ACW

ACW

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Adapting leaves more time for biscuits - by Fran Hill


My sixth form English students complained this week.  ‘How come Shakespeare got away with all this plagiarism, yet if we lift something from Wikipedia you have a hissy fit?’

We’ve been studying The Tempest. It's probably based on a real-life shipwreck tale in the first place - the Sea Venture went aground in the Bermudas in 1609 on its way to the New World. But also, in Act 2, the character Gonzalo, imagines what he would do given full control of the Bermudan island on which he's landed. His speech is as-near-as-dammit filched from Montaigne’s essay On Cannibals in which, despite the connotations of the title, he praises the unspoilt, primitive society found by the first visitors to the New World.

In class, as we compared the two extracts, the students' eyebrows rose into their fringes as they realised the extent of Shakespeare’s 17th century cut-and-paste habit. ‘Shakespeare, you FRAUD!’

Of course, as I explained, nothing barred the Bard from lifting material from either fictional or non-fiction sources for inspiration. Even the characters of Romeo and Juliet were not his invention. Arthur Brooke in 1562 wrote a long poem, popular with the Elizabethans, called The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet and it wasn’t even his idea; he was copying plot-lines from French and Italian literature. If either Brooke or Shakespeare had been worried about plagiarism, they would at least have changed the names, although ... would Shakespeare’s Norman and Sheila have pulled in the crowds so well?

Today, we can’t plagiarise or adapt recent work. Pesky laws state that if a literary work is less than 70 years old, it is protected.

Fairy tales are fair game, though. And I often play around with the genre, adapting into different forms. Adapting is a great time-saver: I don’t have to think of original ideas, leaving more time for Fruit Shortcake and watching Flog It. I’m sure Shakespeare’s motivations were similar, only for him it was marchpane (Elizabethan almond cake) and bear-baiting.




I’ve a book idea which has seen interest from publishers, but Not Enough Interest, it seems. The working title is ‘Bedtime Stories for Children of EastEnders-Addicted Parents’ and the concept is to curtail traditional stories so that mums and dads can hurry downstairs to watch the soaps.

Here are three examples:

1. Once upon a time, Red Riding Hood’s mother said, ‘Will you take some cakes to Grandma?’ ‘Of course,’ said Red, but when Mother went to the cupboard, she was very surprised to find she was clean out of flour. Red lounged on her bed, smiling, her pillow higher than usual.

2. Once upon a time, three little pigs made their mother pack their knapsacks and left home to find their fortunes, despite Mummy Pig’s distressed squeals. ‘Take no notice,’ said Pig One, who’d always lacked empathy. At lunchtime, they opened their knapsacks. ‘Hey!’ Who packed sausage rolls in here?’ they cried.

3. Once upon a time, there were three bears: Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear, and Paddington Bear, who had got lost. ‘Apologies,’ said Paddington, ‘but would you mind awfully if I ate the marmalade sandwich I have in my hat rather than this lumpy oaty stuff?’ Daddy Bear grinned. An ally!

There’s more of that kind of trivia on my blog under the tag ‘Me Adapting Famous Stories’ if you’ve got a spare half-hour and can put up with my innate cynicism.

Or if you’ve got more than half an hour, and are not the trivial type, you could re-read The Tempest or Romeo and Juliet, for a different kind of plagiarism altogether. 




Fran Hill is a writer and teacher living in Warwickshire. She blogs here and her first book 'Being Miss', a comedy about a day in a teacher's life, is available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback from her blog site. 

13 comments:

  1. Great post. I like be the fairy tales. A great mood fern retelling

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  2. Fairy tales are indeed a great temptation to the cynic lurking in one's psyche. Especially as the heroines tend to be golden-haired and vapid!

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    1. Have you read Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber', Aggie? I think she went quite a long way to dispel the golden-haired and vapid stereotype!!

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  3. You never fail to bring a smile to my face :)
    When I ran a writing group I tried to get them to adapt fairy tales into modern stories. I don't think we were particularly great at it, but it sure was fun.

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    1. Thanks, Mandy! I agree - it's great fun, and I often use it as an idea at school too.

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  4. Love it :-)
    The thing I have to watch is recycling myself too much. Not enough time? I'll base my talk on that article, or that blog post from that talk I wrote, or, hey, use a blog post from my own blog and adjust it for the More than Writers blog (oops, did that last month). Of course, eventually you realise that you do need to write something original, even if only something fresh to recycle!

    (I should say I don't do this with 'properly' published articles! That would be too much cheating.)

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    1. That's true for me too, although I often look at my old writings, think 'What the heck was I thinking?' and close the document again before I get discouraged ...

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    2. Yes, can relate to that as well...!

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  5. Loved this. Who knew that plagiarism could be such fun? Great post, with lots of giggles, as always Fran Hill x

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    1. Thanks, Deborah. Plagiarism is brilliant fun. But also, in some cases, liable to prosecution. So, pick your sources!

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  6. Love the 'micro fairy tales'. As for plagiarism, Deborah Moggach got the plots of all her early novels from Shakespeare, and it's obvious! (doesn't stop them being good novels...)

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    1. Is that true, Veronica? I've read some Moggach novels and didn't know that. I shall go and look at her back list again!

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