MONS TROUS LIT TLE VOI CES
Such stuff as dreams are made on
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.