Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book
Rate this book
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?

301 pages, Hardcover

First published October 6, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Margaret Atwood

573 books79.2k followers
Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid's Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood's dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth ­ in the Massey series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood's work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.

Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

Associations: Margaret Atwood was President of the Writers' Union of Canada from May 1981 to May 1982, and was President of International P.E.N., Canadian Centre (English Speaking) from 1984-1986. She and Graeme Gibson are the Joint Honourary Presidents of the Rare Bird Society within BirdLife International. Ms. Atwood is also a current Vice-President of PEN International.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
8,387 (24%)
4 stars
14,758 (42%)
3 stars
9,073 (25%)
2 stars
2,173 (6%)
1 star
507 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,857 reviews
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
October 8, 2018
The Tempest is my favourite Shakespeare play.

I’ve read it dozens of times and watched various versions of it over the years. Unfortunately, I’ve not seen it live yet. One day I’ll see it live at Shakespeare's Globe in London. There’s so much to take from this play, and Atwood’s interpretation completely blew my mind. The way she took one of the lines made me consider this in a completely new light.

“This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine”

Caliban, the seed of the Hag, could be Prospero’s son?

How interesting, I’ve never even considered this before! There’s a very convincing, though of course inconclusive, argument made by one of the characters in here to suggest this.

But I digress. This is far from the main point. This book is about a man called Felix, and he was the artistic director of a major theatre house until his assistant betrayed him and orchestrated a coup leaving Felix stranded in isolation. Sound familiar? Felix is our Prospero and he wants some revenge. So many years after he is disgraced he gets his opportunity. He stages his own version of The Tempest, using prison inmates that he teaches, to get back at those that wronged him. It is marvellously clever. He takes on the role of Prospero in the play, and he also becomes him in his real life.

What does this tell us about the story? Shakespeare wrote some truly brilliant narratives, and they really are timeless. Here one has been used in a modern setting to tell us a story that has happened and will happen again. I hesitate to generalise, but one thing I’ve learnt from reading a fair bit of Shakespeare is that his characters are real. They could be real. They are easily to identify with and the stories they have are easily seen in later works and in people’s actual lives. The point is Shakespeare was a very perceptive man, across his body of work he captured much of the human condition.

So Atwood has recreated The Tempest here and it’s beautiful. She has crafted all the themes of the Tempest into the form of this man’s life. And, ironically, he knows he is living The Tempest. He starts to actually become like Prospero. He becomes unhinged and can only taste that singular bitter pill known as revenge; it is literally all that animates him and it almost drives him too far into the depths of obsessive despair, though he has the power to come back. We all do. Very much in the tradition of the play, Felix comes back to himself.

This really is a great piece of writing.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
September 18, 2016
I have now read three of the four re-imaginings of Shakespeare's plays and this is my favorite to date, by far. Atwood and I have had an on and off again relationship but here she has outdone herself. The Tempest, a sorry of magic and fantasy, revenge and hatred performed in a correctional institute, by non violent offenders, their stage manager Félix. Félix has known his share of heartbreak and loss, most recently betrayed by his assistant and ousted from a prominent position.

What Atwood has accomplished here is original, humorous, magical and absolutely delightful. She writes rap songs performed in the play, reimagines lines and characters, updates the dialogue and puts on a play, with a few surprises, that I would love to attend. The characters are amazing, lessons are learned and friendships are made. Absolutely brilliant in my estimation.

ARC from publisher.
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
701 reviews3,355 followers
May 24, 2017
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Felix is the Artistic Director of the Makeshiwig Theater Festival and a theatrical visionary whose outlandish re-imaginings of Shakespeare's plays have both baffled and awed critics. On the cusp of staging The Tempest, a play Felix intends to make his greatest work yet, an act of unforeseen treachery relieves him of his position and strips him of professional dignity. Twelve years later, after a need to avenge himself has metastasized in Felix's heart, revenge arrives in the form of a teaching position at a nearby prison, Fletcher County Correctional Institute, where Felix will at last stage The Tempest and ensnare the traitorous men who were the cause of his ruin.

How he has fallen. How deflated. How reduced. Cobbling together this bare existence, living in a hovel, ignored in a forgotten backwater; whereas Tony, that self-promoting, posturing little shit, gallivants about with the grandees, and swills champagne, and gobbles caviar and larks' tongues and suckling pigs, and attends galas, and basks in the adoration of his entourage, his flunkies, his toadies . . .
Once the toadies of Felix.
It rankles. It festers. It brews vengefulness.

Hag-Seed is a cleverly constructed, satirical retelling of The Tempest, executed through Felix and his band of convicted con men staging their own fanciful and strange retelling of the play. This overlap in storytelling succeeds in educating readers who have never seen the play, delighting those familiar with Shakespeare's tale of castaways stranded on a remote island plotting and scheming against one another, and being an on-the-nose representation of The Tempest.

"But The Tempest is a play about a man producing a play - one that's come out of his own head, his 'fancies' - so maybe the fault for which he needs to be pardoned is the play itself."

Felix's obsession with recreating The Tempest is about more than just revenge. His intentions are personal and rooted in grief, which adds depth to his motives and enriches the narrative. Felix wishes to memorialize his deceased daughter, Miranda (whose namesake is derived from the play).

This Tempest would be brilliant: the best thing he'd ever done. He had been - he realizes now - unhealthily obsessed with it. It was like the Taj Mahal, an ornate mausoleum raised in honor of a beloved shade, or a priceless jeweled casket containing ashes. But more than that, because inside the charmed bubble he was creating, his Miranda would live again.

The prison is the island where Felix will don his cape and conjure a scheme designed to raise him above his enemies, to position himself as ruler and deity, implementing justice and allotting punishment where reprimand is due. He never imagined he would educate cons in the slammer, but the inglorious prison is nevertheless where his scheme must unfold.

There's a click. The door unlocks and he walks into the warmth, and that unique smell. Unfresh paint, faint mildew, unloved food eaten in boredom, and the smell of dejection, the shoulders slumping down, the head bowed, the body caving in upon itself. A meager smell. Onion farts. Cold naked feet, damp towels, motherless years. The smell of misery, lying over everyone within like an enchantment.

After a flashbang intro and an amusing romp through Felix's machinations, the book reaches a satiating conclusion and offers a memorable closing line with meaning that resonates.

Good for a laugh, enchanting for its superlative writing, surprisingly tenderhearted and sublimely constructed, Hag-Seed is a ravishing literary parody.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
September 26, 2018
”Ban-ban Ca-Caliban,
Don’t need no master, I am not your man!
So stuff it up your hole, gimme back what you stole,
Tellin’ you it’s late, I’m fillin’ up with rage,
I’m gettin’ all set to go on a ram-page!
Ain’t gonna work for less than minimum wage---
Live in a shack and piss in a pail,
You earn yourself money by puttin’ me in jail!

You kick me in the head, you dump me in the snow,
Leave me there for dead,
‘Cause I’m nothin’ to you.
Ban, Ban, Ca-Caliban,
You think I’m an animal, not even a man!

Now Hag-Seed’s black and Hag-Seed’s brown,
Hag-seed’s red, don’t care if you frown,
Hag-Seed’s yellow and Hag-Seed’s trash white,
He goes by a lotta names, he’s roamin’ in the night,
You treated him bad, now he’s a sackful of fright,

 photo Caliban_zpszbg2tgsk.jpg
Djimon Hounsou plays Caliban in the wonderful 2010 movie of The Tempest, starring Helen Mirren as Prospero.

Felix is just too busy to notice. He has his head buried in his work, directing plays at the Makeshiweg Theatre. He has been doing it so long, with such success, that in theater circles, he is in fact a bit of a legend.

While he works, others plot.

He is caught in the clouds of his own dreams.

Well, until two large men from security appear, flanking his arch-nemesis (An)toni(o). Felix is frogged marched out to the alley, with a laughably small severance check and a few bags of belongings which are stuffed into his car by Burly #1 and Burly #2.

