Reimagining the Bard: the power of second chances
Jeanette Winterson’s new novel is the first in a series from Hogarth Press in which contemporary authors reimagine plays by Shakespeare.
Winterson describes The Gap of Time as a “cover version” of The Winter’s Tale, transposed from the play’s fantasy world into contemporary London and the fictional US city of New Bohemia — which looks a lot like New Orleans.
Shakespeare’s King Leontes becomes Leo Kaiser, an unscrupulous hedge fund manager who convinces himself his pregnant wife, Mimi, is having an affair with his best friend, Xeno, and the child she carries is Xeno’s.
Winterson convincingly amplifies the erotic element of the friendship between the two men. In her version, Leo and Xeno were lovers at boarding school, and Leo still carries an unacknowledged torch for his friend. Mimi and Xeno are a little in love with one another as well.
It is a tragic love triangle of sorts, although vastly more complex and subtle than Leo’s pornographic fantasies of adultery.
Tragedy ensues as Leo gives himself over to rage and revenge, brutalising Mimi and coming close to killing Xeno, before kidnapping his baby daughter, arranging for her to be delivered to the man he believes to be her father. But fate intervenes, the baby is abandoned, and 16 years pass before she learns the secret of her origins.
Readers who know Shakespeare’s play will see how closely the novel cleaves to the original plot, with all its outrageous coincidences, and its cast of characters including the scoundrel Autolycus, who becomes (naturally) a used-car salesman, trying to flog a clapped-out DeLorean. For those less familiar, Winterson provides a brusque summary at the start of the book. This all seemed at first to have an overly didactic aspect, and to dilute the extent to which the novel might stand as an independent work in its own right. But reading on, the book convinced me not all adaptations have this goal. Winterson’s novel seems to want to exist in intimate, self-conscious conversation with the original.
The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s late romances and reprises themes and motifs from earlier plays, most notably Othello, in its study of the murderous potential of masculine jealousy. But there are noticeable differences, too.
The Winter’s Tale celebrates the power of second chances: the chance for a do-over, an opportunity to make comedy out of tragedy, revision as redemption. Time is mobile, flexible,