The Tempest Adaptations and Transformations
Julie Taymor’s film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ contains many alterations from the play. These differences include how Taymor’s decision to change Prospero’s gender affects the actions and reactions of other characters. Filmic advantages are used successfully to enhance how the audience perceives the gender change of the protagonist, as well as how the behaviour of the minor characters are altered because if it. The relationship between the characters is heightened by makeup, camera angles, casting, costuming and the performances of the actors themselves. Taymor uses these visual echniques of film to her advantage, even adding in an extra scene at the end of the film. The transformation of Prospero into Prospera affects the way the reader views the judgement, treatment and release of Caliban. The parent-child relationship is also altered by the gender change, as is the protagonist’s interaction of Ariel. Taymor uses the sex transformation, the difference in gender stereotypes and the relationships which ensue, to make the filmic version of ‘The Tempest,’ vastly different from the play. William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ explores the relationships and the effect of one person aving power over another. From the beginning of the play, the reader is shown an unstable and complicated relationship existing between Prospero and Caliban. The reader gets a glimpse of their bond. ‘I must eat my dinner. This island’s mine by Sycorax my mother, with thou tak’st from me… thou strok’st me… then I lov’d thee, and show’d thee all the qualities o’th’ isle… Cursed be that I did so! ’ The interaction shows the reader that the relationship between Prospero and Caliban was initially amiable, but turned malicious with the intended rape of Miranda. Julie Taymor’s film daptation shows Helen Mirren’s performance as the character of Prospera to be no less of a dominating figure than her male counterpart, Prospero, in the play. Because of this character strength, the film progresses similarly to the play via its dialogue. Nevertheless, the audience does discover changes in the dynamics of the Prospera-Caliban relationship. Prospera is less physically intimidating, which enables the audience to view Caliban as an almost dominant figure. The gender change also makes Prospera a weaker protagonist due to the power and volume of her voice. I’ll rack thee with old cramps, fill all thy bones with aches, make thee roar, that beats shall tremble at thy din. ’ Helen Mirren’s threats are less intimidating than Prospero’s and comes across debilitated; therefore the viewer is less likely to take her blackmail seriously. Even though Prospera is a lesser figure physically, the audience is shown how she uses other techniques to maintain dominance in her confrontation with Caliban. In the first encounter with Caliban in both the play and the film, the audience is presented with a malcontent slave, unwilling to come forward and speak to Prospero/Prospera and Miranda. There’s wood enough within. ’ When, however, Caliban does come forward, he tries to gain a physical advantage by standing on a large rock. The camera angle shows the backdrop of the sky, clearly demonstrating his attempted superiority. The appearance of Caliban poses a threat to Prospera, yet psychologically he is easy to conquer even without the advantage of magic. ‘I must obey. [his/her] art is of such power, it would control [me]’. Prospera and Caliban’s actions show the audience how Prospera uses her words and magic rather that physical dominance to subdue Caliban’s attempted overthrow of power.
It is clear to the audience that the protagonist has subdued Caliban previously using such means, as he can be overpowered easily. Taymor’s ‘The Tempest’ clearly demonstrates the capability of Prospera to stand up for herself despite her physical disadvantage. The character transformation from Prospero to Prospera changes the dynamics of the relationship between the protagonist and Caliban. Prospero uses physical dominance and voice to subdue Caliban but Prospera, however, needs to threaten Caliban with her powers to subdue him for she has no physical presence. The different performances f the protagonists in relation to Caliban, makes the two mediums of ‘The Tempest’ vastly different. The relationship between Prospera and Miranda is also changed through the gender adjustment of the protagonist. At the beginning of the play, the audience glimpses a tender scene between Prospero and Miranda: ‘O, cherubin… thou did smile, infused with a fortitude from heaven. ’ The audience views the relationship between parent and daughter, as one of superiority, ‘thou art inclin’d to sleep. ‘Tis a good dullness… give it way,’ and sub ordinance, ‘your tale sir… would cure deafness. ’ The dialogue in both mediums emphasizes the arent-child connection and influence between the protagonist and Miranda. In the film, Julie Taymor places Prospera atop a cliff, using a long shot to confirm the appearance of power. The audience immediately sees Prospera as powerful due to her dark, masculine clothes and short hair. When Prospera’s face is revealed, the audience gets a glimpse of her in extreme determination, conjuring up the huge storm whilst her daughter begs at her feet. Taymor demonstrates the power differential through camera angles and positioning Prospera and Miranda at different heights; Prospera is looking down at Miranda who kneels below her.
