The best novels relating to Shakespeare

Who am I?

As a long-time teacher of Shakespeare’s plays who’s performed in and directed amateur productions and written spin-off plays myself, I love all aspects of William Shakespeare. Before writing my own books set in his era I did intensive research into its theatre and politics, but the more imaginative approach of novelists offers different delights. I like shedding our reverence for The Bard and looking at the man, his relationships, and what contributed to his plays beyond his sources. Rather than real or fictional biographies of Shakespeare, my list features creative stories for both pleasure and learning. 


I wrote...

Bedtrick

By Jinny Webber,

Book cover of Bedtrick

What is my book about?

Once a boy player in Shakespeare’s company, Sander Cooke is now a hired man playing female roles. When Frances Field reveals she’s pregnant by Sander’s brother, Johnny, a fellow actor, he makes it clear that marriage isn’t in his plans. But if Frances gives birth to a bastard, she’ll lose her shop on London Bridge. Sander would come to Frances’ rescue but has a secret, kept both onstage and off. She is a woman. Even Moll Frith who goes around blatantly as a man wouldn’t marry a woman, but she finds Sander and Frances a priest to officiate. Can these two women make a true union of it? Their unconventional marriage unfolds against Shakespeare’s plays of this tumultuous era, including As You Like ItTroilus and Cressida, and Hamlet.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of No Bed for Bacon

Jinny Webber Why did I love this book?

Brahms and Simon wrote this in 1941 as bombs fell on London. Featuring the likes of Queen Elizabeth I and Will Shakespeare, jokes fly fast. I recommend it for its humor in perilous times. The 1998 movie Shakespeare in Love replicates much of the story: see Ned Sherrin’s introduction to the 1999 paperback. What I love is the playfulness and clever liberties the authors take with their illustrious characters. They suggest that I’m overly earnest about names and chronology, though in Bedtrick, a historic male actor in Shakespeare’s troupe was born female. I can’t imitate Brahms and Simon’s light-hearted approach to historical accuracy, but No Bed for Bacon is a frolic that encourages a lighter touch, and my affection for my characters, I hope, equals theirs

By Caryl Brahms, S.J. Simon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked No Bed for Bacon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shakespeare's in love, perchance, in this rollicking send-up of the Age of Elizabeth.

With an Introduction by Ned Sherrin.


Book cover of Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare's Love-Life

Jinny Webber Why did I love this book?

Readers will either be drawn to this book by a novelist who studied Shakespeare in depth or put off by Burgess’ language. His wordplay is quite mad at times, especially when ‘WS’—Will Shakespeare—is drunk. No contemporary novelist would likely create such a mixture of Elizabethan and modern English. Despite Burgess’ knowledge of Shakespeare’s life and works, much of the plot is fanciful. However, his daring is encouraging, his imagination freeing. I never considered writing a book where Shakespeare speaks, but Nothing Like the Sun suggests, why not? Many biographies seem fictional in their guesswork; Burgess’ vitality and imagination outshine the strictly biographical. I found his ground-breaking work inspiring, and it’s a bawdy lark for readers who persevere!

By Anthony Burgess,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nothing Like the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A magnificent, bawdy telling of Shakespeare's love life, following young Will's maturation into sex and writing. A playful romp, it is at the same time a serious look at the forces that midwife art, the effects of time and place, and the ordinariness that is found side by side with the extraordinariness of genius.


Book cover of The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet

Jinny Webber Why did I love this book?

Hermes’ novel displays a different sort of playfulness, opening in Wittenberg with Horatio as narrator. It connects not only to Hamlet but also Shakespeare’s sonnets. Shakespeare is a character in the topsy-turvy fashion, not speaking directly. I loved the clever weaving of Shakespeare’s lines into the dialogue and the suspenseful, twisting plot. Hermes employs gender-bending differently than I do and touches on the authorship controversy, as I do not. Her identification of the dark lady and fair youth of the sonnets is unique. I appreciate her creativity and her way of incorporating quotations. In my work, there are speeches from plays and poems spoken aloud, as my protagonist is an actor, but in the 11th century they resemble natural speech. Moving forward and backward in time, this novel inspires flights of imagination.

By Myrlin A. Hermes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Laced with quotes, references, and in-jokes, cross-dressing, bed-tricks, mistaken identity, and a bisexual love-triangle inspired by Shakespeare′s own sonnets, The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet novel upends everything you thought you knew about Hamlet. Witty, insightful, playful, and truly wise about the greatest works of the Bard, this novel is a delectable treat for people that have loved books like Stephen Greenblatt′s Will in the World and John Updike′s Gertrude and Claudius.