Just like that, he is deposed, usurped, overthrown, dethroned.

Felix decides that he needs to escape the city. Everything about the city just reminds him of the theater and his past glories. He finds a shack in the country, a hovel really, a cell. He tries to read all those Russian classics he always meant to read, but finds himself instead reading children books to his daughter Miranda.

Felix broods. He ponders. He grieves for his lost magic. He plots elaborate revenge scenarios. One thing he has learned from Shakespeare about revenge is that it is best served cold.

Get to know thy enemy.

”There was Felix, alone in his neglected corner reading the Google Alerts, and there were Tony and Sal, bustling about in the world, not suspecting that they had a shadower; a watcher, a waiter; an internet stalker.”

After many years of self-imposed exile Felix decides to apply for a job at a correctional facility teaching a literature course. He is, of course, grossly over qualified, but with a wink and a nudge at the Interviewer who recognized him, he was able to take the job under the name F. Duke.

His nod to Prospero who was the deposed Duke of Milan. He hoped to make his return from exile be Prospero’s escape, as well, from the dusty corners of Felix’s past frustrations. His plans to make The Tempest, cut down in infancy by his enemies, can now finally be realized. He throws out the curriculum at the correctional facility class and makes it all about Shakespeare.

Doomed to failure right? How can mostly uneducated, criminal minds get into Shakespeare?

Remember the pit at The Globe where the unwashed, the dregs, the petty criminals, and prostitutes filled the theater to capacity to watch Shakespeare’s plays? They were there to get away from their own lives for a couple of hours, but also to revel in the sword fights, the treachery, the intrigue, the ghosts, the magic, the star crossed love affairs, and the madness. Maybe they didn’t always catch all the higher ideal references that are sprinkled liberally among the tombstones, blood spilling, and flying spirits of Shakespeare’s plays, but the level of success Shake and Bake enjoyed attests to the fact that the mob as well as royalty and gentry enjoyed his productions.

 photo 43310eca3a86afdeebeed31d425b307e_zpspun02jby.jpg
Yo, Shakespeare, lay some words on me bro. Painting by Mathew McFarren.

Those incarcerated with the help of The Duke started to see Shakespeare for the badass dude he was. Literacy rates increased. The program because immensely popular. ”Watching the many faces watching their own faces as they pretended to be someone else---Felix found that strangely moving. For once in their lives, they loved themselves.”

With such a hugely successful program the government should be excited about duplicating what Felix is doing in every prison in the country, right? Erhhhh not exactly. ”In their announcement, they’re going to call it an indulgence, a raid on the taxpayer wallet, a pandering to the liberal elites, and a reward for criminality.” I know this is Canada, but they must have stolen their talking points from the Republican party in the United States. Justice is about punishment not rehabilitation. In their minds those who have crossed swords with the law don’t deserve the help they need to be something more than just ex-cons when they step out of prison.

And the politician with his cronies, who are coming to visit this program and see with their own eyes the overindulgence of these miscreants, is none other than Felix’s old friend Tony. As Felix dons the coat of many stuffed animals and transforms into Prospero can he set revenge aside to save the program or will all of his work just be a springboard to destroy his enemies?

 photo Margaret20Atwood_zpsfgzwqwmv.jpg
Doesn’t Margaret Atwood look capable of casting a spell or conjuring a tempest at will?

This is yet another great retelling of a classic in the Hogarth Shakespeare series. I would highly recommend reading The Tempest before reading this, but if not you can read the synopsis of The Tempest in the back pages of the Hag-Seed and that will give you an idea of how wonderfully Margaret Atwood has transformed the original into a heartwarming, brilliant new story. I could not put this book down. Highly recommended!!

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,363 followers
October 13, 2016
Oh dear. I think that Margaret Atwood and I are just not meant to be. With the exception of Cat's Eye, every time I read one of her books, I admire her cleverness -- her wry intellect and dry wit -- but I just can't connect. Hag Seed gave me the same experience all over again. Part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, Hag Seed is a modern retelling of The Tempest. It features Felix -- a fallen director from a thinly disguised Stratford Festival -- who plots his revenge through a staging of The Tempest at a jail where he teaches literacy through theatre. Felix's story mimics The Tempest, making this somewhat of a play within a play. It is undoubtedly clever. Besides the structure, Atwood builds in many humorous details, especially in the way the inmates reimagine The Tempest. And there's an element of surprise, because while we know revenge is on its way, the form it will take is only revealed at the end, with intended and unintended consequences. But I never really felt drawn in, awed or affected by Atwood's rendition of The Tempest. I felt like a distanced observer of a clever spectacle. I do expect this one will work for many readers. I just don't seem to be able to fall in step with Atwood's mind or sensibility. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews604 followers
September 7, 2016
After Felix, artistic director, of the Makeshiweg Festival, gets weaseled out of his job by Tony, his under-cutting 'right-hand-man' ...he moves off grid
into a hillside dwelling - an old rustic small shack with cobwebs, a smelly outhouse, surrounded by weeds. He tidied up the inside space --but
"despite his pathetic attempts at domesticity, he slept restlessly and woke often".

Both Felix's wife and child are deceased. He lived with grief, yet when Felix was the artistic director of the very reputable theatre company, which slime ball Tony is now, it was Felix's memory of his 3 year old daughter, Miranda, who had recently died of meningitis, that gave him purpose in directing
"The Tempest". ---which he never got to finish - being rushed out quickly.

So...now Felix has disappeared quite successfully. The sorrow of the loss of his daughter is intensifying. He'd tries to stay busy...goes to the library, buys something at the hardware store just to hear the sound of an ordinary human voice.
Felix begins to wonder what's happening to him.
"Had he begun to shamble? Was he regarded as a harmless local eccentric? Was he subject of tittle-tattle, or did anyone notice him at all? Did he even care?"
"The silence began to get to him. Not silence exactly. The bird songs, the chirping chirping of the crickets, the wind in the trees. The flies, buzzing so contrapuntally in his outhouse. Melodious. Soothing."

So, what did Felix want? What did he care about? What was his purpose now?
After spending reprehensible amounts of time sitting in the shade in an old chair he got from a garage sale staring into space....
He's clear he needs a focus and purpose. Eventually he concluded there were two things left for him to do - "two projects that could still hold satisfaction".
"First, he needed to get his, 'TEMPEST' back. He had to stage it, somehow, somewhere. His reasons were beyond theatrical; they had nothing to do with his reputation, his career – –none of that. Quite simply, his Miranda must be released from her glass coffin; she must be given a life".
"Second, he wanted revenge. He longed for it. He daydreamed about it. Tony and Sal must suffer. His present woeful situation was their doing, or a lot of it was. They treated him shabbily".

He realizes that as Felix Phillips - he's a washed up 'has-been' ....but as Mr. Duke, he might have a chance.
It's been 12 years since he worked for Makeshiweg. His new stage takes place inside a
prison:."The Fletcher County Correctional Institute in Ontario".
A low profile job- engaging with people -getting back in the real world: BRILLIANT!
Nothing better to help mend grief and grievances than to bring Shakespeare to prisoners! WHAT's NOT TO LOVE? The job came his way through a teacher in the
Literacy Through Literature program.

The woman who hired Felix was worried - worried that the prisoners would not be able to handle Shakespeare, given that many of them could barely read. Felix's argument was that Shakespeare's actors were journeyman, and bricklayers, and that they never read whole plays themselves. They memorize their lines.
"I believe in hands-on", said Felix as authoritatively as he could".
"Hands-on what?" said Estelle, truly alarmed now. "you have to respect your personal space, you're not allowed to..."
"We'll be performing", said Felix.
"That's what I mean. We'll enacting the plays". They'll do assignments and write essays
and all that". I'll mark those. I suppose that's what's required".
"Estelle smiled. "you're very idealistic" she said "Essays?" I really..."
"Pieces of prose," said Felix. "About which ever play we're doing."
"You really think so?" said Estelle
"You could get them to do that?"
"Give me three weeks", said Felix".

