First Taste of the Bard’s Tempest

Today, I conquered The Tempest! Well, not so much conquered The Tempest to the extent of knowing it in and out but rather, conquered the large reader’s block in my mind that Shakespeare was unreadable for the common soul and would be drab and boring. Far from it! I was duly enthralled by the Bard’s Tempest today, and for daring to take my first step towards Shakespeare, achievement unlocked!

I have to confess I did it with the help of the 2010 movie by Julie Taymor starring Helen Mirren and Felicity Jones. I thought I might die solely reading this oldish English and thus kill off any hopes of enjoying Shakespeare. Thanks to technology, there were plenty of audio-visual aids, many productions of The Tempest available for me. I picked the Helen Mirren one because I thought I needed a modern production of the play. Not modern in the sense where the actors were wearing suits and ties and set in a modern context but more of a modern production of something set in the olden days. Helen Mirren was a plus. Absolutely adored her voice acting in Monsters University. Yes, she stood out so much for me even just by voicing a character. I was so impressed.

I noted, of course, that for the movie, she would be portraying Prospero as Prospera, a gender switch from Shakespeare’s protagonist sorcerer. I did wonder if it would be ‘dangerous’ for me to understand the play first hand with a female Prospera. The first taste of anything was pretty important. I enjoyed it very much, though. Just have to keep at the back of my mind that Prospero is a dude whenever I’m referring to the play itself. The movie was slightly adapted from the play. Some dialogue from the play was cut and there were no other spirits (Iris, Ceres and Juno) and no other lords (Adrian and Francisco). Everything else was pretty much more or less the same.

I actually went through a children’s book on Shakespeare before diving straight into the play. I wanted to know the story, the plot, before anything else. I didn’t want to get lost in the middle of the oldish English. So with that set in my head, mostly trying not to mix Alonso and Antonio up, I went through the movie with the play in hand and watched and read.

The English did need some getting used to but when I got it, I just felt, wow. It’s like understanding a secret code, a different language you never thought you’d understand. It’s kind of empowering. Then after you get past that stage, you start paying attention to what they were saying, and feeling awesome all the while because you actually know what’s happening while everyone speaks in oldish English. There were moments when I start and stopped the movie to just read what had been said because I missed something or didn’t quite get something else. It’s easy to miss things because there can be so much said but said lightly as we speak today, carelessly, that I just miss something. And after the whole movie, your thoughts start to sound weird. They start to construct themselves using oldish English which is funny and ridiculous and I’m just glad they only do it in the privacy of my mind hohoho. It’s hilarious because every trivial thing will be made to sound like something of utmost importance.

This will not be an academic study on The Tempest. I am most unqualified to do so as of now. I only decided to do this whole Tempest thing because it will be covered in school later on. I’m glad I did it though. This whole post will really mostly on my reaction towards The Tempest movie.

Helen Mirren made the most of what a female Prospera would most likely be; gruff and manly and authoritarian. Although that’s not usually the kind of strong female leads I like (I prefer my heroines graceful and exuding the air of a lady, intelligent and altogether more feminine), there is something about her that I can’t help just liking. It’s either her or the role although I’m inclined to think it’s her because she essentially created female Prospera. I didn’t really like the way she was dressed, though, when she cast her spells. She was basically draped in a unshapely coat of feathers and with her often windswept hair she really looked like a witch, disguising any hint of ‘female-ness’.

Prospera (Helen Mirren) in her bird coat
Prospera in the last scene

I really wished she wore the dress in the final scene more than the ragged blanket of feathers. I mean, there was a scene where there were plenty of fine clothes on the clothing line, none of which made any appearance on Miranda (who wore her simple white sail-like dresses) nor Prospera (Mother hawk or vulture or both). But, oh wells.

What I really really liked about Helen Mirren/Prospera was the vibe between her and her servant spirit, Ariel. Ariel (Ben Whishaw) is Prospera’s servant spirit filmed here with a pale androgynous form and spiked hair, much like the characters from Final Fantasy. He is compliant to Prospera’s orders, obedient, quick and efficient with some form of sensitivity in his gentle playful soul. I liked how Prospera seemed to open up to her locked up emotions to Ariel regarding her rage and hatred towards Antonio. A strong manly Prospera and an effeminate Ariel chemistry worked marvellously at least for me.

Ariel (Ben Whishaw) and Prospera

Miranda (Felicity Jones) was a lovely sprite of a child on the verge of womanhood when she discovers a man for the first time and promptly falls in love with him (since Prospera is a woman here and Caliban is so supposedly deformed to be considered a man). She has an elfish quality about her, still half a girl but also a maiden ripe for love. What I liked here between Miranda and Ferdinand was their chaste dialogue of confessing their love to each other.

