From Romeo and Juliet to Hamlet, there’s a reason Shakespeare has stayed popular for hundreds of years. His work isn’t just masterful storytelling, it’s also the groundwork for so many of the classic narratives we’ve come to know and love. At this point, adaptations of Shakespeare’s work could be a genre all of their own. It’s especially interesting when we see his iconic characters pop up in settings that are far different from the fair Verona or the Venice of his time. Take TNT’s newest series, Will. And such is the case with Lady Macbeth, a dark and thought-provoking new film being released in the US on July 14.
Like a lot of Shakespeare adaptations, this one is more interpretive than faithful to the original play. And while Shakespeare is the original inspiration, the movie is actually based on a novella by Nikolai Leskov called Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. The work uses Lady Macbeth as a template for Katherine, a young woman trapped in a suffocating and abusive marriage in the English countryside in 1865. Anyone who has read Macbeth knows how intriguing Lady Macbeth is as a character, and this is a story that tries to unpack her motivations and faults through the lens of young English girl. She’s a complex, interesting character, and we can’t wait to see how she comes alive on the screen:
The novella (and the movie!) tells the story of how Katherine (Florence Pugh) escapes from her husband’s clutches with the help of her new lover, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis). But there’s a steep body count along the way, as Katherine devolves into a hard and ruthless woman who will do whatever it takes to keep her freedom. It’s a stunning story, and Pugh is already being praised for her portrayal of the complicated Katherine.
With so many great Shakespeare adaptations out there, it can be hard to find the ones that are worth reading.
In order to prepare for the release of Lady Macbeth, here are four other recent books that give us their own unique spin on the classic Shakespeare stories we’ll always love:
New Boy, Tracy Chevalier (Hogarth, May 16, 2017)
Part of the Hogarth project to publish Shakespeare retellings by popular authors, New Boy reimagines Othello like you’ve never seen it before. Set in 1970s suburbia, New Boy is about Osei Kokote, an 11-year-old diplomat’s son who instantly forms an attachment at his new school with the popular Dee. But another young student, Ian, has an issue with the relationship forming between the two. Even though they’re only kids, by the end of Osei’s first day, no one in the school will ever be the same. Chevalier uses Shakespeare’s classic play as a way to highlight the racism of the decade and the capriciousness of children in this unique and inventive retelling.
Vinegar Girl, Anne Tyler (Hogarth, Reprint, March 28, 2017)
In another Hogarth publication, Pulitzer-Prize winning author Tyler tackles The Taming of the Shrew. Kate Battista is a pre-school teacher who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, especially when it comes to her scatterbrained scientist father. So when he asks her to marry his lab assistant Pyotr in order to keep him in the country, Kate has a lot of strong feelings about the match. But then both Pyotr and her father start turning on the charm, weakening the often-grouchy Kate. Romantic and fun, this is a contemporary retelling that will warm your heart and make you laugh out loud. (Though the hardcover edition was published last year, look for the paperback version that came out in March!)
Miranda and Caliban, Jacqueline Carey (Tor Books, February 14, 2017)
Popular fantasy author Carey tackles The Tempest in Miranda and Caliban, a truly unique take on Shakespeare’s final play. With new sympathies and powers at play, this is the story of characters Miranda and Caliban that you’ve never seen before. Prospero is consumed by his thirst for revenge, leaving the lonely Miranda isolated for far too long. She ultimately connects with Caliban, who is not the wild, savage monster one might think. But there are darker forces working on their island, and along with Prospero’s jealousy and control, they threaten to tear the young couple apart. Told from an entirely new perspective, Miranda and Caliban does for The Tempest what Wicked did for The Wizard of Oz.
As I Descended, Robin Talley (HarperTeen, September 6, 2016)
Though it may have come out last September, we still can’t get this haunting young adult novel based on Macbeth out of our head. Power couple Maria and Lily rule their prestigious private school, with the exception of Delilah Dufrey, the golden girl they just can’t seem to beat. When an important scholarship is up for grabs, the couple decides they’ll do whatever it takes to win, even if that means conjuring up some dark forces that are bound to do more harm than good. Unlike Lady Macbeth, As I Descended is a fairly faithful adaptation of the original play, though it delivers a modern setting and current themes that make it all feel fresh and new again.