Shakespeare He Ain’t

Oh. Oh, dear. Not content to show his contempt for social history by declaring that marriage has always been one man and one woman (and saying any government that disagrees must be taken down by any means necessary), Orson Scott Card has now shown his contempt for literary history by rewriting Shakespeare. Sure, you say, plenty of people have rewritten Shakespeare. Sure, you say, Card has a history of rendering Shakespeare tepid in search of making the works more accessible.

True. What he hasn’t done–until now–is “update” Hamlet by taking away everything that made it Hamlet.

In this adaptation, Hamlet was never close to his father. The prince is unfazed and emotionally indifferent to the old king’s death, feels no sense of betrayal when his mother speedily remarries, and thinks that Claudius will make a perfectly good monarch. Hamlet is also secure in his religious faith, with absolute and unshakable beliefs about the nature of death and the afterlife. He isn’t particularly hung up on Ophelia, either. Throughout the novella, Prince Hamlet displays the emotional depth of a blank sheet of paper.

Card has completely removed the dramatic stakes and haunting questions posed by the play, and the threadbare result is a failure of narrative craft on every level. Only one question remains: Is the ghost of Hamlet’s father really a ghost, or is it instead a demonic liar? (Both, as it turns out.) But most of the novella is filled with pedantic moralizing, made all the more bland by Hamlet’s smug and uncomplicated certainty. “Some acts are always right,” he insists. “And some are always wrong.”

This would be hilariously bad if Card weren’t taking out all the interesting elements of Hamlet in order to give himself more room to turn it into an anti-gay screed. No, really.

Here’s the punch line: Old King Hamlet was an inadequate king because he was gay, an evil person because he was gay, and, ultimately, a demonic and ghostly father of lies who convinces young Hamlet to exact imaginary revenge on innocent people. The old king was actually murdered by Horatio, in revenge for molesting him as a young boy—along with Laertes, and Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, thereby turning all of them gay. We learn that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are now “as fusty and peculiar as an old married couple. I pity the woman who tries to wed her way into that house.”

Hamlet is damned for all the needless death he inflicts, and Dead Gay Dad will now do gay things to him for the rest of eternity: “Welcome to Hell, my beautiful son. At last we’ll be together as I always longed for us to be.”

Did Shakespeare use fabulous quills like these?

You really have to read the entire review to comprehend just how appalling this book really is (or Scott Lynch’s lovely parody if you want something sillier). Boring in its execution and blatantly false in its premises, it’s hard to imagine why the publisher thought it was worth printing, even if it was delivered on a contract with an advance.

As far as I can tell, the only good thing about this book is the Twitter campaign it inspired: Buy a Big Gay Novel for Scott Card Day. It has some excellent suggestions, including my favorite book, Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner and the prequel she wrote with her wife, Delia Sherman. Others on the list or mentioned separately, written by and/or about gays, lesbians, and bisexuals:

And the list goes on. It’s a little heavy on contemporary fantasy (full disclosure: I’ve met most of these authors), but that’s fixable. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

Photo: Feathers by Eggybird.

Shakespeare He Ain’t
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22 thoughts on “Shakespeare He Ain’t

  1. 1

    Oh, yay, another Kushner fan! I actually just put Swordpoint and its sequels through the review-engine over at my book blog, so it’s fresh in my mind. I specialize in female authors and sorta focus on LGBT issues in spec-fic land, so this is a long list. And will not help to balance the contemporary fantasy angle you’ve got.

    (Shameless self-promotion: That’s here. )

    -Anything by Lynn Flewelling. The Nightrunner series merely has gay protagonists, whereas the Tremeire Triad does all sorts of exploration of sexuality and gender and identity.
    -Most of Tanya Huff features some failure to comply with heterosexual-cisgendered-monogamous in there somewhere, including some of her very best protagonists, and she, like Flwelling, was writing big gay books before it was cool.
    -Catherynne M. Valente features all kinds of gender and sexuality issues in her books, most notably in Palmipsest
    -The third (and best) of China Mieville’s Bas Lag series, Iron Council features gay protagonists with several interesting side characters in the early books
    -Bruce Coville has done some wonderful characters in his children’s books, most fetchingly the lovely short story, “Am I Blue?” It’s the title story in an anthology aimed at LGBT teens.

    …I better get back to work now.