Once inside the prison -- this story is TERRIFIC!!! Flex and the inmates enact modernized versions of Shakespeare, including 'The Tempest". At times hilarious--often charming....and NO PROFANITY ...NO SWEARING!!! ( well, these prisoners are criminals, so it's not a perfect science). They loose points if they use swear words not used in the script. The can't swear at any time if they are in discussion about the characters or themes of the play either - or points Off!!
"Back to the drawing board", SnakeEye adds.
"Suck it up, dickhead". says Anne-Marie, or you can make your own fuckin' goddesses plus no cookies".
Chuckles. "Swearing! Swearing! Points off"! says Leggs"

This book becomes a play within a play--Felix is out for revenge staging a play....
just as 'The Tempest', is about a man ( Propero), staging a play for revenge.
As I was expecting...but was still found inspiring, Felix has a positive effect on the prisoners.

Moving Along:
....Slime Ball Tony is now a politician in Canada and he and other VIPs
will be coming to see a video taped show of 'Mr. Duke's inmate project with intentions of doing away with the "Literacy Through Literature" program".
Estelle knows Mr. Duke is Felix Phillips....( she has kept Felix's secret for years and even added support of him with her own camouflage). As far as everyone else -to
Distinguished visitors-- Dr. Duke is just a broken down old geezer of a failed teacher.
Tony is going to have a rude awakening.
Let the revenge begin......or Felix might say he is simply "balancing the scales".

Wonderful - fun - funny - touching ( teary-eye at the very end) --Really touching!


Thank You Netgalley, Crown Publishing, and Margaret Atwood.

Profile Image for Fabian.
957 reviews1,623 followers
October 26, 2020
Put bluntly, Atwood's last two endevors have sa-hucked.

Yeah, this one's included. & here's why: the premise of "The Tempest Retold" is masterful with the prison standing in for the island and the master portrayed as a theater director--the temptation to bring a 400+ year work from the best English writer of all time into our contemporary one deserves much applause. And follow through. Instead, we get almost exactly where we thought that all of this was going (this, despite never having read this Shakespearean play myself)--the prisoners that make up the players have no individual personalities, and sound rather too articulate. Where's the grit? There's zero plot involving what the prisoners would REALLY act like, given the chance to express themselves in art.

"Hag-Seed" has all the readability and high-ish literature you will ever likely find in a Margaret Atwood novel. But like "The Heart Goes Last", it seems she just rushed the ending. The plot ends prematurely, & the rest is this: lit appreciation. We get many points of view about what the whole play means, after the plot of the novel itself expires. Like... what?! I do not care to read transcripts from a creative writing/literature class in a work of fiction. Not in this format--the expected masterpiece that finally lets you down...
Profile Image for Baba.
3,619 reviews985 followers
April 26, 2022
Atwood. Seriously, need I say more? As part of the Hogarth Shakespeare retellings' series, Atwood gives us Hagseed. In a word...supercala-fraigilistic-espi-aladocious! The cream. There are books that can be said to have many levels - this is a multi story car park.

A genius writer produces a story of a deposed genius theatre director seeking revenge by directing a play (The Tempest) in a prison! Words. Cannot. Explain. Touching loss, getting old, politics, memory, feminism, prison reform and of all things - the power of art? Just how good this book is, with the Tempest being the core that holds the story together from the beginning to the beautiful third act where The Tempest is given its due. 10 out of 12.

Greatest. Living. Writer.

2019 read
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books967 followers
August 27, 2020
The Tempest is my favorite Shakespeare play and Atwood is a genius. I especially loved her re-telling of The Odyssey in The Penelopiad. Naturally I had to read this novel. Although it didn't quite meet my high expectations—it falls short of "brilliant"—it is entertaining and witty.

Unlike some books in this Hogarth series, Hag-Seed is more on the nose with its Shakespeare infusion. An acclaimed stage director is reduced to leading a cast of prison inmates in a production of The Tempest. Life imitates art, of course, and the adventure has an uncanny resemblance to the play.

It's a tried and true formula that Atwood does better than most, but I did not get the sense she had obsessed over the Tempest quite as much as she did The Odyssey for the Penelopiad. It reads like the old Wishbone episode of the Tempest, where the PBS dog weaves classic literature into the lives of teenagers. Atwood's weaving is often smart, but also generally unremarkable. Reading the novel as an entertainment piece—like Wishbone—and not astute literary commentary is the best way to enjoy the experience.

OVERALL: Flaws aside, Hag-Seed is great. I probably won't put it on my top shelf of Shakespeare-related literature, but the characters are compelling and when the revels end I did get sad, as if departing from dear friends. Thespians will recognize this emotion from how it feels to strike the set. The jail metaphor tying in to the isolation of island life is fitting and poignant. Whether you have a PhD in Shakespeare or are just a book nerd, there's a bit of jolly for everyone.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,178 followers
April 22, 2017
Old Hat, New Hat

It’s just over 400 years since Shakespeare’s death. How can we ensure his continued relevance?

The publisher’s answer was to commision a series of Shakespeare Retold novels. Atwood’s answer was to demonstrate exactly how to cultivate understanding of and enthusiasm for the Bard to modern and potentially unenthusiastic students: low-literacy prisoners.

Picture: “Do you have anything new by Shakespeare?”

Atwood has a clear agenda: Shakespeare was and is for everyone, literacy matters, and rehabilitation of criminals is possible. She is also anti-establishment (especially politicians), and has mixed feelings about pretentious theatricality.


Felix Phillips is the Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival, renowned for radical and very creative adaptations of the Bard. After losing his wife and then small daughter, he throws himself into staging his beloved Tempest, only to be sacked and replaced by a friend, in league with another friend and colleague. Felix retreats to an anonymous and solitary life, a hermit on a metaphorical island. A decade later, he takes on the running of a literacy and theatre course at a prison. In the fourth year, they do The Tempest. That production is the main story.

The book ends with new beginnings for some (but also shadows).
That strange mixture of nostalgia for the past mixed with joy for the future; the joy of others.

It helps if you’re familiar with Shakespeare’s original (though perhaps not if you adore it), but the story stands on its own, explaining parallels where necessary, and there is a plot summary at the back.

Triumvirate of Themes: Grief, Revenge, and Pedagogy

Although it repeatedly claims to be about revenge, it's at least as much about coping with grief, and about inspirational teaching.


Felix lost his wife as she gave birth to their daughter, Miranda (her name is no coincidence for Felix, or Atwood), who then died of meningitis when she was only three. He rattles off a list of lost daughters in Shakespeare, noting that some of them were found. Putting on The Tempest is not just a distraction, but “a kind of reincarnation… What he couldn’t have in life he might catch sight of through his art.” When that is taken away, he has nothing left. Grief drives him to the brink of madness, maybe over the edge. He is haunted by Miranda, and wants only two things: The Tempest, and revenge, though he makes little attempt to achieve either.

Felix has no Caliban or Ariel, and his Miranda is a ghostly memory of his little girl, ever-present, but aging with the passing years. She is more visible in twilight,
an intravenous drip… Just enough illusion to keep you alive.” “He never had to worry about her… She was beyond harm… It would have been a shock to her, to learn that she did not exist. Or not in the usual way.

Years later, he is finally able to cross the threshold of a toy shop, only because she would have been too old to be interested by then, “a world of damaged wishes, forlorn hopes… So bright, so shining, so out of reach for him.”


Felix monitors the careers of Tony and his fellow turncoat, Sal O’Nally, as they move from theatrical success, to political office.
He follows them through the vibrations of the Web, playing spider to their butterflies.

Although revenge is often mentioned, Felix seems more motivated by angry obsession - until an opportunity presents itself for him to conjure a tempest of his own. And then it all gets rather silly.


