By Margaret Atwood
“Clever” best describes Margaret Atwood’s contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare project. Clever as in employing Shakespeare’s The Tempest itself as a tool of revenge. Also clever as in reinterpreting the magic and sorcery of Prospero as Felix’s through his use of cunning and modern electronics; as in setting the play and the revenge in a real prison; and, as in a bonus, providing interesting interpretations of the play along the way. And, not so much clever as enlightening, setting forth an intriguing way to teach this or any play.
On this level, that of admiring Atwood’s treatment, many will derive the most enjoyment from her effort. Cleverness, however, doesn’t always make for a captivating novel, particularly one featuring baser human instincts, not even in the hands of a master like Atwood, not even when reinventing Shakespeare.
For many, the most basic problem here will be that Atwood chose to depart entirely from the play, unlike previous contributors, such as Jeanette Winterson’s fine The Gap of Time, as an example. And then populate her reinterpretation of the theme with characters of far lesser interest. So, unfortunately, Atwood fans approaching the effort with high expectations may find themselves disappointed. Assuage yourself, then, by exploring other titles in the series, or settle back and watch a quite modernization of MacBeth in Scotland, PA. w/c