Hag-seed

Margaret Atwood

Context

Personal Context

Margaret Atwood was raised by two university academics so has always been involved in the academic community and strongly identifies herself as a feminist for her entire career.

A cynical way of looking at the role of Miranda in Hag-Seed is that Felix objectifies her for personal gain. But even then, her character is granted more depth and complexity than Shakespeare affords to Prospero's daughter. Within Felix's production of Hag-Seed, Atwood grants even more agency to Miranda, as the actress chosen to portray her argues that she should be given more power and influence and depicted as being more in control than in Shakespeare's original play. 

Atwood has always championed women’s rights but has been realistic about what that means for society and how reform should be implemented.  

Individualism

The idea that people are put on earth to serve God's purpose is less pervasive; rather, there is a tendency to view people's motivations as self-interested, which stems from people viewing their existence as more individualistic rather than community-based. Basically, everyone is out to do what's best for them and the respective consequences are mostly irrelevant. 

Materialism

Where people in Shakespeare's time found a sense of purpose in their faith, since the mid-20th century people have found a similar sense of comfort in material objects and commercial indulgences.

Psychedelics & Drugs

A symbol of escape from the routine of corporate culture/power politics.The magic of The Tempest is recreated as drugs in Hag-Seed. 

Corporate Power Politics

Corporate culture of competition really came into existence in the mid to late 20th century - people prized their position in the corporate world and therefore their superiority over colleagues, and remain very protective of their status. 

Atwood wrote the novel in 2014-15, amid conflicts in the Middle East (Syria, Yemen, Lybia, Egypt), growing tensions between the West (USA) and East (Russia, China) and North Korea, and growing threats to democracy across the world (the rise of populism in Europe and South America, the election of Trump, Brexit).

Postcolonialism

Everything that happened after colonialism (so, an exploration of its consequences). Atwood is very progressive, so she sympathises with the groups that are marginalised in Shakespeare's original text.This becomes clear in the scene where all the prisoners want to play Caliban.

Plot

Prologue: The Screening

The novel begins with the opening storm scene from Felix’s production of The Tempest. It ends with the beginning of a prison riot.

I Dark Background

After losing his job as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, the protagonist, Felix, is furious. His anger is squarely directed at his former assistant and the man who betrayed him, Tony Price. He also believes the Heritage Minister, Sal O’Nally, to be responsible for his downfall. 

 

It is revealed that Felix’s wife, Nadia, tragically died shortly after the birth of their daughter, Miranda. Miranda then dies at the age of three. These compounding tragedies send Felix spiralling and, desperate to escape the trauma of his life, he invents a new identity – Mr. Duke. 

 

He begins a period of isolation that lasts for nine years, during which time he begins to converse with his dead daughter, in what is both an indication of how stricken he is with grief and also the beginnings of his attempt to make sense of what has happened to him. 

 

While in this self-exile, he takes a job at the Fletcher County Correctional Institute and begins teaching Shakespeare to the prisoners there. 

II Brave Kingdom

The novel jumps four years into the future, where Felix has just discovered that funding for his course in Shakespeare is under threat and that two government ministers will be coming to the prison to evaluate the worth of the program. Fate has dictated that the two ministers are none other than Tony and Sal – Felix’s enemies. Realising that the moment for his revenge has arrived, Felix begins plotting against the men. 

 

He decides that he will use a production of The Tempest, using the inmates to fill all the roles except for Miranda’s, who will be played by Anne-Marie Greenland, the actress whom Felix originally wanted to play Miranda before he was fired. 

III These are our Actors

Felix convinces the inmates to join him in his production of the play. He gives each cast member two roles: their own from the play, and as one of ‘Prospero’s Goblins.’ Felix selects ‘8Handz’ as Ariel, because he has experience in technology and surveillance systems. Leggs, in prison for breaking and entering, is cast as Caliban. Felix casts himself as Prospero. 

IV Rough Magic

The bond between Felix and Greenland increasingly resembles that of a father and his daughter. Nonetheless, the memory of Miranda continues to weigh heavily on Felix’s mind. Miranda’s ghost communicates her desire to be involved in the production of The Tempest, and Felix decides that she can be Ariel’s understudy. 

 

During the interactive performance of The Tempest, Tony attempts to encourage Sebert to murder Sal and Lonnie for Tony’s political gain. 

 

The Goblins had provided drinks spiked with sedatives for Sal and Lonnie. The door to the room where they were being kept is opened, and they enter another room that is empty except for a table in the centre with grapes in a bowl on it. Everyone except Lonnie eats some of the grapes, which were spiked with drugs that produce a hallucinatory effect, terrifying those who consumed it. 

 

Felix has arranged for 8Handz to record everything, and he plans to use the footage of the ministers hallucinating to discredit them. 

 

Sal’s son, Freddy, and Greenland fall instantly in love – Felix approves of the match. Felix is guided by spirit Miranda to abandon the final part of his plan in favour of virtue.

V This Thing of Darkness

The cast present reports about what they learned about The Tempest during their production of it. Even Felix has learned something new – that he should let go of his revenge plot and try to move on. The cast have also moved on, in different ways. Some of them start a band, while others begin new lives outside of prison. Spirit Miranda is impressed by the inmates’ passion and energy, which forces Felix to adopt a more empathetic tone. 

Epilogue Set Me Free

As Felix packs up his things and gets ready to leave what has been his home for the past nine years, he reflects on the success of his plot. He is especially happy that he did not have to release the footage – instead, by just having Tony know of its existence, he has been able to get what he wants. Ultimately however, Felix has learned that forgiveness and mercy are superior to revenge. 

 

The novel ends with spirit Miranda being freed from the ‘prison’ of her father’s anguish. He releases her with the same line as Prospero does to Ariel: ‘To the elements be free.’ 

quote table

Quote
Technique
Idea
“Light is pouring through the window”
Imagery, Symbolism
Forgiveness
“You might as well have taken me out and shot me”
Hyperbole, Violent imagery
Grief, Revenge, Art
“All dark within, no light at the window”
Symbolism
Imprisonment
"What has he been thinking -- keeping her tethered to him all this time? Forcing her to do his bidding? How selfish he has been! Yes, he loves her: his dear one, his only child. But he knows what she truly wants, and what he owes her."
Hypophora
Grief, Imprisonment, Gender
“He’d trusted that evil-hearted, social-climbing, Machiavellian foot-licker”
Imagery, Emotive description, Political allusion
Power, Revenge
“he could have brought out her talent, he could have taught her so much. It would have made her career."
Anaphora
Gender, Control, Art
"Watching the many faces watching their own faces as they pretended to be someone else -- Felix found that strangely moving"
Repetition
Control, Art
"Lavinia, Juliet, Cordelia, Perdita, Marina. All the lost daughters. But some of them had been found again. Why not his Miranda?"
Accumulation, Foreshadowing, Literary allusion
Grief, Art
“He was never ready when a slice of filth came out of her child-like mouth.”
Metaphor
Gender, Power
“Felix the cloud-riding enchanter, Tony the earth-based factotum and gold-grubber.”
Juxtaposition
Power

The Tempest

Hag-Seed