Shakespeare stands atop the entire culture of English writing. He is the best-selling author in history, and the most translated one as well. His plays are what makes up the literature courses of students across the world irrespective of where they study, and rightly so. Shakespeare has influenced more critics, has inspired more script-writers, and has been referenced by more people than one can count.
He has also been re-written many times before. Adapted, i think, is the accepted term.
The first instance of a complete re-writing of Shakespeare was in the 19th century by someone named William Bowdler, who created 'The Family Shakespeare'. It is a dull and insipid read devoid of all excitement, and I pity the children who opened up Shakespeare with that. Unfortunately, Shakespeare plays adapted for kids exist even now.
Even though it sucked, Bowdler made a ton of money because of his 'effort'. His only reward, however, was the coining of the term 'Bowdlerize' which means "Remove material that is considered improper or offensive from (a text or account), esp. with the result that it becomes weaker or less"
Certain YA versions have done the same and are heavy money-spinners as well.
Now they have planned another complete retelling of Shakespeare to be published in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Unlike the various movie adaptations which we have seen, this one has managed to really piss off a lot of people. Why? Here is what Howard Jacobson, who will be writing the 'prose' retelling of The Merchant of Venice says about the play.
"But Shakespeare probably never met a Jew; the Holocaust had not yet happened, and antisemitism didn't have a name. Can one tell the same story today, when every reference carries a different charge?"
The issue here is Shakespeare's representation of Shylock, who was a Jew and was a most delightfully villainous character. He is often considered to be one of the best villains Shakespeare created. And the sole point of this man's re-telling of Shakespeare is that he does not like what Shakespeare said about Shylock.
"For an English novelist, Shakespeare is where it all begins. For an English novelist who also happens to be Jewish, The Merchant of Venice is where it all snarls up," Jacobson said.
If you really want to fight anti-semitism, please go and write your own text. Do your own work instead of taking up a play whose anti-semitism is disputed and mutilate it to suit your own needs. What irks me here is not that this guy reads the play as antiJew. He has every right to. But does he have the right to take the moral high-ground against a man who is dead and cannot defend himself, especially a man whose work has so been fractured by the various critical and readerly experiments it has undergone.
Shakespeare has been adapted many times before, and his work continues evolving. But to accuse him and 'correct' him would be a mistake. Innovation is fine, but discourtesy is unpardonable.