Review : Julie Taymor’s Tempest

Well I’m happy to report that Julie Taymor‘s The Tempest movie was in fact playing at one theatre in Boston, so I hiked into town to watch it just like I said I would. As Bardfilm put it, the fact that we’re seeing more Shakespeare on film these days at all is a major accomplishment and we need to support it.

SPOILER ALERT : This post contains specific details about the movie. So if you really want to be completely surprised by every directorial decision, you probably don’t want to read this.

Unfortunately I have to say that this movie had some good, a bunch of bad, and some decisions that were so downright terrible as to be insulting.

Open with a sandcastle, dissolving in the rain. Miranda, who made the castle, sees the storm, sees the ship. Begins running. Then we get the shot of the men on the ship, cutting back periodically to Miranda running. I liked the tempest itself. The sound mix was terrible and you could not hear much of what was said – I’m pretty sure that most of the good lines (like Gonzalo’s “acre of dry land” speech, and the “he hath no drowning mark upon him” line) were both cut. But here’s the thing – it was a good storm. We see fire, we see waves crashing completely over the boat, we see men going overboard. You watch this brief scene and you think, “This ship is going down, these men are all going to die.”

Cut to our first shot of Helen Mirren’s Prospera, who is actively controlling the storm. This could have been awesome – at how many spots in Shakespeare’s script do you get to say “I think Prospero is actually spellcasting here”? Unfortunately, the spellcasting in this case is Mirren holding her staff over her head and screaming. No words, no ancient incantations, just screaming. Until Miranda stops her.

Here I think an opportunity was missed. I would have loved to see something from Mirren to signify that, until a moment ago, she’d been on some different, magical plane, her entire awareness focused on nothing but the spell she was casting. A few moments of confusion, staring at her child and having to take a moment to come back to reality. After all she was just screaming her head off. Instead we get something more of a “What do you want, child? Mommy’s working!” moment. Miranda gets the same look from Prospera that my 6yr old gets from my wife when my wife’s trying to talk on the phone.

First real annoyance, though? We get an invented backstory for Prospera. This isn’t just a case of swapping out some gender pronouns in the script. No, we actually change the story. Prospera is the *wife* of the Duke, you see. So then when the Duke dies, she signs over control of the dukedom to her brother Antonio. This was troubling to me, because by doing that you split the universe we Shakespeare geeks know, and you move from a gender-bent Prospero (which we can understand, we’ve all seen gender-altered productions) to “No no, this is a whole different character.” Well, then, what do you expect me to do with that? How can I have any expectation about a character you’ve invented?

I can’t really do the whole story at this rate, the post will be 10 pages long. So let’s get to the good/bad/awful, shall we?

The Good

Prospera’s relationship with Ariel. I loved this. Every interaction between the two shows Ariel at Prospera’s shoulder, so close that they’d be rubbing against each other – a confidant and friend, not a servant. Ariel is human, and the same size as Prospera (more on this later). You really got the idea that these two were a team, and when Prospera says “I will miss thee” you know she means it. However, this did not come across as well as it could in the various spots where it could have – especially “Do you love me, master? No?”

Ariel is entirely a special effect. Well, I mean, he’s a male actor, in the form of a male actor, for the most part. But he’s got a CGI-enhanced white glow about him when he’s standing still. And when he’s not, he’s zipping aerily about, feet never touching the ground. This only makes sense. Ariel can’t be just another character like Caliban, there needs to be something other-worldly about him. Her. It. More on this later.

I thought Miranda and Ferdinand were acceptable, at least as far as their delivery went. I saw some reviews that thought the two young actors were out of their league, but honestly I though that they played the role well – they’re children, after all, and they’re not really major characters in the story. Their entire purpose is to make big sappy doe eyes at each other and tell each other they’re the moon and the stars. Ferdinand’s *look*, on the other hand, will make you question WTF Prospera is thinking setting her daughter up with this kid. Long hair hanging down in his face, and this really stupid mustache that looks like something a 13yr old could grow. No idea why they gave him that look. Oh, and remember the scene where he sings? Yeah, I didn’t think so. More on that later.

