There’s something about the complexity yet simplicity of Shakespeare which I have always found appealing. The way such antiquated language can express such beauty and clarity is simply amazing. I also love the way that when you watch or listen to Shakespeare it’s akin to being swept down a path, clinging to each morsel of prose, discerning meaning from the sweep of his monologues and soliloquies.
I was lucky enough to see Hamlet performed for the first time this summer, having read it a year or so ago, and it was an absolutely thrilling experience. I saw Andrew Scott perform the central role in London, with a modern setting which included his father’s ghost appearing via CCTV. The effect was simply chilling.
Several years ago I also saw one of Shakespeare’s more confounding plays, The Tempest, with the great Patrick Stewart playing Prospero. With this in mind, I picked up Margaret Attwood’s wonderful book ‘Hag-Seed’ during an airport bookshop browse this summer. This is the latest of a series of books reinterpreting Shakespeare’s plays and Attwood tackles The Tempest with characteristic style.
I truly relished every chapter, both because Attwood and her characters love Shakespeare and his play, while being unafraid to tear it apart and reassemble it. The plot is both complex and simple, like the best of Shakespeare, and deals compassionately with the very human desire for community and the equally human predilection for revenge.
It’s this understanding of the human spirit, both positive and negative, which I love so much about Shakespeare. How stories set in strange worlds, full of strange words, can speak with a voice so familiar to us all. A voice with humour for us in the darkest of times, of intensity and anger at betrayals great and small, and a joyful voice in celebrating love, family and friendship.
In ‘Hag-Seed’ it is a group of criminals who connect with the complexity of ‘The Tempest’ for the first time and I felt, as I read the book, that I was able to connect with the play in a similar way; in a new way. Attwood’s book is the perfect example of just how successfully Shakespeare can be reinvented, even so long after it was written. How his voice and his characters can speak to us so clearly and so powerfully today.
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
William Shakespeare, The Tempest