Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

When I was 15,  I used my hard-earned babysitting money to buy a ticket to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform The Tempest at the Roper in Norfolk, and went to see it all by myself. I'm also a huge fan of Margaret Atwood, so when I heard she was re-imagining The Tempest as part   of the Hogarth Shakespeare collection, it was immediately added to my to-read list.

In Hag-Seed, Felix, a director of a small-town theatre festival, has been unceremoniously dismissed from his position, soon after losing his three-year-old daughter, Miranda.  He moves to the small cabin in the woods and lives as a hermit for years.  When he is offered a job teaching literacy in a prison, he jumps at the opportunity to start over with a new name.

In the prison, he forms Fletcher Correctional Players -- a "literacy" class where the students/inmates learn writing skills by reading, analyzing, and finally acting in Shakespeare plays.  When he finds out that an old rival from the theatre festival, now a politician, is going to come see their end of term production, he comes up with a plan for vengeance.

The plot loosely follows that of The Tempest, while an actual production of the play itself is a major plot point, making for a very meta re-telling, and Atwood deftly reveals just enough of Felix's plan to keep the reader turning pages until the very end.

If you enjoy Hag-Seed, I definitely recommend Margaret Atwood's retelling of the Odyssey, The Penelopiad.  For more Shakespearean retellings, the Hogarth Shakespeare series also includes Jeanette Winterson's The Gap of Time, Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl, Howard Jacobson's Shylock is My Name, more are forthcoming (including a Gillian Flynn retelling of Hamlet).  Want to read retellings of other classic works of literature, check out Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (Pride and Prejudice) and Re Jane by Patricia Park (Jane Eyre).

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