The Bad

The movie is mostly special effects – and they are bad special effects. Fans of theatre over film here will have a field day – some things are better left to letting Shakespeare paint the picture. When Ariel speaks of how he sank the ship? It’s a very descriptive scene, yes. So did we really need to replay it, showing a giant Poseidon-like Ariel literally flicking the ship back and forth with his fingers while he told the tale, like a child playing with toys in the bath tub? Most of Ariel’s special effects are a bit off. Remember, Ariel is basically just a person – but his feet never touch the ground. So several times when he has to leave the scene, there’s a special effect of him running across the sky, up into the clouds. Not a swoosh or a blur or anything, a person with legs running away, who just happens to be running up up and away. I thought it looked stupid.

Another weird one? Prospera’s cell is something out of an MC Escher painting, for who knows what reason. I mean, yeah, sure, it’s a cave carved into the side of a mountain, so of course it’s all entirely right angles. Makes sense??

Some parts just did not seem well thought out. You know how Trinculo, Stefano and Caliban are delayed on their way to kill Prospero when he lays out all his nice clothes to distract them? Yeah, well…how’s that scene play out when Prospera is a woman? Well, she lays out a bunch of beautiful dresses. And Trinculo and Stefano get all excited …and dress up in the women’s clothes. WTF?

Oh, I said I’d mention this — Ferdinand sings. For some unknown reason he breaks into the Clown’s number from Twelfth Night, the one that contains the big “Journeys end in lovers meeting” line. Had a very weird, Across The Universe vibe to it. I kept thinking I wanted Prospera to roll her eyes and say “Oh, sh_t, he’s in a *band*?! This was a bad idea.”

Russell Brand. Yeah, what can I say, I hated him. The whole scene on the beach where he climbs under Caliban’s blanket and is first discovered by Stefano? That scene was pretty painful to watch, it just did not work on any level. Well, I take that back, Caliban had a great “WTF is going on?!” look throughout the whole thing. And toward the end of the scene, Stefano and Trinculo did manage to give off this really nasty “These aren’t just buffoons, they’re criminals who are capable of serious harm” vibe that I don’t usually see. But Brand’s delivery of the material? Well, it’s on a different level, I’ll say that. It’s really and truly like Brand wanted to take it and run with it, do his own thing. Lots of mannerisms added to the character. More on that later.

The So Bad It’s Insulting

Trinculo and Stefano can both be heard quite clearly saying “F_ck.” That annoys me on an infinite variety of levels. In both cases it comes out the same way – they are both playing stumbling drunkards, tripping their way across the island, muttering random nothings as they go. And, at one point, one trip merits a very clear “F_ck!” Same thing happens later to Stefano. I can almost imagine how that came about, too. I can just picture Brand being “in character” as he saw it, improvising where he could, and thinking that this is what Trinculo would say when he stubbed his toe. Taymor, who seems to have a thing for curse words (on the Stephen Colbert show she dropped her own F-bomb), says “Go with it. That’s an Elizabethan word, it’s ok.” And then Stefano throws one in as well.

Listen, Jackasses. Don’t improvise. If Shakespeare wanted you to curse he would have told you how to do it. You show an amazing amount of disrespect to your source material, and your audience, pulling that nonsense.

Another major problem that I just cannot understand is that Ariel spends the entire movie naked. I heard that he was “digitally neutered”, so you won’t be seeing any dangly bits, but it looked in many scenes like he was wearing some sort of loin cloth. Every time he turned his back, however, we were treated to a “moon calf” of a different sort, if you know what I’m saying. Ariel’s backside is in this play almost as much as Caliban is.

That would be bearable. Maybe. But then, for some completely incomprehensible reason, the director must have said “Hey, can you give Ariel some boobs?” Every now and then, with no particular rhyme or reason, Ariel’s rocking maybe a B cup.


I’d heard about this. Warned, is probably a better term. And I went into it thinking “Oh, ok, cool – Ariel is basically both sexes at the same time.” Well, no. Ariel’s a boy through 99% of the story. When he suddenly develops breasts, absolutely nothing else about his character changes – no facial structure changes, no longer hair, absolutely nothing to indicate that there’s any sort of two-sides-of-Ariel thing going on.

