Arts & Culture

Shakespearean inspired fiction awaits thee at thine library

Impress your friends with an interesting bit of trivia. William Shakespeare was born and died on the same day of the year — today, April 23rd. (He was born in 1564 and died in 1616). More than 400 years after his death, Shakespeare is still widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. His plays continue to be the inspiration for many contemporary novels. (Find Shakespeare’s plays in the 822.33 Dewey Decimal area and as eBooks on the Library’s “OverDrive” database.)

Your Manatee County Public Library System has many of these “re-imagined” novels that take the basic themes of Shakespeare’s plays and update the plots, characters and settings. Novels that were inspired by Shakespeare’s plays include Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” (“Macbeth”/“King Lear”), Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (“The Tempest”), Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (“Macbeth”) and Jane Smiley’s “A Thousand Acres” (“King Lear”).

The aim of the “Hogarth Shakespeare Project” ( is to re-imagine Shakespeare’s most beloved works through the works of bestselling authors. In Margaret Atwood’s “Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold,” Felix Phillips, the former artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, is living in exile after an act of unforeseen treachery. Twelve years later his chance for revenge arrives in the shape of a theater course at a nearby prison. Like “The Tempest,” magic, grief, retribution and redemption are major themes in this humorous book.

Another title in this series, “Vinegar Girl” by Anne Tyler, is a very funny retelling of “The Taming of the Shrew,” utilizing the author’s trademark quirky characters and a touch of a Jane Austen vibe as well. Set in modern-day Baltimore, the novel concerns a father’s attempt to coerce his daughter into a green-card marriage resulting in a screwball comedy of manners.

One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, “Romeo and Juliet,” has been re-interpreted in a variety of novels. “Juliet’s Nurse” by Lois Leveen, retells the familiar story of the Capulets and the Montagues through the perspective of Juliet’s nurse. It is a prequel of sorts beginning 14 years before the fateful five days spanned by the drama.

Set in both the present day and 14th century Siena (not Verona) Italy, Anne Fortier’s “Juliet” is an unusual but involving mix of genres including romance, mystery, and adventure (with undercurrents of “The Da Vinci Code”).

Christopher Moore’s “Fool” is a bawdy retelling of “King Lear” as seen from the eyes of Lear’s fool, “Pocket” and his dimwit apprentice, “Drool.” Moore borrows from at least a dozen of the Bard’s plays for this parody that mixes tragedy, murder and mayhem, and both erudite and lowbrow humor. And drawing upon “Othello,” “The Merchant of Venice” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” Moore follows up with an equally ribald comic novel that continues the further adventures of Pocket and Drool in “The Serpent of Venice.”

Verily, dost thou desirest more? Then seeketh out “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski (a modern take on “Hamlet” set in rural Wisconsin), “Star Wars” stories written in the style of Shakespeare by Ian Doescher and “Two Gentlemen of Lebowski” (“The Dude” meets the Bard) by Adam Bertocci, an eAudiobook on the Library’s “hoopla” database.

Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday. Fran Barba is a reference librarian at the downtown Central Library.