HSC English Advanced: Textual Conversations - The Tempest and Hag-Seed

Katriel's guide to The Tempest and Hag-Seed in Module A, HSC English Advanced!

English Team

English Team

Katriel Tan and Marko Beocanin

Prospero is not the only one with magic!

If you are anything like me, dealing with Module A - Textual Conversations can seem extremely daunting at first due to the sheer fact that there is more than just ONE prescribed text, but I can promise you it gets so much easier once you properly understand the module! So, let’s get you sorted with this module, available resources and all the main things you need for Tempest x Hag-Seed, so that you can quickly work your magic on your essays!

What is a Textual Conversation?

The term ‘textual conversations’ is thrown around loosely in Module A - but what exactly does this even mean?

Well, this module is uniquely comparative, and as such involves a study between a pair of prescribed texts that directly interact with each other. This means that it’s our job to identify how the new text reshapes, amplifies, critiques, comments, resonates, reframes or challenges the values and ideas of the original. The purpose of the module is to portray how literature across time becomes a reflection of the universal values that become keystones of our humanity.

In the most simple way, you need to be noting how the two texts are different and how they resonate. Ask yourself, what ideas do they bring to the table separately, and what is it saying about the idea when the texts are studied in parallel?

As with every module in HSC English Advanced, the rubric/syllabus is your best friend. Understanding and integrating words from the rubric shows your marker that you are actually taking into consideration the purpose of the module AND NO SURPRISE HERE but a lot of essay questions come from simple manipulations of the rubric wording! In the HSC, I had printed and highlighted copies of all of the module rubrics, to help me remember how to frame each essay and just for general essay practice! It was an absolute lifesaver!

You can find all the module rubrics and other resources for HSC English here!

But, for this article, let me show you one of the main parts directly from the Module A - Textual Conversations rubric:

“They further develop skills in analysing the ways that various language concepts, for example motif, allusion and intertextuality, connect and distinguish texts and how innovating with language concepts, form and style can shape new meaning.”

Grasping how a joint study of the two texts develops a more complex and nuanced understanding of a certain concept or value is one of the key takeaways of this module!

William Shakespeare | The Tempest

Quick Plot Recap

The Tempest follows the journey of Prospero, former Duke of Milan as he is exiled to an island by his brother Antonio. Prospero uses magic to conjure a storm (a Tempest), shipwrecking Antonio and the King Alonso of Naples. He lives on the island with his daughter Miranda, a spirit named Ariel and a half-man / half-monster named Caliban. He also uses magic to manipulate Ferdinand into marrying his daughter, and results in a supernatural wedding. The resolution of the play centres on Prospero asking the audience for forgiveness and freedom.

The Tempest’s Context

The play was written in 1610 - the Renaissance Jacobean Era. The Tempest fits into the ‘Late Romance’ genre of Shakespeare’s plays as the main incidents are ‘romantic’ -  artistic interpretations of events that lie out of common experience, young lovers are reunited after various trials and the exotic setting. The play tackles the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation and as such the blend between light hearted and more serious themes make the play more emotionally complex than a history or comedy.

Religion is a major influence of the play, particularly the revival of Renaissance conceptions of philosophy and other epistemological concerns. Plato’s Theory of Forms, which asserted that the physical realm is a mere imitation of a perfect conception of reality, was also a prominent influence on the characterisation of Duke Prospero. As a result, Prospero struggles with the idea that he is an imposter, merely a creature of performativity. William Shakespeare challenges the normal understandings of religion, as Prospero’s magic is a threat to the very traditional ideas of Creationism, established by the Catholic Church. This all culminates in the final soliloquy where Prospero reflects that life itself is an illusion.

Shakespeare’s individual context is not as crucial, as his play is moreso said to be shaped by contextual influences of his world at large and the royal era at the time. But it could be good to note that this play was the last written before his death in 1616.

Themes, Concepts and Ideas in The Tempest

Now, it’s important to understand that there are so so so many different themes and interpretations of the text and this is merely just to give you a good starting point to build your own deeper understanding surrounding the play. These are the top 3 main thematic tensions that arise in The Tempest:

Revenge and Forgiveness:

This theme is popular to explore using this text due to the sheer amount of textual evidence you can collect under these concepts. The whole play revolves around Prospero’s need for inner and external forgiveness and as such, raises the complex question of whether justice is better achieved through revenge or forgiveness.

The essential context here is Christian Humanism - the embodiment of the values of forgiveness, moderation, compassion and virtue.

Some quotes that are explicit to this theme:

“Yet with my nobler reason against my fury do I take part: the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance”
- Prospero’s declaration (a reflection of Renaissance Humanist Thought)

“If you now beheld them / Your affections would become tender / Mine would sir, were I human”
- Ariel’s plea that convinces Prospero

Human Connections:

Again, this theme is an important one to explore and can be a great gateway into making more complex observations on aspects of societal interactions. It includes both aspects of positive and negative interactions i.e. those that lend to healing or revenge plots that discourage one from forgiveness.

The connection between Prospero and Miranda is multifaceted - whilst being depicted as an object and pawn in the games and lives of other men, without her, the future is barren. Her character becomes a motif for connectedness and compassion, reminding us that life can be pure and innocent.

Some quotes that are explicit to this theme:

“O, a cherubin. Thou wast that did preserve me.”
- Prospero shows that even though he feels desolate from being cast out from society, he finds strength and a guarantee for legacy in Miranda.

“I might call him a thing divine, for nothing natural I ever saw so noble”
- Miranda yearns for romantic love with Ferdinand, and becomes infatuated by his aura.

