Shakespeare Day: 8 Modern Novels Inspired by the Bard

Category: Reading

Love him or hate him, Shakespeare has no doubt had a fairly sizeable effect on your reading life. Either you loved the sonnets you studied in school and dedicated yourself to seeing all the plays, reading all the poems, seeing all the films and buying the hat, or you hated being forced to study his rhyming couplets as a child and you vowed never to read a word of his again.

Unfortunately, that’s just not possible.

Bill Shakey is everywhere; in the language we use (“puking”, “rant” and “addiction” are all Shakespeare words), in the movies we watch (The Lion King, 10 Things I Hate About You and Warm Bodies are all Shakespeare adaptations) and even in the clichés that our grandmas use (“dead as a doornail”, “eaten me out of house and home” and “the milk of human kindness” are all phrases from Shakespeare plays).

And his influence on the literary world doesn’t show any signs of slowing. Here are 8 contemporary works of fiction inspired by the great man.

Wise Children by Angela Carter

Angela Carter’s last novel is a carnivalesque family drama that draws on the themes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and continually references both Shakespeare himself and his works. She posits Shakespeare as high art and even has her characters become obsessed with him.

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

A modernised re-telling of Shakespeare’s King Lear, this book brings in incest, sexual abuse, the farming landscape of the USA and repressed emotions for devastating effect.

Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig

This is the author’s second foray into the world of Shakespeare. But while his first book tells the tale of Henry IV with the main characters as dogs, Dead Fathers Club shifts the action of Hamlet to a local pub as a teen is visited by his father’s ghost and told to avenge his death.

Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty by Jody Gehrman

This YA adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an enjoyable exploration of mistaken identities, adolescent yearning and teen love that Shakespeare himself would probably have enjoyed, if he had a smartphone and drank at Starbucks.

The Third Witch
by Rebecca Reisert

The witches weren’t exactly the most sympathetic characters in Macbeth, but Rebecca Reisert tells the story of Gilly, a young girl whose father is killed by Macbeth. As a result of this, she eventually becomes the third witch of the title, meaning that this book is a prequel of sorts.

Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis

The author of American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction nods towards both Hamlet and The Tempest in this semi-autobiographical stormer, with the power of Shakespeare’s Prospero replaced by the imagination of the omnipresent author.

Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde

The fourth book in the Thursday Next series sees the protagonist return to Swindon from the world of fiction, but with Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, in tow. Without its star, the Hamlet play becomes entangled with The Merry Wives of Windsor and all sorts of ridiculous things occur.

Exposure by Mal Peet

Othello meets football? Well, exactly. Mal Peet draws heavily on the play as he writes about media darling and football megastar Otello and his wife Desmerelda, and the destruction of their lives when Otello is wrongly implicated in a scandal.


Images: Happy 444th Birthday William Shakespeare! by JR P and UNIRIO by Cecília S.

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