A Divinity scholar at Wittenberg University, Horatio prides himself on his ability to argue both sides of any intellectual debate but is himself a skeptic, never fully…


Book cover of The Daughter of Time

Jinny Webber Why did I love this book?

This novel’s focus on Shakespeare’s Richard III makes the playwright ever-present though he doesn’t appear in person. It’s a mystery story featuring a hospitalized police detective and a bright young American whose research into the historical Richard questions his being a villainous hunchback who murders the two princes in the Tower. In my own work I too like secrets and revelations; the way Tey builds her story is instructive. When the policeman opens a novel about Richard’s mother Cecily Neville, he comments that it’s ‘the almost-respectable form of historical fiction, which is history-with-conversation, so to speak  . . . an honest affair according to its lights.’ I love the idea of historical fiction being honest ‘according to its lights.’ My goal too: dramatizing personal interactions within historical facts. 

By Josephine Tey,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Daughter of Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

_________________________
Josephine Tey's classic novel about Richard III, the hunchback king whose skeleton was famously discovered in a council car park, investigates his role in the death of his nephews, the princes in the Tower, and his own death at the Battle of Bosworth.

Richard III reigned for only two years, and for centuries he was villified as the hunch-backed wicked uncle, murderer of the princes in the Tower. Josephine Tey's novel The Daughter of Time is an investigation into the real facts behind the last Plantagenet king's reign, and an attempt to right what many believe to be the…


Book cover of Hag-Seed

Jinny Webber Why did I love this book?

The chronology of my Shakespeare-era novels hasn’t reached The Tempest, but I love how this novel features a production of the play—in a prison. The relation of the inmates to their roles and the protagonist’s personal crisis give Prospero and his island new life in a setting also set apart from society. I enjoyed how the characters come to realizations about Shakespeare’s play as they rehearse, the goal of my own novels from a different angle. Many spinoffs from Shakespeare use his plot devices, but Atwood relies on The Tempest for her plot. Each ‘best’ novel here reveals new visions to the reader and gains plot and suspense from the links to Shakespeare. Though my goals aren’t identical to these authors', their works offer inspiration.

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Hag-Seed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

** Longlisted for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction **

Selected as a Book of the Year -- Observer, Sunday Times, Times, Guardian, i magazine

`It's got a thunderstorm in it. And revenge. Definitely revenge.'

Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he's staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds.

Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by…


You might also like...

The Vixen Amber Halloway

By Carol LaHines,

Book cover of The Vixen Amber Halloway

Carol LaHines Author Of Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity & Loss

New book alert!

Who am I?

The anthology form unites diverse voices around a common theme—in the case of Distant Flickers, identity and loss. The stories in the anthology explore intense personal relationships—of mother and child, old lovers, etc. Some of the stories are in the moment and some recounted with the perspective of time, some are fable-like, some formal, and others more colloquial. Reading them the reader is struck by the variety of approaches a writer might take to a subject. The device of the contributor’s notes enables the reader to see the story behind the story and how life informs art—life furnishing the raw material or day residue of the story.  

Carol's book list on themed anthologies

What is my book about?

Ophelia, a professor of Dante, is stricken when she discovers that her husband Andy has been cheating on her with a winsome colleague. What follows is Ophelia’s figurative descent into hell as she obsessively tracks her subjects, performs surveillance in her beat-up Volvo, and moves into the property next door to Amber’s, which has gone into foreclosure.

She spies on the lovers, growing more and more estranged from reality. Andy’s betrayal reawakens the earlier trauma of abandonment by her mother at the age of eight. When Andy and Amber become engaged, Ophelia snaps. The story is a jailhouse confessional, a dark comedy, an oeuvre of women’s rage, a suspenseful revenge fantasy, and a moving portrait of one woman’s psychological breakdown.

The Vixen Amber Halloway

By Carol LaHines,

What is this book about?

Ophelia, a professor of Dante, is stricken when she discovers that her husband Andy has been cheating on her with a winsome colleague. What follows is Ophelia's figurative descent into hell as she obsessively tracks her subjects, performs surveillance in her beat-up Volvo, and moves into the property next door to Amber's, which has gone into foreclosure. She spies on the lovers, growing more and more estranged from reality. Andy's betrayal reawakens the earlier trauma of abandonment by her mother at the age of eight. When Andy and Amber become engaged, Ophelia snaps. The story is a jailhouse confessional, a…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in William Shakespeare, revenge, and theatres?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about William Shakespeare, revenge, and theatres.

William Shakespeare Explore 176 books about William Shakespeare
Revenge Explore 106 books about revenge
Theatres Explore 75 books about theatres