  2. 2

    2011 Wilde Stories is a collection of gay speculative fiction published by Lethe Press. Lethe is “an independent press specializing in literary fiction,titles of gay & lesbian interest, poetry, and science fiction.” Interested readers will find lots of good stuff there. The publisher of Lethe Press, Steve Berman, has a new book out, “SPEAKING OUT: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up”, which collects “gay positive & coming out stories for teens”. Info on these and more books can be found at the Lethe Press site.

  3. 3

    Shameless self-promotion: my first two novels feature a lesbian protagonist. Fires of the Faithful and Turning the Storm.

    My trilogy features a world where the default sexuality is bi; some of the characters wind up with opposite-sex partners, some with same-sex. Freedom’s Gate, Freedom’s Apprentice, and Freedom’s Sisters.

    All available in print or for Kindle/Nook.

  4. 5

    There are the novels of Melissa Scott, particularly Shadow Man, Trouble and Her Friends, and The Jazz (but just about everything she writes has queer content). As well as the Pointsman series she wrote with her (now deceased) spouse, Lisa A. Barnett: Point of Hopes and Point of Dreams.

    And if shameless self-promotion is allowed: My own sf books Dance for the Ivory Madonna and A Rose From Old Terra, as well as my two gay young adult romances, Act Well Your Part and Lucky in Love.

    For historical fiction buffs, Mary Renault’s books, particularly Fire From Heaven and The Persian Boy. And Allen Drury’s magnificent ancient Egypt duology, A God Against the Gods and Return To Thebes.

  5. 6

    Oh, thanks. You mentioned Dhalgren. Now I won’t be able to think for a week without having it pop up. That book is A) amazing, but B) the literary equivalent of parallel lines in a plane crossing each other at multiple points. It’s non-euclidean fiction.

  6. 7

    Vellum & Ink are stupendously imaginative (and mind-warpingly wierd). (I discovered his writing through his stint as a guest blogger on Charlie Stross’ Antipope a few years ago)

    Sorry that I’m just too dull and boring, otherwise, to be able to suggest any others (but thanks for the reading list — I guess my kindle account will be taking another hit!).

  7. 8

    Ash and Huntress by Malinda Lo. Author and protagonists are all queer.

    Seconding recommendations for Tanya Huff, who is queer. Long Hot Summoning has a lesbian protagonist, although it is the third book in a trilogy.

  8. 12

    AHAHAHAH! Orson Scott Card is a joke. A JOKE. I’ve read the Tales of Alvin Maker. I picked it up because I knew nothing about Scott Card and the premise of the series intrigued me. First, I grew disappointed because he didn’t have the talent to richly develop his own wonderful premise. Second, I got increasingly disgusted with the “moral” messages he obviously wished to impart. (“If your wife has warped into an ugly, common harridan after having your children, and you’re a hardworking father whose manly needs just ain’t bein’ met, why, then it’s okay to cheat on her with a beautiful, cultured young woman instead of trying to save your marriage or divorcing her before you fuck someone else”. That’s one.) Third, I discovered his bigotry against gays and lesbians, stomped into the garage, and flung my copies of the Tales of Alvin Maker into the recycling bin. It was very satisfying.

    Scott Lynch’s parody made me spray mouthwash on my computer screen. Also, a lot of these reading suggestions look great. I’ll have to try a few.

  9. 13

    My Amazon wishlist is buckling under the weight of all these fantastic recommendations, particularly the shameless self-promotions. All I’m going to want for Saturnalia is books. 🙂

  10. 16

    Let me suggest the works of Nalo Hopkinson. Getting away from spec fic, there’s the lesbian authors Tove Jansson (The Summer Book), Carson McCullers (The Member of the Wedding — powerful though depressing), or Jeanette Winterson (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit). Also, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan doesn’t need any extra sales from my mention, but I thought it was a pretty decent novel about a very unfamiliar sort of lesbian relationship.

  11. 17

    For the non-fantasy fans, how about some David Gerrold? Particularly The Man Who Folded Himself and the Dhingillian trilogy (Jumping Off The Planet, Bouncing Off The Moon, and Leaping To The Stars).

  12. 18

    The really big gay book by Sam Delaney is Stars in My pocket Like Grains of Sand, but my all-time favourite is China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F McHugh.

  13. 19

    Mercedes Lackey has some great gay characters in her books (admittedly fantasy rather than sci fi). Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise and Magic’s Price were very poignant for me when I was coming to terms with my own sexuality.

  14. M

    Ah, I LOVE the Kushiel’s Dart series! Her series about Naamah is just as good.

    Anne Rice also has many wonderful titles. The Sleeping Beauty Chronicles, Cry to Heaven, and the Vampire Chronicles stand out in particular on this one.

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