The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s “late plays”. It tells the story of Leontes, King of Sicily, whose insane jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter, Perdita, from the kingdom and then the death of his beautiful wife, Hermione. Perdita is brought up by a shepherd on the Bohemian coast, but through a series of miraculous events, father and daughter, and eventually mother too, are reunited.
In Jeanette Winterson’s retelling we move from London, a city reeling after the 2008 financial crash, to a storm-ravaged city in the US called New Bohemia. Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, video games and the elliptical nature of time. It tells in a hyper-modern way, full of energy and beauty, of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and love, redemption and a lost child on the other.
If you’re not familiar with Hogarth Shakespeare (as I was before I read this book), it is a project that commissioned some prolific authors to rewrite Shakespeare’s plays in a way that will appeal to modern readers. It is a massive undertaking for two reasons: one, they’re to rewrite the plays into novels, and two, consider the author of the original works.
THE WINTER’S TALE.
The first book in this series is a retelling of The Winter’s Tale. In the original work, it tells the story of King Leontes, his pregnant wife Hermoine, and King Polixenes. King Leontes, in a jealous fit, accused his wife and Polixenes of having an affair. But of course, the two weren’t having an affair, and the baby was his. In a series of event, Leontes will lose his wife, their son, and the baby. King Leontes exiled the baby to a faraway land never to be seen again.
The child was found by a shepherd and his simple-minded son. Years passed, Perdita grew up to be a beautiful woman. Enter Florizel, son of King Polixenes. While pretending to be a commoner, Florizel fell in love with Perdita. And as they grew closer, the journey they would both embark will take them back to how it all started.
THE GAP OF TIME.
We all know Bill Shakespeare’s writing was not made for the masses. I’ve always found it difficult to understand even watching it in its film version. As a reader, I know how important it is to have some knowledge of his works. Because missing out on Shakespeare is almost an unforgivable sin. Winterson revamped the story to make it more palatable to plebian readers such as I. For one the story was set in the modern times. Leo [Leontes] and Xeno [Polixenes] are wealthy tech executives who dabbled in gaming and real estate. MiMi [Hermoine] is a French singer in Paris. There is also an arch of a gay relationship between Leo and Xeno during their teen years. Now, I’m not familiar with the original work, so I don’t know whether or not this was even implied. Xeno, however, never outgrew that love. In fact, he was in love with both Leo and MiMi.
The interesting part of this story is how each of their pasts would come to a head. And this is all spear-headed by the relationship between Perdita (the missing baby), and Zel (Florizel). At one point, Perdita even thought that they were siblings. And knowing that this was a Shakespeare work, I couldn’t put it past him. So I had to go back and check the original work to make sure that it was nothing but confusion.
I also enjoyed Perdita’s relationship with her adopted family. It was obvious to Perdita that they were not her biological family because they were Blacks and she was White. But their relationship was one of the sincerest, loveliest familial dynamics I’ve ever read in a while. Shep considered Perdita a blessing in their life even though the circumstances of how she came to them wasn’t all that ideal.
I’m so excited to read the rest of the books in this series. Margaret Atwood had signed on to do The Tempest. Anne Tyler is doing The Taming of the Shrew – which is probably a favourite of mine all thanks to 10 Things I Hate About You. I’ve never been more thankful for the powers that be that instigated this project. Because now I have a chance to get to know Shakespeare’s works in such a way that I can easily understand.