Why do this? I’ve already said, Ariel is a special effect. He flies most places. Spends a bunch of time in the water as well, as a reflection. Why not go with that? Why not just create a character whose entire body is amorphous, so you don’t have to deal with the issue? Why not make an entirely androgynous character from top to bottom?

Ok, last one. How hard would you rage if I used the three words “Benny Hill Music”? Maybe this is a Taymor thing, but several of the special effect sequences are done at high speed, and the soundtrack kicks in. It’s not true Benny Hill music, but one particular sequence at the end does play out like somebody asked for a newer, updated version of that classic tune to use. It was at this point that my expression was more one of “O R U Effing kidding me??”


My kids aren’t seeing this – too much unexplained and unnecessary nudity, and a handful of downright obnoxious and out of place curse words. The acting is fine, the plot fine. The audience I was with, maybe 3 dozen people or so, laughed at a number of the jokes (though many fell flat). I think it’s quite possible to make a movie for modern mainstream audiences where people understand what the heck is going on. But this particular interpretation is no “epic masterpiece.” I think that the director and actors both seemed to think that this was their movie, and that was their mistake.

25 thoughts on “Review : Julie Taymor’s Tempest

  1. Good review Duane. Looking forward to watching this hash up whenever it gets to European cinemas. Won't be rushing though.

    The online and newspaper reviews are predominantly bad. What I like about yours is the personal affront to your love of Shakespeare's work. No other critic so far has captured that.

    SO Russell Brand lives up to his backstory.
    If only that energy could be contained?

    Here's hoping Rafe Fiennes Coriolanus steps up to the mark.

  2. It's been said of the best actors that, when they are on screen, you don't see them, you see only the character. Daniel Day Lewis has always been my favorite example of this. From the opening line of "There Will Be Blood" I completely buy into him as the character and never stop to think "Wow, that's really good acting."

    Brand may well be a good actor, some day, but right now he's basically the opposite of this. He's famous for who he is and what he does, and there are people who will go see him in a movie precisely to say "Oh, there's Russell Brand doing what he does! He's so awesome!" You're not supposed to see Brand doing Trinculo, you're supposed to see Trinculo. I've seen that "backstory" clip, and nobody talks about the *actual backstory*, all they talk about is Brand's ability to come up with it. If some director were able to reign him in and actually get him to stay the slightest bit focused, it could be impressive. Of course it would go against everything he's built u for himself as a character, but it just might end up making him a better actor, too.

    Djimon Hounsou's (sp?) Caliban does deserve some credit here, actually, because while I may not have loved his grasp of the material, I think he was at least trying. The physical dynamic was interesting – he did manage to capture the essence of being this beast of a man, who so clearly could have picked Prospera up and broken her in half – yet still mentally a child, afraid of her big stick and the cramps that she'll reign down upon him.

    Funny story I forgot to mention in the post? While waiting to pay for parking, the little old lady in front of me turns around and says "Did you just see The Tempest? Wasn't it wonderful?" She felt that Caliban didn't enunciate properly. I wondered how, if Prospera taught Caliban language, Caliban has a completely different accent. 🙂 I then went on to talk to the lady's ear off about Ariel's unusual nudity, the chopping of the script, and a number of other issues until she turned her back to me and started talking to someone else about Black Swan. 🙂 I think she just wanted to year "Yes, I liked it too." She didn't realize who she'd asked :).

  3. Ok, how many typos did I make in that last comment? I'm not drunk, I swear. 🙂

    Brand has built "up" for himself, not built U for himself.

    And the nice lady in line wanted to hear my story, not year it.


  4. Duane: TL/DR

    Seriously, I haven't seen it yet, but of all the reviews I've read yours goes into the most depth specifically about what sucks. I appreciate that. The others–all of them– make mostly generalized statements about how bad it is.

    "It's been said of the best actors that, when they are on screen, you don't see them, you see only the character."

