We are prompted with the four questions, the essential questions that we are to “live into”. These four questions jump off the page as fairly universal themes throughout all literature, but I wanted to analyze how they applied to The Tempest, specifically Prospero.

“Who am I?” Prospero, in his own mind, is the rightful Duke of Milan, but he also acts as the puppet master behind the events of the play. As we discussed in class, he clearly possesses the most power of any one character, seemingly having an effect on everyone who reaches the island. He acts as if he controls Miranda’s love for Ferdinand, as well as manipulating Antonio upon his arrival to the island.

“What do I love?” It’s easy to think about this question and immediately think that Prospero only loves Miranda. This may overlook his love for Ariel, however. As we can see there is tension between Ariel and Prospero for much of the play, but once Prospero agrees to free Ariel soon, we can see that there is love there. The idea of losing Ariel is clearly saddening for Prospero, and it’s hard for him to see Ariel go.

“How shall I live, knowing I will die?” Prospero seemingly lives a life of vengeance at the start of the play. It appears that knowing he could very well live out his days and die on the island, he is not content to give in and attempts to get his revenge. Knowing he will die, Prospero is unwilling to lie down and let Antonio be the Duke of Milan instead of him.

“What is my gift to the family of man?” This question is an interesting one. Perhaps Prospero’s gift to the family of man is yet to come. It appears his magical prowess is something he’ll now give up, but maybe returning to Milan will open the door for another chapter of his life, and he’ll be able to give back to the world that he has fought so hard to return to.

The most interesting part of the Shakespeare Behind Bars documentary and reading was the direct parallel between Prospero and Hal Cobb. Both men were isolated on an island to atone for their sins, though Hal’s isolation was self-imposed. Upon leaving the island, both men came to realize the true weight of their situations, and both sought forgiveness as the best path off of their islands. For Hal, that meant returning to Kentucky to follow through with his cold case and admitting to his guilt. Though the Shakespeare Behind Bars project, Hal now had a space that maintained his responsibility for his actions, but pushed him to grapple with thoughts and emotions he had long repressed. Hal describes Curt L. Tofteland’s work as their director as a much more collaborative role, which adds to the notion that participants can open up and learn in this space without any preconceived notions of what is wrong and right about the play. Since we are working with at-risk students, it makes sense to take on this more collaborative approach to the production, while still managing the group and making sure that no one student or idea excludes others. Through improvisational games, discussions, and a general sense of respect for everyone involved, hopefully our students will have a space to work through whatever they’re going through.

So much of the fun of theatre is adopting another character through which one can act. In Hal’s case, theatre gave him the opportunity to work through his own character through comparisons of himself and Prospero. Outside thought and research allowed Hal to truly dive into Prospero’s motives, actions, and consciousness. However, Hal also points out that emotional outbursts are just as important in relating to a character or aspects of the play, as these outbursts come much closer to one’s own consciousness than research and thought. Giving space for emotional outbursts and surprising connections to the play is incredibly important when working with children, especially because we are not expecting any outside research or thought about the play from our students. Providing these students with a free space to have fun with the theatre games and characters, in a contained, safe space, will give them a very valuable freedom from whatever other pressures they may be experiencing. As we’ve learned from the Shakespeare Behind Bars project, freedom can easily be taken away as poor decisions and uncontrolled emotions find deadly consequences. Therefore, it is incredibly important to find a balance in between the freedom of theatre and responsibility for one’s actions, just as Curt has found with his inmates.

The world of theatre literature seems to be rife with commentaries on the hidden themes of previous work.

What if the lighthearted ‘Wizard of Oz’ is actually about government oppression and freedom of thought, as well as our society’s treatment of the disabled? 

What if Alice of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is actually about mental instability? All of that lighthearted nonsense and whimsy is actually Alice having a mental breakdown over the frightening new world of adulthood!

What if ‘Spirited Away’ is actually a commentary about the life of a prostitute in urban Japan, and Chihiro had to sell herself in order to save her parents?

