History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

06 April 2014

The Hamlet Connection

Authors often get asked where they got the idea for a book. For me, at least, the answer is usually too much a mélange of inspirations and half-formulated thoughts to pinpoint one moment. But in the case of The Berkeley Square Affair, I know exactly when the idea came to me. I was driving with my daughter Mélanie to the birthday party of the daughter of friends who was turning one (at the time Mélanie’s own first birthday party seemed far in the future, and she is now past two, which tells you something about the time that elapses between the genesis of a book and its publication). As I drove the winding back road from West Marin, where we live, to the nearby town of Petaluma, I got the idea of my central couple, agents and husband and wife Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, having a peaceful night in their Berkeley Square library. The Napoleonic Wars are seemingly behind them, But then their friend, playwright Simon Tanner climbs through the window, bloody from an attack. Because he was bringing them a manuscript. A manuscript that might be an alternate version of Hamlet. Of course, this being Malcolm and Suzanne’s world, the manuscript contains secrets beyond the identity of its author.

Malcolm and Suzanne have always liberally quoted Shakespeare. It's a sort of code—they can use quotes to express feelings they can't put into words for themselves. I've written scenes set at the theatre during performances of Shakespeare plays and even scenes at rehearsals, but I loved the idea of making a Shakespeare play a central part of my book and using Hamlet seemed singularly appropriate as themes of fathers and sons, lovers who may be working for the enemy, and the younger generation unraveling the secrets of their parents tied into the next story I wanted to tell in Malcolm and Suzanne's world.

I was thinking recently about the myriad works of art that have a Hamlet connection. Quotes from the play lend titles to work as diverse as Edmund Crispin's mystery The Glimpses of the Moon and the comic adventure movie Outrageous Fortune. Lee Blessing's play Fortinbras picks up the story where
Hamlet  ends. A friend and I saw a workshop production in Greenwich Village of a musical that tells the story from Ophelia's POV. Lisa Klein's young adult novel Ophelia is also a retelling from Ophelia's viewpoint. Michael Innes's wonderful mystery Hamlet, Revenge! centers round a production of Hamlet at a country house party. There are thematic echoes in countless books, movies, and television shows. The X-Files and Arrow come immediately to mind.

Hamlet, after all, is a story that can be enjoyed on a multiple levels. It is a political thriller, a psychological study, a coming of age story, a family drama, a tragic love story. It's themes dealing with the nature of life and death, power and love, parents and children grapple with core issues of human existence and can be analyzed endlessly. Yet, as a friend remarked to me at intermission during a wonderful production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, "I forget what a good story this is." Watching the play unfold, one finds oneself simply wanting to know what will happen next.

Do you have a favorite book inspired by Hamlet or another work of literature? A favorite memory of seeing Hamlet? Can you name other plays, books, and movies inspired by the story of the Prince of Denmark or that take their titles from quotes from the play?

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Blogger Diane said...

Jennifer Lee Carrell's two books come to mind: Interred with Their Bones (starts with a production if Hamlet) and Haunt Me Still (Macbeth).

12:43 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Oh, I haven't read these - must look for them. I love mysteries with theatrical settings!

3:26 PM  
Blogger Helena said...

Hamlet is my favourite Shakespeare ply. I've always had a soft spot for Horatio! As to other works: Tom Stoppard play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a bit of an obvious one. I've read somewhere that The Lion King is based on/ is a reference to Hamlet; it's so long since I saw TLK that I can't judge. Have you started watching Disney films with Melanie yet?

3:02 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Helena, how could I have forgot Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? I love Stoppard and love that play. I also should have thought to mention The Lion King. Believe it or not, I actually spent some time thinking of works with a Hamlet connection. I'm not sure where my brain was :-). I think Lion King was consciously based on Hamlet - Scar, Simba's uncle, kills Simba's father and takes over the throne. I'm sure there are other obvious books, plays, etc... I forgot to mention. Melanie and I haven't watched Lion King yet, but we saw Frozen in the movie theatre over the holidays, and she loved it and still talks about it all the time.

12:03 AM  

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