My Favorite Books That Retell Shakespeare’s Plays

It’s been a while since I had a blog post because I’ve been finishing up my next book, so I’ll jump right in. This list contains my favorite books that retell Shakespeare’s classic plays. Obviously, Shakespeare has influenced hundreds of writers and impacted just as many books. This list is dedicated to those books that were not only influenced by the Bard but actually retell an entire Shakespearean play in a modern reinterpretation.

5. West Side Story (1961) by Irving Shulman – I didn’t care for this when I first had to watch the movie version in high school, but I include it here because it was the first time I remember seeing one of Shakespeare’s plays retold in a modern setting. This is one of the clearest interpretations, with the story mirroring that of Romeo and Juliet. Musicals aren’t my thing and I’m much more fond of Shakespeare’s historical plays than I am with Romeo and Juliet but West Side Story does a great job of retelling the original story.

4. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966) by Tom Stoppard – This is a short and quick read to be sure, but it’s worth it. Stoppard retells Hamlet from the point of view of two of its minor characters. The book works mainly because of its absurdist comedy. I’ve read a couple other books that retell Shakespeare’s plays by presenting it from another character’s point of view and those books almost never work for me because they are lacking Shakespeare’s ability as well as something to keep the reader turning pages. Stoppard does that with comedy and does it well.

3. The Sword in the Stone (2018) by me! – I hate including my own book in this list but I genuinely love the story I created. Each book in my Space Lore series combines elements of a Shakespearean historical play with parts of Arthurian legend and then transports it to another galaxy, but none more so than Book 5, The Sword in the Stone, which retells Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Imagine Caesar, Brutus, the Soothsayer, and the rest of the cast set amongst intergalactic war and you can understand why I’m so pleased with how The Sword in the Stone turned out.

2. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008) by David Wroblewski – A young, mute boy runs away into the wilderness with his dogs. How could this possibly be a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet? But it is, and it works perfectly. Edgar’s father dies and his uncle may have had something to do with it. When his uncle takes the place of his father at home, it becomes too much for Edgar. The rest of the story is a brilliant version of Hamlet, where dogs accompany Edgar on his journey and back home again.

1. Hag-Seed (2016) by Margaret Atwood – I started this book thinking it would be okay. The premise didn’t sound particularly exciting and I hadn’t heard anything good or bad about it so I figured it would be lackluster. Immediately after starting it, however, I knew it would be good. As always, Atwood does a great job of using dialogue and dysfunction to keep you interested as the story unfolds. By the time I was half way through the book I knew I had deeply underestimated the story. I’m familiar with a bunch of modern Shakespearean re-envisions but this is my favorite. The depth by which Atwood is able to retell The Tempest within her new setting while also having the actual Shakespearean play unfold as a plot point is genius.