Hag-Seed Book Review

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood Book Review

Hag-Seed is the fourth book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series published by Hogarth Press in which popular authors pen their versions of selected Shakespearean plays. In The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson tackles The Winter’s Tale. In Shylock Is My Name, Howard Jacobson re-imagines The Merchant of Venice. Pulitzer Prize winning author Anne Tyler takes on The Taming of the Shrew in Vinegar Girl. And finally, Margaret Atwood creates a real-world The Tempest with Hag-Seed. Hogarth | October, 2016 | Kindle Edition | 324 pp

Set in Canada, the story revolves around Felix, the long-time artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. He threw himself into the newest project, his own rendition of The Tempest – something he needed to do for himself and for the daughter he recently lost. It was during this crucial period of grieving and healing when he was betrayed in a political move and ousted as director by people he trusted. The play was canceled and Felix went into hiding where he plotted his revenge.

Over time, Felix adopted a new identity and took a job teaching literacy and theater to inmates at a local prison. Teaching only three months out of the year, it was a popular program among inmates. At the end of each term, the inmates would put on a play – always Shakespeare – which would be broadcast to the rest of the inmates and guards. At the end of the fourth year, the program was in danger of shutting down. The bureaucrats in charge of funding decided to pay them a visit to view the final production before making up their minds to pull the plug, a decision which was already made a long time ago.

These bureaucrats are the very same people who betrayed Felix, and he’s expecting them. Working on The Tempest once again, Felix is about to get his revenge.

Hag-Seed is a play within a play. While Felix and his inmates are working on The Tempest as a play, the story is also recreated through the characters and the setting to illuminate two versions of The Tempest. Not only does Felix play Prospero in The Tempest, but he also plays Prospero in Hag-Seed – a man bent on revenge. While Felix was in hiding, he continuously spoke to his deceased daughter and watched her grow into a young woman. She was his Ariel, a magical, unseen force who helped in his schemes. The prison in which they worked to produce the play was the island in The Tempest. Other characters filled their parts perfectly.

When the class began, Felix’s normal custom was to have his prospective students write down the curse words from the play, any they could find. During the duration of the term, the students were only allowed to use these curse words, and points would be deducted from any inmates who used traditional curse words. This was beneficial for the reader because had this not been done, the dialogue between Felix and the inmates likely would have been inundated with f-bombs and the like. Instead, it was a hilarious jumble of nonsensical curse words from Shakespearean verse – Hag-Seed included.

There are some slow spots and I wasn’t as engaged as I expected to be. I love metafiction, Shakespeare, and Atwood – so I expected to be blown out of the water with this trifecta. Unfortunately, it failed to keep my attention. However, I did enjoy the task of comparison while trying to figure out who each character in Atwood’s Hag-Seed represented in The Tempest. Here are my conclusions which could be right or wrong. Please let me know if you have any thoughts on this.

The Tempest 
Hag-Seed 
Prospero
Felix

Reasoning: Obvious, main character bent on revenge.

Miranda
Anne-Marie

Reasoning: Obvious, and she falls for Ferdinand/Freddie.

Ariel 
Felix’s deceased daughter and/or 8Handz

Reasoning: Felix’s deceased daughter is only seen by Felix and he lets her go at the end, in the same way Prospero let Ariel go. On the other hand, 8Handz is the tech wizard who helped to orchestrate the behind-the-scenes revenge against Felix’s enemies. He was also “let go” at the end with an early parole.  

Caliban 
8Handz? All the prisoners? Felix’s split personality?

Reasoning: Caliban was pardoned for his crimes by Prospero at the end, and 8Handz received an early parole. Is he Caliban or Ariel, or a combination? Or could all of the prisoners represent the disfigured Caliban? Possibly, it could be the “Hag-Seed” within Felix, the side of him that dwells in vengeance, something hinted at toward the end.

Sycorax
Felix’s Late Wife

Reasoning: Both are unseen, both are deceased.

Alonso 
Sal & Lonnie

Reasoning: Sal and Lonnie both represent Alonso – Tony and Sebert conspire to bump off both men just as Ferdinand and Antonio conspire against Alonso.

