To change the meaning or not to change the meaning: THAT is the question before us.

Over the last few days, there has been a flap over Subterranean Press’s reissue of Orson Scott Card’s novella Hamlet’s Father. I have not read the novella. The flap, which is the word I’ll use instead of the stronger one I’d prefer, has to do with Card’s reinterpretation of Hamlet. According to every secondary source I’ve seen, the root of Hamlet’s problems (and indeed, most or all of the other problems in the play) is that the characters are gay, gay, gay.

Confession: I do teach English. I will do my level best not to bore you. Shakespeare is not my area of expertise, but for so many reasons, this is an interpretation that cannot stand.

I came to science fiction and fantasy as a fan relatively late. Part of the vibe that I’m getting from people I’m reading comments from on Twitter and journals and emails is that people who grew up on the Ender’s Game series or are huge fans of it are bitterly disappointed. I have only read one book of Card’s, so I don’t know enough to comment there.

I see two primary issues:
1. The lack of tolerance is appalling. As Elizabeth Bear recently pointed out in a guest post on Charles Stross’s blog:

[T]he one thing I notice about the writers in my cohort is that we are multicolored, multicultural, multinational, multiethnic. We come from a wide range of class and religious backgrounds and life experiences. We do not conform neatly to gender binaries or established sexual identities. You cannot assume that we are male, or heterosexual, or white, or American or English or Canadian, or of protestant or Jewish background, or that we are probably professional or middle class. The thing–the only thing–we have in common is that we are science fiction and fantasy fans.

2. Shakespeare, whoever and whatever you believe him to be, is about the language. I hated Shakespeare with a passion until I saw his work performed. These works are meant to be read aloud; they’re meant to be spoken. When the poetry is taken out of the language, as Card has apparently done, you’re killing genius. Scott Lynch:

Card’s got every right to tinker with Hamlet to his sad little heart’s content. What draws my fierce mockery is that his Hamlet’s Father willfully ignores the character and content of the original. The assertion that it reveals “what’s really going on” in the tragedy of the Prince of Denmark is a reeking lie. It isn’t an elegant interface with Shakespeare’s creation, but a complete re-invention of it, steam-cleaned of its original texture and meaning. OSC’s sternly moralizing, dull-as-a-brick Hamlet can only be conjured by completely disregarding everything the original character said, thought, and did. Now, if that’s what you want to write, go ahead and write it. Just have the honesty to call it what it is… a bloody rewrite. Not an honest engagement with the original text.

Subterranean Press, who published Hamlet’s Father, is taking reader concerns seriously. Bill Schaefer has posted an open letter to readers on the SubPress website.

A positive result of this whole discussion: via the Twitter hashtag #buyabiggaynovelforscottcardday, a sizable list of sf/f books with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender characters and/or content has been assembled by @wordroot, and can be found at

Have a seat! What do you think?

3 thoughts on “To change the meaning or not to change the meaning: THAT is the question before us.

Add yours

  1. Kate — um. I hope you’re misremembering?

    I haven’t seen anything like that. The open letter did say that they didn’t anticipate the controversy.


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