In the last few days I’ve come across what seems like a trend—modern authors making Shakespeare their own by either rewriting the famous bard or ghost writing in his name. In an interview at the quarterly literary magazine InDigest*, Dustin Nelson talks with Arthur Phillips and John Reed, two authors with “a similarly pragmatic love of Shakespeare,” while at The Paris Review, Sam Maclaughlin talks with Chris Adrian, author of The Great Night—A Midsummer Night’s Dream recast in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park. (I’ve previously written about Adrian here.)
In his latest book, The Tragedy of Arthur, Phillips actually wrote a “new” Shakespeare play, while in his 2008 book, All the World’s a Grave: A New Play by William Shakespeare, Reed created a new Shakespearean work piecemeal using elements from works that already exist. The “pragmatic love” the two authors feel comes from the fact that the writer has become, to many, untouchable. Failing to recognize his failings does a disservice to him, so argue these writers. When asked about the possible intimidation that could come with messing with an author who has been placed, like no other, on top of a pedestal, Phillips responds:
Adrian, on the other hand, wasn’t trying to write a “new” Shakespeare play. Of his project he says,
What do you think? Is the great poet and playwright untouchable or do modern authors have the right to “liberate” him from the shackles of canonization?
Related: Listen to Arthur Phillips on “Studio 360 with Kurt Anderson.”
*Full disclosure: I am a founding editor of InDigest.