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Editor Gordon suggested to 20 British writers that ""each should compose a story, inspired by or derived from Shakespeare."" The results are generally less than scintillating. There are obvious, tepid update-versions: Othello becomes a Jamaican boxer called Ossie Bellow, with white girlfriend Desi and envious boxing-manager Charlie Jago (Allan Massie); Iain Crichton Smith turns Hamlet into a YA-ish stepfather/problem story, with an upbeat fadeout. Other pieces furnish whimsical sidelights or fanciful reinterpretations: Merchant of Venice from the viewpoint of Shylock's wife Leah; the confessions of the third murderer in Macbeth, who's revealed to be Macbeth's illegitimate son and homosexual lover; the musings of a hermaphroditic Midsummer Night's Dream fairy--with Angela Carter indulging her familiar penchant for sexual confusion; a saccharine prelude to King Lear, imagining a puppy-love relationship between Cordelia (""Delly"") and Edgar (""Eddy""); a surprisingly stodgy fabrication from Kingsley Amis, positing a self-justifying visit by Macbeth to the Vatican. But only two items make stylish (if dauntingly oblique) statements of their own: Salman Rushdie's Joycean speculations on Yorick, who sired Ophelia's child, it seems, plus much, much more; and William Boyd's allusive, elusive response to As You Like It--through the diary entries of Jacques, a grounded aviator. And only three stories are, for one reason or another, fully engaging: Brigid Brophy's ""De Bilbow,"" which uses a line from Henry V as a springboard for a fine, non-Shakespearean irony-tale of a lover's obsession; Elizabeth Shoop's ""The Queen of Infinite Space,"" a sharp, cruelly funny montage-portrait of an aged, legendary Shakespearean actress; and ""The Second Best Bed,"" with Robert Nye (Falstaff, Merlin) at his irreverent best--speaking in the voice of Will's wife Anne. ("" 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' he enquires politely./ 'No, thanks,' I said.'"") A few slivers of inspiration, but journeyman efforts for the most part.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1983
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton--dist. by David & Charles