25+ Brilliant Books Based on the Work of the Bard — Fabulous Fiction Inspired by Shakespeare That'll Grip You, Thrill You, and Entertain You

Given that Shakespeare’s work unravels resonant, universal themes, it’s hardly surprising that his plays have inspired a host of novels, from obvious reinterpretations, to jazzier riffs. Forget much ado about nothing — the novels featured in this Collection are worth making a whole lot of ado about (the same goes for the inspirational quotes shared in our Book Chat feature on life lessons from the Bard).

As Shakespeare himself only wrote two wholly original plots (Love’s Labour Lost and The Tempest), the fact his work has been adapted so much is unquestionably apt. Yep, that’s right. The plots for the rest of his plays were actually borrowed from other writers — Holinshed’s Chronicles, Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, Boccaccio’s The Decameron, with input from Ovid, Seneca, and Chaucer, too. That said, Shakespeare played with the order of his source’s plots, added subplots, and created new characters, while removing those he deemed unnecessary.

But back to the books his work inspired, which we wanted to highlight for Shakespeare Week. While this annual celebration was created to foster kids’ engagement with the Bard, grown-ups shouldn’t miss out on this opportunity to discover his work in new ways. In fact, if you struggled with Shakespeare during your school days, exploring this collection of novels might help you appreciate his stories afresh.

Let’s take a few classics to kick things off. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick draws on King Lear and Macbeth, while Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World takes its title from a line in The Tempest: "O brave new world, / That has such people in 't!”. 

Fascinating fact: Shakespeare’s version of The Tempest was inspired by a 1609 Bermudan shipwreck catastrophe. In turn, the play inspired John Fowles’ The Magus, and Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed. Re-casting Prospero as an artistic director who’s staging a version of (you’ve guided it…) The Tempest, this riotously inventive retelling is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, which also includes Howard Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name (The Merchant of Venice), and Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy. Based on Othello, New Boy shifts the setting to an elementary school in 1970s Washington to explore race, romance and loyalty in thrilling, thought-provoking style.

Malorie Blackman’s Chasing the Stars is another powerful reinterpretation of Othello, and hugely inventive with it too —  the action takes place on a space ship. Meanwhile, Blackman’s seminal Noughts and Crosses retells Romeo and Juliet to challenge perceptions of race in an alternate-world story of ill-fated love.

Staying with the theme of love, Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a funny, modern take on The Taming of the Shrew, with a green card twist on arranged marriage, while Angela Carter’s Wise Children is a riotous romp of a read — a gloriously gothic, magic realist, five act mash-up of Shakespeare’s works, including A Midsummer Night's Dream and King Lear.

If you loved (or struggled with) Hamlet, try Matt Haig’s The Dead Fathers Club  and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. As for Macbeth, read Hannah Capin’s fearless, feminist revenge thriller, Foul is Fair.

Read on to discover a host of brilliant books inspired by the Bard’s work — like we said at the start, these are novels worth making much ado about. And don’t forget to read our book chat feature on life lessons from the Bard.

Hag-Seed

Hag-Seed

Author: Margaret Atwood Format: Paperback Release Date: 03/08/2017

Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he's staging a Tempest like no other. It will boost his reputation. It will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. Also brewing revenge. After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It's magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall? 

Macbeth

Macbeth

Author: Jo Nesbo Format: Paperback Release Date: 20/09/2018

JO NESBO: #1 Sunday Times bestseller, #1 New York Times bestseller, 40 million books sold worldwide He's the best cop they've got. When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it's up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess. He's also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past. He's rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They're all within reach. But a man like him won't get to the top. Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He's convinced he won't get what is rightfully his. Unless he kills for it. `The king of all crime writers' Sunday Express

eBooks of the Month
Shylock is My Name

Shylock is My Name

Author: Howard Jacobson Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/08/2016

A re-envisaging of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, from the Man Booker Prize-winner and our great chronicler of Jewish life. 'Who is this guy, Dad? What is he doing here?' With an absent wife and a daughter going off the rails, wealthy art collector and philanthropist Simon Strulovitch is in need of someone to talk to. So when he meets Shylock at a cemetery in Cheshire's Golden Triangle, he invites him back to his house. It's the beginning of a remarkable friendship ...

