Shakespeare hidden in plain sight

Published 7:38 am Monday, April 29, 2019

I recently stopped by Cultivator Bookstore in Murfreesboro because they were selling crepes for a fundraiser event, and I can’t say no to those tasty thin pancakes. Especially when crepes aren’t something I get to eat every day.

Needless to say, they were delicious! I sat in the store for a bit, surrounded on practically all sides by numerous bookshelves, as I ate and chatted with everyone inside. I didn’t get a chance to browse the shelves like I wanted since I had other obligations to head out to that day, but I did glimpse a copy of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” resting on a shelf as I was leaving.

That’s one of Shakespeare’s numerous plays that I actually can remember better than most from high school, and that’s because the whole conflict of the story is essentially resolved by a contractual loophole. The big crisis was averted simply because somebody didn’t read the fine print. There’s more nuance to it than that, but that’s basically what it boils down to. And I’m the kind of person who, admittedly, finds that kind of thing hilarious.

The glimpse of a Shakespeare play I had not thought about for a while got me thinking about the famous playwright once again. Shakespeare often gets some attention this time of year since April 26 is the anniversary of his baptism (no one knows his exact birthdate) and April 23 is the anniversary of his death. It’s fair to say the prolific writer has left an impact on several parts of pop culture in the hundreds of years since his passing.

I’m willing to bet Cultivator Bookstore has plenty of other Shakespeare plays resting on their shelves, but there are probably even more books in the store whose authors owe a debt of gratitude to Shakespeare for inspiration. Maybe you’ve heard of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” by Tom Stoppard, for example, which takes characters from “Hamlet” and tells the story from their point of view. Or perhaps you’ve read “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley which takes its title from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” And pretty much any story of ill-fated lovers from feuding families is going to remind the reader of “Romeo and Juliet” whether intentionally or not.

Other stories are a bit more subtle in being an adaptation or retelling of a Shakespeare play, often taking the basic elements of the story and disguising them with a more modern setting.

Of course, Shakespeare’s influence isn’t limited to books either. I remember watching the movie “She’s the Man” in high school, having no idea that it’s a retelling of “Twelfth Night.” I also didn’t know until later that “10 Things I Hate About You” is “The Taming of the Shrew” in disguise. And lots of people have argued that Disney’s famous “Lion King” movie is based on “Hamlet.”

Shakespeare himself had a long history of borrowing from stories popular during his own time and putting his own spin on them, so maybe he wouldn’t mind how writers have used him for inspiration over the past 400 years too.

I love how Cultivator Bookstore has such a wide variety of books. It’s full of gems hidden in plain sight. While there are tons of books out there who can’t thank Shakespeare for their plot, there are some hidden on the shelves who do. But which ones? You’ll just have to browse and find them for yourself.

Maybe you’ll find something interesting along the way.

By the way, Saturday, Apr. 27 is Independent Bookstore Day, so that’d be a good time to go out and support our little local bookstore right on Main Street in Murfreesboro.


Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or by phone at 252-332-7206.