- Hag-seed


by Margaret Atwood

June, 2019

I've been simultaneously reading and listening to an audio version of the novel Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. The main character is Felix Phillips, a famous artistic actor and theatre director. Felix is a very hardworking man and dedicated to the importance and impact of art and theatre in culture, so he is naïvely unaware of the conspiracies going on behind his back, and he has had several personal crises, first the loss of his wife, who died of a galloping staph infection shortly after the birth of their daughter, Miranda, who then died of meningitis at the age of three.

During the preparation and staging of Shakespeare's The Tempest, Felix is outmanoeuvred and sacked by his rival and companion Tony. Always accompanied by the soul of his beloved lost daughter Miranda at his side, he drives his car to the middle of nowhere, in a kind of backyard white trash area of Canada, where he settles down in "exile" for 12 years, before returning in revenge as an art teacher, giving classes in a prison. He begins to teach the prisoners behind bars the art of acting, theatre and stagecraft, performing various Shakespeare plays. It all ends with the staging of his former interrupted play, The Tempest, where he takes his revenge in a very subtle way.

The Atwood story is an amazing parallel between prison, exile, revenge, forgiveness and the different scenes of the play. The additional parallel interpretations of The Tempest given by the prisoners are simply fascinating. Perfectly read, not missing a single word, Robert Holmes Thomson gives an additional and perhaps further parallel version of the novel and the play, his readings and theatrical interpretations are sometimes simply breathtaking and amazing!

In Sweden, The Tempest and Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor inspired August Strindberg in 1907 to write his play "Spöksonaten", where he (Strindberg) thought he heard mysterious voices in the music of Beethoven - just as Margaret Atwood had Felix hear his daughter all around him, and at the same time interact in the play as Miranda, the daughter of Prospero (Felix), who has been banished to the distant island by Antonio (Tony). It is heartbreaking how Margaret Atwood had the dancer and actress Anne-Marie Greenland transform this patriarchal prison in the name of Miranda, the castaway girl.

Make shi weg
Make she weg
Make her way
She is on her way
… has gone
She is on the road
… has risen
… is born
She is free
To the elements to be free
And, finally, she is.

Makeshiweg is the fictional place/town in Canada with the annual theatre festival where the main character, Felix Phillips, plans a production of The Tempest. One allusion, of course, is to the Milan of the play. The novel ends with the words: "Be free to the elements, he says to her. And at last she is."