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30 Days of Shakespeare, Day 21

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Day #21: An overrated play

I'm probably going to end up burning in Shakespeare Hell for this, but The Tempest really doesn't do anything for me. I can, to an extent, appreciate it -- the language and the imagery are positively gorgeous -- but I don't love it, and I doubt I ever will.

And it's not even the dodgy colonialist issues bothering me on the same visceral level that the gender issues in Taming of the Shrew bother me, although I suspect that would probably be a more understandable reason than '...meh, it just doesn't grab me.' But the latter phrase does more or less encapsulate my problem with The Tempest. I like individual moments in the play, and Prospero's speeches in the second half are magnificently crafted. But, as fuunsaiki remarked, quoting Rupert Goold:

I'm afraid I rather agreed with him as I, too, had always found the lack of narrative energy, the absence of threat to Prospero and the general Robinson Crusoe atmosphere pretty dull in performance myself.

I was in a student production in undergrad that did make me like the play more than I had beforehand (I played Sebastian, if anybody's curious). The fact that it was a fully genderswitched production also brought out some interesting tensions, but overall I agree with Goold that there's really no sense of urgency to the play. Antonio and Sebastian just sort of bumble around, and although you can infuse characters like Ariel and Caliban with a great deal of dangerous energy, it's never quite supported by a text that has them under Prospero's control.

It is entirely possible that I might appreciate The Tempest more as I get older and spend more time teaching Shakespeare. But right now, it just doesn't capture me the way many of his other plays do.

Day #1: Your favourite play - Othello and Richard III
Day #2: Your favourite character - Lady Elizabeth Grey in 3 Henry VI and Richard III
Day #3: Your favourite hero - Othello
Day #4: Your favourite heroine - Juliet from Romeo and Juliet and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing
Day #5: Your favorite villain - Richard of Gloucester
Day #6: Your favourite villainess female villain - Joan la Pucelle
Day #7: Your favourite clown - Feste from Twelfth Night
Day #8: Your favourite comedy - Much Ado About Nothing
Day #9: Your favourite tragedy - King Lear
Day #10: Your favourite history - The Henry VI trilogy
Day #11: Your least favourite play - The Taming of the Shrew
Day #12: Your favourite scene - selections from Richard III, Othello, Much Ado, and 3 Henry VI
Day #13: Your favourite romantic scene - As You Like It, Act IV, Scene I
Day #14: Your favourite fight scene - 1 Henry IV and 3 Henry VI
Day #15: The first play you read - Romeo and Juliet
Day #16: Your first play you saw - Macbeth
Day #17: Your favourite speech - Romeo and Juliet and 3 Henry VI
Day #18: Your favourite dialogue - Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet
Day #19: Your favourite movie version of a play - Richard III (1995)
Day #20: Your favourite movie adaptation of a play
Day #21: An overrated play
Day #22: An underrated play
Day #23: A role you've never played but would love to play
Day #24: An actor or actress you would love to see in a particular role
Day #25: Sooner or later, everyone has to choose: Hal or Falstaff?
Day #26: Your favourite couple
Day #27: Your favourite couplet
Day #28: Your favourite joke
Day #29: Your favourite sonnet
Day #30: Your favourite single line
Current Location:
Current Mood:
awake awake
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On 12th August 2010 13:44 (UTC), deliasherman commented:
I'm so with you. The structure is dull, dull, dull, Miranda is a cipher, the comedy is crude. The poetry is gorgeous, but it feels like he phoned the play in. The only production I've seen that didn't have me nodding in my seat was in Boston, by the Actor's Shakespeare Project, a shoestring operation run entirely by actors, which sounds like a recipe for disaster, but somehow isn't.

They did it in the round, as a Victorian circus, with Ariel as a woman in a corset and a top-hat and Prospero as the rather seedy Ringmaster. It was very funny and poignant and absolutely devoid of colonialist subtext. Of course, they cut the living daylights out of it. But do you really think Burbidge performed every play exactly as written? I don't.

