Sunday, July 22, 2007

Royal Shakespeare Company to present Atwood's Penelopiad


"To say that the world’s great myths are a little male-centric is rather like saying that Vlad the Impaler was a bit of a lad. If women get any mention at all in Ancient Greek, Roman or Norse mythology, they are usually there to be ravished, kidnapped or dumped by the “heroes” of the stories.

Well, that’s about to change. After nearly 3,000 years, Homer’s great epic The Odyssey has had a sardonic feminist makeover. Next week the Royal Shakespeare Company premieres The Penelopiad. It retells the story of Odysseus’s 20-year wanderings after the Trojan War from the point of view of his wife Penelope, waiting chastely and patiently (or, in this version, not so chastely and patiently) back in Ithaca. Also given a long-overdue “right of reply” are her 12 handmaidens, whom – in the original Homer – Odysseus hangs shortly after dispatching Penelope’s suitors with a few well-aimed arrows.

That the author of this revisionist drama is Margaret Atwood won’t surprise anyone familiar with the Canadian writer’s work. Her bestselling The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, was a savage satire about a totalitarian state run by religious zealots who deprive women of education, property and the right to say no. The Penelopiad (which came out as a novel two years ago) is no less provocative. Penelope and her murdered maids emerge from the grave to retell the story with all the bitterness of women who have been brooding on ancient wrongs for three millennia."