Looking for a good beach read? Something to bring on your long plane ride? Listen to these author interviews from the Folger’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast to find a novel inspired by Shakespeare’s stories and his world.
Naomi Miller’s novel Imperfect Alchemist is about one of early modern England’s most significant literary figures: a poet, playwright, translator, scientist, and colleague of writers like Ben Jonson, Edmund Spenser, Mary Wroth, John Donne, and Emilia Lanier Bassano. Her name was Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke.
Anne and William Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died in 1596, when he was 11 years old. We don’t know too much more about him, but author Maggie O’Farrell’s novel delves into his story and comes away with a lyrical and moving portrait of a family’s grief. (Hamnet was also the December pick for the Folger’s virtual book club; you can explore Folger collection items related to this novel that were shared as part of the book club discussion.)
A young woman falls asleep in the 21st century and slowly finds herself slipping into 16th-century England, where she falls in love with an obscure young poet named Will. Sandra Newman’s novel The Heavens crosses genres. You could call it historical fiction, with its meticulously accurate 16th-century details. You could call it science fiction for its use of time travel and parallel worlds. It’s also a really good, sexy romance novel about Emilia Bassano, the woman who some believe was the inspiration for half of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time author Mark Haddon’s books take twists and turns that sometimes seem to only make sense in the context of his stories. Shakespeare’s Pericles takes twists and turns that sometimes seem to make no sense at all. Haddon’s The Porpoise reinterprets Pericles: the novel is a crazy, imaginative ride that swings between continents, between reality and fantasy, and between the 21st and 17th centuries AD and the 5th century BC. It also works to right the “moral wrong” that begins Shakespeare’s play.
Have you ever wanted to know more about Ophelia? What does she think about the events at Elsinore? What is her relationship to Hamlet? Whose account of her death should we believe? Shakespeare’s Hamlet leaves lots of questions about Ophelia unanswered. That’s where Lisa Klein’s Ophelia comes in. Klein’s 2007 YA novel approaches the events of Hamlet from Ophelia’s point of view, suggesting what might happen to her between and beyond the lines of Shakespeare’s play.
In 1994, Deborah Harkness was doing research at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library when she stumbled across the Book of Soyga, a long-lost manuscript treatise on magic that once belonged to Elizabethan scientist and occult philosopher John Dee. About fourteen years later, she had an idea for a story: a historian—who turns out to be a witch—discovers a lost and much-coveted manuscript that thrusts her into a world of vampires, demons, and magic. Harkness’s idea became A Discovery of Witches, the first book of her All Souls Trilogy.