    And the difference in the ability to bring the character to oneself as an actor as opposed to displaying one's Own witty personality is huge. Ms. Taymor apparently appreciates the latter. Why wouldn't she? It's never really been about Shakespeare–it's about her.

    Not very long after the turn of the 20th century, the great Harley Granville-Barker made some serious and brilliant attempts to take Shakespeare out of the hands of the scenic designers. The tricks had, even then, become more important than the work. This is what happens, no doubt, when his advice goes unheeded.
    As you say, we should support efforts to produce Shakespeare whenever possible, BUT–as I've always advocated–not at the expense of altering what is already genius, or butchering that genius in attempts to show how clever WE might be. Maybe this over-glorified costume designer will finally get the comeuppance she deserves.
    "JULIE TAYMOR'S Tempest"?–I think not.

  5. I have a question for you Duane that you may not feel like answering. If you don't that's fine. It's a little less about Shakespeare and more generally about art, and specifically theatre:

    You say that you wouldn't have your kids see the movie because of the cursing and nudity. For the record, I completely agree with you that both of those things are unnecessary and distracting in this film. I don't agree, however, that they are things unsuitable for children.

    Particularly in regards to nudity, I wonder if you would be willing to explain more. Personally I don't find anything offensive about nudity. I believe that our squeamishness about our own bodies is only taught to us, not innate. I'm interested to know if you also believe that, and whether you want to create that taboo in your children's minds or if you feel it's just a side effect of protecting their innocence?

    Also, I'd love to know would you allow your children to see nudity in a Shakespeare piece if you felt that it was more tactfully done and artistically redeeming, or are you against showing nudity to your children at all, even when it means sacrificing their chance to experience an artwork that would otherwise be relevant to them?

    As for the curse words, I feel much the same way. Like all words, they carry only the weight that we give them. Do you worry that by shielding your children from the words you make the words dirtier? Like the question of nudity, I wonder if you feel there are times when a powerful curse word could be an effective and artistic choice even for children, or if you believe bad words have no place in art for children at all?

    Please understand that I am certainly not trying to question your choices as a parent. I am interested on a personal level because I am interested in creating art for children, and I think that children's art can (must?) be powerful and scary and sad, in addition to being funny and celebratory, just like art for adults.

    You are a parent who I respect for introducing your children to artworks that most people would consider too mature for children. That is why I am interested in your thoughts about these matters. Please feel free to respond to the questions you are comfortable discussing, and ignoring the others. Thanks for the review!

  6. Duane, an excellent review: incisive and specific, it clearly reveals how much you know about the play and Shakespeare, and your diappointment that Taymor seems to have gone for the least common denominator one time too many.

    As much as those of us who love Shakespeare are dedicated to the cause of bringing as much of his work before the public as often as possible, we have to wonder how much damage every "Tempest' does to that cause.

    I agree that it's your love of Shakespeare that is most offended here. An uneven version of a paly, or one plagued by poor acting in a few parts is hardly the danger that this movie seems. I always hope that no matter how poor the movie or stage production, I can always find some new insight on th plot, the themes, the characters, or the language that I hadn't seen before. I'm not optimistic about "The Tempest" now.

    The temptation to FX htis paly to death must be strong in this computerized day and age, but productions like this really prove the validity of the belief that this, of all Shakespeare's plays, should be done with the sparest of sets and effects, as it is at its heart a paean to the imagination and to the creative impulse.

    Thank you for your impassioned reaction.

    One postscript: I had heard a comic book called "Kill Shakespeare" touted recently as a solid story filled with clever twists and interesting variations on many of Shakespeare's characters, etcetera, etcetera. I'm about hafway through, and the best I can say is that at least I'm halfway through.

    Among its other sins is poor editing (and I'm reading the collected version…you'ld think they could do more than simply rebind — and poorly at that — the issues.) The authors can't keep the "hasts" and "haths" straight, don't know when to use "thou" instead of "thee," and successfully reduce the most finely drawn characters in literature to cartoon characters. Yes, I get the irony; it's a comic after all, but I know my comics, too, and there's little attempt to do more than slap the names of people like Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, and Falstaff onto broadly drawn (in both meanings) travesties of themselves.

