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.