17 Contemporary Reads Inspired by William Shakespeare

Today the literary world is honoring the life, and death, of William Shakespeare. While his exact birthday isn’t really known, we observe it on April 23, the date he died at age 52.

And while there are scores of classics inspired by William Shakespeare’s writing, like Moby Dick, by Herman Melville; Brave New Worldby Aldous Huxley; Shakespeare in Love, by Tom Stoppard…what? That film’s a classic, you guys! (Plus, Stoppard also wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.) Anyhow, I’m not here to argue. Point is, Shakespeare inspired some important works, and his influence stretches far and wide and into contemporary literature. From science-fiction to mashups, YA fantasy to hilarious romps, there’s a bit of everything inspired by the Bard. Let’s have a look at a few.

Fool, by Christopher Moore
Moore has a real gift for putting his own spin on big stories. Lamb is his retelling of Biblical tales and characters, while his A Love Story series is a hilarious take on the vampire-novel genre. In Fool, Moore takes on Shakespeare’s King Lear, telling the story from the perspective of Pocket, King Lear’s fool.

As the Shakespearian tale takes the downward spiral we’re all familiar with, it’s Pocket who jumps in to save the day behind the scenes. He works to help get Cordelia back into the kingdom, pushes against Regan and Goneril, and gets in plenty of trouble along the way, as a fool is want to do. A handful of other characters from Shakespeare’s plays make appearances in the novel, as well as a number of original characters from Moore’s vast imagination, but I won’t spoil that for you.

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The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, by Adam Pertocci
What if one of the greatest films of all time happened to be written by Shakespeare? That’s the question Adam Pertocci’s The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski seeks to answer. Instead of The Dude, you’re introduced to the Knave and his brave compatriot, Sir Walter. Written in iambic pentameter, the book is full of “discovered” historical engravings and scholarly notes. Fun Fact: This book isn’t just a quirky take on The Big Lebowski in Shakespearean format. It actually had a run as a sold-out off Broadway play in 2010.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, by Ian Doescher
Another Shakespearean rewrite that explores another one of the greatest films of all time (and by now, you’ve likely got a feel for my tastes in movies). Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars takes Episode IV: A New Hope and rewrites it in iambic pentameter…then takes things a bit further than that. Characters who never had a single line (such as R2-D2) suddenly have beautifully written soliloquies, and beautiful, woodcut-esque illustrations are peppered throughout.

It’s the first in a series, followed by The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return.

Ophelia, by Lisa M. Klein
Poor Ophelia. Her role in Hamlet always broke my heart, no matter the adaptation. And in this reimagining, she finally gets to have her say, as Lisa M. Klein retells the story of Hamlet from her perspective. Instead of just seeing Hamlet’s mad view of the world as he descends into madness and his family falls into ruin, readers learn more about Ophelia’s life growing up, her relationship with her brother, and her close friendship with the queen as her lady-in-waiting.

And, of course, there’s the inevitable ending…right? Maybe.

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When You Were Mine, by Rebecca Serle
Ah! Another character gets their turn in the spotlight. Serle’s When You Were Mine is a modern take on Romeo & Juliet, but focuses on the character of Rosaline. Remember her? She’s the girl Romeo was smitten with before meeting Juliet. In Serle’s reimagining, Juliet and Rosaline (or Rose), are former BFFs, and Rob (Romeo) and Rose have finally, finally shared a kiss. But when Juliet moves back into town, she steals Rob away from Rose, who is absolutely crushed. You get to watch literature’s most famous love story through the eyes of Rosaline, the broken-hearted, jilted former flame…and then the downward spiral Juliet sets herself on.

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Juliet Immortal, by Stacey Jay
What if Juliet and Romeo weren’t lovers at all…but enemies? And not just any enemies, but immortal beings caught up in a battle spanning centuries? That’s what Stacey Jay’s take on Shakespeare’s classic love story runs with. And oh my, it is exciting and fun. See, the traditional story is that Juliet takes her own life. But in Jay’s novel, Romeo murders her as a sacrifice to grant himself immortality. But, surprise, Juliet is given the gift of eternal life as well, and their battle for the souls of true lovers everywhere begins. They fight in different times, in different eras, as different people.

But now, Juliet has fallen in love with someone. And Romeo is out to crush them.

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