    If you see it, avoid it, and remember the witches' warning: "Something yucky this way comes."

  7. No problem, Chris – I sort of anticipated somebody asking :). There are forums I hang out where rather than your nice and well reasoned response, people would have just called me a bad parent :).

    Short answer is that there are more variables in life than just "nudity is or is not bad". My children are not teenagers, catching a brief glimpse of a topless Juliet in the 1968 Zeffirelli movie like I did. They are 8 and 6 (let's assume that the 4yr old is just too young in general to sit through a full length Shakespeare play no matter how much I may want him to). Their understanding of the human body as a whole is still developing, and right off the bat I don't need to confuse them with "So is Ariel a boy or a girl? If he's a boy how come he has breasts?" issues.

    Besides, while parents have their primary responsibility to themselves and their own children, there is a certain degree of responsibility to the community around them. What happens when my 6yr old goes into school and starts telling all her friends about the movie Daddy let her watch where a naked boy with boobies ran around the forest? How long does it take me to unwind that with all the playgroup moms, not to mention the school principal?

    Everything in degrees. If Ariel turned once and flashed his backside I could probably live with it. Spending more of the movie that way's a bit much. It was the androgyny, in this case, that put it over the edge – I don't have a good reason to explain why he's like that, therefore I'm not confident in letting my kids see it and not understand it.

    And that's my thoughts on that. I won't make this thread into a discussion of that topic, however. Back to Shakespeare.

  8. Hi Ed,

    I do know the comic, read the first two issues just recently. Was thinking about a review, but not sure it would be productive. As you say, it's not really anything to do with Shakespeare other than slapping some names on some characters, and yes I noticed and cringed at the random hath/has/thee/thou usage. I didn't have much good to say, and when that happens I don't feel right just posting a story to say that I didn't like something.

  9. Hi Duane,

    I'm mostly a lurker on your blog, but I thought I'd comment this time because I was so surprised by this post. I bookmarked it to read it after I'd seen the movie, which I did last night. I guess I'm just surprised because I was expecting an actual analysis over what was going on in this film. You touch briefly on doing this with the fact that Julie Taymor writes additional text, but there is no discussion of the relationship between Miranda and Prospera vs. Prospero. Or how the fact that making the character a woman aligns her with the witch that she rescues Caliban from. Or how a black Caliban brings up post-colonial associations. Sure, neither are new choices that only Taymor has done, but both still change the way we interpret the characters.

    Mostly you just seem to be offended by the inclusion of curse words and nudity. Which shocks me, seeing as this is Shakespeare. There's always bad language. Is the offense that they were improvising, or that what they improvised was a bad word? Or that if you took your kids to see it they would recognize that particular bad word, but not notice all the other ones? For the record, I did not even notice that they said that word, and even if I had, it would not have bothered me (and I'm super snobbish about Shakespeare). Besides, the clown characters almost certainly improvised in the Early Modern period.

    And as for nudity — ever seen A Midsummer Night's Dream? King Lear? The Tempest, even. Caliban and Ariel are often portrayed in very little clothing. As are Puck, Titania, and Oberon. Edgar as Poor Tom. King Lear often drops his trousers. etc. etc. Sure I thought Ariel's intermittent boobs were weird and pointless, but was I vastly and personally offended by them. No.

    I will agree with you the that special effects did not work. And I would have liked more musings on that aspect too. Shakespeare writes these characters as otherworldly and gives them characteristics that are virtually unplayable on stage. And yet in a movie, when you actually have the power to create what Shakespeare describes, it is somehow less successful. Isn't that interesting?

  10. Sorry — I mean the witch from which she rescues Ariel, not Caliban.

    Also, further irony is found in the fact that you don't like the f word in the movie, yet you use it three times (at least, a version of it) in your review…

  11. Thanks for the further clarification Duane. And for the record, I have no qualms with your parenting decisions. But now I feel like I understand exactly what upset you about the film, and it seems that you were writing from the perspective of a parent that really wanted to share magic with his children, rather than as a Shakespearean scholar. Which is totally fine, because that's how the film made you react.

