by Julia Buckley
Why has Shakespeare remained so powerful, so relevant, after 444 years? Why is it that his words, written in a long-ago era, still prove so prescient and true? Why is it that every time I read one of his plays I actually fall in love with his language--and more deeply as I grow older?
My crush on Shakespeare used to be based on his work alone, but it has intensified since the Sanders Portrait has come back into the news. This portrait, thought to be the only one done of Shakespeare while he was living, depicts him in his thirties as a far more attractive fellow than his other famous paintings do.
Today I learned what many people probably already knew--that Helen Mirren has been cast as the lead in THE TEMPEST, a film which might come out in 2009.
I teach THE TEMPEST twice a year, so this is very important news. The play, as all of Will's fans know, is about Prospero, The Duke of Milan, who is supplanted from his throne by his evil brother Antonio. Prospero is cast adrift with his nearly three-year-old daughter Miranda in the Mediterranean Sea. Antonio expects his brother to die, but instead Prospero and his daughter land on a magical island inhabited only by a monstrous creature (Caliban) and a creature of air (Ariel).
Prospero, a genius of the Humanities, had been immersed in his studies in Italy, but on this magical island he finds that he can tap into magical power with his intellectual power and become a great sorcerer--something he achieves over a period of twelve years.
By the end of the play, Prospero must decide whether or not he will use his power to get revenge against his perfidious brother and his two co-conspirators, who in a twist of fate are shipwrecked on the very island on which they marooned Prospero.
For Mirren, the new film has been changed so that the main character is named Prospera. She too has a daughter named Miranda, and she too will encounter the same creatures on the island.
I am intrigued by the idea of a female Prospero. The original Tempest is very patriarchal, and Miranda's virtue is discussed by the male characters almost as a piece of property to be protected. She is "given" to her fiancee as a gift, but of course Prospero's behavior is reflective of his culture.
This new film, as I see it, is a chance to discuss Prospero's dilemma in a more universal sense. By making Prospero female, the director can remove the oppressive dynamic of a father and fiancee dominating Miranda's life and future, and enrich the discussion of human power and its limits. Mirren can become a Gaia of the island--a woman who creates herself through the power of art, and then must face the limitations of humanity.
The Tempest may be one of my favorite Shakespearean plays. It contains so much beautiful language, perhaps most famously Prospero's line "We are the stuff that dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."
Dreaming is a theme of The Tempest--the notion that much of our experience is illusion. I look forward to the newest interpretation of this play and what beautiful visuals can be created in homage to a genius that never died.
What's your favorite Shakespearean play?
art link here