Shakespeare: words, words, words

“Remember first to possess his books; for without them he’s but a sot.” (The Tempest) Born 450 years ago this week, William Shakespeare drew from a variety of sources for his work and has inspired generations of writers to do likewise. Here are ten works of fiction indebted to the Bard.

Wed, Apr 23, 2014, 01:00

Dead Fathers Club, Matt Haig (2006)

Following the premature death of a beloved father, a young man is visited by a ghost bent on revenge. Throw in a morally ambiguous uncle, an attractive widow and a protagonist plagued with indecision and it’s clear to see that Matt Haig’s novel has taken its inspiration from a certain Danish prince. Haig’s rewriting of the tale has much to recommend it however, from the working class setting of Newark-on-Trent, to the Castle and Falcon pub that’s up for grabs following Brian Noble’s death, to the distraught and intelligent voice of the book’s eleven-year-old hero Philip Noble as he frets over the right path. A study on grief and how we deal with loss, the British writer’s second novel is a clever and unsettling book that succeeds in developing a mysterious plot despite its well-known origins.

The Tragedy of Arthur, Arthur Phillips (2011)

Formatted as a lengthy introduction to an apparently lost Shakespearean play, Phillips’ book offers up the strange, eventful histories of twins Arthur and Dana as they respond in very different ways to the deceits of a con-man father. In prison for most of the book, Arthur Senior is an enigmatic character. A ghost that haunts his son, an inspiration to his daughter, a creator of fantasies, a puppeteer who controls from the sidelines - just like the Bard he so reveres. Although a knowledge of Shakespeare will undoubtedly add to the reader’s enjoyment, Arthur’s attempts to uncover his father’s greatest con are rendered with such humour and compassion that this book, which blurs the lines of fiction, drama, memoir and literary criticism, will please anyone interested in the mechanics and magic of writing. Shortlisted for the 2013 IMPAC Dublin award, Phillips’ clever fifth novel points out the dangers of believing too much in illusion, and then sets the trap for the reader to fall.

 

Sarah Gilmartin

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