Hagseed: Shakespeare in the Prison

Hag-Seed is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series in which popular authors give a Shakespeare's plays a modern reimagining. Hag-Seed is Margaret Atwood's take on The Tempest. The actual play itself has an important role in the book. In fact, Hag-Seed is a play within a play within a play.

Felix is so involved with directing plays for Makeshiweg Theatre Festival that he doesn't notice that his assistant is stabbing him in the back until he's been fired. Part of the reason Felix is overly focused on his work is to distract himself from the recent death of his daughter Miranda. The firing is the last straw for Felix. He hides himself away in a shack in the country where all he does is fixate on his woes.

Years go by and eventually Felix feels he needs to join the world again. He's been talking to himself and an imaginary version of Miranda so long that he's beginning to think she's real. He takes a job teaching literacy to inmates of a local prison. He does it his way, by putting on productions of Shakespeare's plays. The men enjoy the plays. They get to make to them their own, by making each one modern and relatable to their situations. The program is such a success the Heritage Minister will be present to watch the latest production. Felix chooses The Tempest.

Among the visiting mucky-mucks is Felix's old assistant, Tony. Tony has moved up in the world and into the workings of the federal government. He has ambitions to lead the party. Felix sees an opportunity to enact his revenge fantasies, and with the help of his merry band of gentlemen, put on a version of The Tempest no one will soon forget.

This is the second book by Atwood I've read in a year that involves prisons. Thankfully no sex robots in this one. I've never read The Tempest and thought I'd need to at least watch the play. No worries about that. The play's plot and characters are discussed in detail throughout. I haven't read the original yet and could still tell you what it's about.

Hag-Seed has doubles throughout. Felix is Prospero, obviously, and Miranda is both the imagined daughter and the actress who plays the character. Tony is the Evil Bro Antonio. The magical island where anything can happen is the prison but also the shack Miranda haunts. Felix is often a pretentious windbag, but he's just a gentle old man who suffered greatly too. The prisoners are hard men whose morals are questionable but can empathize with characters created centuries ago.

I enjoyed Hag-Seed. Partly because I love elaborate revenge plots. It's also funny and touching, but not melodramatic. The only part that bored me a little were the songs and when the inmates discuss the characters' futures. It got a little long.

A well done job by Margaret Atwood!

About the Audio: Canadian actor R.H. Thomson narrates Hag-Seed. You might remember him from Road to Avonlea. He's perfect for it, being a great theatre actor and all. He gives each character a distinct personality. It is a little disconcerting hearing a 69 year old man rap though. 
Thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Hag-Seed (Hogarth Shakespeare)


  1. I have this to read sometime in the near future. I didn't even know all the backstory behind the book until I read your review!

  2. I grabbed a copy of this. Margaret Atwood and I have a love/hate relationship, but curious about it!

  3. Agreed about some of the characters backstories at the end seemed to go on and on, but overall so much fun.

  4. I am just now reading my first Margaret Atwood book and will be reading this at some point. I have only read one of the Hogarth books, Vinegar Girl, which was not my favorite my any means. Still, they are all different authors, and I love the concept of the retelling. Glad you enjoyed this one other than the bit of lag through a portion. Thank you for the review.

  5. This one is next in my fiction reading queue. I predict I will like it since I loved The Handmaid's Tale and Vinegar Girl.


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