But that's another conversation.
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On 12th August 2010 13:55 (UTC), gileonnen replied:
I'm a little more generous toward Miranda, I think--I find her delightfully alien and inquisitive on the page, and I've heard splendid things about her in productions. I've never actually seen a production, though, so at this stage that's a purely theoretical position for me.
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On 12th August 2010 21:34 (UTC), tempestsarekind replied:
Jumping in randomly--

I find her delightfully alien and inquisitive on the page

Heh, I love how I try really hard to describe things and fail, and then you do it perfectly. That's *just* what I love about Miranda, and why I've yet to see a Miranda who works for me.

Anyway--the things I love about The Tempest (like Miranda, and Ariel), I really love, but much of it kind of slides off my brain, a little.
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On 13th August 2010 03:07 (UTC), lareinenoire replied:
Miranda is a character who I think can work if you get the right actor -- the guy we had in our production was quite good, I found, but the gender-bending may have had something to do with that.
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On 12th August 2010 13:50 (UTC), gileonnen commented:
I respect your position, and mostly I agree with it. But since my next project after I've finished my Histories Ficathon fic(s) is that Ariel/Prospero thing ... well. I'm finding some narrative interest there. Maybe it's not textually supported, and maybe it's all white-guy-with-too-much-power angst, and maybe it only works if I add shiny chains--but I'm less cool to the play than I was before jehane_writes made the request.
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On 12th August 2010 14:20 (UTC), jehane_writes replied:
(...Just driving by to say OMG YAY. Nothing to see here, business as usual, lalalalalalala...)
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On 12th August 2010 14:30 (UTC), gileonnen replied:
(This fic has been demanding to be written for the past month, and once I've cleared the space to work on it--well. I'm really excited at the prospect.)
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On 12th August 2010 14:50 (UTC), jehane_writes replied:
Believe you me, my dear, I am even more excited! *tries to contain her squee*
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On 13th August 2010 03:08 (UTC), lareinenoire replied:
I would love to have my mind changed -- it's happened with other plays before -- so I will look forward to your fic! :)
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On 12th August 2010 14:10 (UTC), halflingmerry commented:
::laughs:: My two most recent projects are your least favorite! But I agree!

(I actually got great satisfaction from and affection for "Shrew" while playing Katherina, and figured out an acceptable way to do so for my own politics/morality without changing anything in the show itself, including my sketchy estimation of WS's intentions. But can go into that later—maybe even on the appropriate post.)

I'm playing Ariel in "Tempest" right now. And while I'm absolutely loving the experience because we have a great cast and great director, writing-wise, I absolutely agree with you. The structure of the show is seriously defective. How is anyone supposed to pay attention to 13-pages of exposition all front-loaded?! Then the ending just falls in drive and energy like whoa and the audience falls asleep again. I think we've found ways to be entertaining, but most of the text is seriously (and unusually for WS) performance-dependent rather than inherently dynamic.

Did I mention, Trinculo, Caliban and Stephano are the only ones with immediately tangible, character-driven dialogue! (Lucky bastards!) (...Okay, okay, Ferdy and Miranda, but as previously stated, they're a bit... loverlike ;-) ) Everything else can be made character-driven with varying degrees of effort, but... man. I'm pretty good at memorizing lines, and metered Classical more easily than contemporary because it's more like a song; but I had the damndest time with my lines as Ariel because it's all procedural!! We found the character stuff, but... I guess Shakespeare tends to spoil us by handing us so much on a platter without the usual "how do I make this make sense?" part of the acting process. With "Tempest" one really does have to start making stuff up to make the characters come alive.

What I do like about the show is how each character set, and each scene, is smack out of a different one of his plays, in references, subject matter, even pace and tone. I like drifting through scenes and finding myself walking from "Lear" to "As You Like It" to "Midsummer". And yes, the language itself is beautiful. (Though surely that makes it more of a poem than a play...)

