"The Isle Is Full of Noises": the Many Tempests of Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed


If a central goal of adaptation studies is to understand how interrelated texts and contexts work with and against each other, then Margaret Atwood’s novelization of The Tempest offers us many such sites of juxtaposition to explore. Hag-Seed contains a universe of adaptations, palimpsestuous within itself, writing and rewriting, both commenting within and offering commentary beyond its textual boundaries. At first glance, the text might seem to be a faithful retelling of Shakespeare’s play, but whereas Shakespeare’s Prospero metaphorically directs a play, Atwood’s protagonist, the ousted theater director Felix Phillips, literally stages a play—his own version of The Tempest. As Atwood’s narrative unfolds, we witness Felix wrestle with his own adaptive choices and those of his actors. As ideas about adaptations proliferate within the text, the novel allows us to consider simultaneously adaptation as product and process. In this essay, I examine Atwood’s conspicuous focus on the adaptive process within her adaptation, which she accomplishes both through her use of narrative and paratext. I will argue that once the creative power of adaptation is released—like the magic on Prospero’s island—it has the potential to transform and be transformed by all of those who come into contact with it. Just as Shakespeare’s island is “full of noises,” Atwood’s novel is full of the multivocalism of adaptations that sit side by side, overlap, push against each other, and even at times break down altogether.

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