When first reading The Tempest in class, I kind of hated the male version of Prospero. Especially in the first few acts, Prospero came off as overprotective, controlling, and even a little bit creepy. I wrote a previous blog post about the relationship between him and Miranda. In that post I kind of gave him praise for treating Miranda respectfully, but my classmates’ comments had me second guessing my opinion of him. By the time I finished reading The Tempest, I had my mind made up about how I felt about Prospero. Even though he gave up his magic and let himself die, I still feel like he was selfish because everything still happened on his own terms. For example, in class we discussed how although Prospero sets Ariel free after years of keeping him as a servant, telling Ariel to “be free” is still a command. It is sad to me that Prospero even used Ariel as his servant in the first place.
After establishing this negative feeling towards Prospero after reading The Tempest, I was not expecting to feel too differently toward the female Prospera. However, when I saw The Tempest actually acted out, Prospera gave me zero negative feelings. I cannot quite place why, but for some reason I was able to sympathize with Prospera in ways that I could not with Prospero. Instead of being mad at Prospera for at first sheltering Miranda from Ferdinand, I understood why a mother would do something like that for her daughter. When Prospero did it, I saw it as selfish. It came off as if he was claiming ownership of his daughter.
Also, with the female version of Prospera, it (sadly) made more sense to me that her position as queen was usurped by her brother, Antonio. As we’ve discussed many times, women were seen as the lesser sex during Shakespeare’s time period. Therefore, it is kind of characteristic that Prospera would neglect her duties as Duchess of Milan. Because of the misogynist mindset of society during Shakespeare’s time period, audiences during that time may have felt that it was only natural for Antonio to usurp his sister’s authority and take on the position of the Duke of Milan. As a woman, Prospera would clearly have more “womanly” duties to worry about, such as studying the liberal arts and having babies.
Overall, I liked that New Paltz decided to portray the main character as a woman. I don’t think Shakespeare wrote nearly enough (or any at all, for that matter) female protagonists. If the play were originally written like this though, I think the intended audience of Shakespeare’s time may have been a bit confused. Especially because of that fact that most, if not all of Shakespeare’s female characters seem to be secondary ones.