The work of both Cesaire and Nunez seems to follow in this vein– both take the main story of The Tempest and emphasize certain, hidden themes in order to make social statements. To me, this has always seemed like a lazy approach to storytelling.

Yes, presenting social commentary through a foundation of familiar stories can make it more accessible, but at the same time, digging for themes that are barely hinted at in the original stories in order to present commentary has always rubbed me the wrong way.

Certain allusions, such as a ruler who focused on reading more than ruling found in both Prospero and King James, have historical justification. However, others, such as the claim that Shakespeare was against slavery due to the manner in which he wrote Caliban’s struggle, are not necessarily founded in anything solid or provable, and seems to make more problems than it solves.

I do not mean to invalidate the work of Cesaire or Nunez in any way, and yet, I will never appreciate work that founds its commentary in subtle themes more than the original work.

This reading analyzes the leadership style of Prospero, and how this may or may not have been Shakespeare’s intention to portray him this way. I find that the best way to look at this issue is to consider the play in context. As conveyed in the text, it is unclear whether or not a character such as Caliban would’ve been seen as a villain or a victim. However, as we discussed in class, in many Renaissance plays physical deformity, which Caliban is described as possessing, often denotes monstrosity of character as well. I would contend that even this is not a full picture of who is a hero, a villain or a victim in The Tempest.

The true indication of heroism in this work, or in any work, is merely a matter of who the author intends to hold this role. We have a sort of bird’s eye view of the island, seeing what each cluster of characters is doing at any given moment, cutting between Prospero and Ariel over to Antonio and Sebastian and again to Caliban and Trinculo. However, it is clear through the way the plot is presented that Prospero is the character we follow the most, and thus that which Shakespeare presents as something of a protagonist. For many reasons stated in the article, Prospero is shown as cruel and unfair towards the other characters. Although this is true, many have said that Prospero possesses many indications that he may be intended to represent Shakespeare himself. Shakespeare of course, as the writer himself, would’ve made the character he identifies with be treated as a protagonist.

However, if The Tempest was written from a slightly different perspective, many of the characters could be portrayed as the hero of their story. If the focus was on Caliban the narrative could center around his struggle to reclaim the island for himself, as he believes it is his birthright. In this depiction Prospero would be a tyrannical villain, holding the true heir to the island as his prisoner. The play could also be told from the perspective of Ferdinand, that a prince, brought to mysterious place seemingly by chance, found love amongst the struggle of surviving on the island. This play could’ve easily been another of Shakespeare’s love stories, depicting Ferdinand and Miranda’s relationship beginning to blossom. Another element of this perspective would’ve been that we wouldn’t have known that Prospero planned for them to fall in love, which we only know by following Prospero’s story the closest. Prospero could’ve been portrayed an a father who is seemingly unwilling to give his blessing, but is eventually won over by Ferdinand and Miranda’s love. Lastly, this story could’ve been one of a political drama. We could’ve focused primarily on how the shipwreck led to a breakdown in political order, causing a rift between Antonio and Alonso. This could have been a tale about that shows that law and order are the only thing that can keep people’s hunger for power at bay.

Shakespeare did not choose any of these stories to focus on primarily, though. He chose Prospero, and I would contend that this is brought on by the context of The Tempest. This was Shakespeare’s last solo work, and it is unsurprising that he would want his farewell to the stage to focus on a character that he felt he had the similarity with.

Considering Prospero’s oppressive rule over Caliban throughout the play, his willingness to forgive Antonio for effectively committing treason is curious. Additionally, Prospero’s final request for pardon from the audience in his epilogue shows guilt and vulnerability in discord with Prospero’s actions up to this point. His sudden graciousness could be due to his joy of the end to his exile, though it could potentially reveal some of Prospero’s guilt in forgetting his duties as duke as well. With Césaire’s and Nunez’s retelling of The Tempest, as described by Dr. Bezio, we can compare Shakespeare’s sympathetic Prospero with the corrupt, oppressive leader in these re-creations. Though we can’t with certainty decide whether Prospero is meant to be a merciful leader of the island, willing to free Ariel and relinquish his magic in order to return to Milan, these retellings give us a perspective closer to that of Caliban’s rebellion.