New Boy

New Boy

Author: Tracy Chevalier Format: Paperback Release Date: 17/05/2018

The bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Last Runaway returns with a tale of jealousy, bullying and revenge. Arriving at his fourth school in six years, diplomat's son Osei knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day - so he's lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can't stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players - teachers and pupils alike - will never be the same again. The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970s suburban Washington schoolyard in Tracy Chevalier's powerful drama of friends torn apart.

Vinegar Girl

Vinegar Girl

Author: Anne Tyler Format: Paperback Release Date: 09/03/2017

Kate Battista is stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and infuriating younger sister Bunny? Dr Battista has other problems. His brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, his new scientific breakthrough will fall through... When Dr Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he's relying - as usual - on Kate to help him. Will Kate be able to resist the two men's touchingly ludicrous campaign to win her round? Anne Tyler's brilliant retelling of The Taming of the Shrew asks whether a thoroughly modern woman like Kate would ever sacrifice herself for a man. The answer is as surprising as Kate herself.

Brave New World

Brave New World

Author: Aldous Huxley Format: Paperback Release Date: 06/12/2007

Written in 1932, this is an amazing dystopian fiction is set in a futuristic world state where everyone has been conditioned to be content and perform according to a social and intelligence-based hierarchy. In a world where there have been scientific advancements in reproductive technology, sleep-learning and behaviour conditioning the question is posed through Bernard Marx, Helmholtz Watson and John, is it better to be manipulated and happy or to be free? A must-read for all science-fiction fans. Visit our '50 Classics Everyone Should Read' collection to discover more classic titles.

eBooks of the Month
Chasing the Stars

Chasing the Stars

Author: Malorie Blackman Format: Paperback Release Date: 06/04/2017

April 2017 NewGen Book of the Month. Shortlisted for YA Book Prize 2017 |  An innovative, ambitious page-turner in which the inimitable Malorie Blackman has entwined two of her great passions - Shakespeare's Othello and science fiction - to create a thrilling outer-space-set epic that tingles with romance, danger, distrust and jealousy. Olivia (Vee) and her brother Aidan are alone in space and heading home to earth, the only survivors of a virus that annihilated the rest of the crew, including their family. Then brave, headstrong Vee risks her life to rescue the survivors of a Mazon attack, among them Nathan, with whom she falls in love, deeply, madly and with tempestuous consequences. This energetic riff on one of the bard's best works will also be relished by readers who don’t think they’re into Shakespeare, and Blackman also has a gift for making science fiction appeal to those who “don’t do” the genre. It takes an exceptional writer to pull off these kinds of feats, and Blackman has done so with wit, style and a slick sense of drama. ~ Joanne Owen Please note due to the content of this book we are recommending it for YA readers only. Guardian Children's Fiction Prize Judge Kate Saunders said: “The story drags you along like a mighty engine and had to force myself not to turn the pages too fast. The suspense is brilliant”.

eBooks of the Month
Noughts & Crosses

Noughts & Crosses

Author: Malorie Blackman Format: Paperback Release Date: 06/04/2017

Michael Rosen on a compelling favourite: "A book that dared to go where no one thought you could with young audiences because it raises tough stuff to do with race."  It takes a brave author such as Malorie Blackman to consider a sequence of the like of Noughts and Crosses and to pull it off with utmost aplomb. Award-winning author Blackman has tackled the issues of racism and prejudice in a world set in an alternate historical reality. Although 11 year olds will take great joy and learn much from reading this first one in the sequence, adults will devour it with equal enthusiasm. The contrast of the two main protagonists makes the novel totally compelling and the writing style is both original and superbly paced. The plot unravels at the pace of a thriller and as a consequence it’s a book that is almost impossible to put down. Perfect for Reluctant Readers as well as keen readers.  To view other titles we think are suitable for reluctant readers please click here. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers. The Noughts and Crosses Series: 1. Noughts and Crosses 2. Knife Edge 3. Checkmate 4. Double Cross 5. Crossfire 6. Endgame Serial Reader? Check out our 'Fall in Love With a Book Series' collection to find amazing book series to dive in to.

eBooks of the Month
Wise Children

Wise Children

Author: Angela Carter Format: Paperback Release Date: 16/01/1992

This title is presented with an introduction by Ali Smith. A richly comic tale of the tangled fortunes of two theatrical families, the Hazards and the Chances, Angela Carter's witty and bawdy novel is populated with as many sets of twins, and mistaken identities as any Shakespeare comedy, and celebrates the magic of over a century of show business.

