By Margaret Atwwod
Penguin Random House | Hogarth
Release Date: October 11, 2016
“The Tempest is a play about a man producing a play – one that comes out of his own head…”; and ‘Hag-Seed’ is a novel about Felix Phillips, the former artistic director of the Makeshewig Theater Festival, who finally gets to mount a production ofThe Tempest, albeit with the Fletcher Correctional Players instead of a professional acting company. Felix is also using the play to enact his own real-life drama of revenge. Atwood constructs an interesting meta form: The novel is the re-telling of The Tempest; The director has the players re-write Shakespeare’s Comedy; and the director himself is living out an alternate version… Depending on how involved the reader is in the novel, it could be argued that Atwood has added another layer into the story by capturing the reader as the audience.
Atwood uses this re-telling as exposition of her own understanding of the play; and cleverly up-cycles the Bard’s material both in structure and content. Felix becomes the avatar for Atwood’s research, teaching a class about the play to the would-be actors and the readers of the novel too. The FCP’s re-constructed Tempest raps out lines from the play and re-interprets the figures into modern understanding. The book itself is set up into five parts, mirroring the five acts of Shakespeare’s play.
If there is to be any quibble, it is only this: There is no magic. The original play contains mostly unlikable characters. With the exception of Ariel and Gonzalo, they are best described as manipulative, incredibly naive, homicidal, rapacious, scheming, lying… The appeal of much of the play are the spells that Prospero casts, casting illusions on epic scale. With ‘Hag-Seed’, that magic is reduced to special effects, which shears off the glamour of the story.
The novel is well executed and deserving of study alongside the Classic play, especially in discussions about modern or contemporary relevance and revisionist Shakespeare.
OTHER: I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of Hag-Seed (by Margaret Atwood) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.