“Hag-Seed” by Margaret Atwood

 

28588073

 

Pages:  256

 

Expected Publication Date:  October 11, 2016

 

 

 

“the island is a theatre.  Prospero is a director.  He’s putting on a play, within which there’s another play.  If his magic holds and his play is successful, he’ll get his heart’s desire.  But if he fails…”

This is a marvelous re-telling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”  It is a tale of prisons within prisons, of prisoners who do not realize they’re imprisoned, of vengeance and revenge.  The most beautiful part of this book is that it is prisoners who are putting on the play and their thoughts on the characters, plot and imagined future outcomes are all explored.  Margaret Atwood’s retelling, in effect, goes deeper than the original.  I, as the reader, was left amazed at how well all the intricacies of plot worked out to mirror the original work in such a way that it actually took the plot further, creating a doubling effect:  a play within a play (maybe within another play).  It feels genius as you read it, and further intensifies the prisons within prisons theme.

This is fourth installment of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which excellent writers are tackling retellings of Shakespeare’s literature.  “The Tempest” is the last written work of William Shakespeare, written in 1610-1611.  I plan to re-read “The Tempest” and rewrite this review (or at least rethink it).  I am that inspired by this novel.

There were a couple fairly major departures from the novel.  The largest being that, Miranda, Felix’s daughter in Atwood’s version has died at the age of 3, however Felix imagines he still sees her and she is there with him until the end of the novel when he is able to release her.  I actually think this brings an additional element of fantasy to the novel, a hint of madness to the sorcerer.  She actually becomes entwined into the role of the fairy as enacted in the prison.  It also allows for another level of imprisonment.

This version does not take place on an island, but Felix (Prospero) banishes himself to a remote area living in a shack with landlords that maybe never were.  It is all very mysterious.  He lives in seclusion for twelve years prior to taking the job at the prison where through a literacy program he and the inmates re-enact Shakespeare plays.  It is here at the correctional facility that “The Tempest” is re-enacted in more ways than one with the outcome that Felix desires, the overthrowing of Antonio who had taken away his theater directorship.

The work that Felix does at the correctional facility feels magical.  The relationship he develops with the inmates and the enthusiasm and interest they show for working on the plays seems incredible.  As quoted from Felix within the novel, “Maybe the island really is magic.  Maybe it’s a kind of mirror:  each one sees in it a reflection of his inner self.  Maybe it brings out who you really are.   Maybe it’s a place where you’re supposed to learn something.  But what is each one of these people supposed to learn?  And do they learn it?”  This seems to be exactly what is happening within Felix’s theater in the prison.

This is a novel full of modern day wit, whimsy, vigor.  Margaret Atwood infuses rap, dance, old world swearing, and much self discovery into the prisoner’s re-enactment.  It is super fun to read, yet has its dark melancholic side in true Atwood form, and can be dissected in so many ways.  The prisoners each have their own interpretations of the characters and their expected outcomes, which is true of all great literature.    I highly recommend this to Shakespeare fans or just fans of great literature!  This is Atwood at her best!  images

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Discuss the theme of prisons and how it relates to the theme of the play/novel.
  2. How do you feel about the doubling effect this retelling has on the original?
  3. Discuss the modernization of the play within the prison setting with rewriting and song/rap and dance.  How is this true to the original and how does it differ?
  4. Discuss the role of magic and fantasy in the original “The Tempest” and in Atwood’s retelling.  How do drugs help in the retelling?
  5. Why do you think she titled the novel “Hag-Seed?”
  6. Discuss the role of Caliban?  In what way is Caliban, “this thing of darkness” in some sense Prospero’s?
  7. Felix tells his class that there were 9 prisons within Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”  How many prisons can you count within this novel?  Can you make a list of prisoner/prison/jailer?
  8. What is music used for within this novel?
  9. What is magic used for?
  10. Who are the monsters?
  11. Who wants revenge and why?

 

Review of Hag-Seed from “The Scotsman”

Margaret Atwood’s website

5 thoughts on ““Hag-Seed” by Margaret Atwood”

  1. I enjoyed reading this. I thought that Felix’s feeling that the ghost of his 3-year-old Miranda was still around was part of the magic, and so didn’t mention it in my review, lest it spoil the way anything works for another reader.

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