Shakespeare spoke another language. At least, that's how it might seem the first time you crack open one of his plays and see a lot of lines peppered with thee, thou, and thy. The who with the what and why? Let me tell you a not-so-secret trick: it's a lot easier to understand the plays of William Shakespeare when you say the lines out loud and use the other lines and stage directions to figure out what’s really been said. Also, his works are just as witty as they are romantic (and tragic), and you can get some great vocab (and insults!) from them.
Personally, I have always enjoyed Shakespearian plays: reading them, watching them being performed, and putting them on. But I know some people who positively flip out when I recommend them. In that case, I give them novels that are related to Shakespeare in some way and hope that these fresh new stories will encourage them to give the Bard another try.
Julie's best friend Ashleigh would literally bounce off of the walls if possible. She's nothing if not enthusiastic. Whenever she's into something - a book, a song, a style, anything - she's really into it. I am really into this book. Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman is about best friends, new friends, boyfriends, and good books. Towards the start of the story, Ashleigh finally takes Julie up on her recommendation of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and Ashleigh absolutely loves it. Later on, Ashleigh and Julie join in the fun of A Midsummer Night's Dream at a friend's school. This is a new Dream: a contemporary musical that sounds like a lot of fun. Of course, I might be partial, since it's my favorite Shakespearian comedy and I'm a musical theatre actress, but I digress...
Read my full-length review of Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman.
The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It by Lisa Shanahan is sweet, hilarious, and serious all at once. Gemma, already overwhelmed by all that's going on around her - mainly her older sister's upcoming wedding - adds one more thing to her cluttered plate when she auditions for The Tempest at her school. She is surprised to be in the show, then even more surprised by all that she learns about herself and others (especially Raven, a boy whose entire family is infamous in their gossipy town) in the process. This book is really underrated, and I recommend it whenever I can. Note that it was originally published in Australia under the title My Big Birkett, so you might try to look it up that way, too.
Read my full-length review of The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It by Lisa Shanahan.
If you’re looking to learn more about Shakespeare’s life but prefer fiction to non-fiction, try Loving Will Shakespeare by Carolyn Meyer. I often say this historical novel ought to be called Being Anne Hathaway, because that’s what it is: an account of the life of Shakespeare’s wife. (Trivia time: The modern-day actress was named after William’s lady!) Loving Will Shakespeare follows Anne’s entire life, almost, and it really showed how her relationship with Will changed through the years, from her childhood (Anne was a young kid when Will was born) through her teens and into her adulthood. Their marriage was difficult at times, to say the least; once famous, Will was often gone, doing shows elsewhere, while Anne looked after their children. The death of their son Hamnet shook things up even more. (Your teacher may have mentioned this real-life tragedy to your class when you read Hamlet.) This book made me curious to even learn more about Anne and read other books by Meyer.
In a previous feature, Summer Teen Fiction Musts, I reviewed Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, a delightful book about a girl, her family, and the hotel in which they live and work. Scarlett's older brother, Spencer, is an actor. He gets cast in a production of Hamlet that has all kinds of cool staging and interesting mishaps. Have you ever seen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on unicycles? You'll want to, after reading this book!
Read my full-length review of Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson.
Shakespeare is even mentioned in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. In the first book, while talking to Mike about an essay they have been assigned for class, Bella reveals her topic: "Whether Shakespeare's treatment of the female characters is misogynistic." While celebrating her birthday in the second book, New Moon, Bella says that she wants to watch the 1960s film version of Romeo and Juliet. (Have you seen that one? It’s definitely a classic. There’s also the more recent Baz Luhrmann version and many, many others.) Breaking Dawn, the fourth volume in the Bella and Edward saga, mentions a certain someone's "tattered collection of Shakespeare paperbacks." It later quotes a line from Act III, Scene i of A Midsummer Night's Dream:
"And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays."
To quote singer/songwriter Duncan Sheik, "That says it all, doesn't it?"
Whether you are hesitant to pick up an actual play by Shakespeare or you are a Shakespearian scholar-in-the-making, grab one of these novels and see what you think. Hopefully, they'll give you a little more insight into the life and works of this famous and intelligent playwright.