The New Book To Read, Based On Your Favorite Shakespeare Play
To be perfectly frank, I am a Shakespeare nerd. This isn't entirely my fault: both of my parents are Shakespearean actors, and I spent a great deal of my childhood listening to iambic pentameter over backstage speakers. Being a Shakespeare nerd, though, is not always easy. One must contend with the simple fact that a lot of people are not super into Shakespeare. And as much as it pains me to admit it, I understand. Blank verse and Elizabethan syntax are not always the easiest for modern readers to parse. Not everyone had positive early experience with Shakespeare. Some people might never have encountered the Bard outside of stuffy high school English classes. But whether you're a die-hard fan of Will and his work, or a Shakespeare skeptic who'd rather not rely on footnotes to make sense of a sentence, here are a few excellent new novels based on your favorite (or least favorite) Shakespeare plays.
Many of these books come straight out of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, a new collection of Shakespeare retellings from some of the most accomplished contemporary writers out there. Others are not such direct retellings, but rather inspired by Shakespeare's themes. Either way, they bring a fascinating new perspective to Shakespeare's classic stories of love, prejudice, death, family, and pun-based humor.
'Merchant Of Venice': Shylock Is My Name' by Howard Jacobson
If you know The Merchant of Venice, then you already know Shylock as the complicated "villain" of the piece, one of few nuanced Jewish characters from 16th Century English literature. Shylock is My Name brings Shylock into the modern era with the counterpart of Simon Strulovitch, an art dealer struggling with to come to terms with his identity.
'The Taming of the Shrew': 'Vinegar Girl' by Anne Tyler
The Taming of the Shrew is one of the harder Shakespeare plays to read these days. Sure, Kate is a kickass lady protagonist, but most of the play's humor involves "taming" her wild side, which is a little gross. Anne Tyler has reinvented the feisty Kate with Vinegar Girl, transforming our favorite shrew into a forthright, modern women who finds herself in the midst of a ludicrous marriage plot cooked up by her dad and his brilliant, desperate research assistant.
'Othello': 'New Boy' by Tracy Chevalier
In this schoolyard retelling of Othello, Osei Kokote is the new kid in town. He's a diplomat's son, and this is his fifth school in five years. He's just looking for a friend, any friend, but when he hits it off with popular golden girl Dee, their budding relationship threatens the social order. Young Ian decides that it's up to him to put Osei in his place. New Boy is both adorable and gut-wrenching as children play out Shakespeare's (unfortunately) timeless tale of love, jealousy, and violent racism.
'Othello': 'Chasing the Stars' by Malorie Blackman
Yes, this is another Othello retelling, but I promise you it's very different. For one thing, it's in space. Olivia and her brother Aidan are returning to Earth after a horrific virus has killed the rest of their family and crew. On their way they come across Nathan, the survivor of an attack on his own community. Olivia and Nathan find themselves instantly drawn together, despite their different backgrounds. As their love grows deeper, though, rumors begin to spread that could threaten their very lives—and someone out there is trying to tear them apart.
'The Tempest': 'Hag-Seed' by Margaret Atwood
Trust Margaret Atwood to take The Tempest and turn it into an even weirder, surreal tale about death and modern incarceration. When Felix loses his job as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, he winds up living as a hermit in the countryside with only his imaginary, dead daughter for company. He finally gets a new job in theatre at the nearby Burgess Correctional Institution, but his new production of The Tempest is complicated when his ghost daughter decides to join in on the fun.
'The Tempest': 'Miranda and Caliban' by Jacqueline Carey
Or, for a less Prospero-focused retelling of The Tempest, try Miranda and Caliban. This book follows young Miranda, the lonely girl who lives in isolation with her father. It also follows Caliban, the orphaned boy left to fend for himself in the wild, the boy who will grow up to be Shakespeare famous "monster." When they are forcibly brought together, the two outcast children begin to form a strange bond that will alter the course of their lives forever.
'Hamlet': 'Lincoln in the Bardo' by George Saunders
OK, so this is not technically a retelling of Shakespeare. But Lincoln in the Bardo works a bit like a Bizarro-world Hamlet: the ruler has lost his son, and is unable to move on, or to make any meaningful decisions. The son's ghost, too, is trapped, stuck between the worlds of the living and the dead, unwilling to let go of life. It's a beautiful, extremely odd meditation on death and love and America, with enough gross-out humor and lyrical language to make the Prince of Denmark proud.
'Much Ado About Nothing': 'Speak Easy, Speak Love' by McKelle George
Much Ado About Nothing is one of the most delightful, insult-based romantic comedies ever written. Speak Easy, Speak Love brings the farcical misunderstandings and the romantic passion into the 21st Century with the story of six teenagers on Long Island. Beatrice has just gotten kicked out of boarding school, and the last thing she wants is to spend her summer putting up with Benedick, the handsome trust fund kid. But as their battle of wits escalates, it seems like there might be more than one plot afoot this summer, and more than one couple finding love.
'Macbeth': 'Macbeth' by Jo Nesbø
Can you guess which play inspired Macbeth? For fans of all things bloody, creepy, mysterious, and crime-filled, this thriller stars the ambitious Inspector Macbeth. He's an ex-drug addict with a troubled past, but he's also the best cop in the field. And when a drug bust lands him some power and respect, it seems like he's finally moving up in the world. But Macbeth's hallucinations have him convinced that he'll never get what's rightfully his... unless he's willing to kill for it.
'The Winter’s Tale': 'The Gap of Time' by Jeanette Winterson
The Winter’s Tale tells the story of a jealous king who foolishly turns on his wife, casting out their infant daughter to die in the wilderness. If you know your fairy tales, though, you can guess that the little princess doesn't die at all. She's brought up by shepherds in Bohemia, and when she's old enough, she finds her way back home again. The Gap of Time takes a modern twist on this tale, bringing us from London to the tempest-tossed American city of New Bohemia, where one lost child will start to unravel the impossible mystery of her past.
'Romeo and Juliet': 'American Panda' by Gloria Chao
Mei is a freshman at MIT, and everything is going according to plan. She's on track to become a doctor, marry a Taiwanese Ivy League student, and settle down to live out her perfect, parent-approved life. There's just one problem: Mei hates her major and loves Darren Takahashi, her dreamy classmate who is not Taiwanese and not at all approved by her parents. And if you're thinking that this sounds like Romeo and Juliet, you are exactly right (only cuter and in college).
'Romeo and Juliet': 'Starry Eyes' by Jenn Bennett
Zorie and Lennon used to be best friends. But after last year's homecoming dance, they're more like mortal enemies. Plus, their families hate each other (yes, this one is also based on Romeo and Juliet because I love love). So when they wind up stranded in the woods after a disastrous group camping trip, they have no choice but to depend on each other for survival... and maybe re-kindle some forbidden romance under the twinkling stars.