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Our worldly existence is determined by the continuous exposure to challenging experiences that shape our perception of ourselves, empowering us to perceive ourselves and our societies in unique and complex ways. The nature of embarking from a state of power and grief can entail the most meaningful and transformative discoveries as they are provoked by reflection and reconciliation. Both William Shakespeare’s tragicomedy The Tempest and Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed resonate in appraising an individual’s ability to reconcile vengeance and grief. However, while Shakespeare portrays characters as a means of prompting and eliciting reflection and redemption particularly in Prospero, Atwood, influenced by her contemporary secular context, asserts that individuals will only appear repentant when their self-interest is threatened. Through the examination of these texts, it allows an individual to comprehend how exposure to new experiences acts as catalysts for characters, to develop and formulate new understandings of their world.

The power of magic in The Tempest catalyzes Prospero’s unexpected and confrontational encounter with the value of forgiveness, which transforms his widely held beliefs and perceptions of humanity. Shakespeare’s character Prospero embodies a man of the Renaissance era to depict the rebirth to enlightenment at that time, displaying that Prospero’s bestowment of ‘his godly right to be divine ruler’ is an outdated ideology. Shakespeare uses emotive language in ‘It was my art…That…let thee out’ to signify the value of magical powers that hold Prospero as superior. However, the anagnorisis of the limitation of his magical power transforms his perceptions as his ‘art’ is unable to change those who are unwilling to. This gives rise to the inspiration that Prospero receives from Ariel to forgive his enemies at the end of the play as he states, ‘The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance’, whereby the juxtaposition of ‘virtue’ and ‘vengeance’ reinforces the significant change in Prospero’s mindset as he can experience catharsis. Thus, by achieving the capacity to forgive those who have betrayed him, Prospero reflects the significance of forgiveness as a vital part of human interaction.

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The representation of human error through the preoccupation with power is furthered by Atwood, who effectively warns how hubris and arrogance warp the perception of power, leading to one’s marginalization and seclusion from their world. Atwood uses an intertextual reference to ‘The Tempest when ‘A shadow, a wavering of the light,’ whispers, ‘I would, sir, if I were human’, paralleling Ariel’s statement in The Tempest as he persuades Prospero to forgive in ‘mine would sir, where I human.’ This ironic phrase alludes to the concept of Renaissance humanism, prompting Prospero to relinquish his magical powers and embrace humanist values such as forgiveness. Similarly, Miranda is Felix’s ‘Ariel’ who ultimately convinces him to forgive, metaphorically reflecting his subconscious. In adding such detail, Atwood adopts a sense of psychological realism to allow modern audiences to comprehend his transformation from ‘vengeance’ to ‘virtue’. This prompt is similar to Prospero and causes Felix to ‘break out of his cell,’ metaphorically representing how Felix was imprisoned by his vengeful plan. In deliberately crafting the text in this way, Atwood enhances the idea that both protagonists were imprisoned by their lust for revenge, however, their eventual freedom is achieved through the forgiveness and realization of their oversights, illuminating the universality of human error.

Individuals’ interactions with one another can have a cumulative effect on perception, as they gain a better understanding of their impact on others’ lives. The Tempest explores the impact of one’s life on another in the ‘Banquet’ scene where Antonio and Alonso are confronted with their crimes, forcing the lords to reflect on their past misdeeds. This is reflected in ‘You are three men of sin…Upon your heads – is nothing but heart’s sorrow’ where the metaphor illustrates how God’s authority was seen as the final stage of all justice, reflective of the Christian humanism behaviors. The illusion and threat of retribution generate remorse within Alonso, as he believes that Ferdinand’s ‘death’ was rational, emphasized in ‘It did bass my trespass, therefore, my son i’ th’ ooze is bedded’ where he believes that his crimes and actions have resulted in Ferdinand’s death. Gonzalo states that their ‘great guilt is like poison’, where the simile exhibits how their guilt is only now starting to immerse in, leading them to make the transformative discovery of the hardships that they have caused others. Therefore, we understand the negative impact of our actions on others, which in turn offers us a renewed perception of ourselves and the world around us.

On the contrary, Atwood appropriates Shakespeare’s depiction of performance as a means of asserting how individuals may only repent when their self-interests are threatened, revealing the flawed complexity of human nature within secular societies. Her postmodern portrayal of Tony and Sal’s corrupt ambition is foregrounded by the absence of a Great Chain of Being, prevalent in Shakespeare’s context, which discourages the pursuit of status in one’s self-interest and accentuates the greed and selfishness prevalent within the modern world. Atwood condemns Tony’s repentant facade in his deposition of Felix through the repeated subject pronoun ‘They feel you’re losing… your edge… They think you have mental health issues suggesting that individuals may use deceitfully apologetic theatrics to mask their corrupt self-interest and shift blame to third parties. Moreover, Atwood uses Tony’s performance in deceitfully deposing Felix as a means of exposing Felix’s short temper through the abrasive sibilance ‘You devious, twisted, bastard.’ She does this in direct juxtaposition with Shakespeare, who depicts Prospero exposing Antonio’s shortcomings through performance to reiterate that the illusive manipulation of reality can cause individuals to lose their inhibition. Through disputing Shakespeare’s depiction of an individual’s capacity for redemption, Atwood highlights the centrality of performance in exposing human flaws, ultimately criticizing the toxic corporate culture of deceit and self-advancement in today’s world.

Through the textual conversation between The Tempest and Hag-Seed, both composers offer a deeper insight into the complex nature of revenge and how the transformation of self can be attained through the reassessment of our perspectives. Both texts highlight how confrontational experiences are capable of stimulating an individual’s ability to reassess their perceptions of themselves; as well as human flaws being a catalyst to reflect on and reconcile internal struggle.

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