Through the years as a librarian and an avid reader, I’ve often encountered others who despite also being fond of the written word confess that they hate Shakespeare (often in hushed tones as if their library card may be revoked due to this fact–it won’t be, I promise). Often their encounter with the Bard began and ended with a high school English class where they struggled to get through Shakespeare’s rich, but antiquated writing. Some of what keeps people from Shakespeare is the language or the sense of not being able to connect with the time period; these works take away some of those barriers. Hopefully they will inspire you to take a look at Shakespeare’s work again with new eyes.
The Hogarth Shakespeare Project: The Gap of Time and Vinegar Girl
The Hogarth Shakespeare Project which debuted in October of 2015 includes works by bestselling authors retelling the works of Shakespeare in novel form. You can check out one of my favorite authors, Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time, her take on The Winter’s Tale. I’m looking forward to checking out the newly available Vinegar Girl, Anne Tyler’s spin on my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies, The Taming of the Shrew in which Kate, a preschool teacher who hates kids, agrees to marry her zany scientist father’s lab assistant so he can get a green card. Fans of Margaret Atwood have her retelling of The Tempest to look forward to in October.
The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 by James Shapiro
If you are fascinated by history, read this recent work by esteemed Shakespeare historian, James Shapiro, where he explores how the events of 1606 influenced Shakespeare to write three of his great tragedies King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. Although there is a timelessness to Shakespeare’s work understanding the political climate and beliefs of the time adds another layer to the material.
Tales from Shakespeare
Written for teens and kids Tales from Shakespeare includes ten of Shakespeare’s popular works including Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet retold in prose format by Tina Packer. Each story is stunningly brought to life by a different well known artist including P.J. Lynch and Barbara McClintock.
YOLO Juliet by Brett Wright (and William Shakespeare)
If your attitude toward Shakespeare is TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) then you may change your mind with this quirky retelling of Romeo and Juliet using text speak and emojis, part of the OMG Shakespeare! series. The work is recommended for grades 8 and up.
Much Ado About Nothing
If you are a Joss Whedon fan like me, how can you resist his contemporary retelling of the classic romance starring Angel’s Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, and Firefly’s Nathan Fillion?
Throne of Blood
Think Shakespeare is boring? This retelling of Macbeth set in feudal Japan featuring a samurai lord may change your mind.
If you still aren’t convinced about Shakespeare check out this documentary that answers the question of Why Shakespeare? Why Shakespeare? includes interviews with actors and celebrities like Christina Applegate along with inner city kids whose lives were transformed by Shakespeare and the world of live theater.
A Theatergoer’s Guide to Shakespeare by Robert Thomas Fallon
As with all plays the best way to enjoy Shakespeare is as live theater so check out Shakespeare in the Park or if it too hot out borrow a DVD of Macbeth or The Tempest to watch inside with the air conditioner turned up. Fallon’s A Theatergoer’s Guide to Shakespeare gives you critical, historical, and plot details that will have you prepped to enjoy some of Shakespeare’s most frequently staged works without confusion due to the language or allusions that you are unfamiliar with.
-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference