Top Ten Shakespeare-Related Books, Picked by the Festival Staff
By Brooke Vlasich
These days the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s offices are all abuzz with the opening of the 2017 season. We all have Shakespeare on our minds as the plays become a reality and we welcome you to our theatres. But we also enjoy Shakespeare in other genres, especially in good books. In fact, we have some great recommendations to add to your summer reading. So, if Shakespeare is your thing, make sure you check out some of these inspiring reads:
- Fool (Christopher Moore): Fool is a comedic novel centered around Pocket, modeled after King Lear’s fool. After witnessing family drama unfold between King Lear and his daughters (selfish Goneril, sadistic Regan, and sweet Cordelia), Pocket uses his sense of humor to set everything right. With a sharp mind and daggers, he keeps hidden, Pocket uses his influence to manage everything from casting spells to inciting wars. He does this all to help Cordelia get back into Lear’s good graces, thwart Goneril and Regan’s plans, and look out for the goodwill of his friend, Drool.
- Warm Bodies: A Novel (Isaac Marion): If you’re into zombie stories with a twist of love, Warm Bodies is the perfect fit for you. The novel involves R, a zombie living in a futuristic world who’s searching for more than living his isolated life. All of that changes when he meets Julie and falls in love. This Romeo and Juliet-inspired novel was eventually turned into a popular movie starring Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer.
- A Thousand Acres (Jane Smiley): Another King Lear-inspired novel, this plot contrasts with the humorous Fool. This twentieth-century interpretation features a wealthy Iowa farmer, Larry Cook, who must decide how to divide his farm between his daughters Ginny, Rose, and Caroline. Their actions eventually reveal some about dark truths and suppressed emotions within the family.
- Shakespeare: The World as Stage (Bill Bryson): Looking for a thorough biography on the bard? Although very little is known about Shakespeare, this book makes the facts engaging. Bryson’s skills for story-telling, humor, and wit make this biography anything but dull.
- How Shakespeare Changed Everything (Stephen Marche): Written by an Esquire columnist, this book explores Shakespeare’s influences on today’s world, citing a wide range of topics from food courts to American civil rights debates to botany. With artful humor and detailed insights, Marche makes Shakespeare compelling and relevant to modern life.
- Will in the World (Stephen Greenblatt): Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist Stephen Greenblatt offers another look into Shakespeare’s life in this biography. If you’ve ever wondered how Shakespeare became the famous man he is today and how his work gained the magnitude it has, Greenblatt presents answers to your questions. He shows readers how the sensitive poet who closely observed everyday life evolved into a legend.
- Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? (James Shapiro): The question of authorship of the Shakespearean plays has sprung up repeatedly over the year; and the debate is fully addressed in scholar James Shapiro’s book. Shapiro examines why people began asking whether or not Shakespeare wrote his own plays and began attributing his talents to Christopher Marlowe, Sir Francis Bacon, and the Earl of Oxford. The book investigates these claims, why they matter, and why they continue even though abundant evidence indicates Shakespeare wrote his own material.
- The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 (James Shapiro): Another favorite written by James Shapiro, this book examines the year King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra were written. After the Gundpowder Plot was revealed as an attempt to blow up King James of Scotland, anti-Catholic sentiment began to grow. Shapiro delves deeper into how the nation erupted into fights over political and religious leadership and set the backdrop for these famous plays.
- William Shakespeare’s Star Wars (Ian Doescher): Love Shakespeare and Star Wars? Then you’ll be a huge fan of this book that retells the story of Star Wars in iambic pentameter and through Shakespeare’s plays. If droids, villains, and wookies are your thing, you won’t be disappointed by this read.
- Speak the Speech!: Shakespeare’s Monologues Illuminated (Rhonda Silverbush and Sami Plotkin): If you’re an actor-in-training or inspired by Shakespeare’s words, dive deeper into them and explore the relationship of every phrase and sound. The authors also provide synopses of plays and extensive guidelines for monologues.
Those are some of the books we have been reading. We hope you will try a few and then let us know what you would you add to this list.