Haunted by grief over the loss of his young daughter, Felix is a gifted director at a theatre festival. He plans an inspired interpretation of The Tempest, but is unfairly ousted from his beloved position by a jealous and inadequate rival.

As his fortunes dwindle, he accepts a position to promote literacy in a local prison—and hits upon the idea of using his newfound but incarcerated protégés to mount his long-planned Tempest. The project encounters financial difficulties that begin to seem insurmountable as his hostile rival assumes an influential government position.

The result exceeds all expectations, helps to heal his grief, and with its unorthodox staging, provides a delicious revenge.


Atwood’s novel is a brilliant (and mercifully non-dystopic) contribution to The Hogarth Shakespeare project, which invites contemporary authors to revisit plays by the Bard. The daughter is Miranda (of course); Felix an unlikely Prospero.

Moments of hilarity abound. For example, Felix convinces hardened criminals that they might crave such unlikely roles as Ariel or Caliban (Hag-seed). He forbids swearing, except for those oaths used by Shakespeare, and the prisoners delight in creating a glossary of antiquated expletives, which they apply to everyday life. Bringing a meaningful project to his uncomprehending new friends becomes a reward in itself, inviting him to reconsider his previous losses.  

The exercise of using literature in a prison will appeal to readers of this database who are interested in narrative and its power in unlikely settings.


For more on the Hogarth Shakespeare project, see  


Penguin Random House



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