Orson Scott Card's Hamlet: Not as Good as Shakespeare's Version

You have to hand it to Ender's Game author Orson Scott Card. He already reworked Iron Man's origin so that Tony Stark's entire body is made out of brain matter that lets him regenerate severed extremities. And now Card has rebooted Shakespeare's Hamlet. What could possibly go wrong?

Top image: Detail from cover of Ender in Exile, from Marvel Comics.

Card decided to update one of Shakespeare's most famous plays, to make it accessible to modern-day audiences. And he made some pretty huge changes along the way. As RainTaxi's review summarizes:

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In this adaptation, Hamlet was never close to his father. The prince is unfazed and emotionally indifferent to the old king's death, feels no sense of betrayal when his mother speedily remarries, and thinks that Claudius will make a perfectly good monarch. Hamlet is also secure in his religious faith, with absolute and unshakable beliefs about the nature of death and the afterlife. He isn't particularly hung up on Ophelia, either. Throughout the novella, Prince Hamlet displays the emotional depth of a blank sheet of paper.

So the stakes are actually kind of low, and Hamlet seems rather unfazed when Ophelia dies.

And then there's the startling reveal at the end of the novella, in which we discover — spoiler alert — that Hamlet's father was gay, and that this made him a terrible king. And his ghost was actually a demonic liar that misled Hamlet as to his cause of death. Claudius didn't kill Hamlet's dad after all — instead, it was Horatio, who was taking revenge on Hamlet's dad for molesting him as a little boy. Hamlet's dad also molested Laertes, and Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, and turned all four of them gay in the process. (Oh, and in the end, Hamlet goes to Hell for all the harm he's caused, where his gay dad will molest him for the rest of eternity.)

The Card novella — which is just one of his Shakespearean reinventions, alongside his new retelling of The Taming of the Shrew — appeared in a book of four novellas called The Ghost Quartet, according to Genreville. And then, in April, it was reprinted as a standalone volume by Subterranean Press. But it wasn't until RainTaxi's review appeared the other day that the controversy began.

Apart from Genreville picking up the story, there were lots of Tweets on the subject. And pissed-off Amazon reviews. And my favorite response so far comes from Scott Lynch, who wrote his own updated version of Henry V, which includes this absolutely fantastic bit:

Westmoreland stared at the big army of the French.

"The French army is so big," said Westmoreland. "I wish we had more guys."

"Who says we need more guys?" shouted King Henry as he rode up. "I've thought really hard about this. The less of us there are, the better it is for us!"

"I'm not sure it works that way, my liege," said Westmoreland.

"Really? I don't know," said Henry. "Sounds good to me. Maybe I'm sleepy! I spent all night wandering around the camp LARPing."

The uproar and mockery were such that Subterranean Publisher Bill Schafer decided to come out with a response, which notes that the novella was a reprint that had caused no controversy in its previous incarnations. He adds:

I am responsible for everything we publish, and that means being ready to hear any complaints and criticisms about what we publish. For those who have already sent in e-mails, I've read them and will share them with Subterranean's senior staff. For those who want to send their e-mails, I want to hear from you. Your e-mails will also be shared with our senior staff, and your thoughts and criticisms will be part of our discussion when it comes to future acquisitions and editorial selection.