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Shakespearean Retellings That Are Better Than the Originals

Tired of the same old tragedies and comedies from Shakespeare? Try these retellings that turn the plays upside down.
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I’ll be the first to say I don’t love most of Shakespeare’s plays. I had to read a lot of them in school, and for whatever reason, I just didn’t enjoy the experience. That said, I have thoroughly enjoyed many Shakespearean retellings. Some retell the plays from another character’s perspective while others take the story to modern-day settings; some are contemporary romances and others are based on science-fiction and fantasy.

‘The Winter’s Tale’: ‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’ by E.K. Johnstone

The Winter's Tale; Exit, Pursued by a Bear book covers
Simon & Schuster | Dutton Books for Young Readers

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a modern retelling of The Winter’s Tale that follows Hermione as she falls from popularity. The novel does have trigger warnings for assault and other sensitive topics, so please read it only if you are comfortable with the content. Overall, it was a compelling story that tugged at the heartstrings.

Hermione is known for being the cheer captain. Or she was until one night changed everything when she was drugged. The book follows her dealing with the fallout. While she comes to terms with what happened, she finds who her true friends are–and who she really is.

‘Othello’: ‘I, Iago’ by Nicole Galland

Othello; I, Iago book covers
Simon & Schuster | William Morrow Paperbacks

Set during the same time period as Shakespeare’s original play, Othello, Nicole Galland retells the story from Iago’s point of view and makes him somewhat likable. Instead of painting him as evil through and through, we see how he turned into the villain of Othello.

The reviews raved about how well Galland wrote the story and toyed with the idea of good and evil. There were so many points during the novel that it could have gone horribly wrong and caused me to not finish, but she managed to handle them well enough to keep me hooked.

‘The Tempest’: ‘Miranda and Caliban’ by Jacqueline Carey

The Tempest; Miranda and Caliban book covers
Dover Publications | Tor Books

Miranda and Caliban is a fantasy retelling of The Tempest that had me reading late into the night. While Shakespeare’s Elizabeth English can sometimes be difficult for modern readers to grasp, Carey’s writing is effortlessly poetical and addictive.

Miranda has lived with her father far from others in an abandoned castle. The only other person nearby is a boy named Caliban that watches her and leaves presents for her at the door. One day, the two come face to face when Miranda’s father traps Caliban. The novel alternates between Caliban and Miranda’s perspectives as they grow up.

‘The Tempest’: ‘Prospero Lost’ by L. Jagi Lamplighter

The Tempest; Prospero Lost book covers
Dover Publications | Tor Books

Yes, another entry for The Tempest lovers! And while this is technically not a retelling, it does follow characters from Shakespeare’s original play. Prospero Lost is the first book in the series and is set four hundred years after the events of The Tempest.

Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, is now in charge of the family business and uses magic to help people worldwide. One day, Prospero disappears with a cryptic warning. She must gather her siblings and piece together her broken memories to find him.

‘The Taming of the Shrew’: ‘Professional Liar’ by Monica Corwin

The Taming of the Shrew; Professional Liar book covers
Penguin Shakespeare | Createspace Independent Publishing Platform

There are hundreds of retellings of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and this is the most recent one that I fell in love with. Corwin took The Taming of the Shrew and turned it into an adult mafia romance, which isn’t what I would expect to like, but I will concede it has me hooked. It’s also the first in the Twisted Shakespeare series.

When Kat’s father decided how to dispense his fortune to his daughters, he only had two rules: both daughters get married. Kat’s desperate to get her inheritance, so she goes to the only person she can think of–Pierson St. James. He promised to marry Kat years ago, and she’s cashing in on that promise.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’: ‘The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You’ by Lily Anderson

Much Ado About Nothing; The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You book covers
Simon & Schuster | St. Martin’s Griffin

Trixie and Ben have been school rivals for as long as they can remember. Now in their senior year, Trixie is willing to give up almost everything she loves to beat him. That is until the two rivals’ best friends start dating. Ben and Trixie have to call a truce and become friends. Then Trixie’s best friend is expelled, and they’re at odds again.

This Much Ado About Nothing retelling gives us a nerdy enemies-to-lovers story set in a modern-day high school. Something about these young adult nerdy love stories just warms my heart, and I could honestly see myself re-reading this one day. If you love Shakespeare, The Love Hypothesis, or both, you will love this book.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’: ‘Love on a Midsummer Night’ by Christy English

A Midsummer Night's Dream; Love in the Midsummer Night book covers
Arden Shakespeare | Sourcebooks Casablanca

This author has a whole series of Shakespeare retellings set during the Regency era, but Love on a Midsummer Night is the only one I’ve read so far. All three books in the series are technically standalones. Still, according to reviews, characters from one book show up in others.

Arabella betrayed Raymond years ago when she married an elderly man. Now that her husband is dead, the new Duke of Hawthorne is trying to get her to himself. One night, she goes to Raymond for protection. When they travel far away together, they discover their feelings never faded.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’: ‘This Must Be Love’ by Tui T. Sutherland

A Midsummer Night's Dream; This Must Be Love book covers
Arden Shakespeare | HarperCollins

I couldn’t move on with this list without talking about this crossover retelling that brings together Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s been a while since I last read this, but I’m definitely going to pick it up again once I finish my already-long TBR list.