Dunbar

Dunbar

Author: Edward St. Aubyn Format: Paperback Release Date: 28/06/2018

From the author of the Patrick Melrose novels, now a major Sky Atlantic television series starring Benedict Cumberbatch Henry Dunbar, the once all-powerful head of a global media corporation, is not having a good day. In his dotage he handed over care of the corporation to his two eldest daughters, Abby and Megan. But relations quickly soured, leaving him to doubt the wisdom of past decisions. Now imprisoned in a care home in the Lake District with only a demented alcoholic comedian as company, Dunbar starts planning his escape. As he flees into the hills, his family is hot on his heels. Who will find him first, his beloved youngest daughter, Florence, or the tigresses Abby and Megan, so keen to divest him of his estate?

The Magus

The Magus

Author: John Fowles Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/11/2004

One of Robert Goddard's favourite books.   March 2011 Guest Editor Robert Goddard on The Magus... After Wilkie Collins, John Fowles was my other great literary inspiration when I started out. It’s hard to believe how neglected his work now is. Technically, his finest achievement was probably The French Lieutenant’s Woman, but The Magus is bigger, grander and altogether more absorbing. It’s a book that gives you a whole world to lose yourself in. In the brazen heat and glare of the Aegean, Nicholas Urfe is sucked into the seductive heart of a surreal mystery – and we are sucked in with him.

eBooks of the Month
The Dead Fathers Club

The Dead Fathers Club

Author: Matt Haig Format: Paperback Release Date: 07/06/2018

FROM THE NUMBER ONE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR Philip Noble is an eleven-year-old in crisis. His pub landlord father has died in a road accident, and his mother is succumbing to the greasy charms of her dead husband's brother, Uncle Alan. The remaining certainties of Philip's life crumble away when his father's ghost appears in the pub and declares Uncle Alan murdered him. Arming himself with weapons from the school chemistry cupboard, Philip vows to carry out the ghost's relentless demands for revenge. But can the words of a ghost be trusted any more than the lies of the living?

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Author: David Wroblewski Format: Paperback Release Date: 23/07/2009

This is the author’s first novel and what a masterpiece it is. Edgar is deaf and has grown up in an idyllic world with his parents and their specially trained breed of dogs, in the heart of America. The return of a long lost uncle to the farm changes the peaceful dynamic and when Edgar’s father suddenly dies nothing is ever the same again. Original, dramatic and totally engrossing.   A "Piece of Passion" from the publisher... The novel is loosely based on the story of Hamlet but what we really have a page-turning, utterly compelling story of a young mute boy called Edgar and his relationship with a special breed of dogs that were created and raised by his family for generations. It is part ghost story and part family saga with Edgar at it centre as a mesmerising and heartbreaking fictional hero. When the family is struck by tragedy, Edgar goes on the run, accompanied by three loyal dogs and his quest for safety provides a classic coming-of-age story and of course a heart wrenching conclusion when he returns home. The world around you does not exist while you’re reading this novel.

eBooks of the Month
Shakespeare for Squirrels

Shakespeare for Squirrels

Author: Christopher Moore Format: Paperback Release Date: 08/07/2021

New York Times Bestseller! Shakespeare meets Dashiell Hammett in this wildly entertaining murder mystery from New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore-an uproarious, hardboiled take on the Bard's most performed play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, featuring Pocket, the hero of Fool and The Serpent of Venice, along with his sidekick, Drool, and pet monkey, Jeff. Set adrift by his pirate crew, Pocket of Dog Snogging-last seen in The Serpent of Venice-washes up on the sun-bleached shores of Greece, where he hopes to dazzle the Duke with his comedic brilliance and become his trusted fool. But the island is in turmoil. Egeus, the Duke's minister, is furious that his daughter Hermia is determined to marry Demetrius, instead of Lysander, the man he has chosen for her. The Duke decrees that if, by the time of the wedding, Hermia still refuses to marry Lysander, she shall be executed . . . or consigned to a nunnery. Pocket, being Pocket, cannot help but point out that this decree is complete bollocks, and that the Duke is an egregious weasel for having even suggested it. Irritated by the fool's impudence, the Duke orders his death. With the Duke's guards in pursuit, Pocket makes a daring escape. He soon stumbles into the wooded realm of the fairy king Oberon, who, as luck would have it, IS short a fool. His jester Robin Goodfellow-the mischievous sprite better known as Puck-was found dead. Murdered. Oberon makes Pocket an offer he can't refuse: he will make Pocket his fool and have his death sentence lifted if Pocket finds out who killed Robin Goodfellow. But as anyone who is even vaguely aware of the Bard's most performed play ever will know, nearly every character has a motive for wanting the mischievous sprite dead. With too many suspects and too little time, Pocket must work his own kind of magic to find the truth, save his neck, and ensure that all ends well. A rollicking tale of love, magic, madness, and murder, Shakespeare for Squirrels is a Midsummer Night's noir-a wicked and brilliantly funny good time conjured by the singular imagination of Christopher Moore.

