakespeare shopped at Woolworths?"; or use Shakespearean quotations, language and stories to imbue their narratives to retell history, such as Gail Jones' Sorry, a story about the Stolen Generations in which the main character, Perdita, is named after the lost child from Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (1623).

  • Sample from Cole's Funny Picture Book, p.35, via NLA.

    Shakespeare was introduced to Australian children in the nineteenth century. One example is in the classic Cole's Funny Picture Book that proposes the riddle:

    Which is the greatest peer that England ever produced? ...Shakespeare. (p.35)

    Shakespearean sonnets, plays and quotations also regularly appeared in the School Paper [Victoria] series produced for Australian school children in Victoria from 1896 to mid twentieth century.

  • Blue Peter - Thwaites 1945
    AustLit FullText

    Quotations from Shakespearean plays and sonnets were and still are regularly used as epitaphs in Australian novels. For example the 1945 Australian children's novel Blue Peter : A Tale of the Forest, a Little Boy and His Pine Cone Goblin Friends, includes an epitaph from The Tempest: 

    We are such stuff as dreams are made of -

    And our little life is rounded with a sleep!

  • 128

    In other cases Shakespeare, as an 'authority' on love and romance, is invoked to contextualise and inform young adult romances, such as The Impossible Story of Olive in Love (2017), in which the protagonist describes Shakespeare as an "idiot" because love is not blind, a play on the phrase "love is blind" which appears in several of Shakespeare's plays.

    Biographies and non-fiction works about Shakespeare are also published for Australian audiences, including the young adult biography by Black Dog Books - Shakespeare : The Most Famous Man In London (2009).

  • Young Adults and Shakespeare

  • An often overlooked site of Shakespearean education for Australian adolescents - and perhaps especially Australian adolescent women - is that of young adult (YA) literature. (Hateley, 2015, p.33)

  • Romeo + Juliet dir. Baz Luhrmann

    Shakespeare's plays are regularly studied in Australian secondary classrooms as classic pieces of drama, for their cultural history and their narrative and poetic devices. However, modern Australian adaptations of Shakespearean plays are an underutilised resource in the English classroom.

    Such adaptations, retellings and appropriations provide teachers and students opportunities to:

    • learn about the processes of adaptation, including drama to literature, or to visual text such as graphic novel or film;
    • interrogate stereotypical gender roles and their subversion;
    • examine what makes such adaptations 'Australian';
    • study how Shakespearean plays and culture shape adolescent characters;
    • and allow students contemporary and relevant ways to engage in Shakespearean tales.

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