Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Guest Post: Adapting Shakespeare in Your Own Work by Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

Welcome today to Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, the author of the recently-released Twinned Universes, the sequel to the novella Lyon's Legacy.  If you go to the Amazon page for the book you can see a review written by me under one of my many guises.  So it comes highly recommended.  Now, take it away Sandra!

It's been said that William Shakespeare wasn't just for an age, but for all time. His works are still produced and adapted in our era, over four hundred years after he wrote his plays. Just as Shakespeare drew from earlier stories to find inspiration for his works, many writers today use his stories as a jumping-off point for theirs. Since Paul Harrison, the main character of my book Twinned Universes, is an actor, it seemed natural for him to aspire to playing Hamlet. It also seemed natural to draw in other references from the play, particularly since the book deals with Paul's attempt to find answers to the mystery of his mother's death. Paul plays a minor character from the play in the first chapter of Twinned Universes, and he quotes from Shakespeare throughout the story. This isn’t the first time I’ve drawn inspiration from Shakespeare; my fantasy short story “Letters to Psyche” shows Romeo and Juliet from Cupid’s point of view.

If you’re going to use the Bard’s works as a source for your stories, are there any points you should keep in mind? One of the first things you want to consider is how explicit you want the connection to be. In Twinned Universes, the connection is pretty strong. Some of the plot points and characters have parallels to Hamlet. However, depending on your work, you may only want to make the link in one part of the story. The link could be as simple as a name. (“What's in a name? that which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.”—Romeo and Juliet.) Of course, some names from Shakespeare carry more weight than others; a Viola or Juliet may slip under the radar of some readers, but Romeo or Hamlet are such strong, well-known characters that Shakespeare’s versions will be associated any other characters with that name. Other times you may want to use part of a plot, such as a woman disguising herself as a man to be closer to the man she loves.

One of the things that makes Shakespeare’s plays so popular is that they focus on the human condition. This means that you can feel free to tell the story in a completely different setting or change parts of the story and still have it work. In fact, there’s an old anthology called Weird Tales from Shakespeare, edited by Katherine Kerr and Martin H. Greenberg, that includes stories with spiders and artificial intelligences as the characters. (Ironic that nonhuman characters can be made so human, isn’t it?) John Varley’s The Golden Globe, set in the far future, features an actor who plays King Lear on the moon. These are just a couple of works that feature Shakespeare or his plays; if I took the time to dig through my library or search online, I could find lots more.

Do you need to use Shakespeare’s language or quote directly from him to tell his stories? In my opinion, it’s not necessary. If you transplant the story to another location, then the story should be told in words natural to that setting. Since Shakespeare invented some of the words in his plays, words we use today, I don’t think he would mind. Although we can still follow (sometimes with difficulty), Shakespeare’s original language, grafting the ideas into new settings keeps them fresh. We should be so lucky to have our work be so valued four hundred years after we pass.

Thanks to Sandra for the guest post.  Just a reminder that if you want to promote something, you can let me know and I will make some room in the schedule to fit in.


  1. Thanks for having me here today, PT! I'll stop by as my schedule permits to answer any questions.

  2. Great analysis of how Shakespeare can be used to bolster your fiction.

  3. Thanks for this Shakespeare refresher. Very interesting.

  4. Interesting post. I was recently helping my son with some Shakespeare he had to study for English. It's amazing how much our language can change in 400 years. I tend to prefer modern translations.

  5. I've heard many adaptations of Shakespeare and some of the best don't use Shakespeare's dialogue. "Forbidden Planet" comes to mind

  6. Thanks for your comments, everyone, and thanks again to PT for letting me stop by today!



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