Such stuff as dreams are made on

SFX - - Reviews -

2016 is the 400th an­niver­sary of Shake­speare’s death, so this year will bring many com­mem­o­ra­tions of the Bard. This an­thol­ogy is un­likely to be the most high pro­file of th­ese, but it may just be one of the most fun.

The book con­sists of five linked novel­las that play with Shake­speare’s char­ac­ters, set­tings and themes. And “play” is the op­er­a­tive word: th­ese sto­ries revel in both the con­ven­tions and the in­ven­tive­ness of Shake­spearean drama, re­mind­ing us how en­ter­tain­ing and sub­ver­sive th­ese plays were and can still be.

Foz Mead­ows’ charm­ing and chal­leng­ing “Co­ral Bones” uses the cross- dress­ing of the come­dies to ex­plore gen­der iden­tity, imag­in­ing The Tem­pest’s du­ti­ful Mi­randa trav­el­ling to the court of fairy queen Ti­ta­nia from A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream, in search of the free­dom – and the magic – of a true self. In “The Course Of True Love”, Kate Heart­field blends char­ac­ters from Ovid’s “Meta­mor­phoses” – a key in­spi­ra­tion for Shake­speare – with Orsino and Oberon to tell a story of de­cep­tion, shapeshift­ing and hu­man/ fairy war.

The two stand­out pieces – Emma New­man’s and Adrian Tchaikovsky’s – build upon th­ese foun­da­tions, broad­en­ing out this war- torn, su­per­nat­u­rally- in­flected Mediter­ranean world to in­clude an im­mor­tal Mac­beth, a schem­ing Pros­pero, and half the cast of Much Ado About Noth­ing. New­man’s “The Un­kind­est Cut” has de­li­ciously hor­ri­ble fun with that old dra­matic trope of the prophecy ful­filled by its char­ac­ters’ ef­forts to undo it, while Tchaikovsky goes full- on Ja­cobean in his di­a­logue and even breaks the fourth wall as he plunges a mot­ley band of char­ac­ters from var­i­ous plays right into the middle of the warfare. Fi­nally, Jonathan Barnes of­fers a bit­ter­sweet re­flec­tion on our many im­ages of Shake­speare the man. Ex­cel­lent stuff. Nic Clarke

The book’s ti­tle is a Bot­tom line from A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream, which refers to the prac­tice of boys play­ing fe­male roles.

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