Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Shakespeare retellings

From Book Riot: THE 10 BEST HAMLET RETELLINGS, RANKED

There are that many Hamlet retellings? I had no idea.

As always with Book Riot posts, I half expect to see Watership Down on this list, but I expect that will never happen again. Probably everything on this list is an actual retelling of Hamlet. But let’s see.

Okay, their first choice: Foul is Fair.

Jade, Jenny, Mads, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of—until the night of Jade’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Jade as their next target. They picked the wrong girl. Sworn to vengeance, Jade transfers to St. Andrew’s Prep. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.

That does not sound at all like Hamlet to me. In fact, “Foul is fair” is part of a quote from the witches in Macbeth, not a line from Hamlet. Same with “something wicked this way comes,” that’s from Macbeth as well. I have to say, this sure sounds like it’s supposed to be Macbeth-flavored rather than Hamlet-flavored. Nothing about the scenario really evokes either play. At least, I don’t see how that description fits either one. Except the vengeance thing. I guess that could fit Hamlet.

Well, without reading it, I don’t know.

Okay, the rest of them do look very Hamlet-adjacent. Several are movies, not novels, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Oh, Here’s the choose-your-own-adventure version by Ryan North! The Romeo and Juliet one he did was quite funny.

The Dead Father’s Club sounds pretty good, and also wow, what a similar title to The Dead Girls Club in the previous post. This one sure got a better cover design:

You can actually read the title quite clearly! Also, I like the ghosts-as-smoke thing and the whole cover in general. The description:

In this 2006 novel, the character of Hamlet is reimagined as Phillip, a young 11-year-old boy who is visited by the ghost of his dead father. Phillip’s father says that he was murdered by his brother Alan. Now Phillip must avenge his father’s murder and prevent Alan from taking over the family pub. If Phillip is unable to avenge his father’s death by murdering Alan within the next three months, Phillip’s father will fall prey to the Terrors.

Here’s one which gets pretty creative:

Nutshell by Ian McEwan.

 Ian McEwan’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is narrated by a fetus. This fetus witnesses a classic tale of murder and deceit from within the womb: Trudy has betrayed her husband John and is sleeping with John’s brother Claude. Together, John and Claude have hatched a plan to rid themselves of John forever. But what can a poor fetus do to stop the murder of his father other than kicking his mom from inside her womb every now and then?

Huh. I certainly wouldn’t have thought of that.

Personally, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Shakespeare’s tragedies. I guess I should look up retellings of the comedies! Except not The Taming of the Shrew. Wow, I have seen so many re-makes of that one — remember the one from the tv show Moonlighting? But I am not crazy about the original play and I guess I got tired of re-makes of it.

Anybody know of a good retelling of one of the other comedies?

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8 Comments Shakespeare retellings

  1. Elaine T

    Isn’t there a Tom Stoppard comedy retelling of Hamlet? Rosencrantz & Guildenstern?

    Pratchett took on Midsummer Night’s Dream probably with others thrown in, in one of the witch books, probably Lords & Ladies. Wyrd Sisters might take on Macbeth. .. I don’t much like the early Witch books and haven’t reread them in ages.

    Poul Andersen did A Midsummer Tempest but it’s not really a retelling. It’s an England during the Civil War where Shakespeare is history.

    Not a comedy, but West Side Story is R & J.

  2. Pete Mack

    Yes, R&GAD is Hamlet-based. Sort of. I would call it meta-Hamlet*, however. It is a comedy mostly (besides, you know, the main characters dying.) And it is famous for a shaggy dog math joke.
    https://youtu.be/RjOqaD5tWB0

    * pun very much intended.

  3. Mary Beth

    Putting in a plug for Ann Leckie’s THE RAVEN’S TOWER as a successful Hamlet retelling which also worked well in its own right. I really enjoyed the conceit of the omniscient god-as-narrator telling the story in second person to the Horatio-analogue protagonist. And I felt satisfied by the ending, which is rare for Hamlet!

  4. Rachel

    Eugie, oh, that would explain the apparent disconnect, thanks.

    Mary Beth and Maureen, how interesting! I hadn’t heard that before. I like the idea of Horatio as the protagonist … and now I’m interested in seeing how Leckie pulls off that ending.

    Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is pretty famous, I guess! I’ve heard about it but never seen it myself.

    The Witches books are the ones of Pratchett’s I’ve never read. I should try them eventually, perhaps starting in the middle. I like (nearly) all of Pratchett’s later work much better than (almost) any of his earlier work.

  5. SarahZ

    All Men of Genius was a loose twelfth night retelling, with steampunk elements. I remember it being cute.

    Re:rozencrant & guildenstern, highly recommend the movie. Oddly enough, they made a lion king equivalent – the original movie’s events, all from timon & pumba’s perspective (but can’t speak to quality there)

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