“Some glory in their birth, some in their skill…” Sonnet 91
“When beggars die there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” Julius Caesar (II, ii, 30-31)
Historians widely believe that William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd in 1564, and exactly 52 years later he died on the same date in 1616. This is one of those interesting literary facts that you can now use to show your vast knowledge at cocktail parties or to help you win the Trivia Contest down at the local pub… But more importantly, this is an occasion to reflect on the Bard’s literary legacy and to appreciate a few of our favorite modern books based on Shakespeare’s life & work.
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley is a real favorite. Based on King Lear, this is the story of a mid-western farm family with a tyrannical patriarch, three daughters, and a large farm to be divided. One of Shakespeare’s history plays, Richard III, is the basis for another old favorite, Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. In this short novel, a 20th century detective takes on the “cold case” of the murder of the “princes in the Tower.” Was King Richard the villain that Shakespeare makes him out to be? Find out in this quick, captivating read. If you haven’t read Fool by Christopher Moore, you are in for a treat. A comic novel by the master of the form, this is the story of King Lear told from the witty, sardonic viewpoint of his court jester. And finally, Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the inspiration for David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. An unusual and gripping tragic tale of a young man, his father’s death, his uncle’s treason, and his mother’s acceptance. Set on a Midwestern farm, probably the most interesting feature of the book is the story of the family’s relationships with the dogs they raise and train. Finally, for those of you who enjoy a good non-fiction read, make sure you check out Bill Bryson’s awesome Shakespeare : The World as Stage. Bryson looks at Will’s life and work, using his customary wit and wisdom to illuminate the story and the myths surrounding our favorite playwright/poet. So, happy birthday Will, and good reading to all!