Fool

Fool

Author: Christopher Moore Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/02/2010

This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity,. . . If that's the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened upon the perfect story!' So speaks Christopher Moore, one of America's funniest and bestselling authors, regarded as highly as classic satirists such as Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Read Fool and discover for yourself why this book has dominated bestseller lists across the world, and why it has reduced millions of grown men and women to tears of helpless laughter...

These Violent Delights

These Violent Delights

Author: Chloe Gong Format: Paperback Release Date: 11/11/2021

'A deliciously dark twist on Romeo and Juliet' Natasha Ngan, New York Times bestselling author of Girls of Paper and Fire In glittering Shanghai, a monster awakens . . . The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery. A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city in chaos. Juliette Cai is the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang - a network of criminals far above the law. Roma Montagov is the prodigal son of her greatest rivals, the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. He is also Juliette's first love . . . and first betrayal. When a deadly madness strikes gangsters on both sides, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, and a monster in the shadows. And as the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns - and grudges - aside and work together. For if they can't stop this mayhem, there will be no city left to rule. Filled with romance, intrigue and betrayal, this heart-stopping fantasty retelling of Romeo and Juliet is perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane.

A Thousand Acres

A Thousand Acres

Author: Jane Smiley Format: Paperback Release Date: 08/10/1992

For a “literary” family saga, it’s hard to beat A Thousand Acres, set in Iowa; Jane Smiley’s novel is a modern retelling of the King Lear story. A novel to sweep you up and carry you along as the tragic story of this thousand acres of the best black, densest, deepest earth unfolds. Like for Like Reading: The Way the Crow Flies, Ann-Marie MacDonaldMiddlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

Love In Idleness

Love In Idleness

Author: Amanda Craig Format: Paperback Release Date: 29/04/2004

At the Casa Luna, friends and relations of the Noble family gather for fortnight's holiday in the enchanted Italian hills. Daniel, an American academic, is under pressure to marry Ellen, a witty and successful shoe designer. Hermani, doctor and single mother, is intrigued by Ivo - trickster, charmer, critic - the man Ellen most loathes in the world. Polly, meanwhile, hopes her domineering mother-in-law will help transform her feral children and give her some much-needed time alone with her workaholic husband. But the Casa Luna is a place where strange things happen, and anyone who lives there risks unexpected joys and sorrows...

The Great Night

The Great Night

Author: Chris Adrian Format: Paperback Release Date: 07/06/2012

On Midsummer's Eve three heartsick lovers are trapped in San Francisco's Buena Vista Park. Ill met by moonlight, they are stalked by a psychopathic Puck, in thrall to a beautiful Titania, and ambushed by a homeless musical theatre troupe. Together they must survive a night that might just repair their hearts, if it doesn't destroy them first. Selected by the New Yorker as one of the best young writers in America, Adrian has created a singularly playful, moving and humorous novel - a story that effortlessly crosses the borders between reality and dreams, suffering and magic, and mortality and immortality.

