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Margaret Atwood selected to produce prose version of Shakespeare play

Canadian author Margaret Atwood.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

She retold Homer's The Odyssey from the point of view of Penelope, so it sounds appropriate that Margaret Atwood should next tackle William Shakespeare.

The prominent Canadian writer, along with Britain's Howard Jacobson, also a celebrated winner of the Man Booker prize, were announced on Monday as the latest two authors commissioned to produce a prose version of a Shakespeare play.

Ms. Atwood has been commissioned to adapt the last play that Shakespeare wrote on his own, The Tempest.

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The project by Penguin Random House's Hogarth imprint is timed to launch in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

"The Tempest has always been a favourite of mine, and working on it will be an invigorating challenge. Is Caliban the first talking monster? Not quite, but close," Ms. Atwood said in a statement issued through the publishing house.

Mr. Jacobson chose The Merchant of Venice and mentioned the challenge for him, a British Jewish author, in reshaping the controversial play about the moneylender Shylock through modern values.

"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," Mr. Jacobson said, who wrote The Finkler Question.

Two other authors were previously confirmed in the project. Anne Tyler (The Accidental Tourist), will rewrite The Taming of the Shrew, while Jeanette Winterson (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit) chose The Winter's Tale.

Hogarth notes that many of the bard's works have been rewritten, adapted to another medium or modernized.

The 1991 Pulitzer-prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres is a modern version of King Lear set on an Iowa farm. The Broadway musical West Side Story is an adaption of Romeo and Juliet. The Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa twice turned Shakespeare plays into Samurai epics: Throne of Blood was based on Macbeth, and Ran is an adaptation of King Lear.

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The Tempest has also been adapted several times. The 1611 play has been turned into movies more than a dozen times, including a 1956 science-fiction classic, Forbidden Planet.

Ms. Atwood published The Penelopiad, her version of The Odyssey, in 2005, and later rewrote it as a play. Her most recent novel, MaddAddam, was published this month. Ms. Atwood was not available to comment on Monday because she is on a book tour, a representative said.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

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