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UT E 303C - The Tempest Revitalized

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Trey AshmoreDr. LoehlinTC303C11 December 2020The Tempest RevitalizedHumans depend on stories for survival. Stories elicit recognizable patterns from which diverse groups glean meaning and develop a better understanding of others and the world. Literature functions as a medium humans have utilized to share stories for centuries, evolving in composition and style yet retaining a similar effect on its audience. Authors often follow the development of a protagonist through the plot to entertain, educate, and evoke emotion from the audience. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood typifies compelling literature by masterfully recreating The Tempest in a modern context, engaging the reader along the personal development of Felix and Fletcher Correctional inmates as they learn to perform Shakespeare’s play. Felix’s character development immerses the reader in Hag-Seed’s plot, evoking empathy and eventually closure on his behalf. Atwood describes with meticulous detail Felix’s apprehension of a “denture meltdown” at his upcoming finale, shedding light on his career in theatre and aligning the reader’s perspective with his. (Atwood, 9) Describing Felix’s “bare existence” as “fallen, [...] deflated, [and] reduced” immediately conjures pity for his dejected emotional state (Atwood, 10) In chapter two, Atwood amplifies the reader’s pity for Felix by elaborating on his grief “los[ing] his only child,” his wife, then his beloved career, leaving him physically and emotionally isolated in a hillside cabin. (Atwood, 11) Atwood’s exposition in Act I emotionally invests the reader in Felix’s situation and motivates the reader to continue reading in anticipation of his redemption from ill fate. As Felix works with the inmates at FletcherCorrectional, he develops from a character feigning the personality of a “genial but authoritative retired teacher and theater wonk” to embodying the teacher who “generously donates his time because he believes in the possibility of betterment.” (Atwood, 60) Felix’s final line to the hallucinated Miranda, “to the elements be free,” marks his liberation from all-consuming grief and leaves the reader with a sense of closure to close the novel, producing an optimistic outlook for Felix’s future and deliverance from the calamity imposed upon him. (Atwood, 292)Hag-Seed’s witty duplication of Prospero through Felix also leaves the reader with a nuanced understanding of his transformation throughout the novel. Just as Prospero begins The Tempest trapped on an island, so too does Felix “exile” himself to a remote cottage after being fired from his job. (Atwood, 48) Furthermore, minor details like Felix’s comment to actors, “let’smake magic!” conjure the spirit of Prospero in a modern setting. (Atwood, 09) Connecting the art of theatre to Prospero’s magic gives the theme of illusion modern relevance and functions as ameans for Felix to avenge Tony’s injustice. Instead of exploiting the marginalized inmates to achieve his vengeance, as Prospero does Caliban, he treats the inmates with dignity, unleashing their “talent that would have otherwise lie hidden, and that has the power to call forth light and being from darkness and chaos.” (Atwood, 80) This facilitates Felix’s transformation from the self-centered man consumed with regaining his former position in the opening act to a teacher genuinely concerned with his students’ growth. Felix fostering personal growth within the inmates gives the inmates an opportunistic outlook that actively works to break the perpetuation of the cycle of incarceration, instead of perpetuating the colonialist social organization of The Tempest. Felix’s role training and educating the inmates adds a degree of modern nuance to the colonialist image presented in The Tempest. Confronting the reader with the question of whether Felix represents a paternalistic figure in his interaction with the inmates, or whether his positiveimpact on their lives justifies his exploitation of their talent, stimulates the reader’s thought and creates a morally ambiguous portrait of Felix in Hag-Seed. Similarly, the inmates fill the role of Caliban, their dialogue underscoring the societal demonization yet dynamic strength of incarcerated individuals. Perceived outwardly as adulterated, inferior members of society, the prisoners immediately identify with Caliban’s character, an inmate exclaiming, “‘we get him.’” (Atwood, 122) Accordingly, by attaching such debased associative language as “evil, stupid, [and] ugly [...] monster” to describe Caliban, they project these modifiers onto themselves, reflecting the prisoners’ pejorative self-perception and stereotype of the modern prison population. (Atwood, 122) However, instead of adopting a defeatist attitude toward Caliban’s situation, they embrace his strength and resilience: “everyone kicks him around but he don’t let’s break him” (Atwood, 122) Society likewise victimizes incarcerated individuals, afforded an abysmal lifestyle within the prison system and limited opportunity upon emancipation. When reflecting on the legacies of various characters after their play, Leggs, a Native American prisoner, ties Caliban’s struggle to that of marginalized groups throughout history in his rap: “Ain’t gonna get on the back of the bus / and you can give your land right back to us!” (Atwood, 278) Associating Caliban’s struggle to victimized groups’ pursuit of civil rights and equality sheds a more positive light on Caliban’s character than his representation in The Tempest, paralleling a more optimistic outlook on the future of the inmates’victimization within the prison system. Ultimately, this encouraging perception and strong identification with Caliban inspires the prisoners to fulfill Felix’s plan and revolt against the politicians who represent their oppressors. Atwood’s transformation of Caliban from a character distinguished by submission to adversity to one harnessing the agency to advance their quest for justice produces an inspiring effect takeaway for the reader, one inspiring the fight against theoppression of victimized groups, like the incarcerated. Atwood reframing Caliban’s portrait offers a new interpretation of the work that bears particular relevance today. Hag-Seed effectively immerses the reader in the development of both Felix and the inmates to revitalize the themes of The Tempest in a modern


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