One of the bad things about adoring the work of a deceased writer is that eventually you have read everything that person published. I’m in this boat a lot, because most of the writers I like have been dead for decades or even centuries. There will be no more books from Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, or Charles Dickens. Nor will there be any more plays from William Shakespeare.
Granted, I haven’t read everything Shakespeare wrote (the historical plays are heavy going and then there are all those sonnets to get through), but I’m familiar with a lot of his work. I love Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, but Hamlet is my all-time favorite. I imprinted on it as a teen, watching Derek Jacobi’s glorious ranting in the BBC version we taped off PBS. (Star Trek fans: Patrick Stewart plays Claudius covered in gray curls. One look and you will understand why he shaved his head.)
Fortunately, lots of people are like me: in love with Shakespeare. It means that when I am not reading something by Shakespeare, I can read something that incorporates Shakespeare. In the past, I’ve enjoyed mysteries by Ngaio Marsh that involved Shakespearean actors (Final Curtain) or performances of his plays (Light Thickens) or even Shakespeare’s personal life (Death at the Dolphin; Killer Dolphin in the U.S.). Thanks to her many experiences with the theater and acting, she weaves Shakespeare into her mysteries with a loving hand.
But just recently, I came across something new to me: Shakespearean fan fiction. The Third Witch by Rebecca Reisert tells the story of Gilly, one of the three witches who meet Macbeth on the moor and set him on the bloody path described in Shakespeare’s tragedy. Gilly wants revenge on Macbeth and talks the other two women into helping her. Reisert has taught and directed Macbeth many times, and her love and knowledge of the play shines through. Reading her book is like seeing the play from behind the scenes. You get to watch familiar characters move outside the bounds of the play, but unlike Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, this fan fiction clarifies and enhances the motivations and actions of all the characters involved in Shakespeare’s play. Best of all, despite the understandably dark overtones of the story, the author brings Gilly through the tragedy to a good end, one that is prepared for and fits well with Gilly’s actions throughout the story.
Only days after I finished reading The Third Witch, I came across another wonderful example of fan fiction, although this is more of a mash-up. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope is Ian Doescher’s re-telling of the famous space opera using the structure and style of Shakespeare’s plays. I have not read this book cover-to-cover yet, but I’ve opened it repeatedly, and every line is a gem. Not only do you know exactly where you are in the story, but you recognize the way it’s been bent by Doescher’s Shakespearean lens.
I’ll prove it to you. Here’s a bit of the text, selected by opening the book at random:
[Luke continues to practice with his lightsaber against the remote]
OBI-WAN Remember, Luke, the Force doth smoothly flow
Within the feelings of a Jedi Knight.
LUKE But doth the Force control one’s ev’ry move?
OBI-WAN ‘Tis somewhat so, but also shall the Force Obey thine every command, young Luke.
LUKE [aside:] This Force, by troth, I’ll never comprehend!
It doth control and also doth obey?
And ’tis within and yet it is beyond,
‘Tis both inside and yet outside one’s self?
What paradox! What fickle-natur’d pow’r!
Aye: frailty, they name — belike — is Force.
(page 91, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope)
The best news of all: this isn’t just a book, it’s a series. I can’t wait to get my hands on The Empire Striketh Back. What could be better than Yoda’s wisdom In iambic pentameter? Sure to rock it is.
Do you have favorite books about Shakespeare or his plays? What are they? I’m always on the lookout for a good Shakespearean read.