Shakespeare’s Caliban saw himself as the rightful owner of the island on which he and his mother, Sycorax, had been exiled. Even though Prospero had taken over, Caliban still sees himself as equal to Prospero, which is especially apparent in the two retellings. By reasserting his ownership of the island in all three versions of the story, though in different ways, we can see varying levels of Caliban’s power. Shakespeare’s Caliban is more passive, happy to see his master leave toward the end of the play, though not quite as active in his rebellion. By reordering Caliban’s rebellion song, Césaire is able to reestablish Caliban’s rebellion against his master, though with much more veracity. Caliban’s response to Prospero’s pity, “I hate you”, again more directly undercuts Prospero’s authority on the island. Though Carlos/Caliban’s rebellion is more nuanced, Nuñez achieves the same cut to Prospero’s authority through the characters’ interactions. Virginia, Miranda’s representative character, falls in love with Carlos as an equal, eventually leading Mumsford to treat Carlos with respect due to other Englishmen, rather than the natives of the island. By forcing respect from the colonizer to the colonized, Nuñez is better able to undermine the traditionally sympathetic character of Prospero by humanizing and justifying Caliban’s want to be treated as equal.

By undercutting the justification of Prospero’s usurped authority over Caliban, these retellings of The Tempest give us a less than sympathetic version of Prospero. With narratives parallel to colonization, Shakespeare’s Prospero can be taken as a tyrant on the island, rather than an empathetic master happy to free his slaves upon his own freedom. This depiction of Prospero could have interesting implications for our production of The Tempest. Would our students see Prospero as merciful, or would they like to play a tyrannical leader of the island? How does splitting up the acts affect Prospero’s reputation with the audience? While cutting from each act, we need to take our conceptions of each character into consideration as we become more and more selective in what we leave and take out. Like the two retellings, our edits to the script can have drastic effects on the integrity of Shakespeare’s characters.

I am currently taking Theories and Models of Leadership, and in class we have been discussing the relationship between power and leadership. So far, we have concluded that while “power is often a foundation of leadership (influencing and motivating a group of individuals toward achieving a common goal)” it is “neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for the emergence of leadership,” as with power often comes “dangerous and destructive behaviors.” In class, we have also discussed how in order to become an effective and well-favored leader one must channel the positive aspects of power, such as “action,” “optimism,” “abstract thinking,” and “goal-directed behavior,” and must suppress the negative effects of power, such as “ignor[ing] others perspectives and emotions,” “objectify[ing] others, and “overconfiden[ce].”

In Leadership on Stage and Screen we have begun to discuss how power plays out in The Tempest. For example, in class today we discussed how Prospero has immense magical power as he has control over Ariel, and uses Ariel’s abilities to manipulate and control the other characters in the play. I think it is important for us to consider whether or not Prospero and other characters in The Tempest channel the positive aspects of power, the negative aspects of power, or a combination of both. In addition to analyzing the latter, we should consider what motivates the characters in The Tempest to exert their power, how the ways in which different characters exert their power varies throughout the play, and assess what the characters relationships are with the people they exert power over. I believe that discussing the power dynamics present in The Tempest will help us further understand the characters in the play, ensure that we portray the characters in a cohesive way, and help us decide which parts of the text are the most important as we begin to edit the play.

