To all you high school students who grit your teeth as Hamlet delays making any decisive action – writer Ryan North hears you.
North is behind “To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure,” a written version of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy which is penned in the style of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series that was popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Instead of just hearing about Hamlet slighting Ophelia or killing her father, Polonius, readers can decide how the story will move forward and change characters' decisions.
“Explore Ryan's reimagining of the world of Hamlet as Prince Hamlet, King Hamlet, Sr., or Ophelia,” the description from the publisher, Breadpig, reads. “Sword-fight, scheme, make key scientific discoveries, solve riddles, and die in 100 different ways, each illustrated in full-color by one of over 60 artists. All the important monologues and soliloquies are in there, too, so you can claim this is educational!”
Readers are directed to different spots in the book depending on the choices that they make. For instance, readers who decide that Hamlet should quickly dispatch with his uncle might be told to turn to the page where that option is played out. Or readers who want to see Hamlet happily married to Ophelia might have the option to jump to the part of the book where that choice becomes part of the narrative.
North told NPR he was first inspired to create the project when he was looked at Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” speech and realized that the speech read almost as if Hamlet were laying out a choose-your-own-adventure blueprint for himself.
But North didn't go into the rewriting of Shakespeare lightly. He said he anticipated backlash about his project.
“I honestly thought there'd be people saying, 'Oh my God, who are you to rewrite Shakespeare?' and that hasn't really happened," North said. "I think people realize that the original story is still there.”
But the characters may vary considerably. One of the options that North gives readers is to change the backstory of tragic heroine Ophelia.
“This is still a comedy book, but it's not a spoof so much as it is approaching the work with a modern eye," he said. "One of the things I did with Ophelia is making her this really smart, competent woman.” At the beginning of the story, readers can choose to have Ophelia rebuke her brother and father for interfering in her business.
North sought money for the book on the fundraising website Kickstarter and the project has received the most donations ever in the history of the site, according to publisher Breadpig. The book currently has more than $580,000 pledged on its Kickstarter page.
A portion of the money from sales of the book is going to the Canadian Cancer Society.