Rewriting Shakespeare

Rewriting and retelling stories is nothing new. Most major themes have been recycled again and again and sometimes, only sometimes, these themes get a new spin that make them feel fresh and original.

Shakespeare is no exception–every play Shakespeare wrote was based on a legend, folktale, history, or some other story that had come before. Shakespeare isn’t known for his original story, but for his original development of plot, inner character, and careful telling of all of these tales on stage.

Shakespeare’s work is so well crafted that it has been replicated and retold again and again in films such as 10 Things I Hate About You (a retelling of the Taming of the Shrew), Warm Bodies (a zombiefied retelling of Romeo and Juliet), and even Disney’s The Lion King (a retelling of Hamlet, only fuzzier and with more fart jokes).

In addition to keeping the balcony scene, Warm Bodies kept the terrible water scene from 1994’s Romeo and Juliet film.

Now Shakespeare is being retold outside of film in the form of novels designed for the modern reader. Two award-winning authors, Anne Tyler and Jeanette Winterson, are being commissioned by Hogarth to write retellings of The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale, respectively.

I love this idea. While Shakespeare’s plays have turned up in novel form before, such as A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley which was based on King Lear, most modern interpretations of Shakespeare appear on screen rather than in print.

These books are specifically being commissioned for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, which puts the release date in 2016.

If you are like me and are too excited to wait, go ahead and get started writing your own reinterpretation of one of Shakespeare’s classics. Here’s the start of mine below (see if you can guess which play it’s from!):

The night was dark as pitch and so still and silent Francisco could have sworn he heard his own heart beating in his chest. But no, that wasn’t the sound of his heart. The soft tapping was the sound of steady, rhythmic footsteps approaching him at his post. His realization of the truth was interrupted by the sound of a voice.

“Who’s there?” came out of the darkness.

Francisco felt his grip tighten around his dead flashlight as he replied, “No, stay where you are and identify yourself.”

Feel free to comment on what play you think this is from and feel free to expand on this modern retelling in the comments below!

– Amanda Riggle


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