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Becoming-Ariel: Viewing Julie Taymor’s The Tempest through an Ecocritical Lens

Clare Sibley-Esposito
p. 121-134

Résumé

The burgeoning field of ecocriticism takes what Cheryll Glotfelty has referred to as an “earth-centered approach” to cultural productions, with ecocritics sharing a concern with the interconnectedness of human and non-human spheres. This article presents a brief overview of some ecocritical readings of The Tempest, before interpreting Julie Taymor’s cinematographic adaptation in the light of such considerations. Taymor attributes a rather unproblematic power of manipulation of the natural world to her Prospera, yet some of her directorial choices, operating within the specificity of the film medium, tend nonetheless to highlight certain ecocritically-relevant dimensions of Shakespeare’s text. By viewing the film through an ecocritical lens, whilst borrowing terminology from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, the figure of Ariel can be seen as operating on a “molecular plane” of ontological interconnectivity, in contrast to the “molar mode” of binary oppositions inherent in Prospera’s desire to dominate natural forces.

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  • 1 Deleuze, Gilles and Claire Parnet, Dialogues II (originally published as Dialogues. Paris: Flammari (...)

It is always possible to undo dualisms from the inside, by tracing the line of flight which passes between the two terms or the two sets, the narrow stream which belongs neither to the one nor to the other, but draws both into a non-parallel evolution, into a heterochronous becoming.
Gilles Deleuze & Claire Parnet,
Dialogues II.1

  • 2 All line references for the textual source relate to William Shakespeare, The Tempest, revised edit (...)

Ariel: […] And sweet sprites bear/The burden.
William Shakespeare,
The Tempest, 1.2.381-2.2

  • 3 The Tempest. Touchstone Pictures and Miramax Films, 2010. Direction and screenplay by Julie Taymor. (...)
  • 4 Taymor reshaped the backstory, inserting lines of verse by Glen Berger before reverting to Shakespe (...)
  • 5 Kenneth S. Rothwell explores the “anxiety of inauthenticity” provoked by “a text-centric preoccupat (...)

1For the more reactionary variety of bardolater, there is much to take issue with in Julie Taymor’s cinematic translation of The Tempest3. Prospero bows out to Prospera, in a gender-switch which necessitates a re-working of the backstory through the insertion of several lines of ‘faux-Shakespearean’ verse4; considerable portions of the textual source are cut; Ariel’s song as sea-nymph invites Ferdinand, and the audience, to take hands on “darkened sands” (Taymor, 62) rather than to be transported to the more enticing “yellow sands” (1.2.376) which linger in the memory of our school-room recitals. On the other hand, those who willingly embrace the “adapted from” of the film’s subtitle, having long shrugged off any “anxiety of authenticity”5, may worry that Taymor’s vision does not go far enough to release any radically new potentialities in the play, despite the power of Helen Mirren’s performance as Prospera. Yet by exploring the collaborative engagement of the film and its source with ecocritical considerations in mind, it is possible to glimpse dimensions of ecological resonance both in the specificity of the film medium and in Shakespeare’s dramatic art. Whilst Taymor cannot be classed as an ‘eco-auteur’, certain aspects of the textual source relevant to an ecocritical reading seep through and are in some cases heightened by her artistic vision.

2It is first important to underline the fact that the ecocritical lens is a wide one, offering many interpretative possibilities, and that what follows is an attempt to zoom in on a small number of the issues coming into view as the field of ecocriticism continues to expand. As many commentators have remarked, approaching a cultural production from an ecocritical perspective does not involve adopting any particular methodological apparatus, but is rather a question of focus of interest. One of the most commonly cited attempts to capture the essence of ecocriticism remains one of the earliest and most wide-ranging definitions of the movement, put forward by Cheryll Glotfelty in her introduction to The Ecocriticism Reader in 1996:

  • 6 Glotfelty, Cheryll. ‘Introduction: Literary Studies in an Age of Environmental Crisis.’ The Ecocrit (...)

