Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres draws upon King Lear, and Faye Kellermann borrowed her title, The Quality of Mercy, from The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare has even worked his way into some unlikely, contemporary movies. Remember Big Business, starring Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler? Each actor played her own twin, leading to all sorts of mistaken identity complications. That's A Comedy of Errors. 10 Things I Hate About You, a teen angst flick borrows so heavily from The Taming of the Shrew that many character's names have gone unchanged. There's Bianca, Kat, and the suitor, aptly named Patrick Verona, after the city where "Shrew" is set. A few years ago, I saw a crazy little movie called Scotland, PA, starring Christopher Walken. It is a totally bizarre interpretation of Macbeth, but it works on a few levels.
When I was till teaching high school, Oedipus (Rex, The King...depends on which translation you read) was one play that always got the kids' attention. It was the first meaty piece we tackled after all the basic theatre components had been conquered. Oedipus raised the bar for them, and it was satisfying to watch them dig around, speculate, make discoveries, and then put it all together. As odd as the story seems on the surface...son unknowingly kills his father, unknowingly marries his mother and has four children by her, but manages to save the city of Thebes in the process...it generally stuck with my class long after we had moved on to jollier plots.