The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0195  Tuesday, 23 April 2013


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Subject:     TLS Various Tempest Reviews


[Editor’s Note: The following review was published on 17 April 2013 in TLS. –Hardy]





Ariel on screen, Caliban on the iPad

Raphael Lyne

Published: 17 April 2013


William Shakespeare


Edited by Alden T. Vaughan and Virginia

Mason Vaughan

Revised edition

400pp. Arden Shakespeare. Paperback,

£8.99 (US $17).

978 1 4081 3347 7


Virginia Mason Vaughan


240pp. Manchester University Press. £60

(US $85).

978 0 7190 7312 0


Elliott Visconsi and Katherine Rowe


Luminary Digital Media. £6.99.



“What a difference twelve years can make!” So begins “Additions and Reconsiderations”, an added section in the revised edition of Alden and Virginia Vaughan’s Arden Shakespeare edition of The Tempest. It is the same length of time Prospero spent on his island. It is also quite a long time in the Shakespeare industry. The Vaughans devote twenty-two new pages to an account of the latest scholarship, including new suggestions for sources and comparisons for the play. They also survey recent performances in the theatre and on film. Julie Taymor’s film in 2010 (starring Helen Mirren as Prospera) and the play’s 400th birthday in 2011 are cited as evidence of their revision’s timeliness. The new pages are a sound and worthwhile addition to an edition that was good already. They are not mould-breaking enough to make someone who already owned it need to buy another, but a pleasing reassurance for the first-time buyer. They may also be a sign of an interesting phenomenon: the competition among series of Shakespeare editions may lead to more such updates. The economic advantage for the publisher is apparent, but here the editors’ scholarly scruples lead the way.


The performance section of this revised Arden Tempest clearly benefits from Virginia Vaughan’s immersion in the subject, which manifests itself in her volume on The Tempest in Manchester’s Shakespeare in Performance series. The play is ideal for this treatment: regularly revived over broad tracts of time and space, amenable to spectacular and speculative staging, it throws up countless fascinating descriptions. The Tempest mingles cultures ancient and modern, exposes problems in politics and power, and in century after century these qualities have appeared to strikingly different effect. This is the story on the surface, however, where The Tempest acts as (in Vaughan’s words) a “cultural mediator”. I was most struck by a story which emerged less explicitly, through many intriguing details: this is a play for the company, which puts all those who work in the theatre into the spotlight, but does not make their lives easy. The Tempest constantly tests its inheritors to create, and afford, its spectacle and illusion, and it offers some particularly piquant possibilities for casting and acting.


Prospero is, of course, a role for the star, and more than most stars he gets to order his colleagues around. (Hamlet’s equivalent is that he will hardly let them get a word in; Macbeth’s is that he gets to kill some of them.) The actor playing Prospero’s usurping brother, Antonio (presumably less senior in talent or profile, if not in age), must be put in his place. Ferdinand and Miranda are young, with futures: will the actors playing these roles fizz with potential and outshine the older generation? Caliban is abused, but has dignity and a grievance: this stage was and should still be his. How is the distance between him and Prospero to be measured? How will he be distinguished from the clownish Stephano and Trinculo? Will an actor skilled enough for this demanding part emerge unscathed from the association with these scene-stealing laugh-mongers? Ariel prompts another set of comparable questions.


Vaughan’s voice has authority because it mixes archival tenacity with first-person candour. It passes one meagre but significant test: its description of the few productions I have seen (such as that at the RSC in 2006 starring Patrick Stewart) corresponded to my memory while also being thought-provoking; this helps the much larger remainder seem trustworthy. In her description of the Shenandoah Shakespeare Company’s performance of the play in 2003, in their reconstructed Blackfriars theatre, it is clear that Vaughan felt she was witnessing a team working together. However, throughout the historical account she offers glimpses of company dynamics producing flashpoints small and large. Her account of the operatic version by Dryden and Davenant is sympathetic and insightful, and manages to explain why it could have held precedence for so long (no easy task). Nineteenth-century actors rediscovered the Shakespearean text, and in doing so brought out “individual” rather than “social” causes and effects in the play. Over the course of Vaughan’s performance history, old and new styles of acting are brought in to enliven but also demarcate the performances of certain actors: commedia dell’arte, comic opera, vaudeville and, increasingly, styles from around the world.