Simply put, ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment. Just as feminist criticism examines language and literature from a gender-conscious perspective, and Marxist criticism brings an awareness of modes of production and economic class to its reading of texts, ecocriticism takes an earth-centered approach to literary studies. […] all ecological criticism shares the fundamental premise that human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected by it.6

  • 7 For a detailed examination of ecocritical issues and approaches see, for example, Greg Garrard, Eco (...)
  • 8 A point Glotfelty emphasises in her introduction to The Ecocriticism Reader, p.xix. For the scienti (...)
  • 9 Timothy Morton explores the limits of certain ecocritical approaches in Ecology Without Nature: Ret (...)

3The field has burgeoned beyond the confines of literary studies in recent years, with outcrops in a range of disciplines, including film studies, but ecocritics continue to share a common concern with the question of how cultural productions may both reflect and mould human perceptions of the biophysical world7. This conception of the imbrication of culture and nature posits the ontological interconnectedness of what ecological scientists refer to as the “ecosphere”8, in opposition to the dualistic, mechanistic worldview which ecocritics (amongst others) argue has dominated western thinking at least since the seventeenth century. Yet the question of what exactly is implied by taking an “earth-centered approach” to cultural productions remains highly problematic, leading as it has in some cases to a rejection of the lessons of the linguistic turn and thereby to the resurgence of over-simplistic approaches to referentiality. Meanwhile, the absence of a common theoretical framework is seen as a limitation by some ecocritics, and as a stimulus to rhizomatic, open-ended discussion by others.9

  • 10 For an indication of the variety of questions this field of study raises, see Ivakhiv, Adrian, ‘Gre (...)

4The variety of ecocritical approaches to film productions matches the heterogeneity of the movement as a whole but also raises its own subset of points for debate. An initial focus on films with explicitly ‘environmental’ subject matter and on the techniques of what has come to be referred to as ‘eco-cinema’ has widened to include a consideration of how more mainstream productions potentially engage and influence viewers’ attitudes to relations between the human and the nonhuman10. Ecocritical perspectives on film now occupy a wide spectrum, ranging from Heideggerian distrust of technological ‘enframing’ of the biophysical world—focusing on the potentially alienating participation of cinema in processes by which the natural world may be “objectified, measured, dominated and parcelled out for human uses” (Ivakhiv, 17)—through to an interest in the expressive and affective potential of the film medium as a possible means of opening up areas of empathetic connection across the human/nonhuman dichotomy, conducive to the promotion of more ‘ecocentric’ cultural attitudes.

5Before turning to Taymor’s film with these issues in mind, it is necessary to prepare the ground a little further by briefly surveying the type of ecocritical attention which the textual source and Peter Greenaway’s cinematic version, Prospero’s Books, have already inspired. In one of the first ecocritical readings of any Shakespeare play, Jonathan Bate argued that The Tempest could be interpreted:

  • 11 Bate, Jonathan, The Song of the Earth, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2000), (...)

[…] as an allegorical anticipation of the project of mastery which came to be called Baconian method and then Enlightenment. Prospero’s magic is a form of technology, used to harness the powers of nature, which are dramatised in the figures of Ariel and fellow spirits. Prospero’s explicit programme is enlightened and humanistic: he wishes to free his antagonists into self-knowledge. But his method is the exploitation of the work of others, Ariel and Caliban.11

  • 12 Bate (79-93) goes on to offer readings of a number of works inspired by The Tempest, including Aimé (...)

6Bate focuses particularly on the figure of Ariel, whom he argues is emblematic of forces inherent in poetic art which have the potential to revive a sense of enchantment with life itself, in dialectical opposition to the “disenchantment”(78) prompted by the instrumentalist thrust of modernity’s technical art.12

  • 13 Egan, Gabriel. Green Shakespeare: From Ecopolitics to Ecocriticism (London; New York: Routledge, 20 (...)
  • 14 It should be noted that Egan’s reading explicitly differs from Bate’s in relation to a number of te (...)
  • 15 Egan (155-171) explores the abundant references to wood in the play and links issues of colonialism (...)

