Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Hag-Seed: The Tempest RetoldHag-Seed: The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Ban-ban Ca-Caliban,
Don’t need no master, I am not your man!
So stuff it up your hole, gimme back what you stole,
Tellin’ you it’s late, I’m fillin’ up with rage,
I’m gettin’ all set to go on a ram-page!
Ain’t gonna work for less than minimum wage---
Live in a shack and piss in a pail,
You earn yourself money by puttin’ me in jail!

You kick me in the head, you dump me in the snow,
Leave me there for dead,
‘Cause I’m nothin’ to you.
Ban, Ban, Ca-Caliban,
You think I’m an animal, not even a man!

Now Hag-Seed’s black and Hag-Seed’s brown,
Hag-seed’s red, don’t care if you frown,
Hag-Seed’s yellow and Hag-Seed’s trash white,
He goes by a lotta names, he’s roamin’ in the night,
You treated him bad, now he’s a sackful of fright,

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Djimon Hounsou plays Caliban in the wonderful 2010 movie of The Tempest, starring Helen Mirren as Prospero.

Felix is just too busy to notice. He has his head buried in his work, directing plays at the Makeshiweg Theatre. He has been doing it so long, with such success, that in theater circles, he is in fact a bit of a legend.

While he works, others plot.

He is caught in the clouds of his own dreams.

Well, until two large men from security appear, flanking his arch-nemesis (An)toni(o). Felix is frogged marched out to the alley, with a laughably small severance check and a few bags of belongings which are stuffed into his car by Burly #1 and Burly #2.

Just like that, he is deposed, usurped, overthrown, dethroned.

Felix decides that he needs to escape the city. Everything about the city just reminds him of the theater and his past glories. He finds a shack in the country, a hovel really, a cell. He tries to read all those Russian classics he always meant to read, but finds himself instead reading children books to his daughter Miranda.

(view spoiler)

Felix broods. He ponders. He grieves for his lost magic. He plots elaborate revenge scenarios. One thing he has learned from Shakespeare about revenge is that it is best served cold.

Get to know thy enemy.

”There was Felix, alone in his neglected corner reading the Google Alerts, and there were Tony and Sal, bustling about in the world, not suspecting that they had a shadower; a watcher, a waiter; an internet stalker.”

After many years of self-imposed exile Felix decides to apply for a job at a correctional facility teaching a literature course. He is, of course, grossly over qualified, but with a wink and a nudge at the Interviewer who recognized him, he was able to take the job under the name F. Duke.

His nod to Prospero who was the deposed Duke of Milan. He hoped to make his return from exile be Prospero’s escape, as well, from the dusty corners of Felix’s past frustrations. His plans to make The Tempest cut short by his enemies can now finally be realized. He throws out the curriculum at the correctional facility class and makes it all about Shakespeare.

Doomed to failure right? How can mostly uneducated, criminal minds get into Shakespeare?

Remember the pit at The Globe where the unwashed, the dregs, the petty criminals, and prostitutes filled the theater to capacity to watch Shakespeare’s plays? They were there to get away from their own lives for a couple of hours, but also to revel in the sword fights, the treachery, the intrigue, the ghosts, the magic, the star crossed love affairs, and the madness. Maybe they didn’t always catch all the higher ideal references that are sprinkled liberally among the tombstones, blood spilling, and flying spirits of Shakespeare’s plays, but the level of success Shake and Bake enjoyed attests to the fact that the mob as well as royalty and gentry enjoyed his productions.

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Yo, Shakespeare, lay some words on me bro. Painting by Mathew McFarren.

Those incarcerated with the help of The Duke started to see Shakespeare for the badass dude he was. Literacy rates increased. The program because immensely popular. ”Watching the many faces watching their own faces as they pretended to be someone else---Felix found that strangely moving. For once in their lives, they loved themselves.”

With such a hugely successful program the government should be excited about duplicating what Felix is doing in every prison in the country, right? Erhhhh not exactly. ”In their announcement, they’re going to call it an indulgence, a raid on the taxpayer wallet, a pandering to the liberal elites, and a reward for criminality.” I know this is Canada, but they must have stolen their talking points from the Republican party in the United States. Justice is about punishment not rehabilitation. In their minds those who have crossed swords with the law don’t deserve the help they need to be something more than just ex-cons when they step out of prison.

And the politician and his cronies who is coming to visit this program and see with their own eyes the overindulgence of these miscreants, is none other than Felix’s old friend Tony. As Felix dons the coat of many stuffed animals and transforms into Prospero can he set revenge aside to save the program or will all of his work just be a springboard to destroy his enemies?

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Doesn’t Margaret Atwood look capable of casting a spell or conjuring a tempest at will?

This is yet another great retelling of a classic in the Hogarth Shakespeare series. I would highly recommend reading The Tempest before reading this, but if not you can read the synopsis of The Tempest in the back pages of the Hag-Seed and that will give you an idea of how wonderfully Margaret Atwood has transformed the original into a heartwarming, brilliant new story. I could not put this book down. Highly recommended!!

