The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0425 Tuesday, 22 July 2008
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Subject: Top 10 Novels Influenced by Shakespeare
FROM: The Guardian Online
Matt Haig's Top 10 Novels Influenced by Shakespeare
Tuesday May 30, 2006
Matt Haig's latest novel, The Dead Fathers Club, features an 11-year-old boy
living above a pub in Newark, Nottinghamshire, and gives more than a nod towards
Hamlet. Matt also has a forthcoming children's book, Shadowforest, to be
published next year by Random House Children's Books.
Matt Haig's website
"Vivien Leigh once said that acting in a Shakespeare play was like 'bathing in
the sea - one swims where one wants'. Writers seem to find the same freedom when
working under his influence. There is certainly no one 'type' of writer who
deliberately draws on Shakespeare. In fact, there's a strong argument that
everyone writing in the English language is influenced by Shakespeare, because
to a considerable degree he shaped that language. As that's the case, a top 10
list of novels influenced by Shakespeare might look identical to a top 10 list
of novels full stop. So, I've limited my selection to those writers whose works
clearly advertise that influence."
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
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.
3. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
"A fellow of infinite jest" is how Hamlet describes the dead court jester Yorick
in the famous graveyard scene. Infinite Jest in Wallace's satirical,
zillion-page novel is the name of a film produced by Poor Yorick Productions.
The film eventually kills its viewers by entertaining them to death. Wallace,
like Shakespeare, is always aware of the skull behind a jester's smile.
4. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The title of Huxley's classic dystopian novel comes from Miranda's words in The
Tempest, and the book is full of Shakespearean references. In the novel, John
the Savage quotes endlessly from Shakespeare as he has read nothing else. The
point seems to be that Shakespeare's vision of humanity, with all its complex
and messy emotions, can't fit into any utopian society.
5. Ulysses by James Joyce
"Elizabethan London lay as far from Stratford as corrupt Paris lies from virgin
Dublin. . ." The bit where Stephen Dedalus suggests that the ghost of Hamlet's
father is in fact Shakespeare talking "his own words to his own son's name", and
that Ann Hathaway is the "guilty queen", must surely be the most ingenious
example of lit crit ever to make it into fiction.
6. Money by Martin Amis
The bloated, debauched and delusional figure of John Self may have epitomised
the greed-fuelled 80s, but he owes more than a drunken nod to his Elizabethan
counterpart Sir John Falstaff. Self is certainly a character of Shakespearean
proportions, and could easily have asked Falstaff's question "What is honour?"
In a novel gleefully drunk on literary allusions it's more than fitting that
Self ends up on a park bench, slugging back a bottle of 'Desdemona Cream'.
7. Nothing Like the Sun by Anthony Burgess
Years before Shakespeare in Love, Burgess offered this darker imagining of our
Will's love life. The incredible achievement of this novel is how well Burgess
managed to adopt Shakespeare's language into the narration. As with James Joyce,
Burgess also has his doubts about Shakespeare's much maligned wife. He suggests
the reason Shakespeare only left his 'second best bed' to Anne was because he
found her there making the beast with his brother.
8. The Winter of Discontent by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck was a writer who understood that Shakespearean intrigue and tragedy
should not be the sole preserve of Kings and Princes. The titular reference to
Richard III is used here to add a certain grandeur to this moving tale of
dispossessed grocery clerk, Ethan Hawley.
9. Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis
The Bret Easton Ellis of this novel lives on Elsinore Road, visits a nightclub
called Fortinbras and even receives a phone call from his father's spirit.
Brat-pack novelist as tragic hero was too much for some critics to stomach, but
I'm someone who believes most father-son stories end up being Hamlet stories, so
you might as well be transparent about the fact.
10. Wise Children by Angela Carter
Carter's novels were always Shakespearean in their playful mix of the high and
the low, but Wise Children owes a bigger debt than her others. The book begins
on Shakespeare's birthday and follows the lives of two chorus girls, Dora and
Nora Chance, who are the illegitimate daughters of a well-known Shakespearean
actor. It's peppered with lots of Shakespearean references (the sisters grow up
on Bard Road, for instance), and is even sliced up into five 'acts'. It's full
of that truly anarchic spirit that people used to sitting in quiet theatres
sometimes forget is at the heart of Shakespeare's plays.
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Tuesday May 30 2006.
It was last updated at 14:55 on July 22 2008.
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