Book Recommendations for Picky Shakespearians

Here’s the thing. There are so many recommendations out there for what you should read based on your favorite Shakespeare play. And since Shakespeare is one of the most well-known playwrights, as well as being credited with the invention of over 1,700 words, it makes total sense! In fact, we just put out a blog post about some fantastic Shakespeare adaptations that you should check out. But what if none of those recommendations hit home for you? Maybe you need a break from Shakespeare’s tropes and are looking for something that’s the complete opposite. Maybe, just maybe…you don’t actually have a favorite play (gasp!).

So, what about your least favorite? What about the play that makes you roll your eyes? What about the play that you read once and then decided to never read again? The play that you just don’t get the hype about? Maybe you were forced to read Shakespeare in school all the years ago, or you have a problem with Willy Shakes himself. Or, maybe you actually-sorta-kinda like Shakespeare and just can’t resist some light hearted teasing.  No matter where your feelings come from, I’ve got you covered. Here are recommendations based on your least favorite play.*

*If you don’t have strong feelings in either direction, I give you permission to select a least favorite at random. You’re welcome.


What you should read if you hated...

Julius Cesar:
We’re gonna start this list off easy, folks. If you didn’t like this play, you’re probably just not vibing with the Roman murder fest. And what’s the exact opposite of this male-dominated Roman play? That’s right, an epic story of a Greek woman striving for agency. Ariadne by Jennifer Saint is an intense Greek re-telling that centers women amid tragedy. 


Romeo and Juliet:
For some people, this is the first (and last) thing by Shakespeare they read.Usually the dislike for Romeo and Juliet comes from the sheer speed in which our two kiddos fall in love and Friar Lawrence's horrible communication skills, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re tired of forbidden romance. Sure, forbidden romances may be endearing, but it didn’t end well for our lovebirds. So, don’t worry! There’s no miscommunication trope or forbidden love in this romance–in fact, it’s not even a romance! Hurricane Girl by Marcy Dermansky is a comedy that bridges the horrific and the sensational–the exact opposite of Romeo and Juliet. 


King Lear:
I know this play is a tragedy, but let’s be honest–it’s more like three tragedies stacked on top of each other wearing a trench coat. If this is your least favorite, you’re probably tired of all the tragic deaths and are in desperate need of a happy ending. And you know what? After reading something as sad as King Lear, I think you deserve one. Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto is hilarious, family focused, and the perfect antithesis of King Lear. (Is there a murder? Yes, but it was an accident so it doesn’t count.)


It’s the theatrics, isn’t it? You know, if the literal ghost was the most dramatic thing in the play, then maybe you would’ve liked it. But the play within the play, Hammie’s inability to create a straight-forward strategy, and the way he uses Ophelia…our Prince of Denmark is tragically gorgeous, absolutely, but definitely not for everyone. In Manifesto, Bernardine Evaristo keeps the theatrics to a minimum and humor to the max,  providing an unconventional memoir with an enlightening perspective.  


Some people (namely Alfred Lord Tennyson) say that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all…but if this is your least favorite play, then you (and Othello) probably don’t agree. Iago ripped out our hearts before Othello and his lovely Desdemona could make things right, which means a second-chance romance will be right up your alley. The antidote to your woes is Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman, where journalist Chani gets the opportunity for a happy ending after 10 years of waiting. 


The Tempest: 
Alright, Prospero is a powerful sorcerer and itching for revenge, so this play can be a bit surreal. If this is your least favorite, you might have a general distaste for the magical. Or, maybe you sympathize with Miranda and don’t like the idea of being stranded on a remote island with your dad. And that’s okay! Both reasons are totally valid. So, just to cover my bases, this recommendation is research-focused and is definitely not about father-child relationships. In the Company of Crows and Ravens by John Maslove explores the interactions between crows and people and how those connections influence our culture. 


Taming of the Shrew: 
Listen. I love Heath Ledger as much as the next person. I can’t deny that 10 Things I Hate About You holds a special place in my heart. But the swoon-worth movie adaptation does not compensate for the mistreatment of Katherina in the source material! I don’t blame you if you dislike a comedy about a woman being mistreated in an unwanted marriage, so you must trust me when I say The Roommate by Rosie Danan should be your next read. This steamy romance is all about prioritizing women and finding the courage to speak out about what you believe in. 


Midsummer Night’s Dream:
Fairies and donkey heads may be entertaining to some, but it’s just not your speed. I get it, I really do. The immaturity of it all can be overwhelming, even if it did result in a pretty happy ending. I think we can agree that you’re looking for something more grounded, something that really makes you think critically. You can find solace in The Colors of Nature: Identity, and the Natural World edited by Alison Hawthorne Deming, which explores the relationship between culture and place.


Twelfth Night:
Once again, a cool movie adaptation has a fierce grip on my heart (or maybe it’s just Amanda Bynes). But even I can admit that the secrets in The Twelfth Night become exhausting. If this is your least favorite, it’s probably because you crave transparency (and rightly so!). My recommendation for you is an ultra-confessional memoir that leaves no rock unturned. Girlhood by Melissa Febos uses investigative reporting and scholarship to confront and move beyond girlhood.