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Review: Hag-Seed

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I almost always enjoy Shakespeare re-imaginings, so it’s no surprise that when I found Hag-Seed on NetGalley I was eager to see what Margaret Atwood could bring to the genre.


When Felix is fired from his position at the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival in favour of his devious assistant, his production of The Tempest is cancelled. Reduced to a life in exile, Felix (accompanied by a fantasy version of the daughter he lost twelve years ago) devises a plan for revenge.

He takes a Literacy through Theatre job at the nearby Burgess Correctional Institution. With a few successful productions there under his belt and a leading lady lined up, Felix determines that it’s time to bring his version of The Tempest to life. With their own interpretations of Shakespeare’s play and the help of a professional actress and choreographer, the correctional players set out to film their Tempest. But Felix has his own ideas and his enemies soon find themselves in the midst of it.

Let’s get into it…

Hag-Seed is well written and at times both thoughtful and humorous. The plot revolves around Felix’ attempts to get retribution through an elaborate staging of The Tempest within a prison. The novel thus mirrors The Tempest while also including the play within the novel. (The play within a play being oh so Shakespearean!) While it is easy to follow without reading The Tempest, having read the play would definitely enhance the experience. I have not read it, and felt I was playing catch up while figuring out the roles of the characters and visualizing the play within the novel.

Ultimately, Hag-Seed is entertaining. The characters can be colourful and the inmates’ analysis of Shakespeare are unique and at times quite funny. Just as Shakespeare’s plays are full of details to analyse and themes to explore, so to is Hag-Seed. Margret Atwood has, without a doubt, done her research and demonstrated her respect and appreciation for the Bard’s work.

I enjoyed the book. However, certain events in Canadian literature dampened my reading experience. Atwood’s comments regarding UBC accountable disappointed me. As a result, I was less enthusiastic about reading her work.

Still, it is my hope that re-imaginings make classic literature more accessible. So I hope that Atwood’s writing inspires readers to explore Shakespeare more thoroughly.

Final verdict: Hag-Seed is a solid contribution to the genre of Shakespeare adaptations. Through her characters, Margaret Atwood provides unique insights into The Tempest that are both thoughtful and humorous.

My thanks to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for providing me with a digital copy.

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