How to be a spectacular teacher. This was the most captivating (and unexpected) aspect for me. The book would be good for teachers of English lit and drama, and for their students, after they have read, seen, or performed the play.

It’s mostly set in a prison literacy class, where they do one Shakespeare play per course. Felix has no experience of teaching or prisons, but he’s very aware of who he is dealing with. He’s sensitive to possible anger and depression, and determined to make the daunting prospect of Shakespeare accessible, educational, and above all, enjoyable.

He picks plays that involve disputes and betrayal the men can relate to, where bad behaviour is (mostly) punished, and there are new beginnings for many: Julius Caesar, Richard III, and Macbeth. “It conjures up demons in order to exorcise them.” Adopting a stage name is a new beginning in itself.

Felix looks up the crimes of his students, but deliberately and consistently calls them “actors”, rather than “prisoners” or “inmates”. Before each course starts, he gives them a synopsis, with notes, character analysis, and glossary. In class, they can only swear using Shakespearean terms (hence the title, Hag-Seed, applied to Caliban, the witch’s child). They are encouraged to adapt the words, as long as they don’t change the plot (hence rap lyrics). The performances are recorded, scene-by-scene, and eventually broadcast as a single show on the prison CCTV.

Finally, they have to imagine what happens next for all the main characters. They have some radical ideas, well-argued (Could Prospero be Caliban’s father?), and wrestle with difficult questions (Is goodness always weak?).

The course is a huge success with the actors, the audience, and thus the authorities:
The limelight shone briefly and in an obscure corner, but it shone… For once in their lives, they loved themselves.

But conjuring enthusiasm for The Tempest, with fairies and no battles, is a much bigger challenge. Felix leads them to consider superhero and alien alternatives, and gives them the challenge of finding the nine instances of imprisonment in the text, giving prisoner, prison, and jailer for each (p125 and p274).

This aspect reminded me of other inspirational teachers, specifically, Hector, Irwin, and Mrs Lintott in Alan Bennett's The History Boys (which I reviewed HERE) and John Keating (Robin Williams) in Dead Poets Society .

Matryoshka Doll

The island is a theatre. Prospero is the director.” As are the the prison and Felix.

Stories-within-stories have always been around (The Tempest is one such), but there seems to be a current vogue for multi-layered tellings like this: a play, within a play, within a novel, whose characters have many parallels with those in the central play.

In fact, there are two versions of the central play, and even the “real” framing narrative is occasionally ambiguous about reality: .

Pairs and Parallels

A con man playing an actor. A double unreality.

The nesting of narratives makes the pairings and parallels more numerous and complex, especially between each actor and their role. For example, Felix’s life has many parallels with Prospero’s, and his Miranda has many facets, including a paternal relationship with the actress who plays Miranda. There are conceptual pairs, too: prison and freedom; punishment and education. Setting someone free can be just as liberating for the captor as captive.

Lots of scope for lessons there.

Shakespeare Retold Series

This is one of a series of contemporary novelisations commissioned by the Hogarth Press for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death in 2016:

The only other one I’ve read is Winterson’s retelling of The Winter’s Tale, The Gap of Time, which I reviewed HERE.


* “Felix the cloud-riding enchanter, Tony the earth-based factotum and gold-grubber.”

* “At the thought of it even his lungs blush.”

* Memories “Fading like an old Polaroid. Now she’s little more than an outline; an outline he fills with sadness.”

* “The cloak of his defeat, the dead husk of his frowned self.” Felix’s costume for Prospero, never worn at Makeshiweg, but safely stored in his wardrobe. When he eventually puts it on, it “is like stepping back into a shed skin; as if the coat is wearing him”.

* “It’s the words that should concern you” Felix thinks, as his bags are checked.

* “A glassy whispering: it’s the dead weed stalks that are sticking up through the drifts, glazed with ice, stirred by the wind. Tinkling like bells.”

* “That unique smell. Unfresh paint, faint mildew, unloved food eaten in boredom, and the smell of dejection… The smell of misery lying over everyone like an enchantment. But for brief moments he knows he can unbind that spell.”

* “Prospero is not crazy. Ariel exists… The enchantments are real. Trust the play… But is the play trustworthy?”

Atwood Doing “Satire”

I think Atwood had more fun writing this than I had reading it. It is a clever and carefully crafted book in many ways, with lots to think about, but it is also heavy-handed, banal (“Felix… drove out of the parking lot, into the rest of his life”), clichéd (lazy theatrical stereotypes), and plain over-the-top (Disney dolls, rap, aliens and superheroes, digital special effects).

18 months ago it was The Heart Goes Last (also partly set in a prison, and which I reviewed, 2* HERE), now this. Atwood doing satire/humour is not for me.

We are such stuff As dreams are made on

Shakespeare should have the final words, not Atwood, let alone me.

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
- Prospero, Act 4 Scene 1
Profile Image for Dolors.
540 reviews2,280 followers
August 13, 2017
A contemporary retelling of “The Tempest”, Atwood’s novel is part of Hogarth Shakespeare Series that celebrates the Bard’s 400th anniversary and, in my humble opinion, it more than succeeds in preserving his timeless, thought-provoking genius.
Instead of narrowing down the complexities of the original play, Atwood embraces them all, adding further layers of ambiguity that open up multiple levels of understanding of the plot and subplots, creating a play within a play in a Russian doll narrative structure.

Like in Shakespeare’s play, the shifting forces between forms of freedom and imprisonment are at the core of the story. Accordingly, Atwood sets the action in the Fletcher County Correctional Institute, an actual prison in Canada where a motley array of criminals play the parts of the famous characters directed by Felix Phillips, our Prospero and former acclaimed theatre director. Betrayed by his financial manager Tony, Felix has to wait for twelve years before he is ready to scheme a revenge that will harbor hilarious situations and heart-breaking moments seducing all kind of audiences, from the most skeptical to the less demanding reader.

Irreverently humorous, eclectic, and subtly mordant about the roles of institutions and politicians on prison policies and social reintegration, Atwood is at her best weaving wit, depth and teasing in this adaptation. The Bard’s fierce literacy blends naturally with the slang, modern language used by the inmates with a touch of impish glee that is most sparkling when Felix persuades the actors to use only curse words that are present in the original text in exchange for smuggled cigarettes. Improbable expressions like “Scurvy awesome”, “Way to red plague go” or “What the pied ninny is this” ensue, making all the convicts not only endearing but also irresistibly funny. An inventive tribute to the Bard that I bet he would have approved of.

In spite of the fast-paced, almost casual style of Atwood’s storytelling and the light-hearted teasing between the somewhat clichéd cast of characters nothing is only one way in “Hag-Seed”. Everything comes in layers of double and triple meaning. Felix is both victim and oppressor, masterful playwright and prisoner of his own text; the actors are potentially dangerous criminals but also dissenters in a corrupt, unfair system. The play itself, like the island or the prison, goes back and forth between illusion and truth, vengeance and forgiveness, confinement and liberating force, like a shifting reflection on a mirror that splits up the light rays into a prismatic rainbow.

The last chapters of the novel are climatic, but they also invite the reader to careful meditation. Atwood seems to be asking whether we can ever get free from the inner prisons we build for ourselves. Grief for his lost baby daughter shackles Felix for twelve years, but her Ariel-like spirit whispers to him amidst the vast oceans of time and possibility, making the implausible more real than reality itself. She seems to say that if you can suspend disbelief and allow the sprites and the goblins eavesdrop into your secret hopes and fears, the poison might slowly turn into sweet wine. But until when?
What ultimately differentiates the villain from the hero is the courage to let go of those you retain at your side, to gather enough stamina to set them free, to send them back to the elements, to the magic of timeless limbo; and bid them a well-meant farewell from our lonely shores, and keep on walking at a steady pace towards the place we belong.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,988 followers
September 23, 2018
This is my second experience with the Hogarth Shakespeare Series. My first try was Vinegar Girl (click for my review) which I did not care for very much. So, I went into this one with much trepedation, but hoping for the best!

