The Tempest

1. In my Shakespeare class last semester, we spent almost two weeks on the Tempest. In fact, we even watched clips of Julie Taymor’s adaptation in class (though some of it was played for laughs). We discussed many of the play’s most central themes; Prospero’s compulsive need for control, the dark undertones of European colonialism, the tension of father-daughter relationships, and the meta-theatricality of Prospero’s magic, to name a few.

2. The movie version addresses these same themes (though it turns the father-daughter relationship into a mother-daughter one). The movie, however, takes the theatrical aspects of Prospero/a’s magical manipulations to new levels through the use of modern CGI and special effects. The movie also does not shy away from the colonial theme; Caliban, an island native, is black, and is pitted against white invaders. Julie Taymor addresses the racial divide head on without being stereotypical or patronizing.

3. The most notable part of the adaptation is the genderbending of Prospero. Helen Mirren plays Prospera, sorceress and powerful widow of the Duke of Milan, who inherited his kingdom, before it was stolen from her. This adaptation by Julie Taymor is juxtaposed by her almost unwavering adherence to the original text as dialogue; almost all of the changes that were made to Shakespeare’s original lines were made necessary by the change in Prospera’s gender.

This source is another interview with director Julie Taymor, but it brings up a few things that the interview we read does not: specifically, the use of CGI and special effects.
I chose this source because it is the most fiercely (and tactlessly) critical review I’ve seen of The Tempest. This guy has criticism not only for Julie Taymor (and harsh criticism at that), but he even has a bone to pick with the Bard himself, referring to the original play as weak, dull, and inferior, among many other unflattering adjectives. It is an important source nevertheless, though, because it points out Taymor’s frequent shifts in tone, from comedy to intense drama to fantasy and back again. Many do not see this as a huge problem, myself included, but this guy makes some solid points once you sift through all the name-calling.
This source is an interview with Helen Mirren for that purposefully addresses the genderbend of Prospera and its effect on her relationship with Miranda.

5. Julie Taymor’s choice to cast Helen Mirren as Prospero/a can be considered a feminist move, but it seems less political and more of simply an artistic choice. Making Prospero a woman changes two of the story’s most central relationships–between Prospera and Miranda, and Prospera and Ariel. Prospera as a woman is allowed to relate more to her daughter Miranda; where a father figure may be fearful and contemptuous of his daughter’s romantic awakening, a certain sympathy is evoked from a mother figure who has been in such situations herself (according to Taymor herself, in the article).

The relationship between Prospera and Ariel is also changed: at the very beginning, Ariel receives a tongue-lashing after asking Prospera when she will grant him his long-promised freedom. In the original version, it seems like a slightly more affectionate master-servant relationship. But in the film version, with Prospera as a woman, there is a strange element of sexual tension between her and the androgynous sprite. She calls him pet names and he strokes her hair, tightens her corset, and their relationship gives a strange yet not unwelcome element to the story’s power dynamics. While Prospera’s age makes her a generally desexualized character, these moments with Ariel are almost refreshing.


4 thoughts on “The Tempest

  1. I too agree with your perspective on Julie Taymor’s decision to cast Helen Mirren as Prospera. I think Helen Mirren does a fantastic job at adding a different dynamic to the film that could not have been achieved with Prospero. Like you said, I do not believe Taymor’s motive to change the main character from a man to woman was motivated by feminism, but rather a desire to alter the relationship between Prospera and her daughter.


  2. I agree with the usual characteristics between mother and daughter whenst falling in love, you experience similar emotions from your past upon your daughter’s romance; however, in the film, it seemed that Prospera was actually taking on the traditional fatherly role, watching her daughter, instilling fear in her partner, being the sole person to whom the romantic interest should address. Instead of acting as motherly support with mass affection, it was rather cold, personally. I do, though, agree with the proposition of sexual tension between Prospera and Ariel. She didn’t want him to leave, like he had become her own romantic interest for some time.


  3. I like your point in the book analysis section. Scheming Prospero case is very interesting. He is representing his self-interest. For example, he shows that he has a power over Ariel and Caliban.


  4. Emily, this is a very good first attempt at the blog response post assignment. Your analysis of the book, the film, and the adaptation are very concise and insightful. However, in the adaptation section, instead of just reporting the gender bending, try to do a little analysis as well: why is it important? I realize that’s exactly what you did in your critical paragraph, but I would still like you to identify and analyze one or more problems/issues raised by the film adaptation in your adaptation analysis (sec. 3). The student research links are good, particularly in that they’re not reviews, which you should avoid in your online research. But you should do searches at social media sites as well, and academic searches. Follow this link for ideas:

    Your critical argument paragraph is pretty good, though a little unfocused due to an unfocused thesis statement. You write:

    “Julie Taymor’s choice to cast Helen Mirren as Prospero/a can be considered a feminist move, but it seems less political and more of simply an artistic choice.”

    So the casting choice wasn’t feminist, or political; it was artistic. But you need to be more specific about how it was artistic, and why this is significant. You say later that it’s significant because it changed two key relationships in the film. You need to figure out a way to get this, or some suggestion of this, in your thesis statement. Also, try to keep it to one paragraph. In this case, that means you probably should have just focused on one changed relationship, not two. How about something like this as your thesis:

    Critics have remarked that by feminizing Prospero in The Tempest, Julie Taymor has reconfigured the relationship between this character and Miranda, but few have noticed how Taymor’s casting choice also radically changes the relationship between Prospero and Ariel.

    That’s too long, but I think you get the idea. It’s all packed in there, all the ingredients for a strong, developed paragraph.

    10/10. Joseph Byrne. ENGL329B.


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