by Margaret Atwood
Reviewed by SA
I love Shakespeare. I love Margaret Atwood. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect for these two worlds to collide, but they have, and everything is right with the world. If I had to describe Hag-Seed in a word, it would be: Fun. Maybe delightful. In any case, it’s the Tempest you never knew you needed, so pick it up ASAP.
When Felix is deposed as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival by his devious assistant and longtime enemy, his production of The Tempest is canceled and he is heartbroken. Reduced to a life of exile in rural southern Ontario—accompanied only by his fantasy daughter, Miranda, who died twelve years ago—Felix devises a plan for retribution.
Eventually he takes a job teaching Literacy Through Theatre to the prisoners at the nearby Burgess Correctional Institution, and is making a modest success of it when an auspicious star places his enemies within his reach. With the help of their own interpretations, digital effects, and the talents of a professional actress and choreographer, the Burgess Correctional Players prepare to video their Tempest. Not surprisingly, they view Caliban as the character with whom they have the most in common. However, Felix has another twist in mind, and his enemies are about to find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever. But how will Felix deal with his invisible Miranda’s decision to take a part in the play?
When Felix is betrayed by the devious Tony and kicked out of being Artistic director for a theatre festival, he exiles himself to a shack in the middle of nowhere and begins plotting his revenge. He is accompanied only by the illusion of his dead daughter, whom he sees still living and growing up at his side.
Years go by, and he is hired by a local correctional facility to teach a literature class to inmates. But he does much more than that: he puts on plays. Shakespeare plays, to be exact. And finally, his time for revenge is upon him, and everything is falling into place. Felix will stop at nothing to get his title back.
What’s fantastic about Hag-Seed is how it’s at the same time a retelling of a Shakespeare play, WHILE at the same time being a book about a shakespeare play. And they put on a play within a play as part of the revenge plot. Confused yet? Well, the book itself is clear as crystal, a fun read that might twist your mind with its layers – think Shakespeareception – while ultimately making you smile.
I had a fun time trying to match things from Hag-Seed with the Tempest. It’s great how Miranda, Felix’s daughter, isn’t the miranda from the Tempest, at least, not all the time. Sometimes the connections aren’t immediately evident. Just as Felix modernizes and interprets some of the elements in the Tempest, Atwood does as well, and they invite us to join along and make our own version of events.
I kept expecting something awful to happen, and yet, it didn’t. I loved how the convicts interpreted the characters of the Tempest. I loved the swearing with insults from the Tempest. I loved how they studied the play, and allowed us to be a part of it at the same time. (English teachers are going to have a fun time with this one!) it was just. so. fun.
So if you love Shakespeare – or just haven’t made up your mind about him yet – then pick up this amazing book.