I did enjoy Hag-Seed very much. I have both Shakespearean reasons and overall story reasons.

Shakespearean reasons: I don't know about the rest of you, but I think the original Shakespearean Tempest is quite weird and out there - I have never seen it, but I have read it twice and I am still not quite sure what is going on. So, when reading a retelling, the source material is obscure enough, the story can still be pretty out there and still be pretty good. With Vinegar Girl (a retelling of The Taming Of The Shrew) the expectations for the story line are much more straight forward. Not really any magic or supernatural activity - just a story with very specific details I have seen on stage several times and retold on the big screen. Vinegar Girl, in my opinion, was so off base from the originsl Shakespeare, I found it distracting (if it had not been specifically tied to Shakespeare as a retelling, I probably wouldn't have known it was!). With Hag-Seed, I felt like the chaos, plotting, revenge, etc. was told in a way the Bard himself would respect.

Overall story reasons: Man, this was fun! Crazy characters, twisty plots, clever dialogue, etc. etc. etc. I enjoyed pretty much every character and their overall role in the play. The rewritten rap songs were hilarious. I really, really wish I could see the play within the book that Atwood creates. Definitely a great job keeping me entertained!

I cannot say that this book is for everyone. If you have never been into Shakespeare, I would not really recommend it. Even if you are an Atwood fan but not a Shakespeare fan, I am not sure you would get much from this book. But, I could be wrong!
Profile Image for María.
144 reviews3,092 followers
July 6, 2018
Margaret Atwood reinterpreta La tempestad de William Shakespeare en su Semilla de la bruja. Os pongo en situación: enero de 2013, el señor Duke aparece en escena. Es un cincuentón que se entretiene montando funciones de teatro en el centro correccional de Fletcher con los reclusos. Siempre elige a Shakespeare, y ese año toca La tempestad. Qué buen hombre, ¿verdad? Los guardias incluso lo miran con benevolencia y vete tú a saber si hasta con lástima. Lo que no saben es que el señor Duke no existe. Ese hombrecillo sonriente aficionado al teatro es en realidad Felix, cargado de odio, resentimiento y dolor. Y de palabras, cómo duelen, ¿a que sí? No sé si serán más peligrosas que una pistola, lo que sí sé es que esta venganza va a explotar.

Normalmente me gusta echarle un ojo a las críticas de los libros que leo. ¿Coincidirán con las mías? ¿Qué aspectos destacarán más? ¿Habrá algún personaje favorito? Pero en esta ocasión, no he tenido tiempo de mirar nada. Así que no sé si La semilla de la bruja ha sido odiada, amada o ambas. ¿Quizás un punto intermedio? Tampoco sé si la gente la compara con otros libros de la autora o si creen que no está a la altura del resto. No sé nada, lo que tengo claro es que a mí me ha flipado. Me ha parecido extrañamente musical, no podía dejar de pensar en una extensa partitura con Felix como intérprete, ¡cuánta pasión! Mi experiencia ha sido como la de retrasar un orgasmo con un final apoteósico. Sudé, sufrí y deseé tanto la venganza como él. Siempre he admirado a las escritoras capaces de hacer que la gente se ponga del lado de la venganza, la ira, el odio, el lado oscuro de la humanidad. Seamos justos, ¿no estábamos todos deseando que Felix les diera una enorme patada en el culo? Qué puedo decir, la venganza siempre ha sido mi plato favorito. Supongo que soy peor que un escorpión.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,173 reviews8,384 followers
March 4, 2017
This is by no means a bad book. Margaret Atwood is a fantastic writer, and I've enjoyed so many works by her. But I think the concept overshadowed the actual story for me. The Hogarth Shakespeare series is a really cool idea—to have contemporary writers adapt Shakespeare plays into novels. But the results have been lackluster to me. On one hand, it's fun to see the parallels between Atwood's characters and Shakespeare's. On the other hand, it doesn't leave too much to the imagination. Because this novel follows the plot points of the original play so closely, and the characters are in line with the motives and mannerisms of the originals as well, Atwood seemed to be restricted by the story. The elements that she made her own were refreshing and enjoyable, but everything else felt rote and a tad predictable. It's complicated because having a thorough knowledge of The Tempest helped me understand this book more than someone who'd never read the play, but it also made the experience a bit boring because I knew everything that was going to happen. 2.5 stars
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,324 reviews2,145 followers
June 7, 2017
This is the second of this series of Shakespeare rewrites that I have read and it was so good! It shows how a really good, quality writer like Margaret Atwood can successfully turn her hand to anything.
Of course her writing is always beautiful, whatever the topic, but in this book she was amazing in her originality. By the time her main character, Mr Duke, had written his version of The Tempest I was longing to be able to go and see it performed. Her interpretation and ideas were just brilliant.
It is a long time since I have read or seen The Tempest performed so some of Atwood's nuances and parallels maybe passed me by, but I noticed enough to make it a totally entertaining and enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Tim Null.
131 reviews78 followers
November 17, 2022
How did I get out of my doldrums? Long story short, it all started when I Googled "history is prologue" and discovered the phrase is derived from a William Shakespeare quote. (Why I Googled that particular phrase is another story for a different place and time.) In his play The Tempest, Shakespeare states, "Whereof what's past is prologue." In other words, without what's gone before, there's nothing to carry on into the future. The past, the present, and the future are intertwined and inseparable. You can't have any one of them without the others.

In Act 2, Scene 1 of The Tempest Antonio states, "Whereof what’s past is prologue; what to come, in yours and my discharge." In the context of the play, this means we can not change the past, but we can influence (control?) what happens in the future. I believe modern audiences have a more deterministic view; that is, the past sets in motion ongoing actions that are difficult to redirect and overcome.

In the course of researching Shakespeare's play The Tempest, I learned about Margaret Atwood's novel titled Hag-Seed. One thing then led to another, and I found myself reading a digital copy of Hag-Seed that my local library loaned me. Thereafter, I soon decided I wanted a personal copy of the book, and I quickly discovered a hardcover version of the book that was cheaper than the available paperback version. When the hardcover version of Hag-Seed arrived at my home, I discovered it had been signed by Margaret Atwood herself, and I felt like I was living a charmed life.

In Act 5 Scene 1 of The Tempest, Prospero says, "The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance." In other words, do good (virtuous) stuff even if most people are doing bad (vengeful) stuff.

In Hag-Seed, Felix (the main character) sets out to get vengeance. He wants to get even with those who've done him wrong. In the end, Felix is more interested in setting things straight (getting everyone's life back on track) rather than getting vengeance (hurting those that hurt him). In that sense, we could argue that by the end of the book, he's pursuing virue rather than vengeance. He's trying to release everyone from their personal prisons.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
February 14, 2019
Deliciously brilliant.

The Hogarth Shakespeare series began in 2015 and was commissioned to have talented contemporary writers reimagine and retell some of Shakespeare’s best plays into a modern setting. These have long been on my radar and my first entry was a jaw droppingly, awe inspiring, knock me down and take my lunch money virtuoso performance by Margaret Atwood: a dramatic vision of my favorite Bard play – The Tempest.

Atwood’s 2016 publication has our new world Prospero as an eccentric festival director whose career is usurped by his devious assistant in a parallel to Antonio’s betrayal. While there is no deserted island for him to retreat, he does take a 12-year sabbatical to rural Canada to plot his revenge. Getting a director’s position at a local prison, he begins production of his own Tempest and lures his enemies in to see the play and we are guided by Atwood’s deft creation into something very special.

The Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s last plays, has long fascinated me; intrigued, mesmerized, puzzled, befuddled, provoking thought and making me wonder. To me, this was his swan song, his magnificent coda that brings in all the best to a final act: violence (and the threat of violence), magic, mystery, romance, song, humor, and an island full of psychological and social commentary. Was this about colonialism? About family and dynasty and slaves and masters and revenge and retribution? Prospero, easily one of the most complicated characters in the plays has been wronged but he himself has enslaved Ariel and Caliban. And is Caliban a living metaphor for the New World, a grotesque caricature of servitude and seizure? Is it about the prisons we endure and the hells we create for ourselves?

So Atwood has some big shoes to fill, and a lot of ground to cover to make this right. In my very humble opinion, she nailed it. Hag Seed captures the essence of The Tempest, examines it, flushes it out, and then adds to it while all the while paying loving homage to this great drama.

Interestingly, there was a 2005 documentary called Shakespeare Behind Bars that describes a prison in Kentucky that produced The Tempest and I could not help to wonder if Atwood had been inspired by this.

Whether you are an Atwood fan or a Shakespeare fan, or both (as am I) or just love a great story, this is highly, highly recommended. Five stars, two snaps, a thumbs up and a bag of chips.

Profile Image for Seemita.
180 reviews1,614 followers
November 5, 2016
[Originally appeared here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/li...]

The Shakespearean scent is high in the air in his 400th anniversary year and a handful of reputed authors are capturing it to present it anew in the Hogarth Shakespeare series. A task so stimulating, so enchanting that it is bound to throw aromas of myriad nature into the literary air. And Margaret Atwood proves to be a fantastic flag-bearer of this spirited bunch.

Hag-Seed follows Felix, Prospero from the original. He is the accomplished Artistic Director of Makeshewig Festival and is on the verge of staging ‘The Tempest’, his most ambitious project till date. But things go wrong, thanks to his perfidious deputy, and he is fired abruptly, just days before the grand show. Forced to leave the town, Felix totters somehow to a deserted countryside home and spends the next twelve years grieving, teaching and scheming revenge. It all turns worthwhile when in the Fletcher Correctional Centre, where he teaches theatrics to prison inmates under the pseudonym of Mr. Duke, he receives the best news ever – a visit of his nemesis and his partners in crime to the Centre. And thus, the seething ember of revenge suddenly compounds to a raging fire within and he leaves no stone unturned to set the equation right.
....exiled by their unjust hands, lying in wait for them, preparing his ambush. It's taken a while, but revenge is a dish best eaten cold, he reminds himself.
Hag-Seed hinges on The Tempest – the lesser-debated, milder cousin of the soot-dark Hamlet and Othello. But the admirer of Shakespearean literature is me holds ‘The Tempest’ very close to her heart as it was her first exposure to the Bard’s works. It had the good and the bad in remarkable equity and was presented in a most affable yet emphatic tone. The inspired version conjured by Atwood, thankfully, reaffirms my love.

The choice of a prison as her stage is an unconventional but smart decision on part of Atwood. This provides her an almost clean slate to etch her interpretations as the reader is compelled to suspend biases and sway along with her. After all, how many of us are privy to the routine exchanges of prisoners? She imparts spunk, humor and sincerity to the inmates without sacrificing the authenticity of their backgrounds. She puts her vast writing experience to good use while erecting parallel story-lines, so that none of them look out of place and each sub-plot settles comfortably within the entire story like pieces of a puzzle. The new angles she provides to the original story are a delight, especially the part where the inmates are asked to extrapolate the climax and fuse them into their imagination to arrive at the life each character might have had after the story’s finale. Despite no shock element or vertiginous revelation, Atwood’s swift, consistent and uncomplicated language holds the story in good stead and one gets used to it like a face getting used to the unwavering breeze caressing it across a window.

It may not be wrong to say that I dismissed most traces of the Bard’s 'The Tempest’ while reading Atwood’s Hag-Seed and after a while, only the latter’s flag kept fluttering in the narrative space. Now, that, was a mild tempest (and an enjoyable one) in its own right!
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,393 reviews4,903 followers
September 20, 2021

'The Hogarth Shakespeare Project' commissions renowned writers to retell and modernize Shakepeare's works. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood is a contemporary version of 'The Tempest.'

In a nutshell: The Tempest tells the story of Prospero, a duke that's been deposed and exiled by his treacherous brother Antonio, who's in cahoots with the King. The banished Prospero is stranded on an island with his young daughter Miranda, the monster(ish) Caliban, and the mystical spirit Ariel. After many years Prospero, who's mastered the art of magic, manages to lure his enemies to the island with a bogus tempest. Once the usurpers are in his power, Prospero proceeds to get his revenge.

I'm going to be upfront here and admit that - soon after starting this book - I watched the 2010 film 'The Tempest' (starring Helen Mirren as a female version of Prospero), so I'd know what was going on.

On to the review:

Felix Phillips is the cutting-edge artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theater Festival in Ontario - about to produce The Tempest - when he's ousted by his cunning, manipulative assistant Tony. Felix is already reeling from the death of his three-year-old daughter Miranda, so - completely downtrodden - he goes off to live in a lonely shack and nurture plans of revenge.

Though Felix lives alone he imagines Miranda is still with him.....growing up as the years pass. In Felix's mind he and Miranda share meals, have conversations, walk in the yard, play chess, and so on.

After a decade or so Felix gets tired of his lonely isolation and - calling himself Mr. Duke - takes a job with the "Literacy Through Literature” program at the local Fletcher County Correctional Institute. Felix is a gifted and inventive thespian, and - working with
medium-security male inmates - he stages innovative versions of Shakespeare plays.

Finally, 12 years after he was deposed by Tony, Felix gets an opportunity to exact retribution. By now the dirty-dealing Judas and his cohorts are politicians, looking to climb the governmental ladder. To further their ambitions, the politicos plan to see a Shakespeare production at Fletcher prison and (of course) stage a photo op.

So Felix decides to put on a prisoner version of The Tempest, complete with the story's "play within a play" scenario. During the traitors' visit to Fletcher, Tony and his pals think they've been nabbed by convicts during a prison riot, that one of their party has been killed, and so on.

The visitors' experiences parallels that of the characters in the real Shakespeare play - and eventually they're confronted with their treachery towards Felix all those years ago.

While reading the book I learned a lot about updating a classic work; how plays are cast and staged; creating costumes; the nuts and bolts of putting on a production; stage names in the clink (LOL); and so on....all of which is very interesting.

I loved that the prisoners were only permitted to use 'curse words' in the original play, and their cuss-filled conversations are hilarious. For example: scurvy awesome; what the pied ninny is this; you're a poxy communist; shove it, freckled whelp; and from one well-spoken convict.....poisonous poxy, what's it scurvy about. I also like the inventive rap songs the prisoners write for the production.

In an excellent addendum, the prisoners make up possible futures for the major characters in The Tempest....that is, what happens after the story ends. I often wonder about this kind of thing myself, so I was intrigued by the prisoners' speculations.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it to Shakespeare fans, lovers of literature, and anyone else who wants to try something a little different.

If you're interested in knowing more about the Hogarth project, the website is here: http://hogarthshakespeare.com/

You can follow my reviews at http://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot.com/
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
688 reviews3,625 followers
March 5, 2017
This is a retelling of a Shakespearean play I've never read, and it's by Margaret Atwood whom I believe to be one of the finest story tellers. I had a feeling I was going to love this, and I did.
"The Tempest" is retold through Felix who takes on the job of teaching prisoners how to read Shakespeare and how to play him. Felix has a secret wish for revenge, though, which serves as his main motivation for doing this exact play with the prisoners.
It was interesting to see how Atwood mixes two completely different worlds: a prison and Shakespeare. However, Shakespeare was after all for everyone - the poor and the noble visited his Globe theatre because Shakespeare appealed to everyone.
What Atwood does beautifully is that she tells the story of The Tempest through Felix' and the prisoners' lives. Felix has experienced loss and wishes for revenge; in other words, his life has been through quite a tempest.
In the end, Atwood wraps up everything through adressing the questions that the original play leaves unanswered. This was one of the weaker parts, in my eyes, because I wanted to read more about the characters and not their predictions for possible answers. The reenactment of the play was also somewhat to the silly side, but overall I was impressed with how Atwood takes on this retelling and makes it absorbing and intriguing. I'm a fan!
Profile Image for BrokenTune.
754 reviews206 followers
December 21, 2016

Your profanity, thinks Felix, has oft been your whoreson hag-born progenitor of literacy.

