Margaret Atwood: Ely Cathedral

Having studied Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, I was excited to see that she was talking about her new book ‘Hag-Seed’ in Ely Cathedral. Funnily enough when I sat down, I recognised the people in front of us, it turns out our neighbours had turned up at the same event! We had a lovely chat, and they told me that the very next day they were going to see Atwood again, at a prize giving.

Atwood chose to retell ‘Hag-Seed’, after  Hogarth Shakespeare asked for eight authors to write a modern retelling of a classic Shakespeare play. She decided to go for ‘The Tempest’ because it involved revenge, magic, love and drama, and unlike many of his earlier plays which ended tragically, this has an unexpected plot twist, leading to a much more pleasant ending. Does Atwood’s version end the same way? I will have to read and find out…

Her new book is a modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, and after speaking about the book, her ideas and her characters, she started to explain how she went about re-telling the pla
y. She also read a couple of sections, including one very incredible rap – I think that the memory of Margaret Atwood rapping the backstory of ‘The Tempest’ will forever make me smile!

After her talk, she opened the floor for questions, nervously I made my way to the microphone and stood behind a couple of others waiting for my turn. Margaret was very kind and answered each question, then it got to me. I asked her if, because ‘Hag-Seed’ was a retelling, if she had to plan it out in a different way, to her other books. She said that it was actually more difficult, she tried to stick to Shakespeare’s main outline, dividing the book roughly into five acts.

Margaret Atwood then answered some other questions, including a question about the ending of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. This has been much debated in my English classes and it was nice to finally get some closure. Margaret explained that the reason why Offred’s story is unfinished is because, like many tales of historical figures their lives get lost because of record office fires. In this way it makes Offred’s story more realistic. She also said that she was influenced by Orwell’s ‘1984’, and she uses her ‘Epilogue’ in a similar way to him, making a potentially negative ending more positive, but also to make the whole story seem more like a real event in history. The epilogue also reminds authors that the time of Gilead does eventually move on.

I got a beautiful signed copy of her new book and am very much looking forward to reading it, if you already have I would love to hear what you think. I was very impressed that if you take the dust-jacket off, the front and back cover create a face.

Have a wonderful week,



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