Today is William Shakespeare’s birthday! Happy 449th Birthday Will! (You don't look a day over 400, I swear.)
Now, technically, as a librarian, I feel obligated to tell you that his actual birthday is unknown. However, this is what is assumed to be his birthday, and, ironically enough, also his death day. Less happy, that one.
Anywho, in honor of the great Bard, I thought I would share a few modern books derived from Shakespeare’s creations. I'm sure you can find any retelling of Romeo and Juliet fairly easily, but these are from a few other (less overdone) plays by Shakespeare.
I thoroughly enjoyed Moore’s retelling of King Lear. It is essentially the same story as Shakespeare’s play, but told from the Fool’s point of view.
In this book, the fool is known as Pocket. He is especially fond of Princess Cordelia, Lear’s daughter. Lear intends to marry her off, which Pocket is against. As a trusted member of the King’s inner circle, he does what he can to help. Now, this is a bit underhanded, of course, as he pits brothers Edmund and Edgar against one another. In the whole exchange, Lear’s other daughters, Regan and Goneril, manage to win his favor by outbidding one another as to who loves him more. Cordelia replies honestly, and is thus shunned by her father. All of this is a part of Pocket’s plan. What is not his plan is that Cordelia goes off with a French prince to marry, basically crushing poor Pocket. In revenge, he plots with Lear’s remaining daughters to strip him of his power due to his delicate mental state, while also attempting to begin a war between the sisters.
In Shakespeare’s story, the fool is sort of a background character, who is just there with a witty line once in a while. Moore imagines clandestine plots and underhanded exchanges as to where the fool fit into the demise of the king. A big appeal of this story, as with all Christopher Moore books, is some biting humor. Even telling a story in medieval times, Moore manages to make jokes and bring in sarcastic commentary. Pocket is crude in the best way, and bitingly witty. Even if you are unfamiliar with King Lear, this is an excellent story.
Iago is one of the most notorious characters in Shakespeare’s plays. Iago comes from Othello, and is single-handedly responsible for all of the drama and tragedy within that story. Iago is known for convincing Othello of his wife’s (nonexistent) indiscretions, and being the cause of multiple characters' falls and deaths.
In this story, Galland explores the story from Iago’s viewpoint, giving him a touch more humanity and sympathy than Shakespeare did. Shakespeare often refers to the character as “Honest Iago,” (in an ironic sense it seems) but Galland expands upon this idea. Iago is the fifth son of a merchant, and has a way of being honest and blunt that prevents him from certain things in life. Joining the military, he finds his honesty is an attribute, not a hindrance. He wins the heart of a beautiful woman, and he gains favor from Othello. Then, a series of events occur that change Iago’s moral compass. It begins with Iago being passed over for a promotion he felt he deserved, and then spirals (somewhat paranoid-like) from there.
Again, this is a story that takes a Shakespeare tale and tells it, just from a different point of view, which can drastically change the story. So if you know the story, you know the end, but the journey is more important.
Finally, Ophelia is the story of one of Shakespeare’s great heroines. Ophelia comes from Hamlet, and is a tragic character we love and pity. As Hamlet’s love interest, we pretty much know she is doomed from the start.
In Ophelia, Lisa Klein takes the character we know and gives her much more depth. Ophelia has grown up without a mother, in the castle with Hamlet’s family. She is one of the ladies-in-waiting for the queen, and during this time, the prince (Hamlet) begins doting upon her. As their relationship grows, Ophelia has to question her status both in court, and in Hamlet’s life. Hamlet is a fickle man who says he loves her one day, and the next ignores her presence. Fed up with this life, Ophelia concocts a plan to get herself out of the castle-life as soon as things begin to go downhill at the castle.
This author takes more liberties in her storytelling than the others on this list, at least in my opinion. Klein changes a few key plot points that will irritate Shakespeare buffs, but they work well in this story.
Now methinks thou shouldst get thee to the library and happily enjoy some great literature!
(As Shakespeare’s birthday, it is also Talk Like Shakespeare day, for those of you interested, here’s a link that will teach you. http://www.talklikeshakespeare.org/ )