The Lunatic, The Lover, and the Poet takes place largely in the years before Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, with Prince Hamlet at Wittenberg University. First-person narration oscillates between Hamlet's faithful friend Horatio and a mysterious noblewoman called Adriane. All three are locked in a torrid pan-sexual love triangle, made even more complicated by the arrival of the dashing Master William Shake-speare, a rival poet whom Horatio despises.
Hermes blends history with fiction and makes nimble use of Shakespeare's characters for her own story with a shameless audacity comparable to Tom Stoppard (the author of another Hamlet variation, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.) She is neither disrespectful to the Bard -- nearly every page is populated with some allusion or tribute to a Shakespeare play or sonnet -- nor constrained by a slavish reverence to his original work.
Like Shakespeare, the author's love for language and its possibilities shines through on every page. Hermes is truly a master of the bawdy double entendre. For instance, Hamlet tells Horatio that he has stolen a collection of poems from Adriane after a sexual tryst by stating, "I fingered her packet before I withdrew."
Indeed, Hermes should be applauded for her successful efforts with this book. After all, wasn't Shakespeare's own success based on his ability to take the raw material of stories he already knew from another source and manipulate them into his own distinctive form and content?