The most striking change, perhaps, came when increasing numbers of principal actors, or, at least, those who could choose their parts, opted to play Caliban rather than Prospero, finding a new angle from which to influence the play. F. R. Benson and Herbert Beerbohm Tree both did so; Tree’s daughter played Ariel. It became unsurprising. Richard Burton was Caliban in George Schaefer’s television version; Vaughan describes him dominating Stephano and Trinculo. It is not like that in all cases. At the Globe in 2005, in a production with only three actors, Mark Rylance stole the show, Vaughan says, as Stephano rather than in any other of his parts. In the BBC Time-Life version of 1979, Warren Clarke as Caliban has to square off against Nigel Hawthorne and Andrew Sachs.


Sometimes the lists of names and descriptions of performance are particularly tempting. In Yukio Ninagawa’s 1988–92 production, Prospero became Zeami, one of the greatest figures in the history of Noh theatre. In his Edinburgh run, Ninagawa cast Japanese pop stars as Ferdinand and Miranda. Gielgud played Prospero when aged twenty-six, thirty-six, fifty-three and seventy, before appearing in Peter Greenaway’s film Prospero’s Books at the age of eighty-six. The 1978 RSC version had Ian Charleson as Ariel, David Suchet as Caliban, Michael Hordern as Prospero. Of course, these names do not guarantee much, but other descriptions are initially less alluring. In Jürgen Kruse’s 1999–2000 production in Bochum, Ariel “marched across the stage accompanied by a young man in a pink evening gown carrying a large box of Ariel detergent”. A book like this cannot always reconstruct much of the experience, but it can offer myriad vivid images.


Stressing company dynamics does not mean that The Tempest as a play or as a theatrical tradition tends towards the introverted. Prospero has made the mistake of forgetting about the practical, political world in the past, and he does not make it again. Productions of the play also attend to social and political reality even as they explore the capacities of their medium and their personnel. Vaughan’s brief account of mixed-race casting is a key section of the book. James Earl Jones has Caliban (but not Prospero) on his formidable cv. In 1943, Margaret Webster cast Paul Robeson as Othello; in 1945, she cast Canada Lee as a part-monstrous Caliban. Lee worked in that production alongside a Norwegian ballerina as Ariel, and two Czech comedians as Stephano and Trinculo. This may sound like the set-up of a joke, but the mixing around fits the play. Sometimes cross-cultural casting does not quite cross cultures. In 2009 Antony Sher was a Kurtz-like Prospero; South Africa’s “most illustrious black actor”, John Kani, played “an aged Caliban” – his son Atandwa Kani played Ariel. Audiences in Britain were, it seems, happier with the production’s African pastiche than those in South Africa. The Bremen Shakespeare Company collaborated with the Kathakali Dance Group from India on a production in 2000. Vaughan quotes Wilhelm Hortmann praising this as an example of cultural “hybridization”; but the Hindustan Times found the companies’ contributions predictable, and Indian audiences were also less keen.


The Tempest has more changes to undergo, and the diversity of Vaughan’s fine book implies a promise in that direction. However, her project also implies a wish for it to be the moment from which to look back over a substantial performance history, motivated by the need to be up to date that led to the extra pages in the Arden edition. It is hard to tell whether Helen Mirren as Prospera will seem pivotal in the future. And a need to feel up to date might be gratified more by media other than the printed book.


