A Summer’s Day is an anthology of short stories based on the works of the writer who is widely regarded as the greatest playwright ever, William Shakespeare. Not only does A Summer’s Day celebrate the 400 years that have passed since Shakespeare’s death and the influence his writing and language still has in the present, but the proceeds from the anthology will be donated to the It Gets Better Project. This is a charity which supports young people from the LGBT community who are facing bullying.
A Summer’s Day is an important collection in the sense that the twelve authors involved have taken their inspiration from Shakespeare, but write their stories with a twist — they are all gay romances. The significance of this is put beautifully in the book’s foreword:
As all the world’s a stage we do hope that one day very soon it will be a place for everybody to love whomever they want to love and feel safe.
A Summer’s Day begins with Rory Ni Coileain’s contribution, Deeper Than Did Ever Plummet Sound. Rather than being based directly on The Tempest, the short story is about a jaded actor, Clarence, who has begrudgingly arrived in New York to play the role of Prospero in his friend’s production of The Tempest. Much of Ni Coileain’s story centers around Clarence and the apathy that weighs him down, that is until he makes a connection with Jaymes, who has been cast as Ariel.
Despite the length of Deeper Than Did Ever Plummet Sound, the author’s writing flows beautifully and her characters, particularly Clarence and Jaymes, jump from the page. The story is also rich in in its Shakespearean references and quotes, which Ni Coileain ties brilliantly to the contemporary world in which the story is set.
I have no shame in admitting that Romeo and Juliet is one of my favorite plays by Shakespeare and I truly fell in love with Louise Lyons’ retelling of this in A Fine Line Between. Romeo has returned from university for his summer break. His first full day at the beach brings a chance encounter with adversary, Julian Caplin. As we expect, the chemistry between Romeo and Julian is instant and sizzling and for a while both young men forget about the festering animosity between both their families.
Louise Lyons’ contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet is more explicit than the play, but still retains the sweetness and romance between the two young lovers. Yet, on the other hand, the atmosphere of hatred is captured by the bigotry and prejudice shown by Romeo and Julian’s fathers.
No anthology celebrating Shakespeare’s works would be complete without Romeo and Juliet and Louise Lyons’ version is both emotional and fulfilling.
The Devil and the Lion is Asta Idonea’s retelling of Coriolanus, one of the last tragedies written by Shakespeare before his death. Idonea’s short story is the first in the anthology to be set historically, in this case, Ancient Rome.
Caius Martius is a soldier: brave, devoted, and hardened by war. Martius and his army are due to overtake Rome, but he accepts the sexual advances of the man who should be his enemy, Tullus Aufidius.
Coriolanus is believed to be the “most opaque of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes” and Idonea perfectly echoes this within her story. Martius is an isolated character who we do not really know or understand. The Devil and the Lion becomes more about obsession and betrayal and the author builds the story cleverly to its climax.
Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is probably better known by my generation as the film 10 Things I Hate About You, which is far more comedic than Nephy Hart’s Kiss Me Kade.
Kade and his sister, Bea, live with their extremely strict and overprotective father. Kade is charged with chaperoning Bea and is the one on the receiving end of his father’s abuse when the two fail to abide by his rules. Kade catches the eye of Pete, who is loud and upfront, everything Kade isn’t. Hart allows us to understand that Pete is not only attracted to Kade physically, but he sees past Kade’s vulnerabilities and aloofness, to a far deeper secret.
Hart draws us into her story so that we become emotionally attached to these characters, and though Kiss Me Kade lacks the comedy element of The Taming of the Shrew, it is still a captivating retelling, reminding us that in the modern world there is still so much ugliness and darkness that can be made better by love.
In her contribution, Charlie Cochrane has chosen to retell Twelfth Night in an original way, as well as the play also being performed as part of If Music Be.
Rick is grieving after the death of his secret partner, Steve, who was killed in action with the army. Cochrane ensures that Rick’s grief is the overriding emotion at the beginning of If Music Be and therefore we appreciate his reluctance to enter into another hidden relationship with Jonny, the play’s musical director and Rick’s old flame.
Feste is probably one of my most-loved Shakespearean characters and I adored the way that it is in choosing the music for his songs that Cochrane connects Rick and Jonny.
Cochrane’s contemporary angle is in highlighting society’s prejudice towards homosexuality and the reason why couples have to keep their love a secret. Like Twelfth Night, If Music Be gives the reader food for thought and Cochrane herself draws a comparison between the two:
‘Twelfth Night’ isn’t just about having to hide who you really are . . . . .There’s a whole other element in that play. Wallowing in unrequited love. Wallowing in grief.
Dianne Hartstock’s Two Guys from Vancouver (The Two Gentlemen of Verona) and Rian Durant’s When I Love Thee Not (Othello) are probably the two stories in this anthology I had the most difficulty following. This could be because the two plays their stories are based on are two that I know the least. I also think that they represent the difficulty of translating Shakespeare into modern literature. Shakespeare’s plays are complicated and written to be performed. Unlike many contemporary books, it is not just the protagonists who affect the play’s plot. Both Harstock and Durant try to include a full complement of characters within their stories and I found myself questioning names and relationships, rather than focusing on events.
Kathy Griffith’s The Merchant of Venice Beach (The Merchant of Venice) and Phetra H Novak’s A Hero’s Last Battle (Much Ado about Nothing) are two fine examples of retellings. Both Griffith and Novak have fully grasped the ideas of the plays and are able to reflect the darkness and treachery that exists within them, yet the true power of love is the overwhelming feeling the reader is left with.
The last three additions to A Summer’s Day are J.L. Merrow’s Nothing Like the Sun, based on Sonnet 130; A Sun of Tomorrow by M Leanne Phoenix, a revised version of Macbeth, and Much Ado about Lady Macbeth by Rebecca Cohen, which is set within Shakespeare’s Theatre.
For Merrow, Sonnet 130 seems an odd choice to base a love story on. This is the sonnet Shakespeare is believed to have written as a parody of the love poems written by his contemporaries, though in the last lines he does express an all-consuming love:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Merrow is able to fully express both the misinterpretation of love in Jerome’s story via his online relationship with BoyNextDoor and the reality of true love as the story ends.
A Sun of Tomorrow is an entangled story, considering its length. Though it does not completely capture the overall tragedy of Macbeth as far as deaths go, Phoenix is able to portray the family turmoil and loss in the play. Again she links this well to homophobia and bullying, which has successfully been a thought-provoking theme throughout the anthology.
A Summer’s Day ends on a much lighter note with Cohen’s Much Ado about Lady Macbeth. Cohen sets this story within the original Globe theater where feelings of professional jealousy are at war with lust! Both Jacob and David are fun characters and I particularly enjoyed the insults they throw at each other in The Anchor. Cohen’s story is passionate whilst addressing the issue of men playing women in the theater of that period in history.
A Summer’s Day will appeal to a wide range of readers because not only does it cover the young adult, new adult and adult genres, but various time periods and themes. The stories retain much of the charm, romance, and treachery of the original plays with a strong LGBT thread. The authors are careful not to alienate readers who may not be fans of Shakespeare, but there are enough “in jokes,” references, and quotes to captivate any hardcore Shakespeare reader!