Author: Margaret Atwood
Page Count: 239
Publication Date: 2016
Category/Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Retellings, Contemporary
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.86)
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4)
Hag-Seed is a re-visiting of Shakespeare’s play of magic and illusion, The Tempest, and will be the fourth novel in the Hogarth Shakespeare series.
The Tempest is set on a remote island full of strange noises and creatures. Here, Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, plots to restore the fortunes of his daughter Miranda by using magic and illusion — starting with a storm that will bring Antonio, his treacherous brother, to him. All Prospero, the great sorcerer, needs to do is watch as the action he has set in train unfolds.
In Margaret Atwood’s ‘novel take’ on Shakespeare’s original, theatre director Felix has been unceremoniously ousted from his role as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival. When he lands a job teaching theatre in a prison, the possibility of revenge presents itself – and his cast finds themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever.
There’s a lot of Shakespearean swearing in this new Tempest adventure…but also a mischief, curiosity, and vigor that’s entirely Atwood and is sure to delight her fans.
The Hogarth Shakespeare Project’ commissions renowned writers to retell and modernize Shakespeare’s works. The famed poet, playwright, actor wrote some truly brilliant narratives that are timeless, but all too often are left behind in the classrooms, with the masses feeling they are inaccessible or complex.
Atwood’s re-imagining of The Tempest in a modern setting was cleverly constructed with wry intellect, dry wit, and satire. She is a master craftsman at weaving the original themes into the characters and plot.
Felix is the Artistic Director of the Makeshiwig Theater Festival who has been known to have some pretty outlandish interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays, driving much positive and negative feedback from critics and peers throughout his career. Just as Felix is about to bring to life The Tempest, his life and career are thrown into disarray at the hands of treachery and deceit.
“What to do with such a sorrow? It was like an enormous black cloud boiling up over the horizon. No: it was like a blizzard. No: it was like nothing he could put into language. He couldn’t face it head-on. He had to transform it, or at the very least enclose it.”
Outcasted and in isolation for years, his need to avenge himself festers inside of his heart and mind until an opportunity arrives in the form of a teaching position at a nearby prison, Fletcher County Correctional Institute. It is here, in the unlikeliest, yet completely perfect settings, that Felix stages his rendition of The Tempest and exacts his revenge on those that caused his downfall.
As when life imitates art, Felix takes on the role of Prospero in real life and in the play that he is intent on carrying out at Fletcher County Correctional Institute just as Prospero went about staging a play for revenge in The Tempest.
Atwood’s crafting of the plot is undoubtedly clever, intensifying the prisons within prisons theme by taking the story and play to a prison setting.
Filled with magic and fantasy, revenge and hatred Atwood’s retelling is original and humorous as well as delightful. Where else will you get rap songs, stuffed animal cloaks and non-violent criminals vying for Shakespearean roles and cigarettes?
You don’t need to put off reading this book if you haven’t read or don’t remember The Tempest. Atwood tells you enough about the play to explain the context and there is a synopsis of the original at the end of the book that you can use as reference points or as a refresher beforehand.