The play’s the thing: novelists to reinterpret Shakespeare for a contemporary crowd - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 27 June

The play’s the thing: novelists to reinterpret Shakespeare for a contemporary crowd - Today’s news, tomorrow’s lesson - 27 June

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 1 July

The play’s the thing: novelists to reinterpret Shakespeare for a contemporary crowd

“Exit, pursued by an evangelical Christian mother.” This could well be how The Winter’s Tale reads, once reinterpreted for a modern audience.

Prize-winning author Jeanette Winterson is to rewrite the Shakespeare play, as part of a new series of modern-day “cover versions” of the Bard’s greatest hits.

Winterson, best known for her novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which portrays the struggles of a girl coming out to her Pentecostal parents, is the first of two novelists to sign up to reinterpret a Shakespeare play.

The other is Anne Tyler, author of The Accidental Tourist, who will rework The Taming of the Shrew.

The aim is to praise Shakespeare, not to bury him: the two novels will form part of a series, intended to inspire a broader audience to lend him their ears. (Though one imagines that the intersection of people who read Jeanette Winterson novels and people who have yet to read a single Shakespeare play is fairly limited.)

The authors were given their choice of bardic adaptation: above all, they were told, to thine own self be true. Winterson said that The Winter’s Tale – a story of jealousy, forgiveness and abandoned daughters – has inspired her for years.

“All of us have talismanic texts that we have carried around and that carry us around,” she said. “I have worked with The Winter’s Tale in many disguises for many years. This is a brilliant opportunity to work with it in its own right. And I love cover versions.”

She has not commented on whether she intends to keep the play’s most famous stage direction: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

Tyler, meanwhile, said that she was looking forward to “delving into the mysteries of the shrewish Kate”, the heroine of The Taming of the Shrew.

An attempt to evict the demonstrators sparked massive protests and even led to strikes across the country as the concerns about the government became more wide-ranging, such as freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

Ignoring the bardic imperative to neither a borrower nor a lender be, authors and film-makers have been adapting Shakespeare plays for years. In 1807, authors Charles and Mary Lamb rewrote several Shakespeare plays as children’s stories. The Taming of the Shrew has already inspired a 1948 musical, Kiss Me Kate, and a 1999 film, Ten Things I Hate About You.

And the authors insist that they are continuing in a proud Shakespearean tradition. “Shakespeare never invented a plot line,” Winterson said. Instead, his plays were an “exuberant ragbag of borrowings, thrown into the alchemical furnace of his mind and lifted out transformed”.

The series, which will be called the Hogarth Shakespeare, will launch in 2016, to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death.


  • Can you think of any other examples of an artist covering the work of another? What are the benefits of cover versions?
  • If you had to choose a book, play or film to cover, what would you choose and why?
  • Why do you think that some people get upset when songs or stories that they love are covered by other people?
  • It has been said that there are no new stories. What does this mean? Do you agree?

Related resources

Modern way of thinking

  • An adaptation activity for higher ability students. How will they adapt one of Shakespeare’s plays for their contemporary peers?

Shakespearean language

  • An extensive presentation on Shakespeare’s linguistic techniques from TESEnglish.

Shakespeare animal display

  • Introduce Shakespeare quotes with a modern twist in this fun picture layout.

For more lessons, quizzes and activities check out the TES Shakespeare collection.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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Acrid air from forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, has engulfed the city-state of Singapore. The problem has also triggered a row between the two countries over who is responsible.

An ancient city hidden for centuries beneath dense forest on the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, Cambodia, has been rediscovered using airborne laser technology.

In the news archive index