Two new adaptations of King Lear and Macbeth revisit the Bard’s vision of power and its corruptibility, drawing deeply from the well of his obsession with greed and ambition.
Tessa Gratton’s The Queens of Innis Lear mines a magical landscape tortured by madness, while Macbeth by Jo Nesbø casts its namesake character in a 1970s Scottish noir.
The Queens of Innis Lear turns Shakespeare’s tragedy into a sweeping fantasy that pulls back the curtain on a family soaked in bloody conflict. When the king of Innis Lear turns away from the island’s traditional earth magic and forces his kingdom to rely on star prophecy, the splintering of his family begins. But it is the king’s descent into dementia that creates a climate ripe for betrayal and sows the seeds of discord between his three daughters.
Elia, the youngest and most devoted daughter, is shunned and exiled by her father when she refuses to proclaim her love for him. When Lear’s warrior daughter Gaela joins forces with her cunning sister Regan to claim the throne, the stage is set for war. Moving among them is Elia’s childhood friend, the scorned bastard Ban, whose loyalty shifts between the players with deadly precision.
Gratton’s literary landscape is lush and full of unique magical elements. The trees, winds and waters of Innis Lear whisper to the inhabitants of the island, especially those who refuse to respect the prophecies of the stars. This beautiful retelling of King Lear probes the nature of madness and power within a stunning new fantasy world.
Set in the gritty industrial wasteland of the Scottish coast, Nesbø’s Macbeth turns “the Scottish play”—Shakespeare’s definitive exposition on the thirst for power—into a violent police procedural. Duncan is a visionary chief of police poised to bring down both a notorious biker gang and the mysterious drug lord Hecate. Aided by SWAT team leader Macbeth and Narcotic Unit leader Duff, Duncan plans to eradicate the drug trade. But Macbeth falls under the spell of his paramour, Lady, as she whispers of his potential for advancement. Lady’s stratagems play into Hecate’s plans to gain a puppet within law enforcement. As Macbeth’s star ascends through murder and mayhem, he descends further into madness.
The latest in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, in which acclaimed authors put their own spin on Shakespeare’s works, Macbeth perfectly pairs a modern master of crime fiction with Shakespeare’s bloody tragedy. While retaining most of the original character names from Macbeth, Nesbø masterfully crafts fully fleshed players from each original role to present a visceral, contemporary exploration of ambition and corruption.
From the mists of a mystical isle to the grime of a decaying city, Gratton and Nesbø retell two of the Bard’s best-known plays with refreshing vision and respect for the original tales. The Queens of Innis Lear and Macbeth are wonderful returns to the works of Shakespeare.
This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.