I've mentioned Scott G. F. Bailey's The Astrologer a couple of times here, but as I'm about to finish teaching it, I thought I'd discuss it in a bit more detail. As I've said, The Astrologer reworks Shakespeare's Hamlet by setting it in Denmark at the turn of the seventeenth century (at roughly the time of Hamlet's composition, in other words). Strictly speaking, the novel is positioned before Hamlet, as the King Hamlet figure, King Christian, remains alive and kicking; in addition, the novel often deploys Hamlet to mislead as much as to guide (the surplus of drownings, for example, among other more important issues...). It's a "historical" novel, in the sense that the (dead) Tycho Brahe is integral to the plot and the chief royals, King Christian and Prince Christian, are presumably King Christian IV and his son the Prince-Elect, Christian. Once the reader begins to play "match the dates," though, she notices that historical chronology and the novel's chronology don't match at all--Christian IV didn't die until decades after the novel is set and his son wasn't even born in 1601. The warping continues throughout the narrative (e.g., the identify of the king's mistress is "right" but her fate is not; Ulfeldt, similarly, is a real person, but not the person he is here; Christian IV's successor was a different son, not his brother; and so on). In fact, Bailey's historiography is cheekily Shakespearean in its wholesale transformations of historical figures and chronology alike, dropping us into an alternate universe that is recognizably Hamlet, recognizably Denmark, and yet not quite either.
The novel's most radical decision is stripping Christian/Hamlet of his revenge plot and reassigning it to an entirely new character, the titular astrologer, Soren. Soren, dubiously reliable and tragicomically lacking in empathy--the flurry of bodies around him usually elicits responses that vary from non-existent to hilariously inapt--announces at the end of the first chapter that King Christian "was my enemy, and I had sworn to kill him" (loc. 168). According to Soren, King Christian murdered Soren's idol and teacher, Tycho Brahe, hence motivating Soren's revenge--although even Tycho's cousin comments, in some puzzlement, that "I do not share your absolute devotion to my cousin" (loc. 562). Although he has inherited Hamlet's revenge plot, Soren does not take Hamlet's position as the tragic hero: at some points in the text he channels Hamlet (his plot), at others Polonius (whether in dialogue or by hiding in a chest), at others yet Horatio (he's Christian's primary confidant), and at still others Claudius (initially opting for poison as his weapon of choice). Equally, Soren straddles multiple historical positions as astrologer and astronomer, inhabiting both roles as equally scientific; as a harbinger of modernity, as he likes to think of himself, Soren is simultaneously Janus-faced and unaware of his own imminent anachronism. And despite his belief that "what we can see is to be more trusted than what we are told without evidence"[loc. 207], Soren is also very much not Sherlock Holmes, badly misreading the evidence when it comes to both Vibeke and Prince Christian.
This instability, as opposed to the one-to-one correspondence of most of the other characters (Ulfeldt is Polonius, Vibeke is Ophelia, Cornelius and Voltemont are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and so on), is matched by his increasingly undermotivated revenge plot. As eventually becomes clear, Soren's hero-worship does not measure up to reality: despite Soren's loathing for King Christian, he and Tycho have more in common than Soren would like to think, just as Tycho twins with Soren's despised father in Soren's own subconscious. Revenge tragedies are not normally righteous, but this revenge plot itself has sand at its foundation (did Christian actually kill Tycho in the first place?); moreover, Soren is arguably taking revenge on the wrong person, as his own father was accidentally killed by Tycho's collapsing paper mill. Very much unlike Hamlet, who spends his play thinking about the fact that he's thinking about taking revenge, Soren has no difficulty in getting himself motivated; the problem is that he has a bleakly comic set of mishaps that result in him accidentally killing the wrong people--twice--before the king's Swiss mercenaries, who share his goals, step in to provide guidance. (The mercenaries in question, Marcellus and Bernardo, are the only characters who share names with their Hamlet equivalents; in a more serious Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead-type twist, they're minor characters who are actually major players.) Fittingly, when Soren accomplishes his mission, he feels a "vague sense of empty release, no more" (loc. 3404), ending his plot not with a Hamlet-style spectacle of cascading corpses--he and the King are alone at the time, in fact, reversing Hamlet's notorious non-murder of Claudius when the opportunity presents itself--but a mere (quasi-sexual?) whimper.
Of course, if the Hamlet-figure doesn't have a revenge plot, then what does he have? While Soren works out his father issues by trying to avenge the father he has chosen (and who, by all accounts, did not want him), Prince Christian seeks to emulate his father through violence. The difficulty, however, is that Christian is a coward: despite joyously comparing his father to Beowulf (loc. 136) and insisting that "I am not afraid to go to war" (loc. 654), Christian cuts and runs in his first experience of actual battle. For Christian, this disrupts his identity as both potential king and potential man--significantly, the physically underpowered intellectual Soren repeatedly compares himself to a woman, only becoming a "man" (loc. 3538) once he kills King Christian--and his failure to duplicate his brutal father's gory exploits are at the root of his own (possible) insanity. "My father was in his fullest glory," Christian says, "and I saw what it is to be king of Denmark" (loc. 1885). In Hamlet, Horatio exclaims "Why, what a king is this!" (V.i) when Hamlet coolly announces the impending demise of R&G; by contrast, in The Astrologer, Hamlet's contemptuous masterminding of two minor villains' deaths for the crime of getting in his and Claudius' way turns into something far more dangerous and far more senseless. Christian interprets killing as a display of pure (masculine) power: he therefore orders Cornelius' and Voltemont's deaths (for no good reason) to show that "I am a ruler now, a warrior, prince of the realm" (loc. 2315) and then kills Ulfeldt when the older man accurately reports the king's adultery. In both cases, he kills men who are either far away from him or not his physical equal; near the end, he decapitates a soldier who poses him no current threat. Every death simply confirms Christian's cowardice, his inability to become his father, as Soren is unable to become Tycho. In a remarkably snarky echo of Hamlet, when Christian angrily asks Bernardo if he "seems a cowardly boy," Bernardo replies, "I know not 'seems,' my lord" (loc. 3507) before going on to murder him in a horrifically one-sided parody of the Hamlet-Laertes swordfight. As repurposed here, Hamlet's initial defiance instead deflates Christian into a mere mockery of a would-be monarch, flailing about with his father's unwieldy sword while Rome (or, to be more precise, the castle) burns behind him. Given the noticeable absence of tragic heroes, it's no wonder that the erasure of everyone in sight ends not with Hamlet's tragic tableau, but instead all the survivors living comically ever after (sort of), with the new king a supporter of the arts (also sort of) instead of a bloody-minded brute.