Hag-Seed ~ Margaret Atwood

This is one of the Hogarth Shakespeare project’s books, a series of fiction books based on the works of Shakespeare. Others include Macbeth by Jo Nesbo, The Winter’s Tale by Jeanette Winterson and Hamlet by Gillian Flynn.

Felix Phillips is a middle-aged theatre director and actor, who was staging a cutting edge version of ‘The Tempest’ after the deaths of his wife and daughter, when he was ousted by one of his underlings. Felix retreats to lick his wounds and spends years planning his revenge. While living in seclusion, he starts to imagine the ghost of his dead daughter. In this way he himself is unknowingly acting out the role of Prospero.

He eventually starts work as the director of a prisoner rehabilitation drama group, The Fletcher Correctional Players. He decides to put on a performance of ‘The Tempest’

I loved the way that parts of the play were woven in as modern day alternatives, such as people being drugged instead of being sent into an enchanted sleep as in the original. Some of the speeches were rewritten as rap and were very funny.

One thing that gave a new viewpoint onto the characters was the way that each of the teams of convicts are asked to tell what happened to their characters next. Some truly surprising outcomes came out of this exercise.

While the concept of rewriting Shakespeare as modern fiction might sound rather worthy, Atwood’s book is as entertaining as it is clever. It makes cunning use of the play with a play scenario that is so often used in Shakespeare’s plays.