Sunday, June 04, 2006

Ten novels influenced by Shakespeare

Regular visitors to the blog know I'm interested in twice-told tales--stories that owe a strong debt to earlier, usually famous, stories. (See here, here, here, and here.)

Noting that "there's a strong argument that everyone writing in the English language is influenced by Shakespeare" and therefore "a top 10 list of novels influenced by Shakespeare might look identical to a top 10 list of novels full stop," Matt Haig has composed his top 10 list of novels influenced by Shakespeare.

At the top of the list:
1. Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike. There are a lot of nods to the Bard in Updike's work. The Witches of Eastwick clearly drew on the 'weird sisters' in Macbeth, although added more sauce to the cauldron. Gertrude and Claudius is a prelude to Hamlet and draws on the ancient Scandinavian legends that first inspired Shakespeare to flesh out a life for Gertrude. She famously doesn't say much in the original play, but triumphantly emerges here as a warm and clear-headed woman who sees life 'as a miracle daily renewed'.

2. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. Smiley's prize-winning novel transferred the story of King Lear to the American mid-west, with brutal results. If you take on Lear, you've got to be able to rise to the challenge and Smiley doesn't flinch from the dark heart of the story. Indeed, she heads deep into that darkness with the suggestion that Lear sexually abused two of his daughters.
Click here to read about the other eight selections.

--Marshal Zeringue