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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Shakespeare-Inspired Novels

The arrival of September always has me thinking of teachers returning to their classrooms.  When I was still teaching, I taught Shakespeare in virtually all of my classes, and though I no longer teach, I have found myself reading a number of Shakespeare-inspired novels.  It's amazing how much fiction has been written inspired directly by his life and his works.  I guess the trend was started by Charles and Mary Lamb with their Tales from Shakespeare.

Because so little is known of Shakespeare’s life, there is ample room for speculation.  This has led to a number of “biographical” works.  There’s Robert Nye’s pseudo-biography entitled The Late Mr. Shakespeare in which an actor who performed in the plays tells the life story of the playwright.  Nye also wrote Mrs. Shakespeare:  The Complete Works in which Anne Hathaway writes her memoirs after her husband’s death.  Writers have even imagined additional family members.  The Canadian writer, Richard B. Wright, wrote Mr. Shakespeare’s Bastard in which the narrator is Aerlene Ward, Shakespeare’s illegitimate daughter.  Perhaps the most unique biography is also by a Canadian, Leon Rooke; in his Shakespeare’s Dog, it is the Bard’s pet who narrates how Anne and Will met and wed.

Many of the plays, but especially the tragedies, have inspired a modern re-telling or a novel featuring characters from the plays.  Here are ones with which I am familiar.

King Lear:
Fool by Christopher Moore is a spoof of the tragedy, though characters from other plays, like the Witches from Macbeth also make an appearance.
Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres re-imagines King Lear in twentieth-century Iowa.

Hamlet:
Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike tells the story of the queen and king of Denmark before the action of Shakespeare’s play begins.
In Dating Hamlet:  Ophelia’s Story by Lisa Fiedler, Ophelia lives to tell what happened at Elsinore.
Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray is a modern re-telling of the play from Ophelia’s perspective.
In Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein, Ophelia focuses on the love story between her and her prince.
Something Rotten by Alan M. Gratz re-envisions Hamlet as a murder mystery set in Appalachia.

Macbeth:
The Third Witch by Rebecca Reisert is a re-writing of Macbeth from the perspective of one of the three witches, a feisty teenager named Gillyflower.
Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett is a parody of the play.
Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King presents an account of what the life of Lady Macbeth might have been like.
Lady Macbeth’s Daughter by Lisa M. Klein is the story of Albia, a daughter born to the king and queen but thrown to the wolves for having a deformed leg.
In Lady Macbeth:  On the Couch by Alma H. Bond, Lady Macbeth tells her story of what led her to push her husband to commit regicide.

Othello:
Iago by David Snodin tells the story of the villain after he escapes to Venice after the deaths of Othello and Desdemona.
In I, Iago by Nicole Galland, the villain tells his life story and explains how and why he changed from the honest and loyal friend to the master manipulator found in the play.

Romeo and Juliet:
In Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen, Angelica, Juliet’s nurse, tells her life story, especially her years in the employ of the Cappelletti family until Juliet’s death.
Suzanne Selfors, in Saving Juliet, inserts an angst-ridden seventeen-year-old Manhattan actress into Shakespeare's star-crossed romance.
Romeo’s Ex:  Rosaline’s Story by Lisa Fiedler has Rosaline and Benvolio falling in love after Romeo rejects her in favour of Juliet.
Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub has an unwilling pair, Rosaline and Benvolio, being forced to marry by Prince Escalus as a way to end the Capulet/Montague feud.

The Tempest:           
Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez is a retelling of The Tempest set in Trinidad in the early 1960s during the height of tensions between the native population and British colonists.
Ariel by Grace Tiffany is really a prequel to the play; Ariel gives background as to how the characters in the play get to the point where readers find them in the play.

Twelfth Night:
The Madness of Love by Katherine Davies recasts the play as a romantic comedy of contemporary manners.

Henry IV
Falstaff by Robert Nye has the comic figure dictating his memoirs and reliving the events in Henry IV, Parts I and II.

Sonnets:
Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady by Sally O’Reilly is narrated by Shakespeare’s lover and sonnet-inspiring muse.


My favourite retelling of all is Twisted Tales from Shakespeare by Richard Willard Armour published in 1957 – a comic rendering of Shakespeare’s plays.