[Originally appeared here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/li…]
The Shakespearean scent is high in the air in his 400th anniversary year and a handful of reputed authors are capturing it to present it anew in the Hogarth Shakespeareseries. A task so stimulating, so enchanting that it is bound to throw aromas of myriad nature into the literary air. And Margaret Atwood proves to be a fantastic flag-bearer of this spirited bunch.
Hag-Seed follows Felix, Prospero from the original. He is the accomplished Artistic Director of Makeshewig Festival and is on the verge of staging ‘The Tempest’, his most ambitious project till date. But things go wrong, thanks to his perfidious deputy, and he is fired abruptly, just days before the grand show. Forced to leave the town, Felix totters somehow to a deserted countryside home and spends the next twelve years grieving, teaching and scheming revenge. It all turns worthwhile when in the Fletcher Correctional Centre, where he teaches theatrics to prison inmates under the pseudonym of Mr. Duke, he receives the best news ever – a visit of his nemesis and his partners in crime to the Centre. And thus, the seething ember of revenge suddenly compounds to a raging fire within and he leaves no stone unturned to set the equation right.
.…exiled by their unjust hands, lying in wait for them, preparing his ambush. It’s taken a while, but revenge is a dish best eaten cold, he reminds himself.
Hag-Seed hinges on The Tempest – the lesser-debated, milder cousin of the soot-dark Hamlet and Othello. But the admirer of Shakespearean literature is me holds ‘The Tempest’ very close to her heart as it was her first exposure to the Bard’s works. It had the good and the bad in remarkable equity and was presented in a most affable yet emphatic tone. The inspired version conjured by Atwood, thankfully, reaffirms my love.
The choice of a prison as her stage is an unconventional but smart decision on part of Atwood. This provides her an almost clean slate to etch her interpretations as the reader is compelled to suspend biases and sway along with her. After all, how many of us are privy to the routine exchanges of prisoners? She imparts spunk, humor and sincerity to the inmates without sacrificing the authenticity of their backgrounds. She puts her vast writing experience to good use while erecting parallel story-lines, so that none of them look out of place and each sub-plot settles comfortably within the entire story like pieces of a puzzle. The new angles she provides to the original story are a delight, especially the part where the inmates are asked to extrapolate the climax and fuse them into their imagination to arrive at the life each character might have had after the story’s finale. Despite no shock element or vertiginous revelation, Atwood’s swift, consistent and uncomplicated language holds the story in good stead and one gets used to it like a face getting used to the unwavering breeze caressing it across a window.
It may not be wrong to say that I dismissed most traces of the Bard’s ‘The Tempest’ while reading Atwood’s Hag-Seed and after a while, only the latter’s flag kept fluttering in the narrative space. Now, that, was a mild tempest (and an enjoyable one) in its own right!
[Image courtesy razzmag.com]