Reading list

7 books inspired by Shakespeare

Already read - and loved - the complete works? Check out these books for inventive new takes on some of Shakespeare's most famous plots

New Boy

Tracy Chevalier

New Boy is a retelling of Shakespeare's Othello - a tale of jealousy, betrayal and backstabbing. Where better to reimagine it, then, than an elementary school playground over the course of one high-drama day? Set in 1970s Washington, the book explores race, romance and loyalty, and all before the lunch bell rings. Prepare for double-crossing and love triangles galore.

Shylock Is My Name

Howard Jacobson

It was a bold choice of Jacobson to rewrite The Merchant of Venice - after all, it applies notoriously problematic stereotypes to Jewish people. But Jacobson is no stranger to black comedy, and here he transports Shylock from medieval Venice to modern-day Cheshire, home to reality TV stars and obscenely rich footballers. Strulovitch (Shylock) wrestles with his heritage, his daughter's future, his rivals and his grief but, much like in Shakespeare's original, remains all the more intriguing for his depth and complexity.

Vinegar Girl

Anne Tyler

It could be that we're drawn to this book because of the headstrong, independent young woman at its centre. Or it could be that everything Anne Tyler touches turns to gold. Either way, Tyler does domestic life like no other, and her green-card-wedding twist on The Taming of the Shrew's arranged marriage brings it bang up to date, with sass to spare.

Chasing the Stars

Malorie Blackman

Our second retelling of Othello shows us that Shakespeare's work really is ripe for reinterpretation. In Chasing the Stars, Blackman ramps up the claustrophobia by setting it within the confines of a spaceship. If you thought the scheming was intense in the school playground of Chevalier's story, imagine the distrust and terror of Nathan, Vee, Iago and their crew once the murders start in a tiny metal box millions of light years away...

 

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

The parallels between Brave New World and The Tempest are more subtle. But it's impossible not to notice that the novel's title is taken straight feom a speec given by Miranda in the play, even if the words do go on to have a profoundly worrying meaning by the end of the book. Written as a response to H. G. Wells' utopian books a few years earlier, Huxley's book explores a utopia gone wrong in a remote tropical community where two people become stranded. Tackling themes of trust, morality and justice, Brave New World is undeniably Shakespearean in flavour. 

The Dead Father's Club

Matt Haig

If we tell you that The Dead Fathers Club tells the story of young Phillip, a boy traumatised by his father's death and pursued by his voice from beyond the grave, and that this voice demands revenge against his brother, Phillip's Uncle Alan, who killed his father... well, it's Hamlet, isn't it?  And just loke his Shakespearean counterpart, poor Phillip is drawn into a web of revenge, treachery, and maybe madness...

 

Wise Children

Angela Carter

This book was inspired by many of Shakespeare's works, allowing Carter to play with a multitude of themes from love to loyalty. She refers to plays including A Midsummer Night's Dream and King Lear, and even the book itself is written in five acts. This work of fiction from the queen of early gothic magic realism takes on a different meaning when you know that Carter was writing about her characters holding their infant grandchildren whilst fully aware of her own terminal cancer.

 

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