By: Kristin Milks, OverDrive Collection Development Analyst
O, brave new world
that has such people in it!
-William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Oh brave Margaret Atwood who takes such a gorgeous play underfoot (or pen if you prefer)! The Hogarth Shakespeare series continues on with the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood who sets out to rediscover The Tempest.
Deposed from the directorship of a large theater company, Felix flees to a remote hovel outside of the town he once helped shape with his amazing plays. After years of retirement he decides to start his revenge by taking on a position at a correctional facility. While there he reinvents the program and brings theater into the prison. His program gets noticed and soon, the men who took him down are coming to watch his production of The Tempest, a play near and dear to his heart. With the help of his students he will try to get his vengeance in a Shakespearean way.
Atwood uses her book as a classroom in the most wonderful of ways. Much of the book takes place in the classroom within the prison with Felix helping the inmates break down the play to a manageable size. There’s an analysis of the different kinds of jails within the play, the different roles of the characters in the play and an interpretation of what happened to the main characters after the play ends. Having this kind of analysis within a novel was unique. English majors may find themselves becoming nostalgic for the college classroom throughout the novel.
Beyond the analysis of The Tempest itself, Atwood creates a narrative that makes the whole novel mirror the play while adding her own twists (like an actual prison). Within the past decade there have been several stories outlining the use of Shakespeare within the confines of prisons. In fact, there is a documentary called Shakespeare Behind Bars all about a theater group of prisoners putting on The Tempest. Hag-Seed already had familiar elements because of the real life stories of Shakespeare in prisons.
For the hesitant Shakespeare reader, I think this is a marvelous work. It breaks down elements of the play while presenting it in modern terms without the intimidation of iambic pentameter. This is a great work for those who are into the Bard or are just looking for a good literary piece of fiction.