7For Gabriel Egan, “the play is utterly ambiguous about the kind of control over the physical world that Prospero’s knowledge gives him, and by probing this question (what is his ‘art’?), we can begin to see the ecological significance of The Tempest.” 13 Egan insists on the extent to which Prospero’s apparent magic is “almost entirely mediated through Ariel” (Egan, 157), whilst drawing attention both to the blurring of the categories of the natural and supernatural which occurs throughout the play and to aspects which might encourage the audience to doubt the extent of Prospero’s powers. This leads to the claim that, through Prospero’s “exploitation of theatrical power” and dependence on Ariel, “the play shows an unmistakable concern with natural phenomena being taken for magic” (Egan, 167). Egan joins Bate in equating Prospero’s particular form of art with a quest for technological control of natural forces,14 as part of a rather more thematic focus on how the play can be seen as engaging with such issues as that of deforestation, already topical in Shakespeare’s day.15

  • 16 Brayton, Dan, ‘Shakespeare and the Global Ocean’, Ecocritical Shakespeare, eds. Lynne Bruckner and (...)

8Both Egan and Bate emphasize how Caliban is characterized in ways which serve to resist rather than to reinforce a dichotomous opposition of nature and culture, how Prospero and Miranda depend on him for physical survival, and how his treatment by Prospero may be read as indicative of links between colonial and environmental exploitation. Meanwhile, Dan Brayton also explores Caliban’s liminality, his “ontologogical hybridity that encompasses man and fish”16 in a reading which focuses on the sea imagery in the play. Brayton argues that the play explores in part the dialectical relation between humanity and the sea, confounding any strict separation of the human and the inhuman. The marine environment remains nonetheless represented as “a space of invisibility and unknowing, where the limitations of sight undermine epistemological certainty” (Brayton, 178), evocations of which serve both to underline many of the play’s fundamental ambiguities and to bring into (ecocritically correct) question “our ability to sound the natural world” (Brayton, 190).

  • 17 For example, Judith Buchanan argues that “the physical world, unlike its material counterpart, stil (...)
  • 18 Willoquet-Maricondi, Paula, “Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest and Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books as Eco (...)

9In twentieth-century film versions of The Tempest, the island was generally interpreted as a psychological rather than a geographical space, a trend which some commentators attribute to the notion that the sea or far-flung lands no longer function imaginatively as the mysterious unknown17. From an ecocritical perspective, such a contention is itself symptomatic of modernity’s self-limiting belief to have demarcated and conquered the domain of the natural, to have shorn it of its mystery. For Paula Willoquet-Maricondi, Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books (1991) comments self-consciously on the illusory nature of such a sense of hegemony, and on the projected severance of self and place that is arguably one of the effects of dualistic Western thinking18. From this point of view, John Gielgud’s Prospero “evokes the modernist self who lives in isolation from the world” (Willoquet-Maricondi, 218), whilst the film’s metacinematographic devices draw attention to how this “disembodied intellect” (222) manipulates language as a means of control and abstraction. Prospero’s separation from the world is a “method for mastery” (217), operating in oppressive contrast to Caliban’s “symbiotic relationship with the environment” (220). Hence the anti-realism of Greenaway’s approach is interpreted as a means to comment on its own inherent limits, the film as a whole constituting:

an exploration and a critique of modernity’s intention to “author” the world as a human artifact, and its misguided faith in the quest for absolute understanding and control of human and nonhuman nature (Willoquet-Maricondi, 210).

  • 19 For details concerning the location choices and filming techniques, see Stasukevich, Iain, ‘The Tem (...)
  • 20 For an analysis of the connections between Taymor’s various stage productions of The Tempest and he (...)
  • 21 Jonathan Bate makes this observation in his Foreword to the published screenplay (Taymor, 8).