Hehe, like some other comments, we have some gender-switching going on: Ariel, Sebastian (Sebastienne), Gonzalo, and Trinculo are wimminz. I absolutely agree: it adds so much to some of the scenes (esp. Sebastienne/Antonio) and sometimes seems like it couldn't possibly have been played any other way (Trinculo/Stephano—"If thou'rt Stephano touch me!" / "Thy lordship shall have it!" / "I swim like a duck I'll be sworn!" "Thou'rt more like a goose!" ::gooses her:: "Ohoho!! Stephano! Hast any more of this?" "The whole butt, man!!" <—Yes, yes, I know they're talking about the liquor, but it just works so well when they're not...)
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On 13th August 2010 03:09 (UTC), lareinenoire replied:
Oh, I know. Double-entendres all over the place! It was a play that was quite fun to perform, but every time I've tried to read it, it just sort of lies flat.

And I'd have loved to see your take on Katherine!
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On 12th August 2010 14:48 (UTC), jehane_writes commented:
Okay, see, I adore this play. Possibly because it is my most recent play (the Sam Mendez Bridge Project version with Stephen Dillane as Prospero). Gorgeously staged, and I found Dillane a most subtle and urbane Prospero. Of course the colonial stuff is always gonna be problematic, but Caliban is fearsomely energetic and was extremely well played, and, well, Mendez kind of sold me on Prospero/Ariel.

I hear you about the lack of urgency/threat, but that isn't the Tempest's narrative arc. To me, it's not intended as a suspenseful thriller/tragedy. I love that it's a quieter tale of endings, a magician king breaking his books and giving up his kingdom and setting free his beloved spirit and muse - as one of your commentators upstream said, it makes its lovely nods and fillips to W.S.' other works, its verses are beautifully crafted, and rounds out the end of the Bard's career. I feel the closure when I get to its magnificent end, and it's not just closure of the play itself. Or it could be 'cause I am old and get stupidly nostalgic about these things ;)

Okay, possibly one of the other more spurious reasons for my love of this play is Neil Gaiman's conceit that it was inspired by SANDMAN, but I will spare you my comixgeek ramblings :)
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On 12th August 2010 15:31 (UTC), fuunsaiki replied:
I find it very interesting that you loved the Bridge Project production, 'cos while I have enjoyed a production of The Tempest a great deal in the past (see userpic; <3 Rupert Goold and Julian Bleach!), I just couldn't get involved at all with that one. Although I could at least hear Dillane, which apparently puts me streets ahead of audience memebrs earlier in the run. XD
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On 12th August 2010 15:39 (UTC), jehane_writes replied:
I did read several reviews and hear reports about the Dillane mumbling (and his kind of disengaged performance). It may have made a difference that I was in the first row - close enough to see the sprinkling of the sand, to hear the actors breathe. I was totally sucked in. (My co-workers in the row behind me, though, couldn't hear - I initially put it down to lousy acoustics. But then, we're not a particularly sophisticated jurisdiction :) )

(Also: awesome userpic!)
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On 12th August 2010 15:42 (UTC), fuunsaiki replied:
Haha, thanks. I have another one you might like too... ;D
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On 12th August 2010 15:50 (UTC), jehane_writes replied:
:D Milady Kavita doesn't need me to squee over GNeil on her journal, but I have the best GNeil meeting story - in three parts, spanning more than a decade! Adore him ♥
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On 13th August 2010 03:11 (UTC), lareinenoire replied:
Mmm, Stephen Dillane. ;) I can't argue with that.

I do love Gaiman's take on the play (and his wonderfully creepy Midsummer), and it is entirely possible that I might change my mind if I see a really good prodution...
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On 12th August 2010 15:08 (UTC), spectralbovine commented:
I am so with you on The Tempest. I've read it once or twice, and I just don't get what the big deal is. NOTHING HAPPENS.
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On 12th August 2010 15:41 (UTC), fuunsaiki commented:
Wow, I thought I was alone in my utter boredom! It's almost like a self-help group in here! :D
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On 13th August 2010 03:12 (UTC), lareinenoire replied:
I know! And it just happened to be the day I spent travelling so I couldn't answer comments until now!
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