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Jul 20

Review: Hag-Seed

Posted on July 20, 2017 at 3:50 PM by Elizabeth Land

Earlier this year, we discussed young adult books that were reworked versions of Shakespeare's many plays. But young adult novels aren't the only books that take their inspiration from The Bard. Recently a dedicated effort from some of the world's best fiction authors to rework some of his most famous plays has led to an increase in publication. While many of these "Hogarth Shakespeare" novels have promise, Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood is one of our favorites.


Hag-Seed by Margaret AtwoodBoth a retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest and a play within a play, Hag-Seed revolves around Felix, a deposed theatre director whose focus on revenge has led him to his current fate: Living as a hermit with only the apparition of his beloved but dead daughter to keep him company.

On a whim he applies to teach Literacy Through Theatre to the prisoners at the nearby Burgess Correctional Institution, a move that serendipitously places him within reach of getting his ultimate revenge. Recruiting his own troupe of prisoners to re-enact The Tempest, the play that he never got to put on before being fired, the line between Felix and Shakespeare's Prospero seems to fade away. And as he nears his goal, Felix walks the line between right and wrong, as well as sane and insane, leaving the reader unsure onto which side he will eventually fall.


The novel starts out a little slow while Atwood puts in the necessary time to fill in Felix's backstory. But once she reaches the meat of the story — Felix's choice to finally produce The Tempest with a troupe of prisoners — the pace picks up. And readers will find themselves sprinting through as Atwood further blurs the line between Felix and Prospero.

Will Felix and his troupe of prisoners turned players take his revenge too far? Is Felix's daughter a hallucination of a grieving father or a true spirit — Felix's version of the mischievous but useful Ariel from The Tempest? Will Felix teeter over the edge or reign himself in before it's too late?

This book is excellent for Shakespeare fans, as well as those who like a good revenge story. Covering themes of imprisonment, the redemptive power of art and the overwhelming grief of losing a loved one, many readers will finish the novel with plenty to think about.

If you want to try out another Hogarth Shakespeare title, the York County Public Library has Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler, which retells Shakespeare's classic comedy The Taming of the Shrew. For other adult fiction books that were inspired by Shakespeare, visit our online catalog.