There is an expression - "Everything that is old is new again." This was never more true than with stories by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare's plays, allegedly written down after his death, contain well known stories about greedy kings, clever women, daring men, and comic criminals. The stories are some of the better known plots in the western world. Who doesn't know the story of Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, or Macbeth? These stories have been replayed time and again in movies and books. Yet, reading Shakespeare, as wonderful as the plots might be, can be tedious and difficult as some of us found out in high school.
There are modern authors who have made these plots come alive to contemporary readers and who have re-imagined the environment in which the original play has taken place.
Some of the retellings are funny, some others are very true to the original story. I think Shakespeare would have been happy about that. After all, he wrote for the common man, the rabble, the non-educated person. That is why it is so much better to see Shakespeare performed than to read him.
If you want to get to know Shakespeare's plots I can recommend these books written by modern authors who have stayed true to the spirit of the Bard while writing in a language we can all understand.
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood - Atwood best known recently for The Handmaid's Tale has written this brilliant retelling of The Tempest. Felix Phillips is the artistic director of a theater group in Canada. After a personal tragedy he finds his position usurped by his assistant and vows his revenge. Twelve years later he gets his chance.
Fool by Christopher Moore - There has been more than one retelling of King Lear (Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, for example) but this is my favorite. It is funny, irreverent, and insightful as only Moore can be. King Lear's story is told by his Fool, Pocket. Publisher's Weekly described this book as the "Cliff notes you wished you had for King Lear."
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler - I am a fan of Tyler as her writing is always crisp and clear. This rendition of The Taming of the Shrew is not disappointing. Kate is tired of taking care of her scientist father and her spoiled little sister Bunny. When her father devises a scheme to keep his assistant, Pyotr from being deported, Kate is not at all willing to help. This is a very fun read!
The Gap of Time by Jeannette Winterson - Set during the financial crisis of 2008, Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale gets a wonderful facelift. One of Shakespeare's late plays, the story is about a king whose jealousy results in the loss of his baby girl and the death of his wife. This is a tale of friendship, loss, the destructiveness of status, and ultimately redemption.
A Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore - Another funny book by Moore and a reinvention of The Merchant of Venice. Moore uses Pocket from Fool as the victim when a merchant, a senator, and a naval officer try to gain wealth and power. Shakespeare would be happy with this book!
Do you have any retellings that you want to share? Shakespeare or otherwise? Let me know.
You can buy these or other books at www.bookendsonline.com.