    I was coming from an opposite place — I think The Tempest is Shakespeare's most overrated work, so no choice Taymor made could offend me, because the work isn't 'holy' to me. (Had she directed, say, Measure for Measure, that would be different!)

    I was aware I was being a little silly pointing out your uses of WTF — but that's because I was trying to figure out whether it was the word itself or just the addition of a word not in the original text that offended you more. Which you have now explained that it is the latter.

    And I can agree with you as far as the invented monologue for Prospera being the wife of the duke (though this is certainly not unprecedented — hello 18th century!). But as far as little additions go, I'm not bothered so much. I feel pretty confidant that Shakespeare's actors would have ad libed during crowd scenes and the like. I think things like this can help create a sense of continuity of existence. I was in a production of Much Ado, where when a group of people entered for the party scene, one of them said "The Aristocrats!" and everyone laughed. Certainly not Shakespeare, but funny, and gave the sense that these characters were people coming from one place going to another.

    Thanks for the discussion! It's helping me sort out how I felt about the film, which is what I was hoping.

    It seems to me that the true reason the movie didn't work is what JM and you point out. The special effects. Taymor tries to hard to manufacture the magic, rather than letting Shakespeare do it for her.

  12. I guess we'll just have to disagree on that point.

    But consider the moments in the plays where Shakespeare has four people assigned the same line. You are saying you truly believe that he intended all four characters to say the exact same words at the exact same time, rather than that line being a placeholder for the four of them reacting to what just happened in a similar fashion? Or even if you aren't sure, don't you think the latter is at the very least a possibility?

  13. "Yes.–and that means Shakespeare didn't?"

    That is precisely what that means. Be careful. It's a slippery slope, JM, a slippery slope.


  14. It is indeed, JM. One, I'm sure, we could have a field day on. But it's probably wise to resist hijacking this thread, as much as I want to!

  15. Hi Charlene,

    Sorry you didn't like the review. I had to consciously reign myself in, I could easily have made a dozen posts on a dozen different topics of interest. But I do have to remember that there are people who've not seen the movie, so you can't really wring it dry for them before they've ever had a chance to experience it.

    I did actually have a block of text written on the Prospera/Miranda thing, and I'm not quite sure where it went, I obviously snipped it for some reason. I think it's curiosity to me fell off with that whole "You invented a new character, the wife of the duke" thing. So it was no longer "You're reinterpreting Prospero", it was "You're a whole different character, you can do whatever the director wants you to do." See what I mean? Once you started dropping some of Shakespeare's constraints on the ground it's no longer as interesting to see how you'll try to work within them, because when you can't, you'll just stop trying.

    Re: the bad words, my offense is definitely more with the improv than the vulgarity, which would go right over my kids' heads. If Shakespeare didn't *write* it, don't *say* it. My kids have seen Much Ado About Nothing, and Dogberry's legendary "Write it down that I am an ass!" speech, without trouble. And I didn't have any problem with Trinculo's line about "smelling all of horse-piss", which is certainly a phrase I'd rather not have my 6yr old repeat any time soon.

    You're quite right that my opinion is tainted by the fact that this play is special to me, as you may well know. This play is a special bond between my children and me. They first saw it live when my youngest was still in his stroller. So naturally when a movie was coming out we all got very excited. We huddled around the computer to play the trailers, and discussed what we thought of the appearance of each character. I had grand plans of seeing it once to take it for a test drive, and then bringing the kids along to see it again. And then having it on DVD at home. In my head it had built up the potential to be their Cinderella, the movie that gets played so often it gets memorized, and as they grow up and go through life they have fond childhood memories of their first Shakespeare experience. There won't be many opportunities for that. I don't see that happening with Coriolanus or King Lear. They are young children, and the Tempest to them is a fairy tale like any other.

    Simply put, because I said I wouldn't discuss my parenting decisions anymore, I was disappointed that this movie was not what I'd worked it up in my head to be.

