William Shakespeare may well be the most widely read author of the Western world, which comes with incredible influence. His works have sparked countless adaptations, from films like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and the Taming of the Shrew–based ’90s rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You to musicals like West Side Story and Kiss Me, Kate. He’s also the wordsmith behind a stunning number of phrases that remain in common parlance; for instance, if you ever say something is a “foregone conclusion,” you are pulling from Othello.
Four hundred years after Shakespeare shuffled off this mortal coil (we owe that one to Hamlet), the stories and themes of his brilliant and evocative comedies, tragedies, histories, and late romances still resonate deeply, but as we’ve seen time and time again, so much is gained by giving them new settings, genres, and especially points of view.
Shakespeare’s unique ability to craft characters with humor, pathos, and ambition combined with his ubiquity has given his stories a kind of power that has allowed for his work to define people for centuries. This includes both those whom he chose to portray and those he did not. Although most writers of his time were no different, to say Shakespeare did not do marginalized people any favors is an understatement; many of us still live with the effects of his caricatures and common story lines today.
As in my prior anthology, His Hideous Heart: 13 of Edgar Allan Poe’s Most Unsettling Tales Reimagined, the authors here have deconstructed and reconstructed an inarguably brilliant but very white and very straight canon. I wanted to give authors the power to revisit and give new spirit to these narratives, much in the same way that I, as a Jewish author, eagerly anticipated remaking The Merchant of Venice to give the Shylock analogue considerably more agency.
The result is a collection that explores different cultures, celebrates a variety of genders and forms of love, and addresses different kinds of emotional pain head-on.
I hope you love the result as much as I do.
SEVERE WEATHER WARNING
Inspired by The Tempest
Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th’ quick,
Yet with my nobler reason ’gainst my fury
Do I take part. The rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance.
—ACT 5, SCENE 1
O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!
—ACT 5, SCENE 1
I haul my sister’s luggage down the stairs, letting the suitcase strike every step. The noise reverberates into the house and joins with the echoes of thunder in a foreboding rhythm. Nevertheless, I feel a sliver of pleasure whenever I drop the wheels onto the undeserving hardwood.
I’m angry, as angry as the storm outside. When I reach the entryway, I hear the screen door rattling, the hinges and mesh shaking while the wind whips past the porch. On the front table is the folder of documents Mom prepared this morning before hugging Patience goodbye and heading to work—my sister’s boarding pass, emergency contact information, the credit card Patience got special for this summerlong internship in New York. I’m seventeen—one year older than Patience—and even I don’t have a credit card. And I’m certainly not getting on a plane anytime soon. I’m stuck in Nowhere, Oklahoma, for the foreseeable future.
“Patience,” I shout up the stairs. “We have to go.”
There’s no reply except the storm, howling up the driveway and shaking the windowpanes. I check my phone. We should have been on the road twenty minutes ago. The reason we’re not is Patience’s boyfriend, who just had to drop in and say goodbye in person. For thirty minutes. In Patience’s bedroom. With the door closed.
Patience has done everything before me. Credit card, job, trip out of Oklahoma—and boyfriend. The only thing I have on her is my driver’s license. Which right now just makes me my sister’s chauffeur.
It’s the irony of our names. Patience has never had to practice patience in her entire life, what with how quickly everything comes to her. Whatever she wants, whenever she wants it. Whereas I, named Prosper—the whim of a mother who loves poetry—haven’t seen a whole lot of what passes for prosperity in high school. Not when it comes to internships or summer opportunities or homecoming dates who aren’t Netflix.
I start back up the stairs, the wood groaning under me like it’s protesting its earlier mistreatment. Everything creaks in this house. Every cupboard, every door. Whenever there’s humidity or wind, everything makes noise, like the house carries on wordless conversations with itself.
Presently, I’m hoping the wood speaks loud enough for Patience to hear. I doubt it will. I’m fully prepared to walk in on my younger sister having sex with Benjamin Campos.
I knock once on the door. There’s no response.
“You’re going to miss your flight,” I call out. Despite how jealous I am of her leaving, I want her to make her plane. It’s the one upside of her flying to New York today. I won’t have to see her this summer—won’t have to be reminded of what was stolen from me.
When I knock for the second time, the door flies open.
Patience doesn’t look short of breath, or flushed, or sweaty. She looks pale. Her skin’s practically porcelain white, her hair—auburn like mine—tucked behind her ears like she’s pushed it there compulsively.
Behind her, Benjamin’s standing in the middle of the room, crying.
“I’m ready now,” Patience says. Benjamin sniffles.
I’m not sure if Patience cringes. Her hazel eyes remain unreadable. I’m stunned, watching this scene, uncomprehending. Is Benjamin this distraught my sister’s leaving? It’s not like Patience isn’t coming home, not like she’s being shipped off to some deserted island or exiled from Oklahoma permanently. Her internship is only six weeks. I feel bad for him, even if I can’t empathize with sadness at my sister’s absence.
“Are you sure?” I ask.
Patience doesn’t glance over her shoulder, doesn’t hesitate. “So sure. Let’s go.” She sounds like she’s leaving a boring party, not her bawling boyfriend.
I peer past her. Benjamin doesn’t look like he’s noticed I’m even here. His eyes balefully roam my sister’s room, as if searching for solace in her furnishings or the random collection of items Patience has picked up throughout her effortlessly successful childhood. Trophies from kids’ soccer, photos of her playing with school orchestras, spelling bee ribbons. From their haphazard placement, I don’t even feel like she’s proud of them. She just needs places to put her accomplishments.
I nod slightly in Benjamin’s direction. “Is he…?”
“He’s fine,” Patience replies quickly. She grabs her backpack and walks past me out of the room.
Benjamin, however, stays right where he is. He has the gangly frame of a fifteen-year-old boy, and his slightly greasy hair hangs down his forehead like he has no idea how long hair should be. The crying helps none of it, wet streaks running down his light-brown cheeks. “Do you, um, need a ride?” I ask him.
He looks up. Then he bursts into sobs. “My brother’s outside,” he chokes out.
I stand in the doorway, hoping he’ll take the hint and leave Patience’s bedroom. Before he can, my phone starts emitting a siren. Benjamin’s starts up the next moment, followed by the echo of Patience’s downstairs.
While the noise continues, I pull out my phone.
It’s the worst possible time for what I know I’ll find. I read the words of the notification with frustrated dread. Tornado watch. I’ve lived in Oklahoma my entire life. I know to expect the occasional tornado. This one’s just spectacularly inconvenient.
Over the asynchronous sounds of our phones, I hear Benjamin’s voice.
“I told her I loved her,” he says, like he’s speaking mostly to himself, “and she broke up with me.”
Copyright © 2021 by Dahlia Adler.