The Fool's Girl

The Fool's Girl

Author: Celia Rees Format: Hardback Release Date: 05/04/2010

Weaving romance and courage together into a powerful story set in Elizabethean England this tells how Violetta, a young girl in exile, desperately pursues the treasure stolen from her country by the evil Malvolio while also hoping against hope that she’ll find her true love. Violetta travels with Feste, fool extraordinaire, whose clowning antics catch the eye of Shakespeare himself in this gripping adventure that tells another chapter in his story of Twelfth Night.

eBooks of the Month
Foul is Fair

Foul is Fair

Author: Hannah Capin Format: Paperback Release Date: 16/01/2020

I point at my hair, and I say, This color. You know what it's called? She shakes her head: No. I say, REVENGE. She says Good girl. Kill him. Revenge is a bitch. Jade Khanjara and her three best friends rule their glittering LA circle. They control everything. Until one night. The night four boys spike Jade's drink, lock her in a room and attack her. When they try to ruin her. But they chose the wrong girl. Jade is made of claws and fangs and cruel sharp edges. Jade will have them clutching at their throats and choking on blood. She wants revenge. She has no mercy. And now she won't rest until she gets satisfaction. This is the thriller for fans of Killing Eve and One of Us is Lying. This isn't for the light hearted. 

The Daughter Of Time

The Daughter Of Time

Author: Josephine Tey Format: Paperback Release Date: 06/08/2009

Josephine Tey's classic novel about Richard III, the hunchback king whose skeleton was famously discovered in a council car park, investigates his role in the death of his nephews, the princes in the Tower, and his own death at the Battle of Bosworth. Richard III reigned for only two years, and for centuries he was villified as the hunch-backed wicked uncle, murderer of the princes in the Tower. Josephine Tey's novel The Daughter of Time is an investigation into the real facts behind the last Plantagenet king's reign, and an attempt to right what many believe to be the terrible injustice done to him by the Tudor dynasty. Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III that bears no resemblance to the Wicked Uncle of history. Could such a sensitive, noble face actually belong to one of the world's most heinous villains - a venomous hunchback who may have killed his brother's children to make his crown secure? Or could Richard have been the victim, turned into a monster by the the Tudors? Grant determines to find out once and for all, with the help of the British Museum and an American scholar, what kind of man Richard III really was and who killed the Princes in the Tower.

If I'm Being Honest

If I'm Being Honest

Author: Emily Wibberley, Austin Siegemund-Broka Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/02/2020

Mean Girls meets The Taming of the Shrew in this romantic follow-up to Always Never Yours Cameron Bright's reputation can be summed up in one word: b*tch. It's no surprise she's queen bee at her private L.A. high school--she's beautiful, talented, and notorious for her brutal honesty. But when she slips up in front of her crush, Andrew, any affection he may have had for her quickly fades. To win him over, Cameron resolves to "tame" herself, much like Shakespeare's infamous shrew, Katherine. If she makes amends with everyone she's ever wronged, Andrew will have to take notice. Thus, Cameron begins her apology tour with Brendan, the guy whose social life she single-handedly destroyed. At first, Brendan isn't so quick to forgive, but slowly he warms to her when they connect over a computer game he's developing. To Cameron's amazement, she actually enjoys hanging out with Brendan; he appreciates her honesty in a way Andrew never did, and she's left wondering: maybe you shouldn't have to compromise who you are for the kind of love you deserve.

The Steep and Thorny Way

The Steep and Thorny Way

Author: Cat Winters Format: Hardback Release Date: 08/03/2016

A thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare's Hamlet, The Steep and Thorny Way tells the story of a murder most foul and the mighty power of love and acceptance in a state gone terribly rotten. 1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee's oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father's killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee's father wasn't killed by the accident at all but, instead, was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him who happens to be Hanalee's new stepfather. The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a haint wandering the roads at night.

Always Never Yours

Always Never Yours

Author: Emily Wibberley, Austin Siegemund-Broka Format: Paperback Release Date: 23/04/2019

It's inevitable - each of her relationships starts with the perfect guy and ends with him falling in love...with someone else. But instead of feeling sorry for herself, Megan focuses on pursuing her next fling, directing theatre, and fulfilling her dream college's acting requirement in the smallest role possible. So when she's cast as Juliet (yes, that Juliet) in her high school's production, it's a complete nightmare. Megan's not an actress, and she's used to being upstaged - both in and out of the theatre. In fact, with her mum off in Texas and her dad remarried and on to baby #2 with his new wife, Megan worries that, just like her exes, her family is moving on without her. Then she meets Owen Okita, an aspiring playwright inspired by Rosaline from Shakespeare's R J. A character who, like Megan, knows a thing or two about short-lived relationships. Megan agrees to help Owen with his play in exchange for help catching the eye of a sexy stagehand/potential new boyfriend. Yet Megan finds herself growing closer to Owen and wonders if he could be the Romeo she never expected.

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