Being a Thing Immortal: Shakespeare, Young Adult Culture, and the Motifs of the Undead
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In the early decades of the twenty-first century William Shakespeare’s works and figure began to arise in Young Adult adaptations and transnarratives focusing upon the undead. These works of werewolf, vampire, and zombie fiction represented Shakespeare as a creature of the undead or as a heroic savior. I argue that the figure of Shakespeare appears as an ambivalent symbol of corrupt authority or redeeming power within these YA undead adaptations because we are unable to reconcile Shakespeare’s centrality in literary studies with our twenty-first century social, political, and moral ideals such as multiculturalism, gender equality, and race relations. Essentially, these undead adaptations manifest the figure of Shakespeare as a crisis of our own faith in the “dead white European male” model of authority. Many of the works offer a rather dim view of the author and the cultural authority that he once represented. And the image these YA narratives conjure is often that of a zombie Shakespeare who is both immortal and rotting. Or alternatively, the absolute power of a vampire Shakespeare: cold, white, male, feeding upon the blood of the living. I argue that the YA protagonists must destroy the corrupt authority figures who hold power over them to create a “new world order” in these narratives, and Shakespeare’s position as “the author of authors” serves as the prime target. Alternatively, the contrasting narratives place Shakespeare in opposition to the undead hordes that are attacking humanity. In these novels and films, the figure of Shakespeare is an iteration of viable knowledge and authority solving not only his era’s problems, but those of our own, as well. I argue that these narratives seek to renew and add to Shakespeare’s authority through a metaphor of undead hybridity. By analyzing the werewolf or zombie-hunter in both film and literature, I demonstrate that many narratives utilize Shakespeare as a hybrid of both historical/literary authority and our own modern ideals. Rather than simply wolf or slayer, the Shakespeare of these narratives is both early modern authority and twenty-first century social/political hero.