The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s most intensely psychological plays. Like Othello, it is all about revenge, but it is also about forgiveness. It posits the question “How does a person that has been deeply wronged move beyond that injury?”
In the play, Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, and his daughter are living on island in the middle of the sea. Prospero has ordered the sprite Ariel to a create a storm that ship-wrecks the people that removed him from power – Antonio and Sebastian. Prospero plots his revenge, but eventually forgives those who acted against him once they agree to restore him to power.
Hag Seed is another in Hogarth’s series of Shakespearian updates. Written by Margaret Atwood, Hag Seed is an example of what happens when an excellent writer takes a wack at a good story. Ms. Atwood has presented a “meta” view of Shakespeare’s tale in a world of theater and prison. We are introduced to Felix, he artistic director of the Makeshiweg Festival, a summer selection of Shakespeare and other plays in Canada. Felix is prideful and oblivious to the machinations of his second in command, who has him removed from the festival and sent into obscurity. Twelve years later, Felix is running a theater program at a local prison. When he finds out that his nemesis is coming to the jail, he plots his revenge, using a performance of the Tempest to carry it out.
I really enjoyed this book. Ms. Atwood not only presents us with an updated version of The Tempest, she uses the play itself as a key plot device. This allows her to have characters to go beyond the story and delve into the meaning of the original play. By having Felix exact his revenge using the actions of Propsero, she presents a “meta” analysis of The Tempest, something she obviously relishes, as she has all of the main characters offer a final thought and prediction about the characters in The Tempest at the end of the book.
Dig into Hag Seed and enjoy The Tempest. Margaret Atwood has done a great job with both.