I recently was given the pleasure of seeing “The Tempest” performed here at SUNY New Paltz before it closed. I was very curious to see what it would be like to see the play performed live, the way that Shakespeare was meant to be shown, instead of just reading it. I found that the play was actually much easier to understand seeing it performed as opposed to reading it. The actors, costumes, and set all helped to give the dialogue new meaning and made the scenes easier to follow and to take more out of.
The most interesting aspect of the play in my opinion was the changing of several male characters to female characters. Prospero became Prospera, Alonso became Alonsa, and Ariel and Trinculo were each played by women. To me the most striking was the shift from Prospero to Prospera. When I read the play, I interpreted Prospero as being a very domineering character. I read him as harsh, controlling, and ultimately not very likable. I felt that he was much too controlling over his daughter Miranda, and too harsh in his treatment of Caliban. I didn’t like him in the least. The character being portrayed as a woman instead of a man completely changed my perspective. The character of Prospera managed to come across just as strong as Prospero, but her actions did not seem cruel or unnecessary but completely understandable. Instead of being angry and appalled at her actions as I was when I read the text, I felt for her. I understood where she was coming from in everything that she did. Her protectiveness over Miranda didn’t come across as over – protective or controlling. Prospera’s actions came from a place of loving and caring, and just wanting the best for her daughter. Her anger at Caliban wasn’t unfair, as I thought it might have been previously, but completely justified. The changing of Prospero to Prospera gives the story a completely new perspective.
I couldn’t help but wonder though while watching the play if what really gave the character such a new perspective is the changing of genders, or just the actor’s interpretation of the character. Mothers and fathers are generally perceived to parent in two completely different ways, but do they necessarily have to be? Mothers just like fathers can be harsh and fathers like mothers can be caring and loving. In the future I would love to see an interpretation of “The Tempest” in which the classic gender roles swap; to see a man play Prospero in a “feminine” way, and a woman play Prospera in a “masculine” way.
Standouts in my opinion were the portrayals of Caliban, Trinculo and Stefano, a hysterical and mischievous trio who I wish could have a spinoff of their own. Overall I was very pleased with the school’s production and I would love to see more Shakespeare productions in the future.