Rewriting Shakespeare

In yet more news of Shakespearean retellings, Random House is now set to publish a series of the Bard’s plays rewritten as prose. The RH imprint Hogarth has commissioned authors Anne Tyler and Jeanette Winterson as the first to release novels in the forthcoming “Hogarth Shakespeare Project.” The two will be rewriting The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale respectively. These are set for release in 2016 (alas, still far away), exactly 400 years after the Bard’s death.

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Hogarth explains that these new releases are intended to “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.” And from the sounds of it, the writers can’t wait to get their hands on these texts…

Tyler, who has previously won the Pulitzer prize for her novel Breathing Lessons, says, “I don’t know which I’m looking forward to more: ‘Delving into the mysteries of shrewish Kate or finding out what all the other writers do with their Shakespeare characters.’”

Her counterpart, meanwhile, feels a special draw to The Winter’s Tale: “All of us have talismanic texts that we have carried around and that carry us around. I have worked with The Winter’s Tale in many disguises for many years. This is a brilliant opportunity to work with it in its own right.” Winterston has written both novels and BAFTA award winning scripts.

Excitement about a new imagining of Shakespeare’s works aside, what are your thoughts on how the new prose form will change the way we think of Shakespeare’s tales? Will the inevitable loss of his poetic language leave readers wanting? Or will we find a fresh new way to appreciate these stories?

If you were to rewrite one of Shakespeare’s works in this way, what would you choose and where would you take it? 


Can You Guess These Classics by Their Covers?

Here’s a fun game for your Friday: try to guess the titles of the famous books behind these ten phantom covers. Scroll down or click-through for the answers.

And have a great weekend, wherever you are!

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At the Intersection of Poetry and Music

Four adaptations of poems set to music: some tender, some bizarre, all personal homages to poems and their masters. Enjoy!

“I’m Nobody! Who Are You?” by Emily Dickinson

Composed by Israeli singer-songwriter Efrat Ben Zur.

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish — you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one’s name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

“Sonnet 49″ by Pablo Neruda

The best loved love poet as sung by jazz artist Luciana Souza.

It’s today: all of yesterday dropped away
among the fingers of the light and the sleeping eyes.
Tomorrow will come on its green footsteps;
no one can stop the river of the dawn.

No one can stop the river of your hands,
your eyes and their sleepiness, my dearest.
You are the trembling of time, which passes
between the vertical light and the darkening sky.

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Top Ten Literary Beers

It’s Friday! Time to kick back with a summer read, dig your toes into the sand, and crack open one of these beauties. Who said beers couldn’t be high-brow?

White Whale Ale

Yes, it is actually made with pages ripped from the seams of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Le Petit Prince (or The Little Prince)

Lament on love and loss, and forget about that self-obsessed rose already.

The Raven Special Lager

I actually had this once. Nevermore, nevermore.

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The Best Laid Plans of Novelists

Ever wondered how some of your favorite authors tackled the crazy job of putting pen to paper and creating those stories you loved to read? Well, we’re here to tell you it’s not all magical. As you can see from these intricate spreadsheets and notes, crafting a novel takes a whole lot of careful planning. Just click on any of the following spreadsheets and scribbles for a closer look to find out.

This first is from none other than J. K. Rowling, who planned out all seven books of her Harry Potter series before she had even started writing the second. Here’s part of her plan for Order of the Phoenix:

In the columns, Rowling separates each chapter by its subplots; she lists, “Prophecy,” “O of P” (Order of the Phoenix), “Cho/Ginny” (the romantic subplot of the novel), “Snape,” and “Hagrid” as different story lines to help her keep track of the plot. For a zoomed in look at the detailed spreadsheet, click here.

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Coverflip: How Book Covers Differ by Author’s Gender

Author Maureen Johnson has had enough of gendered book covers. Just what is she talking about? Well, she’s talking about books that look like this:

Versus this:

And yes, that is the same book in each picture. The first is what ended up in print, while the second imagines how the cover might have looked had the book written been by a man. Why the difference? Johnson gives a little insight into the sometimes unfair world of book publishing and marketing:

The simple fact of the matter is, if you are a female author, you are much more likely to get the package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality. Because it’s “girly,” which is somehow inherentl different and easier on the palate. A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simple more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it.

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A Conversation with Joyce Carol Oates

The eNotes team visited this year’s LA Times Festival of Books to bring you recaps of the captivating interviews with some of the most anthologized writers. You may recognize the first as part of your syllabus if you’ve ever read her infamous short story, “Where Are You Going, Were Have You Been?” It’s the prolific and talented Joyce Carol Oates!

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In 1984 Joyce Carol Oates relegated a manuscript she’d been working on, complete but imperfect, to a dark drawer. As its pages yellowed and mildew took up residence, the would-be novel emerged into the light of day just once every seven years or so, only to promptly return. “Writing is very intuitive,” Oates says of her most recent (or most recently published) novel’s thirty year history. “You can’t quite force it.” Luckily for her readers, the manuscript found its way back into Oates’ hands at just the right time, for now we have The Accursed.

Oates began her conversation on the novel with some explication on its genre. As a formalist, she admits the attraction of writing in various styles. Over the years she has dabbled in just about everything, though the same vein of sinisterness is rather pervasive throughout. As for The Accursed, Oates herself called it her foray into “a neo-Gothic genre… a post-modernist horror.” (In case one couldn’t tell from the book cover, it has a bit to do with vampires.)

But the author could just as easily be noted for dipping a toe into the historical fiction pool, given the number of historic figures who meander in and out of the plot. Set in Princeton in 1905, The Accursed‘s minor players include writers and politicians who lived in the college town at that moment in history; Franklin Roosevelt (then just 23), Upton Sinclair, Mark Twain, and Jack London to name a few, which Oates labels the “Shakespearean sub-figures” of her work. In a minor way, their presence as relative rabble-rousers of their time advances the themes of The Accursed: those of “class betrayal” and racial discrimination—hardly light topics for a vampire novel.

To unpack these themes a bit more, it is imperative to point out the timing of that mildewy manuscript’s resuscitation. When Oates picked it up again in 2010, America had at last elected an African-American man as its president—a decision that is a far cry from the attitudes of 1905 upper class Princeton, though the threads of racial tension remain. The author admits that her choosing to revive the novel at that particular time is not unlike Miller’s writing of The Crucible when he did, since it takes a contemporary problem and places it in another time, thereby highlighting it more.

In all, one could look at Oates’ latest as a Gothic family drama, a supernatural romance story (complete with the bride being kidnapped by a vampiric seducer at the altar), even a historical satire.  Or one could simply recognize The Accursed for what it is outside of Oates’ formalist play—an homage to American history, literature, and themes, however sordid those may be.

Ready to test your knowledge? Take the eNotes Joyce Carol Oates quiz here!


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