Shakespeare Fiction Recommendations?

It occurred to me the other day that Chasing The Bard will have to end soon, despite my threat to travel to New Zealand, kidnap the author and force her to write nothing but Shakespeare stories (“Misery style”).  And then I will be sad, because it really is just that good of a story.  I think what I love best of all (and I raved about this in a past post) is that while it is fiction, she didn’t muck with the known facts.  She simply worked around them (and in the case of the Dark Lady even proposed some answers). This is substantially different from, say, Shakespeare In Love, where the story was flipped all around to suit the movie’s needs.  You folks all saw how I went bouncing off the walls when I thought that Clare Danes had misspoken a line in R+J, you can imagine how….disconcerting it is for me when somebody just helps themselves to whatever bits of Shakespeare they want, without respecting the text.   [Note – Shakey In Love actually turns out to be a great movie because of its respect for the R&J material.  It’s the fictionalization of his biography that I’m referring to.] I’m wondering what other sorts of “Shakespeare fiction” are out there.  We’ve discussed various children’s literature, I’m not really talking about that.  Nor am I talking about “slash” fiction.  I mean legit, published novels for adults that happen to derive their central plots from Shakespeare, either the man directly, or perhaps alternate versions of the stories.  Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead would be an excellent example of the latter case, successfully weaving their story in between bits of the actual play. I know that the Clockwork Orange guy (Burgess?) wrote a Shakespeare novel, but I don’t know anything about it.  I suppose I could look it up but I’m at work.  And besides I’m trying to drum up conversation, not answer my own questions. Anybody else? While I’m here I should mention Jasper Fforde, a very bizarre “lit fantasy” writer who weaves bits of Shakespeare into his stories with some regularity.  I fell in love with his ideas in the very first book when he had the Baconians coming door to door like Jehovah’s Witnesses, trying to find converts to their cause.  In a later book he actually has Hamlet play a role, but other than a few specific references to the text (“If I’m such a religious figure why would I say something so atheistic like There’s nothing either right or wrong but thinking makes it so?”  Good question!), it is a minor role.

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8 thoughts on “Shakespeare Fiction Recommendations?

  1. (“If I’m such a religious figure why would I say something so atheistic like There’s nothing either right or wrong but thinking makes it so?” Good question!)

    I’m not sure I agree. Hamlet doesn’t say “right or wrong”; he says “good or bad”, and the obvious meaning to take from context is “pleasant or unpleasant”.

    I too liked Fforde’s Baconians, and liked his Rocky Horror Richard III even more, but his Hamlet felt off to me even in the little snippets we saw, and that was a prime example.

  2. I suppose you could start with Robert Nye – Falstaff (short title) which has something of a reputation … it mixes ‘Shakespeare’s with a ‘real life’ Falstof. It’s OK, but for some reason I didn’t quite ‘gel’ with it.

    There is also his ‘Late Mr Shakespeare’ (which I enjoyed) – one of the boy actors of the troupe grown up and reminiscing (funny in places).

    And he wrote, ‘Mrs. Shakespeare: The Complete Works.’ Not read that one – but it is on my list of sometime, I really must …

    ‘Nothing Like the Sun’ – a story of Shakespeare’s love-life, is the tongue in cheek Burgess: Loved it the first time I read it 30 years ago, hated it in a re-read last year. Intelligent, be warned.

    There is a great Midsomer Murder episode based very loosely on Hamlet.

    Somewhere I think there is an Agatha Crusty (not talking about ‘The Mouse Trap’).

    Jane Smiley’s ‘A Thousand Acres’, I am told, is a respectable take on Lear. Doesn’t seem to get everyone’s approval though.

    An English playwright called ‘Bond’ – that’s Edward Bond; re-did King Lear as ‘Lear’ – very good, very controversial.

    Macbeth got absurd with ‘Macbett’ a real workover from Ionesco (Romanian that one!).

    And the Russian short story, ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ is very loosely based on it (turned more respectably into an Opera).

    Talking of Operas …. well, maybe not.

    The operatic might best be represented by Terry Pratchett – ‘Wierd Sisters’ and the rest, all takes on Shakespeare. The best for me is ‘Lords and Ladies’ which I read as a reflection on The Dream – others can’t see it.

