The newly released film, “All Eyez on Me” shows rapper Tupac Shakur’s Shakespearean qualities. The film’s themes match those of the Bard’s best known works: “Romeo and Juliet” and ” Macbeth,” to name two. Warring factions and problematic information or  prophesiescome to life via the film in ways similar to their portrayal in Shakespeare’s works.

Tupac’s life as seen on film

Most people are aware of his mother’s and stepfather’s involvement with the Black Panthers. Even casual fans would know about his mother’s eventual battle with addiction to crack cocaine. But, the filmmakers let audiences in on a little known fact–Shakur attended Baltimore High School for the Arts. He is shown excelling in a drama class, so much so that his nickname becomes “Shakespeare.” It is this piece of information that creates the motif that audiences can base their understanding of Tupac Shakur, the character, on, even if they know little about the rapper and his works.

However, being in a drama class doesn’t indicate an easy life. In fact, throughout the film, audiences might have to remind themselves that Shakur only lived 25 years. The tragedy in that is overwhelming and lends the film a melancholy tone that no screenwriter could have worked to work to ad– it’s simply inherent in the work.

Shakespeare and Tupac, the symbolism

In different stages of his brief career, Shakur is depicted wearing three different heavy gold chains, with different enormous medallions. The first is a cross; the next one, which is stolen during a violent robbery, is  a giant “T.” In a literary sense, this could be seen as  the character going from humble, faithful individual, to someone with a fair amount of pride.  When he dies, Shakur is the proud owner of a thick gold chain with a huge  “Death Row”  (in reference to the record company) medallion swinging from it.

Tupac and “Romeo and Juliet”

Warring factions are an integral element of both “All Eyez on Me” and “Romeo and Juliet.” While Shakur was not forbidden to see who he wanted romantically, alliances or friendships between east coast Bad Boy Records and west coast Death Row were not exactly encouraged. This rivalry, perceived or otherwise, was made worse after the first time Shakur was shot.

The idea of dying young is another facet the two works share. Certainly, the literary couple at 13 and 14 (approximately) are extremely young by contemporary standards, Shakur’s 25 years is still too young to die.

The misinformation that led to the demise of Romeo and Juliet is similar to that which affected Shakur’s life. Romeo thinks Juliet is dead, so he poisons himself. Juliet, who has arranged to only sleep for a prolonged amount of time, awakens to find Romeo dead, and stabs herself. A multi-layered tragedy if there ever was one. Likewise, Biggie Smalls, (aka Notorious BIG) attempts to visit Shakur in the hospital, and some representatives of Shakur’s deny him entry. Shakur remembers seeing his friend in the lobby where he was shot, couples that with Smalls’ failure to visit, and links all of that to Smalls’ 1994 song, “Who Shot Ya?” and friends turn into rivals.

Tupac and Macbeth

Macbeth had three witches from whom to receive unclear prophesies, Shakur had a number of people making predictions about his greatness. Only his mother’s warning that as a leader, Shakur had a target on his back, makes sense, but it seems to add to the rapper’s sense of fatalism.

Likewise, when the witches prophesy that Macbeth will be king of Scotland, the title character takes it into his own hands to make it happen. The carnage and guilt that ensue form the basis for the rest of the play.

Tupac and his legacy

With literary works, audiences are satisfied when all of the tropes make sense, the characters do what they are destined to do, and as a result, classics are made. Real lives are not as easily unpacked and understood. That Shakur was a real person, with a legacy of devotion to his mother, hip-hop acumen and swagger, make his tragedy less appealing.

 

 

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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