The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1432 Thursday, 27 July 2000.
Date: Wednesday, 26 Jul 2000 21:45:09 +0100
Subject: Performing 'The Tempest'
A bundle of questions about The Tempest: I am just about to teach the
play for the Nth time, and possibly produce it for the third time. But
every time I start to, I am assailed by terrible doubts about what on
earth is going on in this play. Advice VERY welcome on any topic.
[a] What are current views on how to interpret Caliban and Ariel on
stage? Colonised Caliban? Ethnic Caliban? Superhuman ? Sub-human
Caliban? Young Ariel? Old Ariel? Young Caliban? Old Caliban?
[b] Is there any evidence that Ariel was ever played by a boy in
Jacobean times - viz a lot of fizzing, energetic songs, and presumably
expected to leap about gymnastically - I know that doesn't necessarily
mean anything, but........? What striking performances of Ariel can
correspondents recall that illuminated aspects of the character??
[c] And the Act 4 Spirits? What kinds of voices would be expected for
the music? Presumably boys / male altos sung / acted the parts of the
goddesses, so deeper male voices for the 'burdens'? Who would be
required to sing 'ding dong bell' - do we think that they may have been
sung under the stage? Music seems to have been required (certainly
commented on as being ) all over the place on this island - so would
'the cellarage' have ever been used for music? But what about at
[d] does a cast list for the 1612-13 performance before James l exist in
either Revels Accounts / company lists ?
[e] when a major show was brought in form outside for Whitehall, did the
visiting company bring all their own technicians, or were there resident
expert teams who advised on production techniques? 'Hamlet' suggests
that companies travelled with all their own chippies and kit, BUT for a
really grand show before royalty etc..... ?
[f] what did Jacobeans mean by a 'banquet'? Presumably a small selection
of goodies at the side of a hall on a small 'banc' / bench or similar?
[g] And that nightmare SD for any stage manager today - Ariel makes a
banquet disappear with 'a quaint device'. What kind of 'device could
they mean? Might the table / 'banquet' have been 'flown'? Or is this
just an indication to the stage team to dream up something pretty
nifty? Do the complexity of the SD's - more so than in most Shakespeare
plays - perhaps suggest that the play was not intended for performance
in a conventional public playhouse, but intended from inception for the
private theatre? , OR maybe that Shakespeare was feeling his way towards
some new stage as well as linguistic mode - stuff still on the drawing
[h] how might a 'harpy' be dressed so as to be both terrifying and
mobile enough for Ariel to deliver lines?
[i] Vanessa Redgrave is currently playing Prospero at The Globe. Is
there mileage in that 'cross-dressing' concept? Might it obscure more
than it reveals of the play's inner guts? The play seems so insistent on
the fatherhood / masculine power strategies of Propsero, and much of his
angst too seems tied to such roles, that one wonders about the wisdom of
Thank you for any contact.