Much Ado About Shakespeare: Modern Adaptations & Retellings

By Carrie Mcbride, Blog Editor
April 23, 2020
portrait of Shakespeare

NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: TH-50306

April 23rd is William Shakespeare's birthday (in 1564, and, likely his death date as well) so it's a fitting day to celebrate his contributions to literature and culture. While we absolutely recommend reading Shakespeare's work anytime (his plays are available on our SimplyE app), today we're also recommending you try one of the many modern retellings of his work. These authors take the central themes that Shakespeare explored and give them new settings, characters, and interpretations.

Many of the titles below are part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project which publishes adapations of his works by bestselling authors. We've also included some Young Adult titles which are a perfect entrée to the world of Shakespeare if you're feeling intimidated. 

All of these titles are available from the Library in e-book format and most are in our free reader app SimplyE.

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The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

In The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson’s cover version of The Winter’s Tale, we move from London, a city reeling after the 2008 financial crisis, to a storm-ravaged American city called New Bohemia. Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, technology and the elliptical nature of time. Written with energy and wit, this is a story of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and redemption and the enduring love of a lost child on the other.'

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Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson

Winter, a cemetery, Shylock. In this provocative and profound interpretation of “The Merchant of Venice,” Shylock is juxtaposed against his present-day counterpart in the character of art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch.  With characteristic irony, Jacobson presents Shylock as a man of incisive wit and passion, concerned still with questions of identity, parenthood, anti-Semitism and revenge.
 

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Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

A modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew  follows the experiences of a preschool teacher who alienates others by speaking her mind and who manages her family's home before she is expected by her eccentric father to marry his assistant to prevent the young man's deportation.

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Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood

A psychologically charged story inspired by Shakespeare's  The Tempest , reimagined by the award-winning author of  The Handmaid's Tale , follows the retribution plot of a deposed artistic director who teaches prison inmates while consulting with a fantasy child who has taken the place of the daughter he lost years earlier.

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New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970s suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practice a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. Arriving at his fifth school in as many years, diplomat’s son Osei Kokote knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day—so he’s lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can’t stand to witness this budding relationship. By the end of the day, the school and its key players—teachers and pupils alike—will never be the same again.

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Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn

A modern reimagining of Shakespeare's King Lear follows Henry Dunbar, who hands over his global media corporation to his two oldest daughters and finds himself confined to an upscale sanatorium in rural England, where he starts planning his escape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Macbeth by Jo Nesbø

A modern retelling of Macbeth by the award-winning author of the Harry Hole series is set in a run-down industrial town in the 1970s and follows the efforts of a popular but increasingly corrupt police officer and his calculating casino owner girlfriend to work with a powerful local drug dealer to murder a professional rival and set up his best friend.

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A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

A successful Iowa farmer decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. When the youngest objects, she is cut out of his will. This sets off a chain of events that brings dark truths to light and explodes long-suppressed emotions. An ambitious reimagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear cast upon a typical American community in the late twentieth century, A Thousand Acres takes on themes of truth, justice, love, and pride, and reveals the beautiful yet treacherous topography of humanity.

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Fool by Christopher Moore

In 1288, as King Lear watches his kingdom descend into chaos, the king's fool, Pocket, and Pocket's apprentice, Drool, take it upon themselves to restore order amidst the mayhem, and in the process make a surprising discovery about their own heritage.

Also check out Moore's The Serpent of Venice

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Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Alienated from his fellow zombies because of his dislike of having to kill humans and his enjoyment of Sinatra music, "R" meets a living girl who sharply contrasts with his cold and dreary world and who he resolves to protect in spite of her delicious appearance.

 

 

Young Adult

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Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

At cheerleading camp, Hermione is drugged and raped, but she is not sure whether it was one of her teammates or a boy on another team--and in the aftermath she has to deal with the rumors in her small Ontario town, the often awkward reaction of her classmates, the rejection of her boyfriend, the discovery that her best friend, Polly, is gay, and above all the need to remember what happened so that the guilty boy can be brought to justice.

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (King Lear)

A modern, sophisticated suspense tale by the National Book Award finalist author of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks follows the revolutionary activities of four friends who turn against each other in the wake of trauma, differing political views and a devastating secret.

 

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Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth

Excitedly embarking on her sophomore year and her assistant stage manager duties for the drama club's production of Hamlet, Emma endures social drama before being transported back to the year 1601, where she is mistaken for a boy and put to work by the bard himself.

 

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Speak of Me As I Am by Sonia Belasco

Melanie and Damon are both living in the shadow of loss. For Melanie, it's the loss of her larger-than-life artist mother, taken by cancer well before her time. For Damon, it’s the loss of his best friend, Carlos, who took his own life. As they struggle to fill the empty spaces their loved ones left behind, fate conspires to bring them together. But when the two join their school’s production of Othello, the play they both hoped would be a distraction becomes a test of who they truly are, both together and on their own. 

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The Taming of the Drew by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Cass McKay has been called stubborn, temperamental, difficult, and that word that rhymes with "witch" more times than she cares to count. But that's all about to pay off. She has finally landed the role she was born to play—Kate, in The Taming of the Shrew—in the summer apprentice program of a renowned Shakespeare theater company in the forests of Vermont.

Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!

Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.