Shakespeare to be revised by Margaret Atwood and Howard Jacobson

William Shakespeare will be updated again, this time by Margaret Atwood and Howard Jacobson.
(Paul Gonzales from a 1623 engraving by Martin Droeshout / Los Angeles Times)

The publisher Hogarth’s ambitious project to produce novelized retellings of William Shakespeare’s plays has two new authors -- the Man Booker Prize-winning writers Margaret Atwood and Howard Jacobson.

The Canadian writer Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and many other books, will write a novel based on “The Tempest.” Jacobson, known for his humorous novels that often take up themes of Jewish identity in Britain, will write a novel based on one of the Bard’s most controversial plays, “The Merchant of Venice.”

“For an English novelist Shakespeare is where it all begins. For an English novelist who also happens to be Jewish ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is where it all snarls up,” Jacobson said in a statement. “Only a fool would think he has anything to add to Shakespeare. But Shakespeare probably never met a Jew, the Holocaust had not yet happened, and anti-Semitism didn’t have a name. Can one tell the same story today, when every reference carries a different charge? There’s the challenge. I quake before it.”


Earlier this year, Hogarth announced that Anne Tyler would write a novel based on “The Taming of the Shrew” and Jeanette Winterson would adapt Shakespeare’s play “The Winter’s Tale.”

Hogarth publisher Molly Stern told The Times in July that the authors who participate in the project would have the freedom to interpret Shakespeare’s works as they see fit.

Tyler told The Times that she had agreed to take on “The Taming of the Shrew,” in part, because the play had always troubled her. “I have no favorite moments in this play,” Tyler said. “I first read it in college and disliked it intensely, and I can’t say my attitude toward it softened any when I read it again just recently.”

Atwood said in a statement that “The Tempest” has always been one of her favorites, and “working on it will be an invigorating challenge. Is Caliban the first talking monster? Not quite, but close...”

The first novels in the series are set to appear in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.


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