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Such stuff as dreams are made on: Atwood updates Shakespeare for modern readers

(photo: Shannon Ross)

Never let it be said that Margaret Atwood is one to shy away from a challenge. The author of The Handmaid’s Tale and the just-released MaddAddam has already updated Homer in The Penelopiad, a feminist reworking of The Odyssey originally published as part of Canongate’s series of contemporary retellings of famous myths (and subsequently adapted for the stage). And now, she has been added to the roster of contemporary writers who will undertake updating the Bard himself.

According to a press release from Knopf Canada, Atwood will join authors Howard Jacobson, Anne Tyler, and Jeanette Winterson for the “Shakespeare project,” which will adapt selected plays as novels for a modern audience. Slated for publication in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the books comprise “a major international publishing initiative across the Penguin Random House Group led by Hogarth UK and published in partnership with Hogarth U.S., Knopf Canada, Knaus Verlag in Germany, and Mondadori in Spain; and Random House Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India.”

Although the Guardian points out that no one has been bold enough to undertake an update of one of the major tragedies, Man Booker Prize winner Jacobson has done something almost as daring, choosing to take on one of Shakespeare’s most notorious “problem” plays: The Merchant of Venice.

Atwood, for her part (and somewhat unsurprisingly), has chosen The Tempest. The play “has always been a favourite of mine,” Atwood says in the Knopf release, “and working on it will be an invigorating challenge. Is Caliban the first talking monster? Not quite, but close.

The other confirmed titles are Tyler’s update of The Taming of the Shrew and Winterson’s reworking of The Winter’s Tale.

The books will appear simultaneously in print and digital forms.