Hag-Seed (Book Review)

Margaret Atwood rewrites Shakespeare’s The Tempest in a Prison Theater Class

Hag-Seed, published in 2016 is acclaimed writer Margaret Atwood’s latest book. The book is a retelling of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. It’s creatively wound into a play-within-a-play-within-a-novel, and, maybe there’s even another play within a play that I missed on first reading.

The story centers around the experience of a famous play director, Felix, who loses his wife and his daughter, then his career is seemingly stolen out of his hands by someone he thought a friend. Felix, now a shamed director, goes into hiding, living a creepy solitary experience where he routinely talks to his dead daughter and really no one else. Finally, after a decade of exile, he decides he should get a job.

The job he lands is a drama teacher at the local prison. He doesn’t know why he takes the job initially, but he has faith that it is leading him toward some kind of justice (or vengeance?) He likes his job at the correctional facility, and puts on Shakespeare plays yearly with the inmates.

As he walks through security on a daily basis to make it to his job, the guards laugh at having to do a security check on an elderly, seemingly naive man.

“It’s the words that should concern you… That’s the real danger. Words don’t show up on scanners,” Felix thinks as he walks through security.

Though the novel is a little far fetched, I think this might have been what Atwood was going for when she wrote it. Since the novel’s story line borrows themes from The Tempest, Atwood is allowed the liberties of extravagant drama that Shakespeare was allowed. A lot of the things that happen in the novel probably wouldn’t really happen in real life, but maybe those exaggerations are there to highlight the absurdity of the realities also present in the novel.

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