As the author(s) of American Shakespeare Center Basics note, we should begin our rehearsals by discussing “what [each] scene offers for exploration,” “review[ing] the actions” and roles of each scene, and “exploring different [theatrical] choices.” The author(s) of American Shakespeare Center Basic also suggest that we encourage our actors to note “the clues presented by the rhythms and metrics of both verse and prose lines, “consider the different [vocal and physical] choices they might make given the clues of the text,” reflect on how different movements “resonate with a character’s intent or state of mind,” and “paraphrase their lines word for word” to “help ensure that [they make] the strongest playing choice when it comes to the meanings of various words.” I believe that encouraging our actors to consider the latter and to discuss their findings in rehearsal will further our own understanding of The Tempest. In fact, it is possible that our actors will catch things in the play that we have yet to notice, or offer an interesting interpretation of the text that we have yet to consider. Thus, as we begin to rehearse, our understanding of certain aspects of the play (such as the power dynamics present) may change. If this occurs, we may want to reconvene as a class and decide whether or not to alter our scripts based on our discussions with our casts and the additional knowledge we gain throughout our rehearsals.

The reading from the American Shakespeare Center was both helpful and… nerve-wracking. I think that the first section of the reading, “Getting Them on Their Feet,” will be extremely helpful in the first couple of weeks at our partner sites. Although we know that Shakespeare’s plots were largely unoriginal and are by no means the focal points of his plays, I predict that the students will be caught up in understanding and talking about the plot. (I remember reading Hamlet as a sixth-grader and ignoring when my teacher wanted to analyze the text. I just wanted to see who dies at the end.) This is why I think it’s very important to establish the plot of the play from the very beginning. The name tag activity from the reading could be helpful in teaching the plot. Luckily for us, we only have one act to worry about; although I think teaching them the entire plot will be useful, we really only need to focus on Act I.

Where I worry that the suggestions in the reading get a bit too complicated is in scanning and analyzing lines. I fear that some of these exercises get too academic, and that we would risk completely losing the students’ interest. Paraphrasing a few lines might be helpful, but, again, I don’t want it to veer into homework-like territory. I think we need to devise a way to help the students understand the words they are saying, without forcing them to do anything – dare I say it – boring.

After reflecting on this reading, I’ve gone back to take a look at Act I. The plot isn’t particularly hard to follow and involves only a few characters – mainly Prospero, Miranda, Ariel, and Caliban. I suspect that the students will have fun reenacting the storm and the shipwreck, hopefully making up for the lack of action in the rest of the Act. A lot of the Act involves dialogue – Miranda and Prospero’s conversation, Prospero scolding Ariel and Caliban. Cutting the scene down will definitely help make the dialogue move much quicker. I think it might be difficult to make this Act seem interesting to the students. I also fear that the students might be uncomfortable with the Ferdinand and Miranda scene — How do we make kids comfortable with pretending to fall in love? I think it will be important to establish our rehearsals as a comfortable space in any way we can. (I understand that middle schoolers will never be totally comfortable acting in front of their peers!) From the get-go, we need to set expectations and try to engage the students as best we can in the hopes that they will enjoy the experience.

The Medieval & Renaissance Drama piece provided new insight into the foundation of Shakespeare’s plays.
At first glance, I, along with many aspiring scholars of Shakespeare, believed his plays to be the work of pure imagination— stories that he had developed as one might develop a bedtime story for a child— and performed for the sole purpose of entertainment. And yet, with the tumultuous social, political, and even religious change that Shakespeare’s era saw, it is only fitting that, upon further analysis, his plays take on a deeper, more profound meaning as they reveal social commentary, political jabs, and much, much more.
The idea of Anachronism as it was presented in the article was the first thing that presented itself towards the idea of plays of the era being more than simple entertainment; in providing the audience with a contemporary viewpoint (such as those of the soldiers in the play following Christ’s death) the audience received a telling of the biblical story far different than what they had been presented in the sermons of their priests. A peasant could be told the story of the Crucifixion and Resurrection and instructed to weep, but when he saw his Christ being bullied and empathized with His torment, he could find a new perspective, as well as appreciation for, His sacrifice.
The same goes for the presentation of slavery and servitude in Acts I and II in The Tempest with a modern audience— a student of say, St. Joseph’s, likely knows the history of slavery and can sympathize with the struggle of a Civil-War-Era slave, but the visible struggle of Caliban, who has well-founded anger over the loss of his position as well as freedom and solemnity, versus the carefree attitude of Ariel who blindly accepts every order, provides a new, more human perspective of bondage that is accessible to an audience.