  16. "Also, further irony is found in the fact that you don't like the f word in the movie, yet you use it three times (at least, a version of it) in your review… "

    Now you're just being silly. I am not an actor delivering Shakespeare's lines, and throwing in random words of my own choosing.
    Nor, might I add, am I sitting my kids down and reading my review to them.

    I'll tell you what, when you see me playing Macbeth and you hear me say "Is this a dagger that I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch at thee — I have thee not and yet I see thee still, WTF is up with that??" then you can call me on the hypocrisy.

  17. Charlene wrote:" Shakespeare writes these characters as otherworldly and gives them characteristics that are virtually unplayable on stage. And yet in a movie, when you actually have the power to create what Shakespeare describes, it is somehow less successful. Isn't that interesting?"

    A long time ago someone wrote…
    "…are we conscious of the scenery behind the actor when the play really moves us? If we are, there is something very wrong with the scenery, which should know its place as a background."
    "[…] editors…conclude that Shakespeare is really going too far and too fast, is indeed (quoting Chambers) 'in some danger of outrunning his auditory.' Indeed he might be if this cinematographic view of his intentions were the right one! But it utterly falsifies them. Show an audience such a succession of painted scenes–if you could at the pace required– and they would give attention to nothing else whatever; the drama would pass unnoticed. […] His drama is attached solely to its actors and their acting; that, perhaps, puts it in a phrase. They carry time and place with them as they move. […] Shakespeare's stagecraft concentrates, and inevitably, upon opportunity for the actor" –Harley Granville-Barker 1937

    In my opinion, any director that is ignorant of, or worse, willfully dismisses these basic truths, or simply refuses to be guided by them IN SOME WAY, no matter how basic–no matter the medium–is doing Shakespeare a great disservice, and disrespects the work and Shakespeare himself.

  18. Duane, I agree with you on the cursing and ad libs–totally unnecessary, distracting, and out of place. But then, we must remember that 'Gratuitous' is the director's middle name.
    And I like your review BECAUSE it omits the 'obligatory' literary and/or historical references, many times used as excuses to justify that gratuity.

  19. "I was in a production of Much Ado, where when a group of people entered for the party scene, one of them said "The Aristocrats!" and everyone laughed. Certainly not Shakespeare, but funny, and gave the sense that these characters were people coming from one place going to another."

    I don't know when I became a purist, exactly, but you lost me at "not Shakespeare". Had I been in the audience for such a production I expect my reaction would have been much the same as my reaction to Brand's antics.

    Seriously. I don't know the history of improvising among Shakespeare's actors, but I think that in 400 years we've moved to a different place. Shakespeare is no longer just a good playwright working alongside other good playwrights. You don't approach a Shakespeare film like you're approach, I don't know, a Tom Shadyac film. Shakespeare's not here to say "Listen, Kempe, don't do that again, ok?"

    When I see improvising in Shakespeare I can't help but think, "Ok, so, what, you thought that would be funny? Does that mean you think the original material's not funny enough? So, then, you're a better writer than Shakespeare?"

    Like I said in the initial review – if Shakespeare wanted you to curse at this point, he would have told you how to do it.

  20. And let your Clowns say no more than is set down for them. For there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set upon some barren quantity of Spectators to laugh too, though then some necessary question of the Play be then to be considered. That's villainous, and shows a most pitiful ambition in the Fool that uses it.

    Wonder who said THAT? 🙂

  21. Charlene, Absolutely Right. But there's Invention and then there's invention. I certainly wouldn't, as a director, ask for silence when crowd noise is indicated. Too often, I see these opportunities treated as moments for actors to bring attention to themselves or show how witty THEY are. To quote from the the same monologue, "…Let your own Discretion be your Tutor." Someone has to take the reins and choreograph to the music–Shakespeare's Music, not someone else's.

  22. HAMLET said it.

    Yes.–and that means Shakespeare didn't?

  23. Kicked up to a top-level post, if we'd like to continue on a fresh sheet of paper.

  24. I'd have to "somewhat" disagree, Charlene, since I believe Hamlet to BE Shakespeare. But that's another topic altogether. 🙂

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