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More in this section 2011-12

Drama academic offers insight into The Tempest

Posted on 06/10/2011
Ralph Fiennes as Prospero in The Tempest at Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Ralph Fiennes as Prospero (Photo credit Catherine Ashmore)

As a 400-year-old play, it is hard to see how Shakespeare’s The Tempest could have any bearing on today’s world. But on the contrary, Christine Dymkowski, Professor of Drama and Theatre History at Royal Holloway, University of London, can explain just how the hundreds of productions over the years have in fact reflected society’s shifting cultural, social, and political concerns.

As Ralph Fiennes prepares to take to the stage in Trevor Nunn’s new production of The Tempest, Professor Dymkowski explains during a pre-performance talk just how Darwin’s theory of evolution, the rise of feminism, and the 80s punk era have all influenced versions of Shakespeare’s play.

The Tempest tells the story of Prospero who, marooned and left to die on a remote island, can command spirits, create apparitions and manipulate the elements. By using his magic, he assembles his enemies to take revenge on them, and in the process awakens in Miranda, his teenage daughter, her first experience of love.

Professor Dymkowski explains how, in some productions, Prospero, the deposed duke and magician, is the hero, and his slave Caliban the villain; in others these positions are reversed, and in yet others, each of these characters is an imperfect being, with both right and wrong on his side.

Even after spending more than 10 years researching the play’s production history and going to see as many performances as she can, Professor Dymkowski says new interpretations of the play can still surprise her.

“Depending on how various characters are played, the story the production tells can wind up speaking for or against racism or turn into a psychological thriller,” she explains. “The final effect of the play can be one of decay and despair or of renewal and hope. With all these possibilities  I can still look forward to an evening spent watching The Tempest and wondering what kind of play it’s going to be turned into this time.”

Professor Dymkowski will be sharing some of the insights from her book The Tempest from Cambridge University Press’s Shakespeare in Production series during a pre-production talk on Tuesday, 11 October, and Monday, 24 October at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.  For more information, please visit the theatre website.


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