    West Side Story of course, and Kiss Me Kate, and ‘Carry on Cleo …

    As for getting annoyed when Shakey gets ripped off – no way. Considering the majority of the plays are 90% pure rip-off from other sources, anyone is free to repay Shakey with the same service.


  3. Two books you might want to try:

    This is out of print but you should be able to find a copy: The players. “The Players : A Novel of the Young Shakespeare”. I thought it was really well written.

    Then “Ruled Brittania” which is an alernate history ficiton. I haven’t read this but I want to.

  4. Not even a mention. Sigh. I guess providing the backstory for the Montagues and Capulets, thebirth of Tybalt, a young Friar Lawrence, Prince, and Mercutio isn’t enough. What about mentioning Dons John and Pedro? A scene with Kate and Petruchio? Or referencing Shylock? What about tying together all the Italian plays except for Othello?

    As I say, sigh.

    Okay, you can try a boxed set by multiple authors entitled “Shakespearean Whodunnits.”

    There’s a series that purports to be a sequel to 12th Night, entitled 13th NIGHT. Didn’t love it, as it turns Feste into a detective. But the series deals with Yorik as well, in a book called AN ANTIC DISPOSITION.

    Jospehine Tey’s DAUGHTER OF TIME.

    HER INFINITE VARIETY by Pamela Raphael Berkman. Short stories about Shakespearean women.

    SICKEN AND SO DIE by Simon Brett, a mystery set in a Shakespeare acting company.

    CHASING SHAKESPEARE by Sarah Smith. An authorship mystery.

    MY NAME IS WILL by the marvelous Jess Winfield (of the original Reduced Shakespeare Company).

    SHAKESPEARE’S SISTER by Doris Gwaltney.

    There’s a new novel out telling Macbeth from the Lady’s POV. It’s appropriately called LADY MACBETH. Then there’s the historical take on Macbeth by Nigel Tranter called MACBETH THE KING. Though for my money the best Mac novel is Dorothy Dunnett’s THE KING HEREAFTER.

    And if you haven’t read Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN series, you’re really missing out. Best Shakespeare story ever woven into the tale.

    Hey – you said you wanted me back…

  5. @micah: Good point, I got the quote wrong (off the top of my head). I think your interpretation is more accurate than Fforde’s, too.

    @alan : Wow, where to pick? Thanks for the list! I had not thought of Pratchett – just this weekend I was piling several of those books into the bucket for charity! I may have to go give them a reread. Re: Shakey getting ripped off, I don’t mind reimaginings and people who run with the ideas, I’m talking about people who just help themselves to a bit here and a bit there, trying to gain a little literary credit via the Shakespeare references, while stuffing a bunch of garbage in between because they only wanted to use the source, not respect it.

    @silas: Thanks!

  6. No worries. The fact that you’re having the conversation is lovely.

    As far as Sandman, you could either pick up the third graphic novel and throw yourself in, or else start at the beginning. But as the story progresses, Puck becomes a major villain, so while Will himself is limited to, I think, four appearances, his charactes have many more. Dream and Tempest were commissioned by Morpheus, you see, in exchange for Shakespeare’s talent and success.

    There are also Biblical characters, a large Dante section, some Norse mythology, and many other wonderful bits. Epic, and phenomenal.

    On a separate note, one of the novels I’m not working on has been picked up as a serial story over at Shanghai Low Theatricals. It might interest you, as it features a young William Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe getting themselves mixed up with the Babbington Plot. I think they’re printing the first chapter online in August, but it might be September.


  7. *hangs head in shame*

    There goes my shot at a preview copy of Blixt’s next book. 🙂

    Sorry about that! Welcome back? :-/

    I’m wondering how one jumps in to the Sandman stuff. I’m led to believe that the Shakespeare bits are actually a small piece of an overall very large graphic novel series?

    [For those scratching their heads, David is referring to his very own novel The Master of Verona, which skillfully does everything he lists, providing the backstory of the Montague/Capulet feud as well as all of those other things. I am quite the schmuck for leaving it out of a conversation on Shakespearean Fiction, since it is everything I said I was looking for.]

  8. Grace Tiffany. A Shakespeare scholar who writes good fiction. Her “Will” is credible. As with one of the books cited above, the “dark lady” provides a motivation for much of what happens. And the conclusion, amidst the fire at the Globe is quite moving

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