Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold

Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold

Our book group choice for March 2017 is Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood. Hag-Seed is a re-visiting of Shakespeare’s play of magic and illusion, The Tempest, and will be the fourth novel in the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

The Tempest is set on a remote island full of strange noises and creatures. Here, Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, plots to restore the fortunes of his daughter Miranda by using magic and illusion — starting with a storm that will bring Antonio, his treacherous brother, to him. All Prospero, the great sorcerer, needs to do is watch as the action he has set in train unfolds.

In Margaret Atwood’s ‘novel take’ on Shakespeare’s original, theatre director Felix has been unceremoniously ousted from his role as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival. When he lands a job teaching theatre in a prison, the possibility of revenge presents itself – and his cast find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever.

Discussion Questions Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold

  1. In the original Tempest, Prospero was a magician, and a stage impresario of sorts: he “directs” a storm to strand his rivals on the island. He also stages artifice by arranging a play within a play and manipulating Ferdinand to fall in love with Miranda. In Atwood’s version, how does Felix parallel the “role” of Prospero? How is he, as an impresario, similar to Prospero? How does he differ?
  2. What is the root cause of Felix’s almost maniacal revenge?
  3. How do Felix and his inmate-actors work together to shap the play and further Felix’s plot? Talk about the way in which the director and cast make use of the scant resources offered by the prison.
  4. Critics have long referred to The Tempest as “self-referential,” that within the play Shakespeare sometimes winks at the audience. He revels in the power of the playwright and actors to create a false reality that reflects and enlarges the true reality of his audience. In what way is Hag-Seed self-referential?
  5. What do you think of the ending? Some find it a little too neat and others over-the-top. What do you think?

Individual Comments

DKB’s Rating: This was an imaginative tale which was enjoyable and cleverly done but ultimately I found the characters not quite believable.

DKB's Rating ★★½☆☆