Revenge Fantasies and Hag-Seed

Hag-Seed, the Tempest Retold, by Margaret Atwood


I love revenge fantasies. I indulge in them all the time. Makes my husband nuts; he complains about an incompetent or  psychopathic employee (he’s had both), and I’m ready to out the asshole all over social media. Turning such impulses into fantasy helps me to control my temper, which breaks out unexpectedly after I’ve been over-patient for too long. (Or just because my inner Little Judy is having a bad day.)

Atwood’s Hag-Seed is the ultimate revenge fantasy. I loved it. I loved it even more because it’s based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Although A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing are my favorite plays by ol’ Will, The Tempest runs a close third.

Felix, our hero, gets pushed out of the theatre company he founded, betrayed by his assistant, who is an up-and-coming political type. Depressed and lost, Felix hides in a run-down cabin for years, before taking a job teaching theatre in a prison. The job helps him as much as it helps the prisoners.

But then they learn that the prison theatre program is on the political chopping block, due to one of those arts-hating functionaries. Worse, the art-hater’s sidekick is Felix’s old enemy. So our hero enlists prisoners into creating a immersive-theatre version of The Tempest, with the two political evil-doers cast as the usurping King Alonso and his henchman Antonio. Insanity ensues. Revenge is sweet.

The book also serves as a a great introduction to The Tempest; if you’re teaching Shakespeare to a bunch of un-interested students, get them to read this instead of Cliff Notes. The prisoner’s notions about what happens after the end of the play are particularly enlightening.

This is the writer who created The Handmaid’s Tale, which I could never finish because it’s too awfully true. I loved her early books, The Edible Woman and Lady Oracle. Clearly I need to read the rest.


this is the cover of the version I never finished.

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