Four students’ lives are entwined when they participate in their school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Despite the play, Hermia, Helena, Dmitri, and Alex are wrapped up in a love square similar to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hermia loves Alex, Alex is oblivious, Helena crushes on Dmitri, and Dmitri is the new kid in school.

‘Twelfth Night’: ‘Love Evolution’ by Michelle Mankin

Twelfth Night; Love Evolution book covers
Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare | Smashwords

For years, I read rockstar romances on Wattpad (I’m not embarrassed). So when I came across this novel and found out it was a retelling of Twelfth Night, I couldn’t resist going back down that rabbit hole.

Love Evolution is the first in the Brutal Strength series. Guitarist Avery Jones has just been offered the job she needs to move past her twin brother’s death. The only thing standing in her way is the band’s lead singer. So, with the help of her manager, she masquerades as her brother to get the gig. Now, there’s another problem – Avery is falling for the lead singer.

See related: Modern Shakespeare Movies that Dumped the Stuffy Accents and Ren Faire Costumes

‘Hamlet’: ‘The Steep and Thorny Way’ by Cat Winters

Hamlet; The Steep and Thorny Way book covers
Washington Square Press | Bloomsbury

Hanalee Denney’s father died, but was it really an accident like everyone says? Though she suspects her new stepfather (and a doctor) caused her father’s death while treating the dying man. With the help of her father’s ghost, Hanalee will get to the bottom of it – even if it costs Hanalee her sanity.

This novel had me sobbing at parts, and I could barely put it down. It’s set in Oregon during the 1920s and deals with many heavy subjects, including race and sexuality. But the overarching story is more about going through grief and coming out on the other side stronger.

‘Hamlet’: ‘Ophelia’ by Lisa Klein

Hamlet; Ophelia book covers
Washington Square Press | Amulet Books

Unpopular opinion alert: I just didn’t love Hamlet. However, I think I found that missing piece in Lisa Klein’s retelling. By shifting the focus to Ophelia instead of Hamlet, I felt a much stronger connection to the story. A movie based on the book was made with Daisy Ridley starring as Ophelia.

In Ophelia, Klein retells the tragedy from Ophelia’s point of view as she falls in love with Hamlet, but his madness pulls them apart. To survive, she holds her secrets close. But will she be able to save Hamlet from his own demise before it’s too late for both of them?

‘Macbeth’: ‘As I Descended’ by Robin Talley

Macbeth; As I Descended book covers
Simon & Schuster | HarperTeen

I didn’t know what I was expecting when I picked up this book knowing absolutely nothing about it. But after finding it, I’m grateful I went in like that. Watching the story unfold and not having any judgments or expectations just added to the suspense Talley created.

Maria and Lily are Archeron Academy’s power couple – at least, that’s what they tell themselves. To ensure they keep their status and make their dreams come true, they will cross any lines to dethrone the school’s queen bee, Delilah. But when their dabbling in magic kills their classmates, their reality starts blurring with imagination.

‘Macbeth’: ‘The Curse of the King’ by Winnie Lyon

Macbeth; The Curse of the King book covers
Simon & Schuster | The Parliament House

TikTok has really been giving me banger book after book. I discovered this book days before it was released when the author posted a video about it, and I was immediately hooked. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a spooky read that isn’t horror. Even better, it’s not a retelling but an indirect sequel to the original play so you don’t need to brush up on the Scottish Play before you dive into The Curse of the King.

Laura is set on breaking the curse on her family – the very family of the three witches that cursed Macbeth. But when a spell goes awry, she reanimates one of the witches, Cecily, instead of breaking the curse. Now, her life is full of everyday high-school drama and demonic forces. How much can one young witch handle?

‘Romeo and Juliet’: ‘These Violent Delights’ by Chloe Gong

Romeo and Juliet; These Violent Delights book covers
Dover Publications | Margaret K. McElderry Books

The first book in a duology, These Violent Delights, takes place in 1920s Shanghai. The second book is titled Our Violent Ends. TikTok blew this book up when it came out, and the hype is well-deserved.

Juliette is taking back her place in the Scarlet Gang. To save her gang, she must work with Roma, her first love and heartbreak (and heir to the rival gang, the White Flowers). Dark monsters are crawling out of the shadows, and only they can save their city.

See related: Asian Mythology Retellings You Need to Read Now

‘Romeo and Juliet’: ‘Juliet Immortal’ by Stacey Jay

Romeo and Juliet; Juliet Immortal book covers
Dover Publications | Delacorte Press

Stacey Jay answers the question I’ve been asking since my high school freshman year English class: What if the star-crossed lovebirds hadn’t killed themselves?

In this fantasy retelling of Shakespeare’s most famous play, Romeo betrays Juliet in order to gain immortality for himself. Now also immortal, Juliet has been trying to help love conquer all for centuries while Romeo has tried to destroy romance. When they come up against each other again, will she be able to beat him once and for all?