Founded in 1917 and re-launched in 2012, Hogarth Press is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death with a literary series, Hogarth Shakespeare. Inaugurated in October 2015 with Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time, Hogarth Shakespeare mines some today’s bestselling authors for new interpretations of Shakespeare’s timeless stories.
Why would an author want to take on a task as daunting as rewriting the work of The Bard? Gillian Flynn sums up a sentiment expressed by many of the authors: “As beautiful and as interesting and as complicated as [his works are], I still think there’s more.”
The collection contains adaptations some of Shakespeare’s best-loved and most often performed works (Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear), alongside works more rarely staged (The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, Othello), and one of his more obscure works, The Winter’s Tale.
The fourth book in the series will be released this October: Hag-Seed, an adaptation of The Tempest by Margaret Atwood. Felix, once the artistic director of a major theatre festival, is consumed with desire for revenge on the man who betrayed him. From his new purlieu teaching Shakespeare at a local prison, he plans to finally exact his revenge through a staging of The Tempest.
Hag-Seed is the only novel in the series so far to contain major references to the play from which it was adapted, linking it further to the original Tempest and its meta-theatrical undertones. It’s not the first time Atwood has played with reinterpretations of well-known stories; she often draws from Greek mythology, notably in The Penelopiad, a retelling of the Iliad from Penelope’s perspective.
The first three books have drawn praise since their release; The Gap of Time was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. This adaptation of The Winter’s Tale moves between a modern-day London in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse and a fictional American city called New Bohemia. Like The Tempest, The Winter’s Tale centres on themes of redemption and forgiveness.
Shylock is my Name, by Howard Jacobson, explores one of Shakespeare’s most intriguing characters from his own perspective. Witty, insightful art dealer Simon Strulovitch struggles not only with anti-Semitism and a desire for revenge, but also with grief and the challenges of parenthood in this adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, which Jacobson calls “the most troubling of Shakespeare’s plays for anyone, but, for an English novelist who happens to be Jewish, also the most challenging.”
Anne Tyler brings us a fresh update on a character that has seen many reinventions, the eponymous personage from The Taming of the Shrew. In Vinegar Girl, Kate Battista is a no-nonsense preschool teacher who must be all things to her family – especially her father, who plans to use her to help his own career. The authors may draw on Shakespeare for inspiration, but they certainly don’t pigeonhole themselves; The New York Times Book Review called Shylock is my Name “more Stoppardian than Shakespearean,” while NPR observed that Vinegar Girl “channels Jane Austen more than Shakespeare.”
The next four books in the series – retellings of Macbeth (Jo Nesbo), Othello (Tracy Chevalier), King Lear (Edward St. Aubyn), and Hamlet (Gillian Flynn) – are due in 2017.