…Hence, bashful cunning,

And prompt me, plain and holy innocence!

I am your wife, if you will marry me;

If not, I’ll die your maid. To be your fellow

You may deny me, but I’ll be your servant

Whether you will or no.

Miranda from The Tempest (3.1.81-86)

According to the student guide notes, Miranda was abandoning coyness for candid and pure innocence to guide her and the whole ‘die your maid’ bit was her stand on saying no to any sexual relations outside of marriage even though she had confessed her desire for him. The word ‘maid’ apparently means virgin and ‘fellow’, spouse. So. It just blew my mind away. While sex is so casual nowadays, this child who has only ever set her eyes on one man was ready to marry him but not have sex before marriage although she has pledged love to him even to the death. I just absolutely love this attitude about love and marriage and sex. She was willing to die a virgin with her heart pining forever for him till she died. Maybe it sounds foolish and stupid but I just feel like, this is it. Compared to say The Fault in our Stars, if it had been Miranda and Ferdinand in that story, perhaps there wouldn’t even be that rated scene in the movie because of this attitude.  In a nutshell, here it’s not about ‘just sex’. It’s not even about ‘if you love me, you will…’. It’s about love. It’s ‘I love you such that I will…’. It’s a kind of giving love. The kind that still lasts ’till death do us part’. Yea sure this is just a story. Who really falls that in love at first sight? True but that’s not the point I’m making here. Just love this.

Miranda (Felicity Jones) and Ferdinand (Reeve Carney) meet and fall in love on first sight

Also love this.

PROSPERO

Then, as my gift and thine own acquisition
Worthily purchased take my daughter: but
If thou dost break her virgin-knot before
All sanctimonious ceremonies may
With full and holy rite be minister’d,
No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall
To make this contract grow: but barren hate,
Sour-eyed disdain and discord shall bestrew
The union of your bed with weeds so loathly
That you shall hate it both: therefore take heed,
As Hymen’s lamps shall light you.

FERDINAND

As I hope
For quiet days, fair issue and long life,
With such love as ’tis now, the murkiest den,
The most opportune place, the strong’st suggestion.
Our worser genius can, shall never melt
Mine honour into lust, to take away
The edge of that day’s celebration
When I shall think: or Phoebus’ steeds are founder’d,
Or Night kept chain’d below.

Go Ferdinand! This just makes everything all the sweeter when Alonso comes in the last scene to see his son alive playing chess with the lovely Miranda. It’s so pure and chaste, this simple love. This is the idea of love I find a breath of fresh air. It’s not sex-based, it’s not self-centred. It’s just raw love. I have no idea how marriage will work out here regarding two people who barely know each other getting married and maybe that will bring a lot of other real world problems. But in this haven, this is how it’s supposed to be, I think. Love, that is.

I also liked Russell Brand playing Trinculo. I liked his whole cockney (?) thing, kind of like Bert in Mary Poppins or the innkeeper in Les Mis. He sounds more crass though but I thought it was well-played and hilarious.

I have no sympathy or many thoughts for Alonso, Antonio and party. For the movie, though, Antonio doesn’t seem the least bit remorseful and I can only speculate him overthrowing Prospera again when they return to Milan. This time, he might actually have a basis for Prospera practicing witchcraft. I suppose Ferdinand and Alonso will protect Prospera and Miranda when they return, though.

And the whole Prospera giving up her magic, her staff and books, was a leap of faith. I wouldn’t trust the slime ball of her brother enough to give all that up. It’s as if returning to Milan would ensure she would keep her dukedom. Yeaa… I would keep just a bit or two of the magic. Although then, witchcraft.

And then my thoughts roam for Ariel who would now be free but undoubtedly lonely without Prospera. Sigh, oh dear, I’m casting Prospera and Ariel onto a ship~

Ariel: Do you love me master? No?

Prospera: Dearly, my delicate Ariel.

But of course, it really is Prospero the wizard. In many plays though, I read that Ariel is then cast as a female spirit. Which is now a very strange notion to me.

The last scene with Prospera staring after Caliban though, was really sad. So much more to explore in the relationship between master and servant which I shall perhaps endeavour to do a later time. And now I shall end off with a quote I have decided to use in my real daily life.

You cram these words into mine ears against

The stomach of my sense.

Alonso

HAHAHA. No just kidding. But I really love this. Imagine saying it in a pompous voice to someone saying stuff you don’t care to hear.

Here’s a famous one though.

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

 

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