I Don’t Even Know What “Inspired By” Means Anymore

I like when they say a movie is inspired by a true story. That’s kind of silly. “Hey, Mitch, did you hear that story about that lady who drove her car into the lake with her kids and they all drowned?” “Yeah, I did, and you know what – that inspires me to write a movie about a gorilla!” – Mitch Hedberg

I’m reminded of that joke whenever I see a list like this Top Ten Novels Inspired By Shakespeare. What will their criteria be, I wonder? Are we talking about modern retellings, or prequel stories, or alternate timelines or what?

Having read the list, I have no idea.

Four of them take their title directly from a Shakespeare play.  How much each novel then does with Shakespeare varies wildly – Aldous Huxley has his Shakespeare-quoting savage, for example, but does Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale have anything to do with Twelfth Night other than the title and apparently a bit of hedonism?

One tells the story of the “real” Richard III and attempts to separate it from Shakespeare’s version.

One (Thousand Acres) is something of a “half retelling” of King Lear, which keeps almost identically to the premise (an old father, before retiring, divides up his land between his three daughters) but then takes a sharp left turn into whole new territory.

I think that for all of those we can at least say the author had some conscious connection to Shakespeare, even if it was just “I like that quote, I’m going to use it as the title of my book.”

But The Talented Mr. Ripley? Really? A story about a guy that wants something the other guy has, so he kills him and takes his place, then starts killing other people to keep the secret.  That makes it Macbeth? Do we have any reason to think that the author intended the comparison, or are we just guessing?

I don’t know what to do with Moby Dick. I don’t know enough about Melville. Did he deliberately write it to parallel a Shakespearean tragedy, as several essays I googled claim?

Shakespeare saves lives. Find out how.

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