The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet

by Myrlin A. Hermes

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet by Myrlin A. Hermes The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet is a bawdy, madcap riff on Shakespeare's Hamlet. Not a retelling of the play, it imagines what might have happened before the play begins: how Hamlet and Horatio became friends and more than friends in Wittenberg while enrolled in the university there.

Horatio is on the brink of losing his heart to an unstylishly dark lady, the wife of a patron who has hired him to make a play out of "an overwritten pastoral ... freighted with Latin epigrams and odd forays into poetry." Hamlet is on the brink of a stream, hidden "by a drape of willow branches that trailed their leaves like fingers in the glassy stream," so Horatio sees only the reflection of his face in the water, "incandescent as a candle," suggesting to him "some angel or an airy sprite."

Not just Hamlet but the other plays of Shakespeare and especially the sonnets are whipped like meringue into this soufflé of a novel: As-You-Like-It-like disguises and misidentifications, Falstaffian tavern-keepers, larks (not nightingales) driving lovers apart at daybreak, and just a hint of tragedy. "Everyone hears something different in the cliffs of Elsinore, and even those skeptics who claim it is merely the breeze playing panpipes at the mouths of sea caves and underground tunnels will turn pale and admit it is an eerie music. No one who has heard the sound ever forgets it, and everyone arriving in Elsinore over the sea spends his first few nights tossing and turning with nightmares of the approach."

Even Shakespeare might have approved. The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet is an homage to him, although (or perhaps because) the playwright himself is dissolved into a mist of his characters. (2010; 365 pages)

More about The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet at Powell's Books or

Other novels that borrow from Shakespeare's plays:

The Master of Verona by David Blixt (2007), about the ruler of Verona, Dante's eldest son, and the lovers whose story Shakespeare retold in Romeo and Juliet. See Review or More info at Powell's Books

The Green Man by Henry Treece (1966), a retelling of the Hamlet story set in a still-pagan sixth-century Denmark. See Review or More info at

The Sonnets by Warwick Collins (2008), about Shakespeare and his "dark lady." More info

Shakespeare and his sonnets:

Shakespeare's Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary edited by Carl D. Atkins (2007), an edition of Shakespeare's sonnets with interpretations and commentary. More info

The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets by Helen H. Vendler (1997), a literary analysis of the sonnets. More info

William Shakespeare: Complete Sonnets, a bare-bones edition of the sonnets from Dover Thrift Editions. More info


Sonnet #130 by Shakespeare: "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun..." (Scroll down to read the sonnet)

Alan Rickman reads Sonnet #130 at YouTube

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