June 28, 2013

Re-enter READER, with THE LEGACY OF SHAKESPEARE dead in her arms: rewriting Shakespeare for the 400th anniversary of his death


In reaction to yesterday’s news that The Hogarth Shakespeare programme will print a series of novels reimagining the plays of Shakespeare, published in time for the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare‘s death, below is an adaptation of the plays to display that news and show once and for all that such reworkings may be a complete waste of time and offer very little in comparison to the works themselves, which offer much, perpetually. 

Keeping Shakespeare up-to-date


A few authors, both alike in dignity,

In fair London, where we lay our scene,

For ancient art breaks into new mutiny,

Where publishing blood makes Shakespeare’s hands unclean.

From forth the fatal loins of Random House

A group of star-cross’d novelists commit their life;

Whose misadventured piteous endeavours

Do with their writing cause readers strife.

The fearful prose of their death-mark’d reimagined love,

And the continuance of the reader’s rage,

Which, but publisher’s death, nought could remove,

Is now attracting web traffic to this blog page;

The which if you with patient eyes attend,

What The Bookseller missed to report, our toil shall strive to mend.


SCENE I. An office near Pimlico.

Thunder. Enter the three editors

First Editor

Where hast thou been, sister?

Second Editor

Editing crime.

Third Editor

Sister, where thou?

First Editor

A celebrated writer had a blank screen on her lap,

And typ’d, and typ’d, and typ’d:–

‘Give me,’ quoth I:

‘Look here, a reimagining of plays already considered to be the best in the English language!’ the contemporary writer cries.

Shakespeare to his grave has gone, master o’ the metaphor:

But in a suit I’ll thither sail,

And, like a rat without a tail,

I’ll publish, I’ll publish, and I’ll publish.

Second Editor

I’ll give thee an advance.

First Editor

Thou’rt kind.

Third Editor

And I another.

First Editor

I myself will give all the others,

And the celebratory trumpets blow,

All the plays that readers know

I will discard.

I will drain the reader dry as hay:

Sleep shall neither night nor day

Hang upon her pent-house lid;

She shall live a woman forbid:

Weary from more books to read nine times nine

Shall she dwindle, peak and pine:

Though the original plays cannot be lost,

Yet they shall be tempest-tost.

Look what I have.

Second Editor

Show me, show me.

First Editor

Here I have a reader’s thumb,

Wreck’d from all the unnecessary page-turning done.

Drum within

Third Editor

A drum, a drum!

Winterson doth come.


The Hogarth editors, hand in hand,

Publishers of the sea and land,

Thus do publish about, about:

Thrice to thine and thrice to mine

And thrice again, to make up nine (or more reworkings of Shakespeare)

Peace! the charm’s wound up.



So foul and fair a day I have not seen….



To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to simply read

The plays and poetry of outrageous talent,

Or to take arms against that sea of texts,

And by rewriting change them? To write: to publish;

And more; and by publishing to say we add to

The heart-ache of the thousands of reimaginings

That my new novel is heir to, ’tis a reader’s consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d. To write, to adapt;

To adapt: perchance to modernise: ay, there’s the rub;

For in that deathly modernisation what changes may come

When I have shuffled off Shakespeare words,

Must I pause: there’s the respect (of the original text)

That makes calamity of so long a manuscript;

For who can doubt the whips and scorns of time,

The original text’s wrong, that Elizabethan man’s ignorance,

The pangs of unmodern love, the law’s delay,

The naivety of office life, iPads and social media …


Re-enter READER, with THE LEGACY OF SHAKESPEARE dead in her arms; FIRST EDITOR, Agent, and others following


Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are publishers of stones:

Had I your publicists and world rights, I’d use them so

That Waterstones’ shelves would crack with his original plays. He’s gone for ever!

I know when one is dead, and when one lives;

He’s dead as earth. Lend me a e-reader;

If that his original scenes will appear to have at least 50% reading progress,

Why, then he lives.


Is this the promised 400th anniversary celebration of Shakespeare’s death?


Or image of that horror?


Fall, and cease publishing!


This feather stirs; he lives! if it be so and you leave the plays alone,

It is a chance which does redeem all sorrows

That ever I have felt.



O, I die, Hogarth (an imprint of Random House and no longer reflecting any of the values of the original Hogarth Press originally established in 1917 by Virginia and Leonard Woolf)

The potent poison quite o’er-crows my spirit:

I cannot live to hear the news from England;

But I do prophesy the election lights

On Winterson: she has my dying voice;

So let her, and the other authors, who add both more and less,

Adapt what I have written. The rest is silence.



A glooming peace yesterday morning with it brought;

The sun, for sorrow, would not show his head:

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;

Some writers shall be pardon’d, and some punished:

For never was a story of more woe

Than that of Shakespeare and this publishing sham-show.