Hi everyone! I’m back with another Hogarth Shakespeare review. This time it is Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood which is a modern retelling of the Bard’s final play, The Tempest. The novel is set in Canada and our protagonist is Felix Phillips, the Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival. However, before he is able to stage his production of The Tempest he is usurped by his right-hand man, Tony Price. Retreating to a hovel in the middle of nowhere, Felix yearns for revenge. Finally he spots an opportunity; teaching the ‘Literacy through Literature’ programme at Fletcher Correctional Institute. He can put on his play at last, and wreck vengeance on his enemies. But will he succeed?
I really enjoyed the novel. I have seen The Tempest live, as well as watched film versions, and Hag-Seed might be one of my favourite adaptations. I think Atwood really captures the essence of the play and the characters. Watching the rise and fall of Felix (and his attempt to rise again) was fascinating. He was such a complex character. At times I was very emotional and really rooting for him, yet he still had flaws. The moments where Felix reflects on his late family and his imagining his daughter with him was especially poignant. But you quickly realise he was far too caught up in his work to notice his daughter’s health, and ultimately didn’t see the error of his ways until it was too late. Felix was very human and his story arc was a delight to read.
I also equally loved reading about the inmates that would become Felix’s cast and crew. At first I thought it might be a bit confusing, that the names might all bleed into one and they would be a homogeneous group. That’s not the case. I think they were all given such distinct personality traits and different voices that all the actors were unique. My favourites were 8Handz (who plays Ariel in the play) and Leggs (who plays Caliban). I loved the discussions they had with Felix, especially in relation to their characters. As Ariel and Caliban are my favourites from The Tempest anyway, I found the conclusions the characters came to fascinating. Atwood had to juggle a lot of very different voices but she does so successfully.
The humour in Hag-Seed was well done. I always liked the comedic elements in The Tempest as it helped the storyline from becoming incredibly grim and depressing. Atwood’s wit shines through here, and there were a few one-liners and observations that made me smile. The comedic and dramatic elements blended together well, with Felix finding something amusing even in the darkest of times. His attempts to encourage his actors to play Ariel, despite their reluctance to be seen as a ‘fairy’ was particularly memorable.
Overall Hag-Seed is an excellent novel, working as an adaptation of The Tempest and a standalone piece of work. I don’t think you need to have read or seen the play before reading the novel. There’s a handy synopsis of the original at the back in case you wanted to know more though! The characters were well-written and the blend of humour and drama was perfectly judged in Atwood’s brave new world. I would really recommend picking up Hag-Seed, Shakespeare fan or not.
Hag-Seed is published by Vintage as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series. More information can be found here.