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‘Serpent of Venice’ another delight from Christopher Moore

By By Anna Schles
West Virginia University

Fans of William Shakespeare will tell you that once you get past the intricate language of his works, the plays are truly wild stories of adventure, tragedy and humor with more than a little inappropriateness. In fact, it could be said that Shakespeare’s famous plays were the blockbuster movies of their day.

Christopher Moore’s “The Serpent of Venice” lives up to the Bard’s works in terms of exciting plot, emotion and often improper humor, while being written in a style and format more accessible to today’s readers. That said, while “The Serpent of Venice” remains true to the spirit of school’s assigned Shakespeare reading texts, it could be inappropriate for younger teenagers.

“The Serpent of Venice” is a sequel to Moore’s 2009 novel “Fool,” although it is not necessary to have read “Fool” in order to enjoy “The Serpent of Venice.” “Fool” is a spirited retelling of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” and the main character in both novels is King Lear’s brilliant fool, Pocket. “The Serpent of Venice” is a comical mash-up of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” and “Othello,” with a sprinkling of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Cask of Amontillado.”

One does not need to have any prior knowledge of “King Lear,” “The Merchant of Venice” or “Othello” in order to enjoy and comprehend Moore’s novel. However if a reader is familiar with the plays, he or she can more fully appreciate Moore’s immense skill as a storyteller and his talent for bringing cultural context and classic characters to life.

“The Serpent of Venice” picks up as Pocket the Fool is about to be assassinated. His wife, the late King Lear’s daughter, Queen Cordelia, has sent him from England to Venice so he can annoy some powerful people and prevent senseless war for profit. Since, of course, preventing senseless war can anger the people who plan to profit from it, Pocket finds himself losing everything.

Three ruthless villains — Antonio, Brabantio and Iago — have executed a plan to quickly silence Pocket and slowly kill him. Pocket has been suicidal since the recent death of his wife from an apparent fever, but as he lies dying, he decides he wants to live. With the help of some familiar new friends, human and otherwise, Pocket seeks revenge and justice.

“The Serpent of Venice” is essentially a funny novel, jam-packed with subtle wit, outrageous laugh-inducing scenes and everything in between. However, when one combines “Othello” (one of Shakespeare’s tragedies), “The Merchant of Venice” (pretty much the darkest comedy ever written) and anything by Edgar Allan Poe, the result is sure to be a little dark. Christopher Moore skillfully weaves the comedy into the tragedy, creating a complex and masterful work sure to delight readers.

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