 

Joe Abitanta

Reading Response 1

   When reading about the contrast between medieval and renaissance theater, it is easy to see the glaring differences between the two. What I found most surprising, however, was the large amount of similarity. As discussed in the reading, Shakespeare used the format of cycle drama and morality drama in his works after the medieval period. Surprisingly the medieval period, in which theater was controlled by the church, still exhibited themes about morality. Clearly the image we have of medieval European life being that of ignoring and suppressing “evil” urges and thoughts isn’t entirely accurate, as this was a large part of the theater of the era. Of course, these themes are not explored in the depth of Shakespeare’s plays.

    With the Renaissance era being one of change and questioning the old ways of life, the subject matter of drama at the time also changed. Even though good and evil were topics explored during medieval times, we can see just through reading “The Tempest” that Shakespeare has engaged with the topics of power and revenge, among many others. Throughout all of his works, he is able to dive into the psyche of his characters and reveal to the audience what their true thoughts are, as opposed to just painting them as good or evil. It’s clear to see why his plays were so popular, as this subject matter spoke to the people of the time in a more accurate way than that of a morality drama put on by the Church.

    With this context of change throughout subject matter over time, it is impossible not to consider how this has changed in recent years. Between Shakespeare’s time and now many features of theater have been consistent, as this can be attributed to the influence Shakespeare has had on the world of drama. We can notice a significant shift in the themes that are frequently covered though. Just as good and evil changed to a far more nuanced discussion of values, this has occurred again. Now people are infatuated with the “anti-hero”, one who is a villain on paper but when examined more closely has a backstory that can explain, and sometimes justify, these villainous behaviors. There is a great amount of depth to Shakespeare’s characters, most notably Macbeth, who is tormented by the horrible things he did to gain power, but this sort of examination into human behavior has become commonplace, which may be an underappreciated effect that Shakespeare’s legacy has had on modern day entertainment.

The chapter discussing Medieval and Renaissance drama in England makes some clear ties to liturgical theatre and theatre in the time of Shakespeare. With the formation of cycle plays intended to depict certain stories from the Bible, craft guilds formed as precursors to guilds like Shakespeare’s company, Lord Chamberlain’s Men. As political and religious turmoil took over the better part of the 16th and 17th century, theatre became secularized to include histories and social problems relevant to Elizabethan society. Though morality plays were much more common in the 15th and early 16th century, they paved the way for more secular stories which represented the moral struggles of all modern classes. As theatre moved away from Bible stories and into more modern representations of moral dramas, plays like Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Shakespeare’s The Tempest depicted moral reckonings, though with more modern contexts.

In a secularized fashion, both plays deal with the moral repercussions of using magic, but with very different moral implications. Faustus sells his soul to a devil for magical powers and is dragged down to Hell in the end of the play, displaying magic as a clearly immoral act. Prospero, however, finds different repercussions for his use of magic, as he is exiled for choosing magic over his duties as Duke of Milan. Both plays interrogate the morality of magic, though Shakespeare takes a more modern (and less conservative) perspective. Besides Prospero’s own struggle with the morality of magic, other characters in the play must struggle with their own morality and conscience as well. In order to stop Antonio and Sebastian’s plot to kill Gonzalo in Act 2, Ariel acts as an external conscience and prevents the two from succeeding, even though Antonio sees his conscience as an impediment to his success. As Prospero and Ariel continue to orchestrate the nobles’ experience on the island, they again test the nobles’ morality and consciences through confusing spells and madness. Even Gonzalo notes at the end of Act 3 that “their great guilt, Like poison given to work a great time after, Now ‘gins to bite the spirits.” Finally, we can see that the external conscience, provided by Ariel’s magical meddling, has kick started the nobles’ journey to reckon with their sins. With clear influences from the morality plays from the 15th and 16th century, Shakespearean drama continues to question the morals of his audience, both past and present, in a secular context, making The Tempest more relatable in its quest for moral answers.