Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Likely Stories: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

  Fun adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, set in a maximum security prison.




I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies. 

I have never been a fan of adaptations of classic plays and operas reset into modern times.  One particularly egregious example, which infuriated me, was a Mozart opera set in a bowling alley.  Another noted example is Hamlet played with no background, no props and all the actors dressed in black with black turtlenecks.  However, lately, I have enjoyed some of the products of the Hogarth Shakespeare Press.  Hogarth, founded in 1917 by Virginia and Leonard Woolf, went out of business in 1946.  In 2010, the press was revived by Random House under Crown Printing, with the stated purpose of issuing modern adaptations.  I have read their version of Taming of the Shrew as Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  The latest addition to this series is Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood.  Tastes change as time passes.

Felix is a renowned theater director at the Makeshiweg Theater Festival.  He is planning a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Tempest.  Tony covets Felix position, and objects to the new version, and he plots to bring down Felix and take his job.

Felix bitterly accepts the loss of his job, and he plots revenge on Tony.  Felix stays secluded, but he answers an ad for someone to teach literacy in a local prison.  Felix applies for the job – no one else did – and he agrees to take on teaching, provided he can have complete artistic control, and he must be allowed to work under the name of Mr. Duke.  At first, the prison administration is skeptical, but after he puts on several productions, they see the change in the prisoners, and encourage him to continue.

Twelve years later, Felix still seethes at Tony’s duplicity.  He learns that the Minister of Justice and the head of the prison system are scheming to do away with Felix and the literacy program.  He sees an opportunity to exact revenge, help some of the inmates, and have some fun at the same time.  Felix is also haunted by the death of his daughter, Miranda, at age three.  As he plunges into the production, he becomes more and more like Prospero.  He even imagines his daughter is speaking to him.  She wants to play Miranda, but that spot has been cast for Anne-Marie, a professional actor and friend of Felix.

While the premise of the story edges on the preposterous, it is all done in great fun.  Some smuggled grapes – laced with narcotics – some fancy electrical equipment brought in under the excuse of sticking to a real theater experience, and with the help of Anne-Marie as Miranda, Felix pulls off the event.  He saves the program, and he helps the inmates in various ways.

I have not included any excerpts in this review, because the language of Shakespeare, the rap versions of the Bard’s lines, and the near hallucinations of Felix and his deceased daughter, all meld into one terrific story.  Margaret Atwood has assembled an interesting and fun version of The Tempest.  Several other plays have been adapted, and I can’t wait until I discover where my newly-found tastes will take me.  5 stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  You can read more at  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.