I was browsing special collections two days ago and I found Romeo and Juliet Travestie: or, The Cup of Cold Poison, an 1873 version of the play with a surprising adaptation; this version is a burlesque, in one act. There are books that tell the stories of Shakespeare’s plays in condensed form, with modern language, and I have heard of plays (particularly Nahum Tate’s King Lear) that replace the ends of the plays with happier versions, or more family-friendly words and ideas (Thomas Bowdler’s The Family Shakespeare).
Even though this adaptation inspired disdain (in me), I think its existence is symptomatic of the fact that, at least as I see it, Shakespeare is no longer “just a playwright,” and hasn’t been “just a playwright” for a long time. The plays no longer mean the same thing they may have at the time of their creation; thinking about any of his works comes with the baggage of his name, what it means as a student or an actor to read/perform, any adaptations or even pop references one may have heard, and even the difficulty that can arise in trying to read such old English. His work is more of a jumping-off point than the end of the road. It inspires people, either to push harder with research, thought, or creative outpourings. Setting aside this burlesque, which still inspires in me a bit of hoity-toity attitude, I think this sort of movement is impossible to avoid, and, in many ways, is a really important piece of change and growth.