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The TempestThe Tempest by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

****Spoiler alert. Which seems really funny to do with a play over 400 years old.****

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”Our revels now are ended...These our actors,
As I fortold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which is inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind: we are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep…”

I’ve read this piece of writing numerous times in my life. I’ve discussed it in college classes. It has been mentioned or referred to several times in other books I’ve read over the years. Yet, I was reading along, caught up in Shakespeare’s prose. By this point in the play, I am as zoned in as if I were a petty thief, or a washerwoman, or a butcher with blood under my fingernails in the pit at The Globe, watching this play unfold before my eyes. Ariel may have even cast a spell on me from beyond the pale.

”We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”

With all that exposure to these words, these bloody brilliant words, my eyes still sting with tears as if I am reading them for the first time. Maybe it is the spell of Shakespeare, but I am caught completely unawares. As jaded as I think I am, and life has proved to be less than ideal for me, my reaction to this line tells me that I still have a strand of hope twined round my soul.

I still believe in dreams.

Prospero, through the treachery of his brother Antonio, is deposed as Duke of Milan. He is sent out in a leaky boat with his child Miranda to die, but he does not die and lands on an island where he raises his daughter. He survives through the help of a savage, a Hag-seed (born of a witch), who shows he and his daughter how to survive on the island. When Caliban is overcome with desire for Miranda (he had dreams of repopulating the island with little Calibans), Prospero reacts as many fathers would, by enslaving Caliban through magic acquired from his command of the spirit Ariel.

In this time period, writers believed that magicians became powerful through their dominance over a spirit. Wizards did not have power themselves, but only by commanding a spirit to do their bidding.

Caliban is an interesting character. Since he was on the island first, he sees himself as king of the island. His subjugation by Prospero can be interpreted as the same type of subjugation imposed upon indigenous people all over the world. Caliban is brutal, physically strong, mentally weak, and vengeful. He knows what is important to Prospero, even more important possibly than his daughter Miranda.

”First to possess his books; for without them
He’s but a sot, as I am; nor hath not
One spirit to command: they all do hate him,
As rootedly as I. Burn but his books.
He has brave utensils--for so he calls them--
Which, when he has a house, he’ll deck withal.”

It shows how close Caliban and Prospero once were that Prospero would be sharing such dreams with Caliban. Books are what got Prospero in trouble in the first place.

”Knowing I loved my books, he furnished me
From mine own library with volumes that
I prize above my dukedom.”

Prospero, in other words, had his head buried in books so deeply that he was unprepared for his brother to usurp his place. He was searching for power and, in the process, lost what power he already possessed. Thank goodness the faithful Gonzalo took pity on Prospero and snuck his books on the boat. Nothing worse than being marooned on an island without books. To keep from going mad, I would have to carve what I can remember of the great classics into the bark of wood.

”Call me Ishmael.”

Revenge burns bright in the soul of Prospero, and when he gets his chance, he sends Ariel to create a tempest to bring his enemies to him. They just happen to be on a ship passing close to the island. What opportunity be this!

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King Alonso of Naples, who helped Antonio overthrow his brother, is now on the island. So is his son Ferdinand, his brother Sebastian, and of course, the main focus of vengeance for Prospero, his brother Antonio. Needless to say, treachery abounds among the troop. Antonio actively encourages Sebastian to do as he did and overthrow his brother. What better opportunity than here on an island? Toss him in a bog, or run him through with a sword, or maybe let Caliban eat him. What makes this all very interesting to me is that Prospero, using Ariel, intercedes.

When we get to the end of the play and they are all saved by the boat returning, Prospero says:

”I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.”

Okay, so Prospero and his lovely daughter Miranda are about to get on a boat with all these other duplicitous, backstabbing, certainly untrustworthy, wickedly ambitious people, and he has just released Ariel from his service and destroyed his ability to summon a protective spirit?

So what are the chances that Prospero gets slung off into the ocean to be a tasty treat for a swarm of sharks and Miranda doesn’t marry Ferdinand, but becomes his mistress Mandy?

There has also been speculation about whether Caliban gets on the boat to sail back to Italy with them. In my mind, Caliban sees himself as the King of the Island, so why would he leave now that his usurper is leaving? Nice parallel with Antonio overthrowing Prospero, and Prospero overthrowing Caliban.

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As always with Shakespeare there is much to puzzle on in each and everyone of his plays. I’ve only chosen to discuss a few aspects of the play of most interest to me this time reading it. Next time, it could be several other aspects that catch my attention for discussion. I know there are many who do not appreciate Shakespeare, but he is worth the effort. Read Cliff’s Notes, consult Spark Notes, and read summaries of the plot even before reading the play. The extra work will increase your understanding and enjoyment of any of his plays. Hopefully, once in a while, the Bard will catch you off guard as he does me and touch your reader’s soul with words that lift that weary mantle of cynicism from your shoulders for a brief and beautiful moment.

”My Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lye
A little further, to make thee a roome…,
Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe,
And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
-----Ben Jonson

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