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14

Apr

2014

A Reader’s Guide to Shakespeare’s Literary Legacy

 
Literary Shakespeare

A Reading List

For the last 450 years, Shakespeare's plays and poems have inspired hundreds of adaptations across all mediums. Even more so, his language pervades popular culture and continues to influence the literature we read and publish today. The following eight books are great examples of works that take their titles and themes from Shakespeare, keeping the legacy of his classic works alive for a new generation of readers.

 
Cover courtesy of VikingThe Winter of Our Discontent

by John Steinbeck (1961)

“Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York”—Richard, Richard III Act I, Scene 1

Steinbeck’s 1961 classic pays homage to the opening lines of Richard III, and to the play’s titular villain, in its portrayal of the depths of human greed and a man on the path to moral decay in an effort to restore his once-powerful reputation.

 

Under the Greenwood Tree

by Thomas Hardy (1872)

Under the greenwood tree / Who loves to lie with me, / And turn his merry note / Unto the sweet bird’s throat, / Come hither, come hither, come hither“—Amiens, As You Like It Act II, Scene 5

Hardy’s second novel traces the lives and romantic entanglements of a parish choir in the English countryside. The pastoral song from As You Like It functions as an apt title.

Cover courtesy of Little, BrownInfinite Jest

by David Foster Wallace (1996)

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!”—Hamlet, Hamlet Act V, Scene 1

The title of David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus borrows from the iconic Shakespearean scene in which Hamlet holds the skull of a court jester. “Infinite Jest” is the name of a missing film at the plot’s center which strips the viewer of the will to do anything but watch on repeat, a great entertainment made satirically perverse as the characters laugh themselves to the grave.

Band of Brothers

by Stephen Ambrose (1992)

But we in it shall be remembered— / We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; / For he to-day that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother”—King Henry, Henry V Act IV, Scene 3

Stephen Ambrose’s book about an American army parachute division in World War II (and the very popular TV mini-series that followed) owes more than just its title to Shakespeare’s classic history play about a nation embroiled in war. Henry’s “St. Crispin’s Day Speech” before the legendary Battle of Agincourt evokes a spirit of nationhood and camaraderie in battle that rings through not only Band of Brothers, but writing about wars from the Hundred Years War to the American Civil War to the Iraq War.

Cover courtesy of DuttonThe Fault in Our Stars

by John Green (2012)

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”—Cassius, Julius Caesar Act I, Scene 2

A twist on the famous line from Julius Caesar, this young adult novel about teenage cancer patients explores how death, diseases, and forces beyond our control disrupt the lives and happiness of blameless lovers.

TheSoundAndTheFuryCoverThe Sound and the Fury

by William Faulkner (1929)

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more: it is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.“—Macbeth, Macbeth Act V, Scene 5

William Faulkner’s critically acclaimed 1929 novel charts the descent of a prominent Southern family into dissolution and disrespect. The Compsons, a family of idiots consumed by ruin and tragedy, echo the failing and corrupted hero of Shakespeare’s tragedy.

Remembrance of Things Past

by Marcel Proust (1913)

“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past, / I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought, / And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste”—Sonnet 30

When C. K. Scott Moncrieff translated Proust’s seven-volume novel À la recherche du temps perdu into English in 1931, he used the title Remembrance of Things Past as an ode to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30. The novel is better known today by the literal translation of the French title, In Search of Lost Time, but its original English title captures the themes of memory, mourning, and the passage of time central to Shakespeare’s famous poem and Proust’s novel.

Brave New World

by Aldous Huxley (1932)

“O wonder! / How many goodly creatures are there here! / How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, / That has such people in’t.”—Miranda, The Tempest Act V, Scene 1

Aldous Huxley imagines a futuristic world very different from the one Miranda is poised to enter in the final act of The TempestBut the promise—and threat—of the unknown future looms large this dystopian classic.

 

The words and work of William Shakespeare have been shaping literature for 450 years. His classics themes are constantly given new life and his iconic lines—always reappearing in songs, films, and book titles—signal a cultural tradition deeply influenced by the Bard and his timeless works.

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