15 'Hamlet' Retellings That Aren't 'The Lion King'
So I don't know if you heard, but this past summer, Disney went and made another Lion King. And whether or not you enjoyed seeing Beyoncé and her friends as singing lions, I think the hype around the movie made one thing clear: people still care a lot about The Lion King. I mean, the original movie came out 25 years ago and it's still regularly voted the most popular Disney flick in the U.S. The musical has been on Broadway for 22 years with no sign of closing. Even with mixed reviews, the remake made a truly sickening amount of money.
And yes, this is still the lion cartoon based on Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Simba's story has a far less tragic ending, of course, and Nala is a tad more proactive than Ophelia, but the story still follows the plot of Shakespeare's existential tragedy, right down to the whole thing where Simba's ghost dad has to remind his procrastinating son to murder his evil uncle and take back the kingdom. It's Hamlet! And the fact that Hamlet-but-with-lions is such an enduring classic is a testament to both the universality of Shakespeare's work and Disney's ability to Disney-fy anything.
If 25 years of Lion King just isn't enough, here are a few more modern stories based on Hamlet (although they might not contain quite so many lions):
'Ophelia' by Lisa M. Klein
Look, Shakespeare has lots of interesting, well-rounded, fully-realized female characters. Ophelia is not one of them. Because Hamlet is about Hamlet, and Hamlet is a grade A douche who doesn't treat his girlfriend all that well, poor Ophelia doesn't really get a chance to tell her side of the story in the original play. Lisa M. Klein's Ophelia beautifully retells the story from Ophelia's perspective: she's a witty, rowdy, mother-less girl growing up and falling in love in the midst of the dark, unfolding drama of Elsinore castle.
'The Dead Fathers Club' by Matt Haig
Classic ghost dads, always getting their sons into trouble! In this inventive update on the story, eleven-year-old Philip Noble is visited by the bloody visage of his late father, who introduces him to the mysterious Dead Father's Club. Turns out, Philip's father was actually murdered by his uncle, who's now after the family pub and Philip's mom. But avenging a death is an awful lot of pressure to put on a grieving kid, who must also contend with the forces of school bullies, youthful romance, and intense self-doubt.
'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead' by Tom Stoppard
If Hamlet is The Lion King, this play is The Lion King 1½. It's the grand tragedy of Hamlet as told from the point of view of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters who don't actually do very much or get much stage time in the original. But of course, because it's Tom Stoppard, this play is also an existential mind-freak, as our two leads grapple with their lives (and deaths) as nearly pointless characters in one of history's most venerated plays.
'The Black Prince' by Iris Murdoch
Bradley Pearson is an unsuccessful novelist on the verge of retirement. He's sick of his day job as Inspector of Taxes, disappointed in his literary career, and generally ready to just chill out in the country for the rest of his days. But, naturally, he's still plagued by his extremely inconvenient friends and family: his melancholic sister, his frustrating ex-wife, her scoundrel of a brother, his brilliant, successful literary rival, and a young woman who has captured his heart... especially when she dresses up as the Danish prince himself.
'Dating Hamlet: Ophelia's Story' by Lisa Fiedler
Look, tragedies are all well and good, but sometimes you just want a fun, upbeat YA romance retelling of Hamlet where Ophelia is a lot more clued-in than she might seem. I mean, if Hamlet faked his madness, why can't Ophelia? Lisa Fiedler definitely plays fast and loose with with original plot of Hamlet, but her Ophelia is a delightfully take-charge heroine who is certainly not going to settle for life as the tragic dead love interest.
'Something Rotten' by Jasper Fforde
Ophelia isn't always the secret spunky hero of the story, however. In Something Rotten, for example, she's staged a hostile takeover of Hamlet, and literary detective Thursday Next must find a Shakespeare clone to fix the play and look after the perpetually indecisive Hamlet himself. Yikes. This is the fourth book in the Thursday Next series, but if you like kick ass literary detective women and absurdist British humor you can most certainly jump in here and join Thursday for one of her classic meta-fictional adventures.