It is timely, then, to register that The Tempest for iPad, created by Elliott Visconsi and Katherine Rowe, demonstrates many of the things one new medium can do. In theory, an app like this can be updated to take account of new developments in criticism or performance, just as apps in general can be updated to fix bugs or to download new levels of Angry Birds. In practice, this requires new content, and a high-quality first release does not guarantee continued investment and discovery. It would be quite wrong to judge The Tempest for iPad by this criterion, however, because it does not pride itself on the extensiveness of its performance history or of its constant updating with new materials. Instead, it aims to provide a more accessible version of the play, and an enriched one.


The text looks fine on the iPad screen, and scrolling down and turning pages seem almost interchangeable to me. The ability to leap through the text to the line you want adds some efficiency, though I would say that even the meagre effort of turning pages is a worthwhile reminder that between the two points you have searched for lie many things you would not want to gloss over. The ability to hear the lines spoken by actors (with more than one version of some scenes) is a significant enhancement. The notemaking facility encourages readers, and especially those studying the play, to create “My Path”, a means of selecting and annotating material for further work. The transition between these on-the-spot reflections and a more seasoned bit of thinking will work better in some hands than in others. It is difficult for me not to feel intergenerationally outmanoeuvred by the use of iPads for real work but it is happening.


Although it is best to focus on what The Tempest for iPad has achieved in itself, it is difficult not to pick up on things that this kind of resource seemingly ought to involve, but which are incipient here, or even absent. The lack of video (of a performance of the play to which one could link scene by scene) is understandable, but it is the kind of thing that feels as if it could be achieved. A video item relating to early printing is interesting, but on its own, a little isolated. Similarly, Michael Witmore’s podcast lecture on “data-mining, Shakespeare” taps into an emerging avenue of electronic research, but the edition is not obviously designed for data-mining, any more than is the Arden Tempest, so again the additional resource seems to stand on its own. A lavish exhibition-essay by Peter Holland and Katherine Rowe looks at the visual world of the play on stage, and how subsequent illustrators have responded. This is more in keeping with the interests of the edition, and is a great enhancement.


The ability to call up critics to illuminate and explore the text is a key feature, and perhaps the thing that really demonstrates how The Tempest for iPad offers more than just accessibility and practical enrichment. Perhaps the most striking thing offered by this new way of reading a play is its version of critical commentary. Marks in the text show where a comment from an impressive group of scholars might be called up. These may be taken as part of a connected argument, or ad hoc. Some of the comments speak directly to the relevant moment of the text, while others take them as cues for more general points. Some are conversational, others inclusive and explicatory, others relatively austere and demanding: all of them work.


The line-up is strong in itself. It is really the framework for commentary that the edition enables, however, that seems striking, for its simplicity, but also its dynamic quality. Commentary is different from notes, in that it is less tied to certain key duties, and can be selective; it is also different from a critical essay, in that it is more occasional, and does not need to subordinate local points to a larger argument. The possibility of a revived form of Shakespearean commentary, enabling argument as well as information, and extendable and updatable, offers exciting possibilities. (One of the commentaries, by Alexander Huang, is in Mandarin, and this of course stands for some of those possibilities. However, without more such things, or a translation, so that non-Mandarin speakers could take advantage of it too, it seems this is a good idea that risks not coming to fruition.) The possibilities of electronic media for Shakespeare editing have been discussed for a long time. I can remember seminars in the 1990s where we were sure that textual criticism and hypertextuality would merge to produce entirely new ways of seeing Shakespeare. Here the textual questions are not of prime concern perhaps because The Tempest does not offer many difficulties, and perhaps because the thought of these shimmering, flickering textual states was always a bit chimerical. Instead, a relatively straightforward use of technology has resulted in what seems to me a potentially vibrant reconciliation between literary criticism and the interactive qualities of electronic media. The blogosphere might favour the rapid exchange of opinion; The Tempest has at its heart a teacher who feels pity for those “that have more time / For vainer hours and tutors not so careful”. Here, the two are reconciled.


Raphael Lyne is a Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge.


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