British Fiction Focus

Margaret Atwood’s Hag-seed Revealed

Margaret Atwood’s prose retelling of The Tempest has a title! The novel is part of a project to make the tales of Billy Shakes relevant to a whole new generation of readers fully four centuries since the death of said—it got off to a fantastic start last year with The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson, which was a new take on The Winter’s Tale. Next up Hogarth has Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is My Name and Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler: retellings of The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew respectively.

Hag-seed itself revolves around the revenge of a theatre director named Felix who, having been unceremoniously ousted from his role as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festiva, is granted a chance to get his own back when he’s hired to teach theatre to a pack of prisoners—a motley lot who find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest certain to change their lives forever.

Chatto & Windus’ Deputy Publishing Director Becky Hardie has it that “there’s a lot of Shakespearean swearing in this new Tempest adventure”—including but not limited to the titular insult Prospero flings at Caliban in the original script—“but also a mischief, curiosity and vigour that’s entirely Atwood and is sure to delight her fans.”

The Tempest is a favourite of Atwood’s, apparently, “and working on it [was] an invigorating challenge. Is Caliban the first talking monster? Not quite, but close…”

Given her recent fascination with futurism, it’ll be particularly interesting to see how Atwood approaches the more fantastic aspects of The Tempest. At a guess, I’d suggest that the illusions plaguing the prisoners’ performances mightn’t be strictly explicable—but you have to imagine the great Canadian has something else up her sleeves.


Print, digital and audio editions of Hag-seed will be released “simultaneously across the English-speaking world” in early October by the fine folks behind Hogarth. After that, their Shakespeare scheme has several other surprises in store, such as Tracy Chevalier’s take on Othello, Gillian Flynn’s highly anticipated have-a-go at Hamlet, Jo Nesbo’s retelling of Macbeth and, last but not least, Edward St Aubyn’s adaptation of King Lear.

Lots, in other words, look forward to!

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and He lives with about a bazillion books, his better half and a certain sleekit wee beastie in the central belt of bonnie Scotland.


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