The Other:

This theme is based around the context of British colonisation in 1607. This sparked an ongoing colonial discussion around a Eurocentric, colonial viewpoint and ‘The Other’. This perspective dominates the Tempest as it was a concern of Shakespeare’s time. It is important to understand that ‘The Other’ is a societal concept and construction used to describe the segregation between groups of people.

This is a great theme to explore in your essays, especially due to its strong foundations in worldly context!

Some quotes that are explicit to this theme:

“The red plague rid you / For learning me your language”
- Conflates colonial English with disease imagery to highlight how Caliban’s discovery by Prospero has led to his own corruption.

“What ho! Slave! Caliban!”
- Prospero does not speak to him in developed sentences and as such emphasises his inferior status through these short utterances.

Looking for more HSC English Study guides? Check out Project Academy’s range of study guides, essays, study notes and more!

Margaret Atwood | Hag-Seed

Quick Plot Recap

Hag-seed follows the journey of Felix, the artistic director of a Theatre Festival who is betrayed and kicked out by his assistant. Following the death of his daughter twelve years ago, Felix is stricken by grief and loss, and thus isolates himself in a cabin. He spends 9 years in seclusion, imagining a life with his dead daughter Miranda. He treats her as if she is still alive and with him. He eventually then takes a job at Fletcher Correctional Institute where he directs reproductions of Shakespeare’s plays as a kind of transformational literacy program.

Margaret Atwood’s Context

Written in 2016, Hag-seed is categorised as a postmodern psychological fiction which focuses on the spiritual and emotional responses of the characters to their environments and interactions with others. Atwood’s work is a reflection of her social and moral conscience and opinions. As with many postmodern works her work is ficto-critical and experimental, balancing objective truth with subjective experience. She has also been described as proto-feminist. Comparative to Shakespeare, some of Atwood’s personal context is important to know and great to write about explicitly in your essays. For example, Atwood was involved in numerous protests in Canada against closing prison firms where inmates learned to interact and care for animals as part of their rehabilitation process. Atwood is an advocate for learning empathy and education as a means of character progression. HINT HINT! Can you think of where this piece of context would fit - as a marker, I personally love seeing this piece of context in the Tempest x Hag-seed essays as it really links to the overall purpose of her text and some of the actions of her characters :)

Atwood makes it clear that she supports a wide study of arts and a rehabilitative approach to incarceration.

Textual Conversations

You may be wondering: Kat, where are the themes, concepts and ideas for Hag-Seed as a stand-alone text?

Well…moving straight into the textual conversation actually shows you something really important about the module and the essays you write! In Module A, you are always working off of the ideas of the original text - the later text cannot possibly ever influence the original! This sounds simple, but it’s something that some students get really confused about! This is not to say that the later text can’t bring up new ideas that are completely unattached to the original, it’s just to show you that in Module A it’s much more efficient to bring up ideas that BOTH texts make reflections on.

So let’s explore Hag-seed through the lens of Shakespeare’s themes present in The Tempest!

Revenge and Forgiveness:

In Hag-seed, Atwood also questions whether justice can better be achieved through seeking revenge or forgiveness, bringing to light ideas surrounding the need for reconciliation between society and the incarcerated. At a deeper level, Atwood re-asserts the Shakespearean notion of forgiveness as a mechanism to set ourselves free from the self-imposed prisons we too suffer under. In Hag-seed revenge is explicitly mentioned prominently throughout the text.

Some quotes from Felix that are from this theme:

“Suddenly revenge is so close he can actually taste it. It tastes like steak, rare”
“His enemies had suffered which had been a pleasure”
“Then Felix had strewn forgiveness around”

Atwood also incorporates epigraphs throughout the novel from Sir Francis Bacon, Charles Dickens and Percy Shelley that amplify the focus of the novel on the impacts of revenge.

Human Connections:

As said before, human connections is a broad term that encapsulates all interactions between individuals and reflects the intricacies of human relationships. Yet, it is through the continuation of this theme in Hag-seed that we reveal the pure universality of such a theme and its importance across time and space. There is a paradox of dislocation and isolation - for Felix his time in the prison allows him to regain his creativity and spiritual freedom. Just like Miranda’s representation in the Tempest, she thus becomes a spiritual force in Hag-seed that encourages Felix to choose to forgive.

Some quotes from this theme:

“It’s as if they were made for each other like a pair of ice-dance champions”
- Anne Marie and Freddie have a connection that mirrors Miranda and Ferdinand’s

“Getting back into the world, re-engaging with people - he hoped it would ground  him”
- As he deals with feelings of loss, grief and betrayal, Felix re-connects with his previous love of theatre.

The Other:

Comparatively, in Hag-seed, the Other is not only explored from a colonial perspective, but more generally in regards to how humanity creates arbitrary divides and sees groups of individuals as an ‘Other’. This is amplified by Atwood’s explicit use of prisoners and the unsettling context of a prison, showing the immense casting out of individuals deemed ‘inaccessible’ to us. The Prisoners thus become the Other and are comparable to Caliban.

Some quotes from this theme:

“She clearly had a vision of Felix laying on the floor with a homemade shiv sticking out of his neck.”
- Off-handed comments suggest that the inmates are less human and are merely dangerous individuals.

“Why should the other ones get a second chance at life, but not him?”
- Rhetorical question which prompts introspection on how inmates are just as worthy in starting again and gaining redemption.

So there you have it! Notes and a great starting foundation for your Shakespeare and Atwood Tempest x Hag-seed essays! Hopefully this helps you out and clears up any confusion you have surrounding the module and HSC English Advanced! You got this! Keep writing and reviewing! :)

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