Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 319. Thursday, 5 Dec 1991.
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 1991 20:20:00 -0500
Subject: Prospero's Books
I just saw Peter Greenaway's new film of *The Tempest*, called *Prospero's
Books*. It's relevant to recent network discussions about a number of
things, including whether or not to stage scenes that the text merely de-
scribes. Greenaway shows the three-year-old Miranda, her mother, and her
ladies-in-waiting. He also shows a very unhappy Claribel at her wedding,
and later we see a miserable and terrified Claribel again, in bed, having
just had her first sexual encounter. Her legs are covered in blood, and
her husband, the king of Tunis, is shown attended by underlings, looking
very self-satisfied and proud of himself. These are not the only scenes of
what the text merely alludes to, but they are samples of the film's extra-
ordinary visual richness.
Some of the richness strikes me as gratuitous (I'd like to hear what others
think), but I have been thinking about the scene of the deflowered Claribel,
because it is so disturbing, and I think it makes sense if one asks *who* in
the play would imagine it the way Greenaway shows it. The most likely person
to imagine it that way is Prospero, given what we know of his concerns about
Miranda and his suspicion of Caliban's sexual intentions. Since Greenaway
portrays the whole story as Prospero's fantasy (Gielgud, who plays Prospero,
says all the lines), it makes sense to have glimpses of Claribel and her
African husband as a parallel to what Prospero fears for Miranda. Just because
Prospero imagines (or imagines Alonso imagining) Claribel that way, doesn't
mean that's how it "really" happened, any more than his imagining Caliban as
trying to rape Miranda means that's what Caliban really tried to do.
I could say lots more about this amazing film, including some reservations,
principally that it sacrifices a large percentage of the lines for visual
sumptuousness. But I'd like to hear others' opinions.