Thursday, June 8, 2017

Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed, Retelling Shakespeare's The Tempest

Margaret Atwood's bestselling novel Hag-Seed is now out in paperback. It is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, in which contemporary novelists reimagine the classic plays for a new age.

The brilliant, original, artistic director Felix was about to direct The Tempest when he was disposed from his job by self-seeking men. He retreats to an isolated primitive cabin, his only companion his sensing of the presence of his deceased daughter Miranda.

After many years he takes a job under a false name and becomes Mr. Duke, literacy teacher in a local prison, teaching inmates Shakespeare through performance of the plays.

When Felix learns his old enemies are now Ministers who want to end the prison literacy program he decides the time has come for him to take his revenge. The Ministers come to the prison to see a video of The Tempest performed by the inmates. But Felix and his prisoner actors plot a live theater experience that will bring his enemies under his power.

I loved the play within a play structure, so Shakespearean. The intricate structure of the novel knocked my socks off.

The prisoners become essential characters. Hag-Seed, a Shakespearean curse, is their name for Caliban, and the actor playing Caliban writes his own lines:

My name's Caliban, got scales and long nails,I smell like a fish and not a man--But my other name's Hag-Seed, or that what he call me;He call me a lotta names, he play me a lotta games:He call me a poison, a filth, a slave,He prison me up to make me behave,But I'm Hag-Seed!
"The last three words in the play are 'set me free'," says Felix." Felix has identified nine prisons within the play, and so we understand how Atwood conceived of Hag-Seed.

I received a free book through Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Hag-Seed
Margaret Atwood
Hogarth Shakespeare
$15 paperback
ISBN: 978-0-8041-4131-4