Help me appreciate The Tempest

So, I’m a Shakespeare dappler. I’m familiar with the biggies, and the modernizations, and I’ve done the odd local production in the park of a summer’s eve, but I’m no connoisseur. However when I saw that Helen Mirren is doing a gender switch of The Tempest with **Chris Cooper **and David Strathain I was like, I am so there.

But it occurs to me that I know next to nothing about the tempest. I read the outline on wiki, but share with me the nuaces, the controversy, the moral, your interpretations…

It’s about how the White Man keeps the African Brother down.

No, seriously, that’s totally how the last production I saw did it. And we’re talking Sir Anthony Sher and John Kani here, not a student workshopped production.

Well, it’s a pretty common interpretation, although usually more about European exploitation of the natives of the Americas.

Caliban = cannibal. Prospero and his daughter get shipwrecked in this brave new world and immediately start exploiting Caliban for slave labor.

I won’t go political. I’ll just say that Tempest is one of my faves, just because it embraces the supernatural side of things in a much more ‘solid and threatening’ way than Midsummers, and yet isn’t as horribly morose as the Scottish play. The comic relief is funny, and I’d love to see what Mirren does with the ending speech about returning to her home and giving up her magics. That speech always gives me chills.
(Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this was the play that I got an excellent review for in the Reader…)

Interesting, ya know, I hadn’t been thinking along those lines. Then again, I heard of an Othello production in Berkely that ran with a lesbian theme instead of a Moor.

Right. It’s become common to make Caliban black, although neither are set down in the text.

They’re not shipwrecked; Prospero is overthrown as Duke of Milan and he and his daughter are set adrift in a boat and left to die at sea. They’re lucky enough to arrive safely on land. And they don’t immediately exploit Caliban for slave labor. We don’t know very much about what their relationship was like initially, but we know that it got hostile (bordering on slave labor) after Caliban tried to rape Prospero’s daugher Miranda. Such is the risk of oversimplifying Shakespeare with modern politics, I guess.

The Tempest is one of my favorites and it’s a strange show in a lot of ways. There’s not that much of a plot. It’s a combination of Miranda romancing Ferdinand, the buffoonery of Sebastian and Trinculo and Caliban, the court intrigues of Alonso and Antonio et al, and philosophizing, and a lot of poetry, all with Prospero pulling everyone’s strings using magic.

Prospero (and Miranda) is as kind as possible to Caliban, but there are limits. And even after the attempted rape, they’re still kind to him. Consider: If you were on a deserted island with nobody but you, your daughter, and a single native, and the native tried to rape your daughter, be honest here: Would that native have lived to see another sunrise?
One symmetry I’ve always liked about The Tempest: Of Prospero’s two main servants, one is corporeal and one is a spirit; one is natural and one is supernatural. But the natural one is the spirit, and the supernatural one is the corporeal one. There’s nothing at all unnatural about Ariel-- He’s the storm and the lightning and the gentle breeze. Caliban, though, is a demi-devil bastard.

You can also look at the differences between Sycorax’s and Prospero’s ways of dealing with the world. Sycorax is genuine slave-driver: When Ariel can’t or won’t do her will, her response is to imprison him in an oak. Prospero, though, started by freeing him from the oak, and winning his respect and (insofar as such is possible) love.

Quoth Marley:

The most interesting strings are the ones he doesn’t pull using magic. He probably could have cast a spell to make Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love (that wouldn’t be so different from Oberon’s love potion in Midsummer), but he doesn’t, instead manipulating them through purely mundane means.

This Miranda quote came to me during the aftermath of the space shuttle Columbia disaster.
If by your art, my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch,
But that the sea, mounting to the welkin’s cheek,
Dashes the fire out. O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer: a brave vessel,
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her,
Dash’d all to pieces. O, the cry did knock
Against my very heart. Poor souls, they perish’d.
Had I been any god of power, I would
Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere
It should the good ship so have swallow’d and
The fraughting souls within her.

I like The Tempest pretty well. Our performance was so awesome – we have this spot of land between a wooden pirate ship and a wooden fort, so the fort was Prospero’s home and the ship was, well, the ship. The audience sat between them. On opening night, there was a little mist of rain just as the show was starting. We were all worried it would start pouring, but it misted over us just long enough for one and a half scenes – enough, other words, to get shipwrecked and for Miranda’s little speech above. I swear the mist ceased at

– a really magical night.

For my money, the fact that this is Shakespeare’s last play makes the ‘drown my book’ scene so remarkable. Read this and consider that the person saying it is the author, not the character:

Now consider this as metaphor for writing the canon and retiring. It gives me shivers now whenever I read or hear it.

I thought so too, but apparently it’s not entirely clear that it was his last play.

And that “stage” sounds like it would be awesome… I wish I could have seen that.

Worth checking out is Prospero’s Books, a truly avant-garde adapation with the narrative organized around 13 books in Prospero’s library. Not only that, but Sir John Gielgud (who plays Prospero) overdubs all of the other actors dialogue. There’s on-screen calligraphy, nude dancing, and stunning photography. Strangely enough, it has yet to see a DVD release in the US.

Read it in the original Klingon

…or watch Forbidden Planet.

Better yet, Return to the Forbidden Planet. :smiley:

THIS. A bit untraditional but still a compelling piece of Shakespeare-into-Film

But for God’s sake, skip the Mirren film. I love The Tempest and saw Vanessa Redgrave as Prospero live at the Globe on the South Bank. But this POS movie is pretty horrible and does not do justice to the material or any of the dynamics of the play. And the cast is completely wasted.