Atwood and Jacobson join Hogarth Shakespeare

Atwood and Jacobson join Hogarth Shakespeare

Novelists Margaret Atwood and Howard Jacobson are the latest recruits to the Hogarth Shakespeare project, in which authors tackle a prose retelling of Shakespeare's plays.

Atwood will do a version of "The Tempest", while Jacobson has opted for "The Merchant of Venice".

The two authors will join Anne Tyler and Jeanette Winterson on the Hogarth Shakespeare programme, with conversations also underway with "a number" of other writers.

Jacobson commented: "For an English novelist Shakespeare is where it all begins. For an English novelist who also happens to be Jewish, 'The Merchant of Venice' is where it all snarls up. 'Who is the merchant and who is the Jew?' Portia wanted to know. Four hundred years later, the question needs to be reframed: 'Who is the hero of this play and who is the villain?' And if Shylock is the villain, why did Shakespeare choose to make him so?'

"Only a fool would think he has anything to add to Shakespeare. But 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."

Atwood said: "'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…"

The Hogarth Shakespeare will launch in 2016, coinciding with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, although individual publication dates for the texts have yet to be confirmed.

Publishing director Clara Farmer commented: "What we've seen so far, which is so magical, is that we start a conversation with an author and if they like the concept of responding to Shakespeare, then they already know what the play they want to cover is, although other plays might come into the conversation too. It's perfect that Margaret Atwood is doing 'The Tempest', and Howard is going to do something extraordinary with 'The Merchant of Venice.'"

World rights in all languages were acquired for Margaret Atwood's retelling from Farmer and deputy publishing director Beckie Hardie from Vivienne Schuster at Curtis Brown; the same rights were bought in Howard Jacobson's retelling from Jonny Geller, also at Curtis Brown.

Hogarth was launched in 2012 as a transatlantic fiction imprint within Random House, a partnership between Chatto & Windus in the UK and Crown in the US.