Taymor’s costuming also plays a major role in the audience’s realisation of the difference in status between the two women. Prospera is dressed in heavy, dark clothing whilst Miranda stands beneath, dressed in a white sheet. The symbolism that occurs in this scene tells the audience that not only is Miranda psychologically weaker than her mother; she is also considered naive and pure due to her light, sheer clothing. Taymor must use this extra scene to establish Prospera’s superiority. The audience’s instruction in the hierarchy of the island is not necessary in the play because the audience views Prospero with reverence due to his asculinity. Taymor constantly creates differences between the protagonists of film and play. Prospera makes an effort to demonstrate her love for Miranda, by constantly attempting to make physical connections between them. The readers do not receive this visual intimacy in the play. Prospera’s face comes close to Miranda’s and she is always directing her daughter with an arm around her shoulders. The gender change from Prospero to Prospera creates a unique bond that cannot be achieved with Prospero as the protagonist. The difference between Prospero and Prospera’s parenting is that in the play, Shakespeare encourages the eader to view Miranda as a weak character, ‘Oh my heart bleeds… please… father’ who will grow up to be subordinate compared to her dominant father. In the film, however, the audience see Miranda as following her mother’s powerful existence, therefore being a stronger person in the film rather than in the play. Julie Taymor’s ‘The Tempest’ explores the way in which the diversification from Prospero to Prospera influences the audience’s viewpoint of characters close to them. In the film of ‘The Tempest’, Prospera achieves a deep and peculiar connection to her daughter that is contrasting the reader’s interpretation of the ather-daughter connection that exists in the play. Furthermore, the gender transformation that Taymor explores, affects the treatment and judgement of not only Miranda and Caliban, but the spirit Ariel, too. The audience’s first encounter with Ariel in the film and the play begins with complete submission and admiration on Ariel’s behalf, with Prospero/Prospera being completely dominant. ‘All hail, great master, grave sir, hail! I come to answer thy best pleasure… to every article. ’ The relationship between the protagonist and spirit is initially amiable, ‘that’s my… brave spirit… Ariel, thy charge xactly as perform’d. ’ The audience, however, soon discovers underlying bitterness and vexation existing in their unusual relationship. Ariel wants to be freed from his enslavement to the protagonist, ‘is there more toil? ’ but is easily overpowered in the play, as Caliban was, with Prospero’s booming voice and physical dominance sending him into submission once more. ‘Does thou forget from what torment I did free thee… Malignant thing! ’ The domination shown by Prospero in the play is not quite parallel with the weaker performance of Prospera. Helen Mirren’s voice in the film is less intimidating, as is her appearance.
This makes Ariel gain a physical advantage and able to stand up for himself. Prospera’s interaction with Ariel also differs from her male counterpart because when Ariel is discharged, ‘I shall miss thee, but yet thou shalt have freedom,’ he becomes extremely close to Prospera and affectionately strokes her shoulder. The audience sees that, because she is a woman, he does not respect Prospera as much as he did Prospero, for he feels comfortable enough to touch her. The physical contact present between them shows the audience that Prospera is a weaker protagonist than Prospero, allowing herself to be controlled in this way.
The reason for Prospera’s weakness is due to Taymor’s direction; she creates a character that is weak and is able to be overpowered, which clashes with Prospera’s previous affirmation of dominance and confuses the audience. The difference between Prospero and Prospera in relation to Ariel shows the weaker stereotype of women against men, which, in this scene, eventuates to be correct. Juxtaposing the film and the play, Taymor does not succeed with her choice to change Prospera’s gender. Taymor’s version of ‘The Tempest,’ introduces the audience to an additional scene in the film, in which Prospera frees Caliban.
In the play, Prospero dismisses the group of Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban by saying, ‘Go to, away. ’ His female counterpart’s concluding statement is one of deep ambiguity; ‘this thing of darkness, I must acknowledge mine,’ only Caliban is present to hear this apology. After Prospera’s concluding statement, she and Caliban share a stare that lasts for fifteen seconds, where she inaudibly apologises and allows him to leave. He then walks up the stairs and opens the door at the top, whilst not looking back. The symbolism of this allows the audience to judge for the last time whether Caliban’s enslavement was justified.
Prospera stares remorsefully while Caliban exits swiftly into the open air of his island. The camera angle, shown through Prospera’s person; promotes the understanding that Caliban is now dominant, as Prospera is looking up at him. As he exits, the audience is only shown himself walking through the doorway into the clear blue sky, signifying his reclaimed freedom. Taymor encourages the observer’s final judgement of the relationship between Prospera and Caliban to be one of sympathy to the lesser. The audience considers Prospera’s apology and recognises that she is, deep down, apologetic for her actions and willing to make amends.
The audience finally realises her sincerity as she tosses her staff into the water. The audience watches as the staff shatters and notices the beautiful music that is played when it has broken, symbolising peace due to its destruction. The audience respects Prospera for her sacrifice but recognises the power that still remains with her. Once again she stands atop a cliff in a longshot. This camera angle with the addition her severe clothing emphasizes her remaining power and how it has transformed from magic back into her dukedom. Taymor adds this additional scene to give a conclusion to the film, ompared to the obscure ending of the play. The ending to the film is successful because it creates closure to ‘The Tempest’ and makes the audience understand the reality of human nature. William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ varies significantly from the film version due to the success of using filmic advantages such as expressions, clothing and camera angles. The gender change of the protagonist causes the audience to view other characters differently as a result. Prospera is viewed throughout the film as a powerful character who establishes her dominance through magic unlike Prospero, who is physically dominant.
The other difference between the film and the play is that Prospera, being a woman, is more forgiving and able to be controlled. She also interacts with her daughter and is a role model to her in a different way than Prospero. Taymor uses filmic techniques successfully to portray her characters in different ways and to summarise the open ending of the play. The audience is intrigued by the most noticeable change between the two; the gender swap of the protagonists and this cast alteration is primarily what makes Julie Taymor’s 2010 film adaption of the play so interesting.