I want to acknowledge right at the beginning that Dating Hamlet: Ophelia’s Story by Lisa Fiedler suffers from a dreadful title. I know. If you find it at the bookstore or the library (or look at it online) you’ll probably discover that it suffers from a dreadful cover too. At least, the copy I read did. They’re not necessarily intrinsically dreadful, but they give an entirely wrong impression on the book.
“Dating Hamlet” implies a book that is frivolous, shallow and a bit silly. What you actually get, I am pleased to say, is a solid, insightful retelling of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet from Ophelia’s point of view. There is humor at times…but there’s drama too. And there’s a heroine who is much more capable than Mr. Shakespeare portrayed her.
Purists would probably have objections to this book, because some of the plot twists do strain credulity a bit…but that’s what I find fascinating about it. Fiedler has done an impressive job of preserving everything that you see on stage, while turning it upside down with what’s going on behind the curtain. By adding scenes in between Mr. Shakespeare’s, the result is Hamlet—but a Hamlet that’s very different from what you may be expecting. I don’t want to give away the specific plot twists, but to give you an idea of the kind of twists—imagine if, in Snow White, there was an extra scene revealing that Snow White and the Huntsman were actually close friends, and he only took her out in the woods because they had agreed it was a good opportunity for her to run away from the castle. You’d get the same essential scenes—but different meaning. It’s a bit like that.
Knowledge of Shakespeare’s Hamlet would help with this book, but I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s hard for me to judge, because I came to it after reading Hamlet. Finding a good summary of the play would probably be enough, though; or you could watch the DVD of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare—Abridged (Act Two is Hamlet) by The Reduced Shakespeare Company (actually, you should watch that regardless, because it’s hysterically funny). And you really ought to just read or watch a good version of Hamlet some time too, because that’s absolutely worth it.
But a discussion of Mr. Shakespeare’s Hamlet would be a different review. As to Dating Hamlet, if you can get past the title, it’s a fun retelling with a compelling heroine. A great book for anyone who ever thought that Ophelia got a rotten deal out of the whole thing. Sorry, Mr. Shakespeare–but you were pretty rough on your tragic heroines.