The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0308.  Monday, 3 March 1997.

[1]     From:   Adrian Kiernander <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Monday, 3 Mar 1997 17:16:11 +1000 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: MND

[2]     From:   Robert F. O'Connor  <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Monday, 3 Mar 1997 13:26:20 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0267  Miranda and Prospero

From:           Adrian Kiernander <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 3 Mar 1997 17:16:11 +1000 (EST)
Subject:        Re: MND


It would certainly be my reading of patriarchal politics that any "real"
man would not "allow" himself to be topped, hence the significance of
the title of Natalie Zemon Davis's "Women on Top". Any man who disgraced
the institution of masculinity by not managing to overwhelm any attempt
at female dominance over him was worthy of ridicule. (How are you
supposed to signal irony in email?)

Perhaps the difference between a man "allowing" (perhaps I should have
used quotes) himself to become subordinate and a woman suffering
maltreatment or physical brutality (I don't recall using the word
"victim" with reference to Titania-if I did I regret it) is the
difference between having a massive institutional backup supporting and
egging you on (in the case of a man in a patriarchal society) and having
those forces ranged against you (if you're a woman).

Of course it's much more complex than that, especially if the woman
happens to be Elizabeth I, so I'd encourage you to persist, find and
check out the subtleties of the Montrose article. Any Greenblatt book
should be easily found in the US, surely. (Don't shatter my illusions,

All the best

From:           Robert F. O'Connor  <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 3 Mar 1997 13:26:20 +1000
Subject: 8.0267  Miranda and Prospero
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0267  Miranda and Prospero

Well, David Lindley wrote and told us about an interesting - and
certainly original - *Tempest*, and having just this weekend seen a
reasonably good amateur production - with another to come from one of
Australia's major touring companies, I thought I'd chuck my five cents
in (we don't have two cent pieces here any more).

I admit I have trouble with a sexualized Miranda, given the insistence
in the text on her virginity.  Of course it's possible to interpret (and
play) this as purely a misguided conviction of Prospero's, but I still
think that to imply some connection between Miranda and Caliban - to say
nothing of any incestuous jealousy on Prospero's part - is to undermine
one of the major themes of the play, indeed, of most of the late plays.
Hermione's fidelity in *Winter's Tale*, Perdita and Marina's chasteness
- in the latter case almost a palpable force - all connect with the
figure of Miranda to indicate - to my mind - a particular concern with
this issue.  Costuming Miranda to underline her sexuality seems to me a
little heavy-handed, as does the invented encounter with Caliban.
Either alone would have been almost too much - but the two is definitely
overkill.  If this is an idea a production wants to explore, surely
there are more subtle ways of doing it.

Similarly, desexualising Ariel is no new thing - but to present, at the
end of the play, a naked, somehow liberated sprite seems a little far
from the notion of an airy spirit - this is no subtle body.  A recent
production in Sydney featured noted Australian actress Gillian Jones as
Ariel, in what was essentially a see-through cheesecloth outfit - and
yet I would say there was nothing sexual about her performance - and
certainly not in her relationship with Barry Otto's Prospero.  The
production I have just seen had a young, white leotard clad Ariel,
performing her tasks with the occasional assistance of three other
(female) sprites similarly clad in blue, red and green, the four
together symbolising the alchemical elements.  I don't know whether the
intention was to deliberately foreground the player's bodies, but there
was certainly no sexualisation here either.

I think it *is* reasonable to parallel Caliban and Ferdinand - but only
to emphasise their difference.  Again, the nobility of the chaste maid's
suitor is a common theme in the late plays (and I include the initially
dissolute Lysimachus in this), and one not lightly ingnored.  I have
seen three productions in the past few years wihich played Prospero's
admonition of 'No tongue!' before the masque as an interruption to
passionate kissing.  Not subtle, guys.

Ariel is, to me, the character who makes or breaks performances of *The
Tempest*.  A mincing Ariel (for example, David Dixon in the BBC version)
turns me off right away, despite the fact that there may be other
qualities to the characterisation that appeal to me.  The Cheek by Jowl
production which toured here in 1989 had a male Ariel, costumed almost
like an escapee from a Sinbad movie.  A very stiff, very emotionless,
almost disinterested Ariel - but it worked.  There was the sense of this
spirit labouring under an unappreciated burden, but it was not
overdone.  I liked it.

Ariel's sexuality, if any, is an issue I am interested in.  I have yet
to hear of a production with a male Ariel that implied any kind of
physical relationship with Prospero.  And while it is hard to imagine an
ethereal spirit such as the Ariel-of-the-text with a carnal side, I
think it can be done - but only if the production is prepared to engage
with the incubus/succubus notions in medieval demonology (what would
James have to say?).  This would also have interesting implications for
Miranda's status in the scheme of things ...

The same Cheek by Jowl production was notable in a number of ways - a
Geordie Caliban, audibly distinct from the rest of the cast; a very
Maggie Thatcher-ish 'Queen' of Naples (well done, too); and a black
Miranda.  This is, I know, no new idea, and certainly it added a strange
and interesting dimension to the play.  I have wondered, before now, if
one can take the idea that Prospero is Caliban's father, and extrapolate
from that through the question of Miranda's absent mother, to specuate
further about the witch Sycorax.  Exiled from Patagonia via Naples?  But
with a black Miranda and a white Caliban ...

I have seen several productions here in Australia with an Aboriginal
actor playing Caliban - the colonial metaphors of the plays are, I
think, inescapable in any performance of the play in Australia.  The
Bell Shakespeare Company, however, is to tour later this year with an
Aboriginal actress playing Miranda, to Bell's Prospero.  I have yet to
hear any more detail about the production, but I shall be interested to
see where they take it.

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