The Hogarth Press was founded by Virginia and Leonard Woolf in 1917. It was relaunched in 2012 as a partnership between Chatto & Windus in the UK and Crown in the U.S. In 2015 Hogarth launched the Hogarth Shakespeare program to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. "The project sees the Bard’s plays retold by acclaimed, bestselling novelists and brought to life for a contemporary readership." Hag-Seed is Margaret Atwood's take on The Tempest.
Nine years later, Felix spots an opportunity to teach in a nearby prison. He convinces the woman responsible for the job, a woman of a certain age who has known and admired Felix in his earlier life, that a program of mounting Shakespeare's plays in the prison would be valuable. He's hired to work three months a year, and produces Julius Caesar, Richard III, and MacBeth employing inmate actors and technicians. The plays are recorded on video and played through the prison's CCTV system (no assembling a large inmate audience in a medium-security prison) and well-received by the prisoners and administration.
In his fourth year at the prison Felix learns that Tony Price and Sal O'Nally, the two who colluded in sacking Felix from the Festival and now both government Ministers, will be visiting the prison in the spring: "The one place in the world where, with judicious timing, he might be able to wield more power than they could." Felix decides to produce a contemporary version of The Tempest, a revenge play as a vehicle for revenge.
Margaret Atwood is a sorceress. She never slips into mechanically moving her characters around to fit the plot while she does manage to set up echoes and resonances with Shakespeare's play.
—Felix, as theater director, is the wizard controlling events as he plays Prospero who employs magic to enchant his enemies.
—The prison might be an island.
—The relationship between Price, O'Nally, and Felix echo the relationship of Antonio, who usurped his brother Prospero's title as Duke of Milan; Alonso, the King of Naples; and Prospero, the rightful Duke.
—O'Nally brings his son Freddie into the prison to watch the production where he's attracted to the actress who plays Miranda; Alonso's son Ferdinand, also magically shipwrecked, falls in love with Miranda.
—Felix spends twelve years in his cell of a shack; Prospero spends twelve years before Alonso's ship strays close enough to his island that he can use his magic to simulate a shipwreck.
Because this is a contemporary production, in a prison, with inmates, directed by a man willing to push theatrical limits, Felix's Tempest includes raps that the cast—i.e., Atwood—writes. For example:
I'm the man, I'm the Duke, I'm the Duke of Milan,
You want to get pay, gotta do what I say.
Wasn't always this way, no, no,
I was once this dude called Antonio,
I was no big deal and it made me feel so bad, so mad,
Got under my skin, 'cause I couldn't ever win,
Got no respect, I was second in line,
But I just kept smilin', just kept lyin', said everything's fine . . . .
You don't have to know The Tempest to enjoy Hag-Seed. You will have to suspend disbelief if you are familiar with prison routine (although, to be fair, perhaps Canadian prisons operate differently than American). If you know your Shakespeare, however, I believe you'll find Hag-Seed a marvel and a joy.