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  • Julie Taymor
  • Tempest
  • Helen Mirren
  • Caliban
  • Postcolonial
  • Slave
  • Race
  • Film

Behind the Scenes: Penn & Teller, Taymor and the Tempest Divide Shakespeare's Globe, London


Journal Title:

Shakespeare Bulletin


Volume 29, Number 3


, Pages 383-397

Type of Work:

Article | Final Publisher PDF


In 2010, Julie Taymor's film The Tempest was given limited art-house release. Starring Helen Mirren as the re-gendered Prospera, this version relied heavily on computer generated imagery to imagine Shakespeare's complex narrative. The resulting hyperrealism juxtaposed seamlessly with the expressionistic reality of the film's Hawaiian island locations. For its audience, Taymor's Tempest was decidedly twenty-first century in technical and visual appeal. In the film's accompanying glossy book, Taymor references her earliest foray into Tempest direction, her New York City production of 1986. No visual record of this production remains. In 1992, however, a children's television program, fronted by the comedy magicians Penn and Teller, records a one-off reworking of this New York production. Evident in a selection of key scenes, Taymor's artistic vision, with her regular use of masks, magic, and international puppetry techniques, is revealed. Significant for our appreciation of Taymor's development as a Tempest director is that this low-quality, low-budget video demonstrates how many 2010 filmic innovations already manifested in her original theatrical staging. The storm-tossed shipwreck, now computer generated, mirrored its New York counterpart. Most noticeable, however, is Taymor's 1980s decision to represent Caliban as an oppressed African slave, emerging from the physical structure of the island. Taymor's overtly postcolonial reading of Caliban, strikingly imagined in her 2010 film, reproduces in surprising detail her earliest creative choices. Prospero becomes Prospera, who transitions into a pseudo-bondage dominatrix, but the film still reproduces Taymor's earlier envisioning of the play's racial tensions, as evidenced by an obscure 1980s televisual experience.

Copyright information:

Copyright © 2011 The Johns Hopkins University Press

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