Shakespeare takes centre stage in Norfolk’s Great Big Read

Heritage Centre manager, Elizabeth Budd gets set for the Norfolk Great Big Read at Millennium Librar

Heritage Centre manager, Elizabeth Budd gets set for the Norfolk Great Big Read at Millennium Library at The Forum. - Credit: Archant

Shakespeare's timeless tales have inspired the works of countless authors for centuries, and for Norfolk's Great Big Read this year people are being encouraged to delve into modern day retellings of some of the great playwright's classic stories. Arts correspondent Emma Knights reports.

From the tragedy of King Lear set on a farm in Iowa to a steampunk sci-fi retelling of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's stories have been played out in many different ways by authors looking to give a fresh take on the Bard.

As the nation commemorates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death next month, some of these modern day books giving new twists on his well-known plots and characters are taking centre stage in Norfolk's Great Big Read, an event which aims to encourage adults to get reading and share their experiences with others.

Staff at Norfolk County Council's Library and Information Service have created a Shakespeare Re-written book list featuring 20 titles for people to borrow from the county's libraries.

They fit into the themes of love, history, tragedy and comedy, and Katherine Osborne, project lead for Norfolk's Great Big Read, said there was something for everyone.

'Hopefully there's something to tempt most people,' she said.

'We have got books suitable for young adults through to Shakespeare scholars. There are books that might surprise people by viewing things from a different angle. It's trying to appeal to that wide range of readers.'

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When asked why she thought so many authors were keen to incorporate the ideas of the Bard into their work, she said: 'I think people like the challenge because Shakespeare has been done so many times. There's always a new way to get a different take on it and put it across in a different way and draw out different elements. It's that thing of how would you retell a really famous story in your own way.'

As well as reading the books, people can also take part in Norfolk's Great Big Read activities including shared reading sessions at various libraries, and they are also being encouraged to share their favourite books on social media.

A 16th century edition of the Holinshed Chronicles, believed by many to be one of Shakespeare's main sources for his historical works, particularly Macbeth, has also been taken out of the Norfolk Heritage Centre archive and put on display at Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library in The Forum.

And when the World Book Night takes place on Saturday, April 23 - the same day as the anniversary of Shakespeare's death - Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library is hosting a book swap followed by a performance of Macbeth: One Man, an adaptation of the tragedy performed by Norwich-based Simon Floyd.

The book swap is at 5.30pm and the performance at 6.30pm. The event is free. Tickets, available on a first come, first served basis, can be collected at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library.

For more about Norfolk's Great Big Read events and the Shakespeare Re-written book list, visit

Shakespeare Re-written book list:

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett - Pratchett's Discworld with a Shakespearean twist, featuring the witches from Macbeth.

A Midsummer Night's Steampunk by Scott E. Tarbet - a steampunk sci-fi retelling featuring Victorian technology, mistaken identities, love triangles and deadly peril.

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips - a novel about a lost 1597 Shakespeare folio called The Tragedy of King Arthur and a memoir on how it was found.

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore - a satire starring Fool Pocket as the hero of the piece.

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson - a contemporary retelling of The Winter's Tale.

Ophelia by Lisa Klein - a re-imagining of the story of Hamlet and Ophelia.

Dark Aemilia by Sally O' Reilly - Aemilia Bassano, a favourite with the queen, finds herself torn between the affections of Lord Chamberlain and young playwright William Shakespeare.

The Madness of Love by Katharine Davies - Twelfth Night transported to rural Wales.

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman - a re-working of Romeo and Juliet in which young friends Sephy and Callum are kept apart by class divisions.

Shakespeare's Mistress by Karen Harper - a look at the idea of Shakespeare's secret love affair before marrying Anne Hathaway.

The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory - a look at the politics, history and intrigue of the Elizabethan court, which formed the backdrop to Shakespeare's plays.

Emperor: The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden - follow the rise of Julius Caesar to the position of Emperor.

To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick - return to the period covered by Shakespeare's King John and the lead up to the signing of the Magna Carta.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey - based on the story of Richard III and the princes in the tower.

Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell - a historical novel focusing on the Battle of Agincourt, which featured in Shakespeare's Henry V.

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley - King Lear set in a farm in Iowa.

Dead Father's Club by Matt Haig - a modern take on Hamlet in which Philip Noble is an 11-year-old in crisis.

Exposure by Mal Peet - footballer Otello is a national hero until he is wrongly implicated in a scandal that could change his life and that of those around him.

Antony and Cleopatra by Colleen McCullough - power and scandal, political spin, romance and fate all combine in this famous love story which was also the subject of one of Shakespeare's plays.

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith - a psychological thriller echoing the story of Macbeth.

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