Compare This! Shakespeare Retellings

Hey everyone!  Sorry I missed this one last week, but I thought I’d make it up to you by looking at a few books that try their hands at Shakespeare.  Of course, there were MANY to choose from, so I wanted to focus on those that stuck more to the Shakespearean stories rather than taking those same plots and modernizing them (you know, like the modern Romeo and Juliet stories set in high schools).

So yeah.  I wanted to stick more to the originals.  And there were a couple that I thought of immediately as some that I’ve really enjoyed, so I thought those would be the best to focus on.

If you’re a Shakespeare nerd like I am, you’re going to enjoy this!

Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub

VS.

Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein

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Still Star-Crossed

Blurb: Verona is in shambles.  With the deaths of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, the city is supposed to be at peace.  But it’s not.  Instead, the violence is as strong as ever and the Prince is desperate for a new plan.  In their own ways, so are Benvolio Montague and Rosaline Capulet, who both have seen too much death in their families as of late.  But no matter how much anyone tries to come up with a plan, a force is at play to make sure that the Montagues and Capulets never make peace…

Pros:

  • I adored this take on Verona in the days following the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.  It’s the sequel I never knew I needed.
  • For real, though, it has just as complicated and intricate of a plot as any Shakespearean play.  Just when you think you know what’s going to happen, something changes everything.
  • Characters are phenomenal.  I always liked Benvolio in the original play because of his level-headed approach to attempting to calm Romeo and Mercutio from their actions.  This only played into everything I already thought of him.  And we get to really meet Rosaline, who is only mentioned by name in the play.  (Rosaline, if you recall, was the girl Romeo was in love with at the beginning and the whole reason they crashed the Capulet party, at which he saw Juliet for the first time.)
  • This was thrilling, in that the city is virtually burning around them.  Everyone’s out for blood to avenge this person or that.  It’s not safe for anyone, especially the Montagues and Capulets.  Putting these two families on a collision course again when they’re still in mourning, is like throwing gasoline on the flame.  And, in its own way, it’s beautiful.  I could not stop reading this.

Cons:

  • At times, it can play into cliches.  It can get a little predictable at certain moments when you least want it to.
  • Shonda Rimes turned this into a TV series about a year ago that I was super excited about…but it was kind of meh.  I think that’s given some people the impression that this book is like that show, but they changed so many things in the few episodes that I saw that I would venture to say they’re very different.  But that first impression…it’s hard to overcome that.

Image result for ophelia lisa klein

Ophelia

Blurb: Hamlet is Prince of Denmark, and Ophelia is no one.  Right?  Think again.  Growing up in Elsinore Castle, Ophelia has trained from a young age to be the queen’s lady-in-waiting.  She’s witty, smart, and beautiful.  When she catches the eye of Hamlet, they begin their romance in secret.  But as Hamlet’s world turns bloody and mad, Ophelia’s happiness is shattered.  Ultimately, Ophelia will have to choose between Hamlet and her life.  In desperation, she constructs a plan to escape Elsinore forever…with one very dangerous secret.

Pros:

  • I have always always always had a soft spot for Ophelia.  She is by far one of my favorite Shakespearean females.  Seeing this well-known story from her perspective was perfection.  I mean, she probably knew Hamlet better than anyone, so what would she think when he started changing?
  • I liked how Ophelia was portrayed, as a strong and independent woman surrounded by men who thought she was helpless.  She was able to allow them to see her as they wished while still being her own person.  There’s a certain amount of strength involved in that.
  • I enjoyed the portrayal of madness throughout this book.  Remember, in the play, both Hamlet and Ophelia are said to have gone mad, though scholars only really debate whether Hamlet was pretending.  Never Ophelia.  But perhaps she was?  Hmm.
  • In general, I really liked how the story was told.  I felt like I could hear Ophelia in my head.  Her voice seemed realistic and I totally got into it.  It’s always fun when you can get that into a story that you become the character.

Cons:

  • No matter how you slice it, sometimes it’s just hard to compare a remake to the original.  As much fun as it is to see it all from Ophelia’s point of view and as close as Klein attempts to stay to the original, there are differences.  It can’t exactly be helped.
  • It’s been like 8 years since I last read this (which means I haven’t reviewed it on here!  I must reread this soon and remedy that), but from what I remember, I do remember some parts being predictable and not because I read the play first.  There’s something that happens at the end that I’m pretty sure I called before it happened.

 

My Winner: Still Star-Crossed

Why?  I just can’t explain in words how much I enjoyed that book.  It was one of those where I just picked it up at the library with no prior knowledge about it, read the jacket and thought it interesting, and loved it.  Romeo and Juliet is probably by far the most well-known work of Shakespeare’s and this “sequel” of a sort stayed true to that world while showing us What Happens Next.  I already liked Benvolio so much and I fell for Rosaline not long after I started the book (especially as she tried to stand up to the men in her life who tried to bully her into following their wishes).  Both are headstrong and witty, but they’re also both in mourning over beloved cousins (Juliet and Tybalt for Rosaline; Romeo and Mercutio who is not actually a cousin but a friend for Benvolio) and this book walks both lines so well.  It’s phenomenal.

But I will say, I’ve gone back to reread Still Star-Crossed in the last year and it may have been a smidge less enjoyable the second time around, but not by much.

Now I need to go back and reread Ophelia.  She deserves some love too.

What are some of your favorite Shakespearean retellings?  Drop them in the comments because I’m ALWAYS looking for new ones!

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