Hogarth Shakespeare: Hag-Seed

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Some of the most well-known authors of our generation have joined together to create the Hogarth Shakespeare series. Each author is retelling one of Shakespeare's most well-known plays. It's a brilliant idea and one that I'm loving so far. Tracy Chevalier wrote New Boy, the story of Othello set in a Washington D.C. grade school in the 1970s. Anne Tyler tackled The Taming of the Shrew in Vinegar Girl, turning the soured Kate into the daughter of a scientist looking for a green card marriage for his lab assistant. In Margaret Atwoods' Hag-Seed we meet Felix, a modern-day Prospero. He's the eccentric director of a theatre festival, but after being betrayed, he exiles himself as he plots his revenge.

With the other two books I've read in the series I couldn't help but compare them to the original the entire time I was reading them. With Hag-Seed I kept forgetting that it is a remake of The Tempest, even though they are talking about the original play through the novel. The plot and the characters are strong enough that they stand on their own. I kept getting sucked into the story, which is exactly what you want.

I love that every aspect of the retelling is not literal. Miranda is his daughter, but she passed away when she was little. He is not stranded on an island, but instead he's trapped in an isolation of his own making. He takes a job teaching Shakespeare to inmates at a local prison. I love how he has to introduce Shakespeare to them and in doing so, we as the readers are able to appreciate some of the primal aspects of the Bard's work.  We often treat Shakespeare as high-browed and far above lay people. In reality he was often crass and played to the commonest level of humor. I love that Atwood manages to embrace that while still highlighting his deeper message.

BOTTOM LINE: Loved the book and the whole premise of the series. It's such a treat to see Shakespeare's work through a new lens. Just as every director of a film or play brings their interpretation to each piece, so do these authors.  I can't wait to read the rest of them!