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Spinning Shakespeare into modern prose: Will it work?

Hogarth Press launches the Hogarth Shakespeare, which publish 'prose retellings' of Shakespeare's works to mark the Bard's 400th birthday.

By Staff Writer / June 28, 2013

Anne Tyler will adapt 'The Taming of the Shrew,' while writer Jeanette Winterson will take on 'The Winter's Tale.'

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Shakespeare’s getting a makeover – again.

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Random House publishing imprint Hogarth has started the Hogarth Shakespeare, which will bring in current authors to adapt the Bard’s plays for a current audience. So far, “Breathing Lessons” writer Anne Tyler and “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” author Jeanette Winterson have signed on, Tyler to adapt “The Taming of the Shrew” and Winterson to restyle “The Winter’s Tale.” Writers from all over the world will be brought in to adapt the stories, and the fruits of their labor are planned for a 2016 release date to go with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The stories will be released in print, e-book, and audio form.

The new versions will be “prose retellings,” according to Publishers Weekly. It has not been mentioned whether all of Shakespeare’s works will be adapted.

The new versions will “be true to the spirit of the original dramas and their popular appeal, while giving authors an exciting opportunity to reinvent these seminal works of English literature,” according to a statement from Hogarth.

“I don't know which I'm looking forward to more,” Tyler told the BBC. “Delving into the mysteries of shrewish Kate or finding out what all the other writers do with their Shakespeare characters.”

How will the public receive rewritten Shakespeare? Some have their doubts – the Los Angeles Times article on the project carried the headline “Enlisting novelists to rewrite Shakespeare: A losing proposition?”

“It asks famous writers to essentially best the greatest of their forefathers – by grappling with his own oeuvre,” LA Times writer Alexander Nazaryan wrote.

But Guardian writer Bidisha is looking forward to the reimaginings. 

“I'm intrigued,” she wrote. “To appoint acclaimed, fully established writers like Winterson and Tyler is hardly some facetious gimmick. It's an opportunity to discover what the timeless geniuses of now make of a timeless genius of then.”

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