8 of the Best Sapphic Shakespeare Retellings

a graphic with a painting of two women reading together and the text 8 Sapphic Shakespeare Retellings

Queering Shakespeare is a popular academic subject—and why not? Shakespeare was bisexual himself, and his plays are packed full of cross-dressing and other queer shenanigans. Personally, I love a good retelling, especially one that features queer women, so I had to see if I could find enough to put together a list. Sadly, there are a lot fewer LGBTQ retellings of Shakespeare than I expected, especially Romeo and Juliet. Is retelling a forbidden love story as a queer romance too obvious?

Worse, I could find hardly any examples of queer Shakespeare retellings by authors of colour. It’s been a while since Ash, Malinda Lo! Maybe a historical fiction F/F Romeo and Juliet retelling? I’m just spit-balling here.

Although I’d like there to be more, we do have some excellent bi and lesbian Shakespeare retellings out there, so without any more preamble, let’s get into it!

the cover of Tragic

Tragic by Dana Mele & Valentina Pinti (Hamlet)

This is a queer graphic novel retelling of Hamlet! When Harper’s father dies mysteriously, she begins trying to find the culprit. Her mother has been having an affair with Harper’s uncle, making him the #1 suspect.

To help her get to the bottom of this, she enlists the help of her ex-girlfriend and her best friend (who she also has some complicated feelings for). Then her father’s business partner dies, and she realizes this is much bigger than she originally thought.

Her obsession leads to recurring dreams about her father’s death, and she begins hallucinating the ghost of a teenage Hamlet. She’ll have to bright to light a few more skeletons in her family’s closet if she wants to close this chapter.

Lady Hotspur cover

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton (Henry IV)

While The Queens of Innis Lear implied a lot of characters were either bi or pansexual, Lady Hotspur centres its queer main characters. It also takes its time in establishing the world, so be prepared for hundreds of pages of epic fantasy. This loose retelling of Henry IV—a sequel to her take on King Lear—is an ambitious book that is quite divisive: it’s the kind of story people seem to love or hate. If a gender-swapped fantasy version of Henry IV with a complex sapphic romance sounds up your alley (and why would you be reading this post if it wasn’t?), give this one a try and decide for yourself.

As I Descended by Robin Talley cover

As I Descended by Robin Talley (Macbeth)

I believe this is the most well-known example of a sapphic Shakespeare retelling. As I Descended is Macbeth as a queer southern gothic YA set at a boarding school. This doesn’t follow every plot point of Macbeth, but it firmly establishes a broody atmosphere and is filled with revenge plots.

This story starts off spooky (with a Ouija board), and steadily gets darker as it progresses, ending up in seriously unsettling territory. Keep in mind the source material and don’t expect a cheerful ending, but because there are so many queer characters (including a Latina main character and a main character with a disability), there is no token queer character to kill off. This is perfect for a fall evening while listening to the wind howl outside your window.

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee cover

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee (Romeo and Juliet)

Of course, I have to recommend this adorable middle grade book about a girl who finds herself playing Romeo in the school play—and falling for her Juliet. But she’s had a crush on a boy before! What does it mean? This has some parallels to the play, but mostly it’s about putting on the production itself, including some discussion of the themes and ideas embedded in it. This was one of the first middle grade books to feature a bisexual main character (the paperback edition even uses the word “bisexual” on the page!) It is sweet and well done, and I’m so grateful we have middle grade books like this being published now.

the cover of Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett (The Tempest)

This one isn’t actually a retelling as much as a sequel!

Miranda and Ferdinand are in Milan to be married, ready to start their Happily Ever After, but Miranda does not get the welcome she expected. Instead, she finds herself isolated. The only person willing to keep her company is her maid, Dorothea, a queer Black Moroccan Muslim woman with her own magic powers.

Part fluffy F/F story, part creepy magic, this novella has Miranda reexamining all of the events of The Tempest, and what her father is responsible for.

Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking by Aoibheann Sweeney cover

Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking by Aoibheann Sweeney (The Tempest)

If you asked me to predict which Shakespeare play would be the most popular to adapt into a sapphic story, I wouldn’t have chosen The Tempest, but here we are. This one is also part Ovid’s Metamorphosis, and takes place between two islands: Crab, the tiny island in Maine that Miranda grows up on, and Manhattan, where she ends up. This is a story about loneliness, even when transplanted to the big city. Miranda has to decide which path she should choose (including how to resolve a bisexual love triangle). The strength of the book is Sweeney’s restrained, poetic style.

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake cover

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake (Twelfth Night)

This is an atmospheric, absorbing story of Violet’s attempts to understand her complicated family by searching for a lost shipwreck that changed the direction of their lives. It turned their family into survivors—at least, that’s what they tell themselves. But siblings Violent and Sam are on a downward spiral, and when Sam attempts to take his life, partier Violet is sent away. 

The Last True Poets of the Sea includes family secrets, a bisexual love triangle, a failing aquarium, and an F/F romance with a fellow wreck hunter. Perfect for fans of Ashley Herring Blake or Summer of Salt.

the cover of That Way Madness Lies edited by Dahlia Adler

That Way Madness Lies: 15 of Shakespeare’s Most Notable Works Reimagined edited by Dahlia Adler (Multiple)

And finally, this is a YA anthology with 15 retellings of Shakespeare, including many queer stories. I know at least one story is sapphic: “Dreaming of the Dark” (Julius Caesar) by Lindsay Smith, which has dark academia and witches! When a group of friends find themselves in possession of dark magic, it begins to consume them.

There are also some big name authors in queer YA included here, like Anna-Marie McLemore, Melissa Bashardoust, A. R. Capetta, Mark Oshiro, and of course Dahlia Adler herself.

This isn’t a complete list, but hopefully this gives you an idea of some of the sapphic directions that authors have taken Shakespeare in. In the meantime, keep on keeping Shakespeare queer!

An earlier version of this post ran on Book Riot.

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