Is it okay to write a story based on a work of Shakespeare?
This question has surfaced frequently during my discussions of Ian McEwan's Nutshell. Readers begin the the novella either ready to see or are in the dark about the loose fitting Hamlet-ish story line. If the reader is aware of the plot resemblance, then chuckles erupt about Danish take-out. The main murderous-plotting characters, Trudy and Claude, get knowing nods to Queen Gertrude and King Claudius.
However, it is not necessary to know anything about Shakespeare or Denmark to be wittingly knotted up in Nutshell. Readers are in the hands of a master storyteller. Ian McEwan brilliantly employs an in utero narrator. And this is not the first time in literature that a fetus has told a tale.
To tell a tale already told, or not to tell.
Literary theories abound. No story is original. Three basic plots exists. Stories are structured in seven different ways . Some philosophers will argue that no story exists. Yes, next month we are reading Camus' The Stranger.
Hamlet is argued to be the most influential of all Shakespearean plays. In and endless list of interviews, McEwan discusses his use of the play in Nutshell.
Years ago, Elaine Konigsburg was speaking about writing. She explained that in order to break the rules of grammar, one has to possess a command and understanding of the usage. This same principle applies in this superb novella.
McEwan can do whatever he wants with Hamlet. Nutshell is a small book with huge themes. From the first sentence, an improbable premise breaks all the rules of rationality. Poking, priapic prose reveal that the author was having fun with this baby.
Thus, Nutshell is sublime.
By request: Shakespeare Live, To Be or Not To Be performance by Paapa Essiedu, Tim Minchin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dame Harriet Walter, David Tennant, Rory Kinnear, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench and HRH the Prince of Wales. Royal Shakespeare Company.
Lastly, mark your calendars for a special book lovers event on April 29 in Jacksonville, Florida. Listen to the program on Tuesday morning or on the First Coast Connect App on iTunes for announcement and details to get involved.