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Margaret Atwood To Put A Modern Spin On Shakespeare
September 10, 2013
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William Shakespeare and Margaret Atwood (Images: Wikimedia Commons/AP)

Here's a daunting challenge for any author: rewrite one of William Shakespeare's plays in modern prose.

Margaret Atwood has announced she's going to take on that challenge. Along with authors Howard Jacobson, Anne Tyler and Jeanette Winterson, Atwood is going to retell one of the Bard's plays for an upcoming book series.

Atwood's choice: The Tempest. "It has always been a favourite of mine, and working on it will be an invigorating challenge," she said in a statement. "Is Caliban the first talking monster? Not quite, but close..."

Atwood got into monsters last time she was in the red chair, talking at length with George about zombies. She'll be on the show again this season, talking this time about her new novel MaddAddam: catch her interview on Wednesday, September 25 at 7 p.m. on CBC.

The prose retellings of Shakespeare's plays will be published by Hogarth Shakespeare, part of the Penguin Random House group. Publishing director Clara Farmer told the Guardian that the plan is to find authors to take on the Bard's entire body of work — but no one has agreed to rewrite the major tragedies Hamlet, King Lear or Macbeth just yet.

"We hope to do the entire canon... we need to people to step up for the tragedies," she said.

Tyler is already working on The Taming of the Shrew and Winterson chose The Winter's Tale, while Jacobson is tackling The Merchant of Venice. The series launches in 2016 to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

The Hogarth series is not the only modern reworking of the Bard. Here are a few other twists on Will Shakespeare that are worth a look:

Kill Shakespeare

atwood-shakespeare-kill.jpgWhat would happen if a bunch of heroes from Shakespeare's plays got together and went on a quest to find a "reclusive wizard"... named William Shakespeare?

That's the idea behind Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery's comic book series Kill Shakespeare. Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, Falstaff, Romeo and Puck head out on an epic quest to find the Bard, while battling the forces of evil, represented by Richard III, Lady Macbeth and Iago.

On their website, the team calls the series "a combination of Fables, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Lord of the Rings.

10 Things I Hate About You

atwood-shakespeare-10-things.jpgThe 1999 teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You is a modernization of The Taming of the Shrew.

The movie stars the late Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who will be in the red chair Tuesday, September 17), and transplants the play's basic plot to an American high school. Unlike most Shakespeare adaptations, this one was nominated for seven Teen Choice Awards, including Film Hissy Fit (that nom went to Gordon-Levitt), Film Sexiest Love Scene (for Ledger and Stiles) and Film Sleazebag (Gordon-Levitt again).

We'd bet that Anne Tyler's version of the play will turn out a bit different.

Sons Of Anarchy

atwood-shakespeare-sons.jpgThis FX series about a bike gang is "influenced" by Hamlet, according to the show's creator Kurt Sutter.

"I don't want to overplay that but it's there," he said. "It's not a version of Hamlet but it's definitely influenced by it."

Ron Perlman's character is based on Hamlet's uncle King Claudius, while Katey Sagal's character Gemma is based on Hamlet's mom and Jax, played by Charlie Hunnam, would be Shakespeare's title character.

Fool by Christopher Moore

atwood-shakespeare-fool.jpgHow would the story of King Lear look if it were told from the perspective of Lear's fool?

Not quite like the play, it turns out. Moore's 2009 novel tells the tale of how Pocket, the titular fool, works behind the scenes to strip King Lear of his power and drive the King's daughters Regan and Goneril into war against one another, ending up very powerful indeed.

The book liberally mixes Shakespearean language with obscure medieval terms and modern British slang, offering one way forward for writers looking to rework one of the Bard's plays.

Via Quill & Quire


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