'The Weight of An Infinite Sky' by Carrie La Seur
Anthony Fry has finally escaped his family's cattle ranch in the Middle of Nowhere, Montana for New York City and a life in the theater. But (shockingly) carving out a career in the arts isn't all that easy... and then the sudden death of his father calls him back home. Now his dreams are dead, he's back on the ranch, his mom's acting strange, and his weird uncle wants to move his mining company onto the family land. The Weight of An Infinite Sky is a beautiful, atmospheric retelling of Hamlet set against the big sky of rural Montana.
'To Be or Not to Be' by Ryan North
They've finally done it: they've game-ified Hamlet. This weird, wonderful choose-your-own-adventure lets you, the reader, play as a number of different characters as you try to make it through life at Elsinore Castle. You can play as Hamlet and try to stick as close to the script as possible, or you can play Ophelia as a quick-thinking lady chemist, or you can ghost it up as Hamlet's late father in this hilarious twist on Shakespeare.
'The Story of Edgar Sawtelle' by David Wroblewski
Hamlet but on a dog farm! Kind of. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a gripping retelling that follows young, mute Edgar as he tries to prove that his uncle murdered his father... and fails spectacularly. Edgar must flee to the wilderness, with only his faithful dogs for company. He comes of age fighting for his very survival, but eventually Edgar realizes that he'll need to return home one day and face everything he left behind.
'Nutshell' by Ian McEwan
Hamlet but... narrated by a talking fetus? Nutshell is weird, for sure. It's also beautifully written, as our very young narrator kills time waiting for his life to begin. All he can do is float, ruminate, and eavesdrop, and soon all that thinking and listening starts to unfold as the plot of Hamlet, with a protagonist who's even less active than usual.
'Falling for Hamlet' by Michelle Ray
Ophelia has it all. She's a beautiful, blonde high school senior and she's dating Hamlet, the devastatingly handsome Prince of Denmark. Everything is perfect (except for his family and the constant paparazzi presence) — until the mysterious death of Hamlet's royal father. Suddenly, Ophelia is at the heart of a PR nightmare as her boyfriend starts to lose his mind and she's left to keep it together in a parade of endless television interviews.
'The Steep & Thorny Way' by Cat Winters
Hanalee Denney is a bi-racial girl living in small town Oregon at the height of Prohibition. As if that wasn't hard enough, her father has just died tragically, and her mother has already remarried. A teenage boy was convicted of accidentally killing her father, Hank Denney, but Hanalee can't help but think that it was really murder most foul... and her new stepfather is her chief suspect.
'Saving Hamlet' by Molly Booth
You know how high school is already hard, and then you fall through a trap door and end up in Elizabethan England? Emma Allen was excited to work on her school production of Hamlet with her cool new haircut and her crush Brandon directing—but nothing is going to plan. The lead is terrible, Emma's best friend won't talk to her, and now Emma seems to have stumbled through some kind of time warp into Shakespeare's London, where she winds up as an assistant on the Globe's original production of Hamlet, too.
'A Wounded Name' by Dot Hutchison
Ophelia Castellan goes to Elsinore Academy, where she's training to be a polished, polite society wife. Unfortunately for Ophelia, though, she's plagued by her most un-ladylike ability to see ghosts. She tries her best to stop, until the Headmaster's untimely death leaves her in the unique position to solve a mystery... and to grow closer to the Headmaster's son in this haunting, paranormal Hamlet retelling.
'The Cake House' by Latifah Salom
Rosaura Douglas was making plans with her friends for the summer like always, until her mother yanked her out of her familiar apartment and her regular life and brought her to the garish, pink "Cake House." Rosaura's father is dead, apparently by his own hand, and now she must live with her new stepfather and his weird son in this hateful house. But Rosaura has started to see her father from beyond the grave, and she's starting to think that her stepfather is not all he seems...