Prospera, Thy Role Is Woman Essay

Prospera, Thy Role Is Woman Essay

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William Shakespeare, in his play, The Tempest, tells the story of a fictional exiled Duke of Milan. In the original play, Shakespeare casts the duke as a man, Prospero. In a modern movie version of the play, writer and director Julie Taymor casts the duke as a woman, Prospera powerfully portrayed by the very convincing performance of Helen Mirren. The play, surprisingly, requires only a few very minor line changes to substitute a woman lead for the original male role. While the actual dialogue changes are minor, the impact to the play is substantial as it totally transforms the duke and an audience’s prospective of the character. With very few exceptions, having a woman as the Duke of Milan in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, makes the duke more realistic and believable as well as an overall more sympathetic character.
In the play, Prospero, the proper Duke of Milan is usurped by his brother, Antonio, with the support of Alonso, the King of Naples. Upon being overthrown, Prospero, along with his three-year-old daughter, Miranda, are left on a small boat to die at sea. With provisions, supplies, and books provided by “a noble Neapolitan, Gonzalo” (Shakespeare 1.2.161) they are able to survive and land on an enchanted island inhabited only by an airy spirit, Ariel, and Caliban, “a freckled whelp hag-born—not honour'd with a human shape” (Shakespeare 1.2.284-285). Twelve years later, “by accident most strange, bountiful Fortune, . . . hath mine [Prospero’s] enemies brought to this shore” (Shakespeare 1.2.178-180), and by Prospero’s magic they are shipwrecked on the island. The rest of the play tells of the arranged pairing of Miranda with the King’s son, Ferdinand, Prospero regaining his title and position, and the scheming and treachery o...


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...re are very few such examples, and they have no significant impact on the play. Overall, the benefits of making a woman duke a more realistic and likeable character far outweigh any minor issues or inconsistencies. To use a variation of Shakespeare’s own words from another famous work, Prospera, thy role is [a] woman!


Works Cited

Damrosch, David and David L. Pike. The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Compact ed. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2008. Print.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Compact ed. Ed. David Damrosch and David L. Pike. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2008. 1667-1720. Print.
The Tempest. Dir. Julie Taymor. Perf. Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones, Djimon Hounsou, Ben Whishaw, Reeve Carney, David Strathairn, Tom Conti, Alfred Molina, Russell Brand, Alan Cumming, and Chris Cooper. Touchstone Pictures, 2010. DVD.

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