Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Penguin Random House: 10/11/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
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
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.
My advanced reading copy was courtesy
of the publisher/author.