When I learned that Margaret Atwood had written a book for the Hogarth Shakespeare series, I was both thrilled and hesitant to pick it up. I love Atwood’s work. I love Shakespeare. However, there are elements of both authors writing that I can see would react like fire and ice.

Atwood is one of my go-to authors for strong female characters. Shakespeare does not come immediately to my mind for that purpose. On the other hand, I love Shakespeare’s thoughtful and often sensitive male characters, which in turn is not something I have really found in an Atwood novel. Most of Atwood’s male characters I’ve encountered were horrid human beings. I mean look at Atwood’s Penelopiad (part of the Canongate Myths Series) to see even the most ancient of heroes being taken down a few pegs. Not that I object – I very much enjoyed her modern deconstruction of the classic story, but I do sometimes feel a little sorry for the male characters that cross her path.

Therefore it is fair to say, I really had some misgivings how Atwood would approach this re-telling of The Tempest, which is packed with men full of ambition, desire, and longings for revenge, and where the only female character, Miranda, is being maneuvered like a chess piece.

I was wrong. Hag-Seed showed that despite their differences, there are also a few things that Shakespeare and Atwood have in common: the ability to come up with a gripping narrative, imaginative ways of explaining the world as they observe it by relating different angles to the unsuspecting reader, a talent for striking a balance between thought-provoking and evocative writing, and best of all an enormous sense of having fun with words.

Readers who may have been put off Shakespeare by having had to sit through endless recitals of famous lines in school may not remember it but Shakespeare was funny. If nothing else, there are memes and objects out there that still thrive on Shakespeare’s appeal to the sense of fun in people. None more so than the Shakespearean insult kit (see here or here for a bit of fun).

Atwood, who can also be wickedly funny, has picked up on this, and actually uses it to lighten up the otherwise potentially depressing or even threatening setting of a prison, where we get to await in anticipation how the inmates will put Shakespeare’s own words to a more creative use. I honestly looked forward to the inmates getting to grips with Shakespeare’s The Tempest by using his own swear words:

“Born to be hanged. A pox o’your throat. Bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog. Whoreson. Insolent noisemaker. Wide-chapp’d rascal. Malignant thing. Blue-eyed hag. Freckled whelp hag-born. Thou earth. Thou tortoise. Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself. As wicked dew as e’er my mother brushed, With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen, Drop on you both. A south-west blow on ye, And blister you all o’er. Toads, beetles, bats light on you. Filth as thou art. Abhorr’ed slave. The red plague rid you. Hag-seed. All the infections that the sun sucks up, From bogs, fens, flats, fall on – add name here – and make him, By inch-meal a disease. Most scurvy monster. Most perfidious and drunken monster. Moon-calf. Pied ninny. Scurvy patch. A murrain on you. The devil take your fingers. The dropsy drown this fool. Demi-devil. Thing of darkness.”

Of course, the investigation into Shakespearean swear words was not the only aspect. I loved. I also loved the scene setting and how Atwood re-imagined the isolation of Prospero’s island in the isolation of the prison, how she transferred the play within the play in The Tempest into a play about a play about a play by making it clear from the outset that Shakespeare’s play The Tempest will be focal point of Felix’s (Atwood’s main character’s) ambition.

I loved how she used the diverse characters to show different interpretations of the original play, and how she transposed issues of colonialism, sexism, privilege, politics, gender issues, and others I haven’t even contemplated yet, from Shakespeare’s work into a modern setting.

So, to anyone, who rolls their eyes at reading Shakespeare because they have been bored to despair with a few lines of his most famous works, I say pick up a copy of Hag-Seed. It is just about one of the most gripping, thoughtful, and entertaining ways to find out why people are still enthralled by his works.

“One question. Is ‘shit’ a curse word? Can we use it, or what?” It’s a fine point, thinks Felix. Technically, “shit” might not be considered a curse word as such, only a scatological expression, but he doesn’t want to hear it all the time. Shit this, shitty that, you shit. He could let them vote on it, but what’s the point of being in charge of this motley assemblage if he refuses to take charge? “‘ Shit’ is off bounds,” he says. “Adjust your cursing accordingly.” “‘ Shit’ was okay last year,” says Leggs. “So how come?” “I changed my mind,” says Felix. “I got tired of it. Too much shit is monotonous, and monotony is anti-Shakespeare.
Profile Image for Celeste.
933 reviews2,382 followers
November 22, 2016
This book was fan-freaking-tastic. I adored it.

I have such immense respect for Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid's Tale is right up there with other dystopian classics like 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 in its scope of influence. But that’s the only book of hers that I’ve read all the way through, and that particular book was assigned for a class. I liked it, but it was homework, which always skews my enjoyment level a bit. There are other books by Atwood that I’ve picked up, but I could never get into them. But Hag-Seed was so small. Surely I could get through that one, right?

To prepare for reading it, I assigned myself some homework; reread The Tempest, the Shakespearean play that Hag-Seed retells. And reading it definitely felt like homework. But I’m so glad that I read it, because there was a richness to Hag-Seed that I would have missed without the play fresh in my mind. Do you have to read The Tempest to enjoy Hag-Seed? Nope! There’s a short summary of the play in the back of Atwood’s book, for anyone who isn’t familiar.

So, what did I think of Hag-Seed? I adored it. Five-star reviews are usually reserved for my favorites, books that I will read again and again, but I can’t find enough fault with this book to bump it down to four stars. I was hesitant about it when I picked it up and figured that, if I did enjoy the book, it would be in the same way that I enjoy a classic or a popular novel. That I would (hopefully) like it and feel that I had checked something off of a to-do list. But I should have had more faith in Atwood. Hag-Seed was fabulous! The Tempest is a play-within-a-play, and Hag-Seed added another layer of “within-a-play” to that. Felix was pitiable in the opening chapters of the book, but he wasn’t likable. At all. His growth throughout the story was wonderful to follow. Hag-Seed was deep, and moving, and funny. And that's all I'll say, so as not to spoil it for anyone. I was immensely entertained, and I highly recommend it!
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,272 reviews49 followers
October 15, 2018
Another one that has been sitting on the to read shelf for far too long, I enjoyed this far more than I expected to. Anyone who believes Atwood has no sense of humour (and that might once have included me) should read this clever and outrageous reworking of The Tempest and imagine how much fun Atwood had writing it.

I won't say too much about the plot, since there may still be a few of you out there who have not yet read it, but I found this one of Atwood's most enjoyable books, and it even taught me a few new things about Shakespeare's original.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,671 reviews2,664 followers
May 2, 2019
Margaret Atwood looks more like a good witch every year, and here she works her magic on The Tempest to produce the most satisfying volume of the Hogarth Shakespeare series yet. There’s a really clever play-within-the-play-within-the-play thing going on, and themes of imprisonment and performance resonate in multiple ways. It’s fun to see the disgraced Felix’s second act as a director of inmate plays at Fletcher Correctional – “I don’t care why you’re in here or what they say you’ve done: for this course the past is prologue.”

