This list of romantic Shakespeare retellings is sponsored by Wednesday Books.
Ah, love…has anyone ever captured it quite like William Shakespeare? The Bard’s dramas are shot through with passion and big-stakes conflict that tries its best to keep would-be lovers apart—and sometimes, tragically, succeeds. It’s no shock, then, that Shakespeare’s classic tales of romance have seen creative retellings over the years. In this list, you’ll find remixes of Shakespeare’s canonical love stories, with contemporary authors twisting the canon into epic romantic tales that rival their source material. Get ready to swoon!
This raunchy and witty queer retelling of the Bard’s Hamlet is packed with period detail and loads of Shakespearean references. At Wittenberg University, Horatio is a philosophy student whose brilliance belies his boredom and sense of uncertainty in his own philosophical beliefs. When the Prince of Denmark, haunted yet flamboyant Hamlet, makes Horatio believe in something—love—their passion is put to the test when Hamlet’s paranoia boils over. Also making an appearance are seductive Lady Adriana, a “Dark Lady” whose presence complicates Hamlet and Horatio’s relationship, and a playwright who calls himself “Will Shakespeare.”
Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is, well, dreamy! And in Love on a Midsummer Night, Christy English perfectly captures the flirtatious, playful vibes of Shakespeare’s comedy. This Regency-set historical romance follows the rekindling attraction between Raymond, Earl of Pembroke—just about the rakish man in Britain—and the love he lost, Arabella, Duchess of Hawthorne. Newly widowed, Arabella faces an unwanted suitor, so when Raymond returns from the military, Arabella asks for his help. The two depart for the midsummer festival in Derbyshire to hide out for a while. Amidst the enchanting, relaxed atmosphere, Arabella and Raymond might just get their second chance. Love on a Midsummer Night is the second installment in English’s Shakespeare in Love trilogy.
Author Marina Fiorato fleshes out the story of two characters from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in this historical retelling set in 1588. In Messina, Sicily, Beatrice of Mantua arrives in the court of her uncle, Leonato, to be the companion to her younger cousin, Hero. When Spanish lord Don Pedro visits for a month, Beatrice strikes up a friendship with Benedick of Padua, a young solder traveling with Don Pedro. The two fall deeply in love but are cast apart. In Beatrice and Benedick, Fiorato tells the story of the two lovers’s epic, ten-year-long quest to return to each other in Messina.
I totally love Lily Anderson’s version of Much Ado About Nothing, in which two nerds start out as enemies and fall head over heels in love. Get ready for geeky references galore in Anderson’s contemporary YA retelling. Trixie Watson’s heart is set on a coveted set of Doctor Who figurines. It’s definitely not set on Ben West, her academic enemy and fellow comics fan who knows exactly how to push her buttons. Locked in a bitter rivalry, the last thing Ben and Trixie expect is to find feelings for each other. But at this point, ending their well-known rivalry would mean rejecting an identity both have internalized.
It might seem like Romeo and Juliet’s fate was only ever going to go one way, but that’s not the case in Ryan North’s hilarious and deviously inventive Romeo and/or Juliet. In this fresh take on Shakespeare’s tragedy, North creates a choose-your-own adventure book as readers can follow paths that may or may not lead them down the canonical storyline. Nevertheless, North manages to infuse Romeo and/or Juliet with the same ingredients of breathless romance, aching suspense, and high-stakes danger.
Together, Romeo and Juliet make an unstoppable pair. The love between the two characters is notoriously strong, and it definitely needs to be in Koji Steven Sakai’s Romeo and Juliet vs. Zombies. This screamer of a retelling introduces horror elements as Romeo and Juliet, both wealthy socialites who mix in the same circles, must fight off not just the stars of fate…but a plague that transforms “fair Verona” into a zombie apocalypse. Inventive, fun, and romantic all at once, Sakai’s genre-bending retelling of Romeo and Juliet is wholly original.
All-star author Sharon Draper breathes some fresh air into Shakespeare’s teen tragedy in this YA retelling, Romiette and Julio. In Draper’s gender-swapped version, Romiette and her best friend Destiny, a self-proclaimed psychic, order a sketchy kit that promises to help them find their soulmate. To the girls’s surprise, the stars indicate that Romi is destined to be with Julio, a young man she’s met in the “cosmos” of a chat room who, she learns, happens to go to her high school. With their names echoing Shakespeare’s famous lovers, Romi and Julio think they are meant to be…but turbulent forces work to keep them apart.
Who better to channel Romeo and Juliet than Walter Dean Myers? In his YA retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy, star-crossed lovers Junice and Damien fall for each other on the streets of Harlem. Both teens face challenges, but Damien’s successful family doesn’t want him to get involved with Junice, whose home life is fractured and complicated. I love how Myers makes full use of the novel in verse format. Just like Shakespeare’s language, Myers’s poetry is vivid and visual with a strong sense of rhythm.
This steamy retelling is the first in Corwin’s series with a Mafia theme. Kat is a Mafia princess who falls for the wrong man: ultra-alpha bad boy Pierce, from the Irish mob. In order to get her inheritance, Kat must find a man to marry, but Pierce has no intention of making it easy for his feisty new bride. If you like this romance, pick up Twelfth Floor, the second in Corwin’s Twisted Shakespeare series, which features Kat’s sister and puts a new spin on Twelfth Night.
A playful twist on The Taming of the Shrew, Valerie Bowman’s The Untamed Earl flips gender roles. Lady Alexandra “Alex” Hobbs fell hard for rakish Lord Owen Monroe when she was 15. But Owen is engaged to Alex’s insufferable older sister, Lavinia, a total shrew. Owen needs to get married ASAP or else risk losing his allowance. It’ll take scheming Alex to transform him into a true knight in shining armor to impress Lavinia. And if they fall for each other on the way, so much the better. Too bad love never goes according to plan…
One of my favorite novels of the last few years was Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, part of a series of Shakespeare retellings from the publisher Hogarth. Tyler’s heroine is Kate Battista, an outspoken spinster who lives with her befuddled yet brilliant scientist father and her naive little sister. Stiff and awkward Kate doesn’t exactly hit it off with Pyotr, her father’s new student apprentice, and she’s outraged to learn that the two men have cooked up a scheme to have Kate marry Pyotr so he can obtain a green card and stay in America to continue his research. It becomes increasingly harder to resist the idea when Kate finds herself falling for kind Pyotr, but is she too strong-willed to fall in love?
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