Prior to Caesar, Rome was a republic ruled by elected white men. Kind of like America at the dawn of the 21st century. But in Rome during Caesar’s ascension to power, his actions seemed to point to a man making a grab to become emperor of the world. Kind of like America in the early 21st century. Unlike in modern day American, however, the Roman Senators who saw Caesar making this grab for power thought it might turn out to be a bad thing. Unlike modern day Senators who facilitate the movement from a republic to something far less, Roman Senators cared enough about keeping what kind of democracy they possessed to take whatever measures were required.
Taken on a purely literal level, the ideas involved in this scene are ludicrous: that nobody would recognize that the statue of Leonte’s wife who has supposedly been dead for sixteen years is real, that Hermione would allow herself to be imprisoned for sixteen years, and that Leontes would make a vow to a servant to never remarry. It definitely crosses the line into one of those soap opera plot devices; like when Tad Martin appeared to be die at the hands of Billy Joe Tuggle on All My Children, only to come back from the grave.
Probably no other Shakespearean play has been loosely adapted more than “Romeo and Juliet.” Probably because the central issue of star crossed love is so slack that you could set it in just about any genre imaginable.
The story of the fairy tale kingdom of Lear becoming a nightmarish retelling straight out of the Brothers Grimm is due specifically to the same sort of absence of communication skills among family members that is on display every day on the Jerry Springer or Maury Povich shows. Lear and Gloucester may represent the elitist aristocracy, but their respective family squabbles would fit right at home inside today’s trailer parks. All one needs to do is update the lexicon and on those shows and around the world every day would be heard the same sentiment that is expressed by Gloucester.
Nothing that Hamlet says is entirely comprehensible on its surface level and the confusion his clever word play engenders makes it impossible for anyone else in Elsinore to totally accept him.
It is also important to understand that the downfall of Lady Macbeth occurs only after she has done the opposite by making the decision to finally begin questioning her amorality. Lady Macbeth only begins to lose her mind once she capitulates to the kind of moral quandary from which she earlier plucked her husband. In the wife’s case it is the decision to think too much that leads to insanity.
West Side Story is much more than a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. It is a devastating critique of mid-century America.