Part V gets a little tedious/didactic as the cast hash out the characters’ afterlives, and at times (mainly with the raps) you’re painfully aware that this is an old white lady trying to approximate how seasoned criminals might speak, but in general I thoroughly enjoyed this. Even though you see behind the scenes (e.g. my favorite chapter was about Felix wandering the streets of Toronto to buy props and costumes), you still get caught up in the magic.
Profile Image for Marie.
143 reviews44 followers
October 11, 2016
“the island is a theatre. Prospero is a director. He’s putting on a play, within which there’s another play. If his magic holds and his play is successful, he’ll get his heart’s desire. But if he fails…”

This is a marvelous re-telling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” It is a tale of prisons within prisons, of prisoners who do not realize they’re imprisoned, of vengeance and revenge. The most beautiful part of this book is that it is prisoners who are putting on the play. Their thoughts on the characters, plot and imagined future outcomes are all explored. Margaret Atwood’s retelling, in effect, goes deeper than the original. I, as the reader, was left amazed at how well all the intricacies of plot worked out to mirror the original work in such a way that it actually took the plot further, creating a doubling effect: a play within a play (maybe within another play). It feels genius as you read it, and further intensifies the prisons within prisons theme.

This is fourth installment of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which excellent writers are tackling retellings of Shakespeare’s literature. “The Tempest” is the last written work of William Shakespeare, written in 1610-1611. I plan to re-read “The Tempest” and rewrite this review (or at least rethink it). I am that inspired by this novel.

There were a couple fairly major departures from the novel. The largest being that, Miranda, Felix’s daughter in Atwood’s version has died at the age of 3, however Felix imagines he still sees her and she is there with him until the end of the novel when he is able to release her. I actually think this brings an additional element of fantasy to the novel, a hint of madness to the sorcerer. She actually becomes entwined into the role of the fairy as enacted in the prison. It also allows for another level of imprisonment.

This version does not take place on an island, but Felix (Prospero) banishes himself to a remote area living in a shack with landlords that maybe never were. It is all very mysterious. He lives in seclusion for twelve years prior to taking the job at the prison where through a literacy program he and the inmates re-enact Shakespeare plays. It is here at the correctional facility that “The Tempest” is re-enacted in more ways than one with the outcome that Felix desires, the overthrowing of Antonio who had taken away his theater directorship.

The work that Felix does at the correctional facility feels magical. The relationship he develops with the inmates and the enthusiasm and interest they show for working on the plays seems incredible. As quoted from Felix within the novel, “Maybe the island really is magic. Maybe it’s a kind of mirror: each one sees in it a reflection of his inner self. Maybe it brings out who you really are. Maybe it’s a place where you’re supposed to learn something. But what is each one of these people supposed to learn? And do they learn it?” This seems to be exactly what is happening within Felix’s theater in the prison.

This is a novel full of modern day wit, whimsy, vigor. Margaret Atwood infuses rap, dance, old world swearing, and much self discovery into the prisoner’s re-enactment. It is super fun to read, yet has its dark melancholic side in true Atwood form, and can be dissected in so many ways. The prisoners each have their own interpretations of the characters and their expected outcomes, which is true of all great literature. I highly recommend this to Shakespeare fans or just fans of great literature! This is Atwood at her best!

Thank you to netgalley and Hogarth for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

For discussion questions, please see: http://www.book-chatter.com/?p=674
Profile Image for Brian.
707 reviews354 followers
June 13, 2020
“…a door of hope has opened. They like doors of hope. But then, who doesn’t?”

“Hag-Seed” is the fourth book I have read in the Hogarth series. The Hogarth project sees “Shakespeare’s works retold by bestselling novelists of today.” This text sees Margaret Atwood taking a stab at “The Tempest”.
Atwood has chosen to write a very flimsy novel around her theories of that play. I wish she had just written an essay about some ideas and critical approaches she has about the play itself and possible staging of it. It would have been much more interesting without the crap story attached.
Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is thematically deep. You could read that play a dozen times and make new discoveries with each reading. I have! “Hag-Seed” is so shallow and juvenile that I am doubtful you would find a single intriguing thing to ponder while reading it.
At least the writing does not stink. It is serviceable and I read the short book quickly, so I am not that upset about it. But I came to this book with a knowledge and appreciation of the source material. If I had not I am not sure I would have been able to enjoy anything from it. Who knows?
The Hogarth series has been very disappointing to me. I already have another one from the series on my “to read” pile, but it may well be my last attempt with this project.
“Hag-Seed” is another miss.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
94 reviews46 followers
September 26, 2016
Firstly, a big thank you to Netgalley, Crown, and Hogarth for allowing me access to this digital ARC for review purposes. I can't wait to have the physical copy in my hands in a few short weeks.

Yet another genius offering from the always excellent Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed is her unique, modern day retelling of The Tempest. This take centers on Felix, artistic director of the Makeshiweg Festival, who is wrongfully let go from his position. More or less usurped from his proverbial throne by the ambitious schemes of his assistant, Tony, Felix's life work goes up in flames in an instant, and he quickly becomes obsessed with the notion of revenge.

The Makeshiweg Festival was Felix's life - having lost his wife and his daughter, Miranda, he poured his heart and soul into it, so it's understandable that he has a difficult time letting it go. Tony's betrayal is of the worst kind, because he preys on Felix's vulnerabilities, getting close to him little by little while building a case for his own rise to the top. At the time of his exile, Felix was in the process of staging a production of The Tempest, and viewed it as a sort of homage to his deceased daughter, Miranda.

After a self-imposed period of depressing solitude in which he attempts to contemplate what he wants from the ruins of his life now and interacts with only his mysterious new neighbors and the ghostly presence of his deceased daughter (who is no longer three, but has somehow aged and continues to do so over the course of the story), Felix is able to revive the staging of his production in a very different way at The Fletcher County Correctional Institute. Teaching an array of prisoners (mostly low bar offenders) about Shakespeare through a literacy program, soon turns into a form of fulfillment that Felix doesn't anticipate. He grows comfortable enough here over the years, off the grid, living under a pseudonym, but he doesn't forget about the idea of revenge, merely biding his time as Tony once did with him - watching and reading about his former friend turned archenemy's ascent higher and higher, into the upper echelons of government. Felix feels that revenge is a dish best served cold.

The story that transpires in the prison provides some necessary comic relief and a close look at the supporting cast of characters of Felix's world. Felix changes the lives of the prisoners he teaches in a profound way, and they change his, even if the effect of this isn't realized until the end.

This is where Atwood goes meta, and it's nothing less than mind-bending brilliant. The narrative becomes a play for revenge within the staging of the play, with Felix's motley crew of a class/cast assisting him in his quest for revenge enacted in the most satisfying Shakespearean fashion. To add fuel to Felix's already fiery desire for vengeance, Tony and his fellow cronies plan on omitting the literacy program that employs Felix and allows the inmates something of an escape from the monotony of their life within the prison - god forbid government funding go to prisoners having something akin to fun! If the reader had any doubts about the target of Felix's anger before, they are quickly doused with his reappearance. The less said about the roller coaster conclusion, the better, but all the pieces fall into place, and to quote Shakespeare -
"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages."

A wily, witty, rollicking take on Shakespeare - and yet, more than Shakespeare (he provides the framework, Atwood makes it human for today's reader). This is my first read from the Hogarth Shakespeare series, and I'm now inspired to seek out others - but I doubt any will be so satisfying as this one. Atwood's Prospero is set free in the same manner as Shakespeare's, shorn of magic, set free by the shared telling of his tale.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
350 reviews395 followers
October 25, 2016
This book earns 5 stars for originality (and somebody please tell me that there are really theater programs inside correctional facilities, because that is a brilliant idea!) Atwood is, of course, a master. Her modern-day "Tempset" is quite clever. Yet, somehow all the pieces here were less than the sum of their parts for me.

It could be that, in spite of his personal tragedies, I couldn't quite feel that the lead character Felix really had been professionally "wronged." It could be that none of the prisoners had different personalities and just seemed like an amalgam. It could be that I just never liked "The Tempest." Whatever it was, this book was merely "fine," though I seem to be in the minority on that opinion as several others are raving about it.

I thoroughly enjoyed Vinegar Girl, another entry in this Hogarth Shakespeare series, and I'm looking forward with anticipation to Tracy Chevalier's upcoming Othello, in the same series.

Thank you to NetGalley and Hogarth for a galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,857 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.