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Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
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  1. 00
    Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by Laura Bates (krazy4katz)
    krazy4katz: A real life inspiring example of teaching Shakespeare to convicts.
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    The Tempest by William Shakespeare (sturlington)
    sturlington: Hag-Seed was inspired by The Tempest
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Involving retelling of a Tempest as part of Hogarth Shakespeare project. ( )
  jconnell | May 28, 2017 |
Confession time: I have had a crush on actor R. H. Thomson since 1974 when he performed in several plays put on by the Manitoba Theatre Centre. He has gone on to do lots of films and TV since then but I'll always remember him in the farce by Peter Shaeffer called Black Comedy. He is terrific actor and Canada should be proud of him. I learned that he narrated Hag-Seed and immediately put a hold on the download at my library. And he is as good an audiobook narrator as he is an actor. Teaming him up with Margaret Atwood's wryly comic writing makes an unbeatable combination.

Hag-Seed is another name for Caliban, the monster who inhabits the island Prospero and his daughter Miranda are shipwrecked upon. Felix was a high-flying artistic director in a major theatrical festival (think Stratford) and was about to direct The Tempest when he is unfairly fired in order to put someone else into the directorship. The Tempest is a very special play to Felix; his daughter, dead at the age of three, was named Miranda and he saw mounting the play as a eulogy for her. Licking his wounds he becomes a virtual hermit in a shack until he sees a job posting for someone to teach literature to inmates in a medium-security prison. He gets the job and proceeds to the class of prisoners perform a Shakespearean play each year. He started with Macbeth and Richard III but in his third year he had the class perform The Tempest. The people who were responsible for his firing are now political bigwigs and they are coming to the prison to see the performance. Felix sees his opportunity for revenge as life copies the play. His cast has to help with the plot but they are all for it and it comes off brilliantly.

If you don't know the play you might want to read it or watch a film adaptation before reading the book. Atwood, like Shakespeare before her, has lots of subtleties worked into the book and the reading experience will be all that richer if you can understand them. This is Atwood at her comic best. Highly recommended. ( )
  gypsysmom | May 28, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I enjoyed this updating of "The Tempest," but it isn't my favorite. The whole plot line of the prisoners performing Shakespeare seemed to be utterly original, but it somehow just fell flat for me. ( )
  Electablue | May 17, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Although a fun read, HAG-SEED is not Margaret Atwood’s best work. This is primarily because of the restraints imposed under the Hogarth Shakespeare project. To recognize Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, several established writers have been asked to re-imagine his plays as novels. Atwood tackles “The Tempest” with her trademark humor and consummate understanding of the original play. Yet the final product comes across as formulaic. She seems to be just ticking off the elements of the original. While obviously enjoying her task and certainly giving the reader much enjoyment in ferreting out all of the links to the original, the novel seems to be more of an exercise than something new, rich, and exciting.

Much of the plot seems banal and expedient. In fairness to Atwood, this may derive from her attempting to adhere too closely to the Hogarth charge. For example, the plot’s basic structure seems facile (i.e., placing the original play within and repeating its key elements in a thinly disguised narrative). Atwood conveys a sense that all of the characters, are under Felix’s magical spell, all too readily becoming complicit with his outlandish revenge scheme. Indeed excessive behind-the-scenes machinations (e.g., psychedelic drugs, sophisticated digital effects, professional choreography) ultimately feel contrived and lacking in the magic of illusion so evident in “The Tempest.”

Likewise, the settings lack subtlety. After being deposed by the evil and opportunistic Tony Price (aka Anonio), Felix goes off the grid (à la Prospero) by holing up for 12 years in a wilderness cabin that feels like a Calibanesque cave. There, he somehow taps into high speed Internet—which he uses to track and obsess over his nemesis—and acquires the companionship of his deceased daughter, named Miranda of course. The other setting Atwood employs is the Burgess Correctional Institution, serving as a stand-in for the island Shakespeare used to imprison his characters. Felix is there to teach cultural literacy to the inexplicably docile inmates using Shakespeare’s plays as a tool.

Felix Phillips is the only well-developed character in the novel. He plays Prospero in the prison play along with being its impresario. The latter role offers Atwood a convenient way to be didactic without actually seeming so. While expounding to his prisoner-actors on the main themes of Shakespeare’s play (illusion, betrayal, revenge, imprisonment, grief), Felix alerts the reader to these same elements in Atwood’s novel. While showing up for a photo op at the prison, Tony and Lonnie Gordon (aka Gonzalo), the Chairman of the Board that fired Felix as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival a dozen years earlier, Felix gets his revenge. However, all of the coincidences Atwood must evoke to make this work strain credulity (e.g., Tony’s rise in politics, the potential loss of funding for the prison literacy program, the inclusion of Tony’s son on the site visit team, and especially the willingness of most of the minor characters in the novel to collude, even against their own best interests).

Of course, being Margaret Atwood, the writing is uniformly excellent and goes a long way toward redeeming much of what is a flawed novel. Among the narrative delights are the replacement of modern cursing with Shakespearean swears (“Hag-seed” is just the most prominent example, but she includes a full glossary in the text.); a delightful rap version of one of the play’s passages; and a debriefing session where the prisoners speculate about the futures of the various characters in the play. Fortunately, Shakespeare was much too clever to neatly wrap things up this way. ( )
  ozzer | May 15, 2017 |
This was a fun, if not earth-shattering, re-telling of The Tempest. Atwood writes good dialogue, and the story moves briskly. Her Prospero is Felix, a slightly comical theater director who is unseated by his conniving business manager. Felix gets a part-time gig teaching in a literacy program in a local prison, and stages The Tempest in an elaborate revenge plot after hearing that Tony, his erstwhile manager and now local politician, will be touring the facility.

The plot is pretty unbelievable, particularly the fake prison riot that Felix's players stage during Tony's visit, but then again, believability isn't really the point of The Tempest. More to the point, the novel is slightly too talky for my taste. Felix and the various characters pontificate about the meaning of The Tempest and their actions at every point, and while those musings are often interesting, it all feels a little too much like the novel is telling us what to think about everything.

It really is a fun story, though, and a sub-plot about Felix's difficulty saying goodbye to his daughter Miranda, who died at age three of a mysterious illness, is poignant. ( )
  jalbacutler | May 8, 2017 |
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The house lights dim. The audience quiets.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Felix seeks revenge. 
Has jailbirds stage The Tempest.
Entraps his foes! Ha!

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0804141290, Hardcover)

Bestselling and multiple award-winning author Margaret Atwood retells The Tempest, one of Shakespeare's most stirring and unforgettable plays.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 03 Mar 2016 19:41:10 -0500)

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