Sunday, March 5, 2023

Borrowed From The Bard Redux

Book titles taken from William Shakespeare


Zoë Sharp


I hope you will forgive me, with ever-present deadlines surrounding me, if I revisit a post I wrote originally back in 2016, with a few suitable additions.


Shakespeare was arguably the greatest writer in the English language. Next month sees the anniversary both of Shakespeare’s approximate birth, and his death. Both of these events are thought to have taken place on the same date in April – the 23rd, although exact birth dates were often not recorded at that time.


By the time he died, in Stratford-upon-Avon, he had written 38 plays and 154 sonnets, as well as a number of other works. He was only 52, although that was considered quite a good run in Elizabethan times, when the life expectancy of the average Londoner was 35.


Shakespeare’s work has been translated into every major living language, and his plays are constantly re-imagined for each generation, bringing new meaning each time. It could easily be said that the themes and schemes and tribulations of his characters are just as relevant today as they were 400 years ago.


His characters, words, and phrases have seeped into everyday life to such an extent that they are everywhere you look. And nowhere more than in the chosen book titles of other authors.


BRAVE NEW WORLD, Aldous Huxley

The title of Huxley’s 1932 science fiction classic is taken from lines spoken by Miranda to Ferdinand and his companions in The Tempest:


"O wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is!

O brave new world

That hath such people in it"


Macbeth has provided inspiration for many other writers when it comes to naming their work.



The title of MacLean’s 1973 novel comes from Macbeth’s soliloquy when he hears of the death of Lady Macbeth:


“She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing.”


WALKING SHADOW was the title of Robert B Parker’s 1994 Spenser outing, while THE SOUND AND THE FURY was used by William Faulkner for his 1929 novel.


DOUBLE, DOUBLE, Ellery Queen

The title of this 1950 novel comes again from the witches in Macbeth:



“Round about the caldron go; 

In the poison'd entrails throw.— 

Toad, that under cold stone, 

Days and nights has thirty-one; 

Swelter'd venom sleeping got, 

Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!”


“Double, double toil and trouble; 

Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”



Ray Bradbury’s 1962 dark fantasy takes its title from the second witch in Macbeth:


“By the pricking of my thumbs,

Something wicked this way comes. [Knocking]

Open locks,

Whoever knocks!

[Enter Macbeth]


Agatha Christie used a several Shakespeare quotes and references as titles of her novels, including from that same speech in Macbeth:



SAD CYPRESS, 1940, from “Come away, death” a song in Twelfth Night

ABSENT IN THE SPRING, 1944, from sonnet 98 

THERE IS A TIDE, 1948, (later renamed TAKEN AT THE FLOOD) from Brutus’ speech in Julius Caesar


And the title of her famous play The Mousetrap, 1952, is apparently taken from Hamlet’s answer to Claudius regarding the play the court had just watched.



Gardner took the title of his 1956 Perry Mason novel from a speech made by Salisbury in King John:


“Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,

To guard a title that was rich before,

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,

To throw perfume on the violet,

To smooth the ice, or add another hue

Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light

To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,

Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”


THE DOGS OF WAR, Frederick Forsyth

Forsyth took the title of his 1974 thriller from a speech by Marcus Antonius in Julius Caesar: 


“And Caesar's spirit, raging for revenge,

With Ate by his side come hot from hell,

Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice

Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war,

That this foul deed shall smell above the earth

With carrion men, groaning for burial.”


Currently, my work-in-progress novel has the working title NOTHING WE CAN CALL OUR OWN, taken from the monologue in Shakespeare’s Richard II, Act III, Scene II):


“Let’s choose executors and talk of wills.

And yet not so – for what can we bequeath

Save our deposed bodies to the ground?

Our lands, our lives, and all, are Bolingbroke’s,

And nothing can we call our own but death;

And that small model of the barren earth

Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.

For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground

And tell sad stories of the death of kings”


I’m sure there are plenty more I haven’t listed here. What are your favourite crime or thriller titles taken from Shakespeare quotes, or do you have a quote for which you have yet to find the right story to fit it?


My own favourite is actually a stage direction from Act III of The Winter’s Tale: EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR. I’m sure someone’s beaten me to it, but it’s a great title.


This week’s Word of the Week comes from Shakespeare, appropriately enough, and is Anthropophaginian, meaning one who eats human flesh, used in humorous context in The Merry Wives of Windsor:



“What wouldst thou have, boor? what: thick-skin?

speak, breathe, discuss; brief, short, quick, snap.”



“Marry, sir, I come to speak with Sir John Falstaff 

from Master Slender.”



“There's his chamber, his house, his castle, his 

standing-bed and truckle-bed; 'tis painted about

with the story of the Prodigal, fresh and new. Go 

knock and call; hell speak like an Anthropophaginian 

unto thee: knock, I say.”



In March, Zoë Sharp will be one of the Derbyshire authors taking part in Author Assemble. “This is a literary event, showcasing the work of authors who are local to the High Peak or who have supported and worked with the Buxton Crescent Heritage Trust. The aim is to bring writers from a variety of genres together under one roof, to shine a light on the former use of the Assembly Rooms as Buxton’s town library from 1972 to 1992—a time which many local residents remember fondly. We aim to give authors the opportunity to share their work with new audiences, give talks about their writing and of course sell their products. Attendees will also be introduced to the work of the Buxton Crescent Heritage Trust and enjoy some time inside the splendour of the Crescent’s Assembly Rooms.” Time and date: Friday, March 17 2023, 10:00 – 17:00 at The Assembly Rooms, The Crescent, Buxton, SK17 6BH. Speakers, signing, and stalls. More details to follow.


In April, Zoë Sharp will be appearing with Caro Ramsay and Sarah Ward at Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth as part of the Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival. Their panel will be Event 6: Trade Secrets, 10:15 – 11:15 on Saturday, April 22 2023. “Writing a long series, has its own difficulties, as does writing under two names in two different directions. How do you keep track? What are the things you know from your other lives that you bring to your writing? Learn a few trade secrets from three of the best. Panellists: Caro Ramsay, Zoë Sharp. Chair: Sarah Ward. Close Up Reader: Nigel Williams.”



  1. May I add A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley?
    “A carrion Death, within whose empty eye
    There is a written scroll!” - The Merchant of Venice
    Shakespeare uses "carrion death" here as a skeleton. One of the wonderful things about his writing, is that if he didn't like the way a word sounded in the flow of the speech, he would sometimes simply invent a new one and use that. Often, those words would become part of the English language. No wonder the old joke about his plays just being a bunch of cliches!

    1. How could I have not mentioned your book, Michael? Please forgive me! And it is a great title.

      Shakespeare, I think, was the first one to use the word multitudinous and incarnadine, in Macbeth. Spenser was another one who invented words where none of the existing ones suited him.

  2. To borrow from Christopher Marlowe in Doctor Faustus, "in a misery loves company" sort of way, I'm relieved to learn I'm not alone in struggling for catchy original titles.

    1. Often, for me, it seems that the title appears before the book. There's only been one that went through many different titles before finally settling on one that fitted, and that was Dancing On The Grave.