Interview: James Aquilone on Shakespeare Unleashed

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cover of Shakespeare UnleashedShakespeare Unleashed, edited by James Aquilone, is the follow-up to Classic Monsters Unleashed and is currently being funded on Kickstarter. While the word “horror” might not be initially associated with Shakespeare, a quick read through his plays shows many horrific incidents. Aquilone spoke to Cemetery Dance on turning The Bard’s work into a horror anthology, how it will take on Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, and what stories are already lined up. 

(Interview conducted by Danica Davidson)

CEMETERY DANCE: Why did you decide to have Shakespeare Unleashed be the follow-up to Classic Monsters Unleashed?

JAMES AQUILONE: The idea behind the Unleashed series is to do new takes — whether that’s a reimagination or a subversion of the original — on stories from different literary “universes.” With Classic Monsters Unleashed, obviously we delved into the classic monster universe, which wasn’t much of a leap for a horror anthology. With the next book, I wanted to play in a sandbox not known for its horror elements but that would naturally lend itself to horror — and Shakespeare really fits that bill. The Bard’s plays are full of blood and ghosts and witches and dark magic. And if the play doesn’t feature those elements, we added them.

What sorts of Shakespearean stories will it have?

Joe Lansdale and Kasey Lansdale are writing a story inspired by Macbeth, Cullen Bunn is taking on Hamlet, Jonathan Maberry is doing The Tempest , Seanan McGuire chose A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lisa Morton has Titus Andronicus and Lee Murray is basing hers on The Winter’s Tale. Some of the stories are horror sequels to the plays, while others are complete reimaginations, even some set in modern times. We’ll also have dark sonnets written by the likes of Linda D. Addison, Alessandro Manzetti, Jessica McHugh, Sara Tantlinger, Stephanie M. Wytovich, and Lucy Snyder.

How did you find the talent for it?

Some of the contributors came from my previous anthologies, Classic Monsters Unleashed and the Kolchak: The Night Stalker graphic novel. Others had Shakespearean experience like Ian Doescher, who’s written a bunch of Shakespeare mashups like Shakespeare Star Wars and Shakespeare Avengers, so he was a perfect fit and I’m so excited to see what he does. We’ll have a submission period that opens to everyone right after the Kickstarter. We’re looking for short stories as well as sonnets.

Do you plan to release more books in this series?

Certainly. I have a few ideas for future anthologies, but I haven’t decided yet. I also hope to publish novels and comic books in the series through my newly launched publishing company, Monstrous Books.

Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play?

Hamlet. That was the first Shakespearean play I read, and I fell in love with it. I remember getting the book on a Friday in high school. We were meant to read it over the entire semester, along with Brave New World, and I finished both books by Sunday night. Then I had to slog through the entire term as we read a couple of pages out loud in class every day. I eventually started sneaking in books like Catch-22 and would read that during class. I was a pretty big book nerd even back then.

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