Ferdinand 
Freddie

Reasoning: Obvious, Freddie is the son of Sal just as Ferdinand is the son of Alonso – and there is the romance.

Antonio 
Tony

Reasoning: Obvious, and look at the names.

Sebastian 
Sebert

Reasoning: Obvious, and look at the names.

Gonzalo 
Estelle

Reasoning: Estelle set Felix on his path to the prison/island with “books”.

The Island 
The Prison

Reasoning: Obvious.

Adrian
??? Possibly no one. Felix removed Adrian and Francisco from his own play, the same might have been done by Atwood.
Francisco
??? See above.
Trinculo
??? 
Stephano 
Possibly the prisoner Leggs.

Reasoning: Stephano plotted against Prospero, and Leggs did push out Felix’s monologue in favor of his own rap.

Iris, Ceres, and Juno 
??? 
Boatswain 
???
Master of the Ship 
???

Hag-Seed
by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed




Rebecca Skane

Rebecca Skane is the editor-in-chief for the Portsmouth Review. She holds a Bachelor of the Arts degree from Lawrence University in Wisconsin and resides in Portsmouth, NH with her husband and two children. She is the founder of The Portsmouth Book Club which boasts over 1,000 members. She also doubles as a professional escapist.Her genres are scifi and fantasy, both adult and young adult - but she often reads outside of her preferred genres. You can follow her on GoodReads.Aside from her love of good books, she is a professional website developer, content editor, and SEO expert. You can visit her web design and development site at RebeccaSkane.com.


  • I followed this series to the best of my ability. My favourite is The Gap of Time by Jeannette Winterson. The rest? I could do without, tbh. I was excited about Hag-Seed but it didn’t work as much as I wanted it to. :/

    • I haven’t read the others but I might check them out. My favorite Shakespeare recreation (not in this series) is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle which is Hamlet. So good.

  • One of my fav blogs liked Hag-Seed and said it was the best of the series. Her review of it is at https://keepthewisdom.blogspot.ca/search?q=hag-seed . But I haven’t read it yet. I’m a bit hesitant about it now. I don’t like when things lag …. thx for the review.

    • Thanks for the link. I just visited and saw that she just read Between the World and Me which is a phenomenal read – had to comment on it! Hag-Seed really dragged for me, but it isn’t a huge tome so you never know.

  • Hi Rebecca. Thank you for visiting my blog today: Keep The Wisdom and for commenting. And the connection is Susan of The Cue Card! How cool!! I like your blog and am signing up to follow. I see you have checked out my review of Hagseed, so you know I liked it quite a bit. I have been reading all the Hogarth retellings as they are released. At last, I am reading Shakespeare after years of avoiding his plays. I look forward to more reviews here.

    • Thanks, Judy. I’ve also added Keep the Wisdom to my Bloglovin’ feed. I do love Shakespeare and my favorites are the plays in the original forms – especially Hamlet, my absolute favorite. Titus is another favorite. These books are definitely a great way to connect with Shakespeare!

  • I love your breakdown of the characters. I haven’t read The Tempest in over a decade. I have been putting off reading Hag-seed due to this; I am afraid I’ll miss all sorts of Shakespearean awesome if I don’t re-read The Tempest before hand.

    Have you read other books in this series of retellings?

    • Thanks, Jackie. I have not read any others in this series. I picked up Hag-Seed because it was a book club choice. In fact, my book club meets tonight and it was the reason why I did this character breakdown. I’m going to see if anyone else there can help with my character associations. It was a fun project. 🙂

      • I hope your book club went well! Did you learn anything new from that discussion?

        • Possibly – the character I had pegged for playing Gonzalo might be Lonnie instead of Estelle. Most people didn’t take to the book too well.

          • That’s a shame! I’ve only read Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, so I don’t have much to go by. However, I imagine this might be a more challenging book if you are unfamiliar with The Tempest.

  • I hadn’t heard of this and it sounds really interesting, thank you for blogging about it. I’ll have to take a closer look because I’m intrigued!

    • Thanks, Olivia! If you like Shakespeare, you might want to check out the entire series!

  • Lauren

    Great review! I’ve heard so many great things about it! I definitely want to try it. 🙂

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