Staging of the Tempest
Staging of The Tempest It is clear that The Tempest depends for much of its success on a wide range of special effects such as sound, lighting, and fantastic visions of the natural and supernatural worlds. Ariel, the mystic spirit, and his cohorts provide some eerie and some wondrous musical sounds, painting pictures with their voices of settings the audience saw. For example, when luring the spellbound Ferdinand towards his future wife, Miranda, Ariel and his fellow sprites caress the shipwrecked prince with harmonious notes which captivate even the crowd.
In contrast to hearing Ariel’s delightful melodies, Sebastian, Alonso, Antonio, and Gonzalo receive a very different message. When the four men attempted to feast on a faux banquet Prospero has designed, claps of thunder and red lighting consume the stage and faint noises come from Ariel and the spirits, disturbing the men and scaring the spectators. Aside from music used as a median to bring about the supernatural effects of the island, Prospero’s presence instigates a change of mood throughout the island and audience because he is, in essence, the artist who creates the stage.
When Prospero is first seen he is a forceful figure who not only controls the mystical island which he and his daughter inhabit, but also has authority over Caliban, a brute indigenous “monster” and Ariel, an “airy-sprite” who Prospero sincerely confides in. The audience’s first encounter with Caliban prompts Prospero to be fierce, angry, and unopposed to using his authority over the slave. Caliban makes repugnant remarks to both Prospero and Miranda when Prospero uses his staff to taunt the monster, warning Caliban he will be in great pains and cramps if his remarks do not stop.
Also, when Ariel is first presented to the audience, Prospero is displeased with the sprite and reminds him that he is simply a servant by binding him to the ground with an unnatural force described by sounds of steel beams meshing and a dull green glow of light framing Ariel’s body. The two incidents that occur in the first act distinguish Prospero as a proud holder of his powerful position. At the beginning of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of The Tempest, the audience sees Prospero as a devious yet strapping man who uses his magical powers to entrap his enemies as prisoners on a remote island.
However, with the use of lighting, sound and the director’s visions, the closing scene leaves the audience to believe that Prospero is liberating himself from his existence as a sorcerer, confined by his mystic books and supernatural mind Scene two, act one of the play shows Prospero playing the role of a nurturing father to his teenage daughter, Miranda. Prospero tells Miranda that “the hour has now come” to reveal the story of how they were shipwrecked together on the island a dozen years beforehand.
The soft lighting casts shadows of the two figures on the wood paneled stage resembling the sandy shores of the island. This image makes Prospero’s relationship with Miranda to be one of beauty and grace; the audience receives an emotional connection for the father-daughter pair. Just as quickly as the audience makes this emotional bond, the light darkens to a dusty blue, focusing a flickering white strobe on Prospero while he takes hold of his translucent staff, gently putting Miranda to sleep with his powers, signifying his uncanny potential to have power over a person’s mind.
Though he uses his magic, Prospero’s transformation from a loving father to a controlling sorcerer exposes him as a pragmatic character, telling his daughter no harms had been committed in his last tempest. Prospero is also now seen as a conscientious individual, repeatedly alluding to the need to keep his plans on schedule. These two qualities that Prospero has let the audience view both embody his pressure to live with his magical powers.
By wearing his robe, holding his staff, and reading from his books, Prospero is allowed to seek revenge by imprisoning his enemies but he also becomes a prisoner, to his own mind. The sounds of Ariel’s songs and the light used to match Prospero’s concentration of power and magic illustrate the supernatural worlds on the island, but the simple setting on which the production takes place adds another dimension. The smooth texture of the theater’s wood paneled stage allows the actors to move freely without the interruptions of props or additional scenery.
As Miranda first took the stage with bare feet, air stirring through her light dress, it truly seemed as if she was a free spirited young woman dancing along the island’s shore. With the use of just the stage and nothing more, it is much easier to visualize Miranda’s grace or Prospero’s authority as he bears the weight of a heavy soul stomping across the thrust. With the use of props or tangible scenery on stage, the audience’s awareness of the actors’ movements would be diminished. In addition to the stage resembling a sandy beach where its nhabitants move about with ease, the stage unifies the plot and the characters. Because the change in scenery is brought by sounds and color, the stage represents every point on the island, ultimately linking all the characters in their proximity to one another. The oblong shape of the wood stage is interesting because it allows for Prospero to stand in positions that seem higher than the others. When Ferdinand expresses his deep adoration for Miranda as he collects lumber, Prospero stands towards the left back side of the stage, putting him on a slightly elevated level.
This use of blocking consistently makes Prospero the dominant figure in each scene, symbolizing his pride and power in his scheme. The turn of Prospero’s pride into misery is represented when he calls upon Juno, Ceres, and Iris to celebrate Miranda and Ferdinand’s new found love. While the Goddesses dance in rejoice, Prospero can only think about his shipwrecked pawns and their whereabouts, interrupting his own daughters wedding ceremonies. His powers are inherent in his every thought, stirring his brain. Prospero understands this and even tells Ferdinand, “be not disturbed with my infirmity”.
Instead of blessing his daughter’s marriage, he must arrange to meet with Caliban and thwart the “monster’s” attack. This scene goes from an imaginative and dreamlike beauty where the three Goddesses are seen in dim pastel gowns, to a dark swamp where Caliban and his cohorts are presented as the disgrace of Prospero’s wondrous island. Though his powers have done Prospero well in seeking vengeance, his will to live as a sorcerer diminishes as the play moves towards the end. Prospero’s magic leads the shipwrecked men by separate paths until they meet in a circle drawn by Prospero.
There, with Antonio, Sebastian, Alonso, and Gonzalo parting ways for Prospero, he removes the spell of illusions and forgives the men one by one, epitomizing Prospero’s ultimate authority. Prospero’s human puppets awake from their illusive slumber and recognize their positions as captives by the forgotten genius. Once this culminating scene occurs, Prospero is left with little use of his supernatural powers. This idea is apparent as Prospero slowly makes his way upstage; the light fades on the entire scene, weakening the glow around Prospero as he falls to his knees.
He unveils his robe, takes off the vile around his neck, and vehemently throws his staff to the ground, breaking into pieces. This dramatic event symbolizes Prospero’s end to his life under the intense pressures of being a mastermind. Likewise, at the end of Peter Greenway’s films Prospero’s Books, a feebler Prospero throws his calligraphy pen into a pool of water, suggesting that his powers are no longer of service to him. It is certain that in that in these two vivid productions, Prospero the artist gives up his tools in which he once found so much purpose, simply to save himself from his own self.