(Atwood’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/24.)
Whenever people ask me that inevitable question, “Who’s your favourite author?” I always say “Shakespeare”. There are some good reasons for that. First, so much of what we know about plots, characters, the stage, fairies and inventive swearwords comes from Shakespeare. Second, if you name a living author the other living authors will be mad at you because it isn’t them, but Shakespeare is conveniently dead.
Third, Shakespeare refuses to be boxed in. Not only do we know very little about what he really thought, felt and believed, but the plays themselves are elusive. Just when you think you’ve got a meaning nailed down, your interpretation melts like jelly and you’re left scratching your head. Maybe he’s deep, very deep. Or maybe he didn’t have a continuity editor. And Shakespeare will never turn up on a talkshow and be asked to explain himself, the lucky devil.
Shakespeare is infinitely interpretable. We’ve had a fascist Richard III, we’ve had a Canadian First Nations Macbeth, we’ve had a Tempest with a female Prospero called Prospera, starring Helen Mirren. In the 18th century they had a Tempestopera, which used only a third of Shakespeare’s original text. Caliban had a sister called Sycorax, Miranda had a sister called Dorinda, and there was an extra young man so Dorinda would have someone to marry.