Monday, October 10, 2016


Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Penguin Random House: 10/11/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780804141291

As part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, William Shakespeare's The Tempest is retold in Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. It is very highly recommended.

Felix Phillips was the acclaimed and creative Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival until he was forced out of his position by his scheming and conniving second-in-command, Tony Price. After his ignoble exit, he goes into a self-imposed exile, living in a remote shack. After twelve years pass, Felix applies under the name of Mr. Duke for the position of a teacher in the Literacy Through Literature program at the Fletcher County Correctional Institute. His one requirement is that he be allowed to use Shakespeare's plays to teach and that he be allowed to have his students/inmates put on the play. His class becomes wildly popular and highly successful in increasing literacy among the participants.

When he learns that his nemesis Tony and the other bigwigs that ousted him from the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival will be visiting the Fletcher County Correctional Institute with the intent of ending the Literacy Through Literature program, Felix has another end game in mind. They don't know he is the one teaching the program as they only know him as Mr. Duke. This is Felix's chance to put on a performance of The Tempest, the play he was planning to direct before Tony had him removed from his position.

The narrative is a parallel to the play as Atwood uses her characters to retell The Tempest while also having the inmates perform their version of the play. The results are simply amazing. The vengeance, magic, spirits, etc. are all there, but the prisoners are allowed to rewrite sections to make their performance based on a more contemporary version. This Tempest has the re-writing of the play featuring rapping  - and Ariel is no ethereal fairy. The inmates are also only allowed to swear using Shakespearean swear words found in the original.

I am delighted with this fourth addition to the Hogarth series. Atwood's narrative is wonderfully inventive and compelling. Don't expect boring or tell yourself that you aren't interested in a re-imagining of Shakespeare. This is a thoroughly modern take on the plot and a man seeking revenge. A synopsis of Shakespeare's original plot in The Tempest is found at the conclusion of Hag-Seed for those who are interested or need some refreshing of their memory. 

Atwood is, as always, brilliant. I am a dedicated fan of her writing anyway, but Hag-Seed is clever, humorous, and a marvelously complete, original retelling of the play. The Hogarth series has featured Jeanette Winterson's The Gap of Time (The Winter's Tale), Howard Jacobson's Shylock is My Name (The Merchant of Venice), Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew), and  Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed (The Tempest). I highly recommended Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl, but for me, Atwood's
Hag-Seed was a more successful adaptation. I am anxious to read the first two books in the Hogarth series and I'm planning to read each new adaptation as soon as possible.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

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