In 1974, J.G. Ballard published his novel Concrete Island. This remarkable account of an architect’s survival after a car accident on a bleak patch of land demarcated by motorway furniture and flyovers, is, among other things, a reworking, adaptation, or appropriation of The Tempest: the Swan of Avon meets the Sage of Shepperton. But why tell this story using this precursor then? Answering such questions must involve moving beyond tracing the contiguities and discontinuities between the novel and the play. Instead, this article will do that but partly as a way to address methodological issues about reading Shakespearean appropriations historically; that is, focussing as much on our moment of re-reading as on Ballard’s moment of revision. So even as we think about what might have been the aims or effects of such an appropriation in the mid-1970s, we might also consider how we read it in the 2010s. Can we historicize our own readings of Shakespearean appropriation?