"[T]he author applies a keen wit and subtle wisdom to his subjects and in the process
illuminates both his Elizabethan source and contemporary American life. ...
His book is an intellectual and formal coup, and his tightly packed prose,
hysterical narration and Shakespeareanly underhanded insights are a joy to read."
"Wryly irresistible new versions of Shakespeare's originals. ... Highly recommended."
"[H]ilarious and ruefully wise."
Intellectual entertainment doesn't get any better than these two novellas, which retell two of Shakespeare's plays, Romeo and Juliet and Measure for Measure, from the points of view of minor characters.
In the hands of Lorenzo (Friar Lawrence in the original), Romeo and Juliet becomes a delightful farce, ending in a very different sort of tragedy. Lorenzo is a bawdily Machiavellian figure whose desire to move ahead in the Church hierarchy is equaled only by his growing desire for Giulietta. Romeo turns out to have been dull and clumsy, Giulietta spirited and lustful, and the patriarchs of the warring clans nothing but crude nouveau-riche businessmen. Lorenzo's wonderfully conflicted (some would say, hypocritical) nature gives him a voice that is at once cynical and wistful, and gives the story both its humor and its surprising pathos.
Measure for Measure is told by Luke (Lucio in the original) and placed not in a mythical Vienna, but rather in a mythical Old West. The thoughtful Luke turns the darkly comic, plot-driven play into a novel of ideas, making the Old West venue even more incongruous, yet somehow more apt. In response to the story's crazy plot twists, Luke mulls over such concepts as the frontier, the formation of utopias, and what it means to be civilized. His is a voice of reason in a world gone mad, but it isn't clear which is more ridiculous. This novella is a true tour de force.
What makes these novellas so special is Slavitt's dry, intelligent sense of humor, his effective use of fresh points of view, and his excellent prose style (he has a perfect ear). Slavitt, the author of dozens of volumes of fiction, poetry, and translations from ancient Greek, Latin, and other languages, has mined this sort of metafictional territory before in Alice at 80 and The Hussar, but his skills keep growing, as does the reader's enjoyment. This is the sort of book it seems only the British know how to write these days, a work that makes you both smile and think, a work written with one foot in the eighteenth century and the other in our own.
$19.95 cloth, 192 pages, ISBN 0-945774-41-9.
To read the first chapters of each of the two novellas in PDF format, click below: