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Monday, April 26, 2010

Theater Fever

I had the opportunity this weekend to see two great productions—The Tempest and The Women. The first thing I'd like to say is Bravo! to the directors and cast members. Both plays were excellently well done. The first play I'll talk about is The Tempest by William Shakespeare. One of the elements which struck me as related to race and post-colonial theory was the way Prospero was affected by his enslavement of Caliban and Ariel. Before he finally frees Ariel, Prospero mentions how surprised he is to find that the spirit has emotions, specifically sympathy, for the wrecked nobles. He realizes that his mind has been warped by hard magic, ironically making him less "human" than his servant sprite. I remember this same effect from Frederick Douglas' autobiography. He talked about how his master's wife initially treated him with respect and care, and she even began his education by teaching him rudimentary literacy skills. Soon however, due to the effects of human enslavement, she became cold and cruel to everybody. This actually parallels Prospero's treatment of Caliban, as well. He was initially kind to him and taught him to read, but like the master's wife he soon changed his attitude toward the native and forced him into tortuous labor. The difference between these two accounts is, of course, that Prospero redeems himself by abjuring hard magic and freeing his slaves.
The Women also reminded me of a recent reading in C&T, this one by feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir. In The Second Sex, she talked about how the efforts of women to attain equality were hampered by class and racial differences between women. It was impossible to forge a "women's" movement because upper-class women identified more closely with upper-class men than with lower-class women. This was evident in the play, as well. Even without a single male actor on stage (except for Jim Amidon's introduction and the stage-hands), the class distinctions that separate women were very apparent. The main characters are all quite wealthy—most in fact have money independent of their husbands'. On the other hand, most of the supporting characters are poor, usually acting in some serving capacity to their wealthier employers. These two classes rarely interact on an even level (one exception being where Lucy talks about her love life with the Countess).The only woman who defies this class-split is Crystal, who is not only the most vile character in the play (I don't believe I'll ever look at Dr. Benedicks the same way again), but is often ridiculed as "common" by the upper-class characters. They despise her for breaching their class barriers as much as for her lecherous behavior.


  1. Going along with this idea about the women in "The Women" being influenced by men and acting as male characters in the play, even though there were no male characters in the entire play, the mere presence of the males' actions (Steven and Winston, I believe were the names of the men) were enough to evoke all sorts of reactions and emotions. This shows the male dominance that was associated with this time frame, but at the same time the play showed some signs of independence by the women in their pursuits of love. The scene that had all of the women in Reno on a retreat away from their male counterparts shows a little independence from their male counterparts. In my opinion the play showed two sides of the time period, the male dominance in social engagements, but also the attempt to gain independence.

  2. One of the problems I see with Shakespeare's character construct of Ariel is that the spirit's "emotions, specifically sympathy" is portrayed as a positive value of a colonized instead of the more natural tendency to resent submission by Caliban. Shakespeare's construction of Ariel as a spirit and Caliban as a human implies the realism in which his characters act; however, the stark contrast of Ariel against Caliban has the potential to blind a reader/viewer from the portrayal of what might be considered the ideal colonized.