10In contrast to the anti-realist aesthetics of Peter Greenaway’s treatment of the play, Julie Taymor’s adaptation makes a return to apparently untroubled illusionism. Shot mainly on location on volcanic islands in Hawaii,19 the action is set in a naturalistic environment of varied topography, ranging from barren landscapes of lava rock to sandy coves, from dense forest to sunlit canyons. Taymor retains much of the textual source, with few alterations in scenic order, thereby adhering to the play’s oft-commented relative unity of time and space. In her introduction to the published screenplay, Taymor implies that she saw few inherent difficulties in translating the play from page to film (and, as she had previously directed the play in the theatre, from stage to film20), arguing that “Shakespeare was the ultimate screenwriter” (Taymor, 13). The Tempest seems particularly supportive of such a claim, given that, as Jonathan Bate points out, mechanised special effects were employed for it’s staging in Shakespeare’s time and considerable portions of the play involve intimate dialogue, making it the Bard’s “great drama of close up”21.

  • 22 See Lanier, Douglas, ‘William Shakespeare, Filmmaker’ in The Cambridge Companion to Literature on S (...)

11Yet, whilst it is not uncommon to argue that Shakespeare’s dramatic art is fundamentally cinematographic, several critics have pointed out that the technical means available to contemporary filmmakers (and, in some cases, to modern stage directors) may be employed in ways which prove to be reductive of the inherent plurality of perspectives opened up by the plays.22 Such is the case, I feel, in Taymor’s over-specification of Prospera’s magic, which leaves little room for the ambiguities of the textual source concerning the nature and extent of this “art.” In the opening sequence, Prospera is shown in a rigid pose on a promontory overlooking the sea in which the Neapolitan ship flounders in the storm, her staff extended horizontally above her head; at Miranda’s entreaty she gestures at the sky and the clouds are seemingly wiped aside by the arc of the movement. A similar gesture later in the film accompanies the darkening of the sky and commencement of an overhead spectacle (replacing the masque of the textual source), whilst shots of the sorceress aligning rotating lenses in her alchemical laboratory are intercut with those of an eclipse of the sun and the appearance of the banquet table in front of the court party. Towards the end of the film, having traced a circle in the sand and set it alight, Prospera stands stock still for the opening lines of the famous abjuration speech, whilst the landscape seems to spin dizzyingly around her. Hence she is placed as a dominant centre of reference, seemingly separated from and in control of her surroundings.

12Whereas the film opens up certain areas of debate around gender issues in re-casting Prospero as a woman, it nonetheless therefore tends to close off a number of ecocritically relevant questions by attributing the female magus with a relatively unproblematic power to manipulate the natural world. Admittedly, Prospera still calls on Ariel to carry out much of her business, but the shot selection and composition repeatedly suggests that she is in overall control of events. Some of the textual cuts which Taymor makes reflect this tendency to disambiguate Prospera’s powers. For example, following Ariel’s reprimanding of the court party, Taymor retains “Bravely the figure of this harpy hast thou/Performed, my Ariel” but cuts the development which serves to highlight the fundamentally rhetorical nature of the power which Ariel has exerted on her behalf (“Of my instruction hast thou nothing bated in what thou hadst to say”; 3.3.83-86.) Similarly, lines are cut which in the textual source underline the performative aspect and ambiguous status of Ariel’s role in that mise-en-scène, “Thou and thy meaner fellows your last service/Did worthily perform, and I must use you/In such another trick”( 4.1.35-37).

  • 23 Taymor (18-19) also explains that her choice of exterior locations was intended as metaphorical rei (...)

13The implied subservience of the realm of the natural to Prospera’s apparently unmitigated control forms part of the dualistic opposition of “Nature versus Nurture”, which Taymor posits as being one of the film’s major themes (Taymor, 14). Such an opposition is supported by the production design for Prospera and Miranda’s subterranean cell. Accessed by two steep flights of steps resembling the leaves of an open book, this habitation is described by Taymor as contrasting with “the starkness of the exterior locations,”23 filled as it is with objects associated with the “nurture […] retained from civilisation.” The potential force of that civilisation is suggested by the open furnace in the centre of the cell, equipped with large bellows “harnessing the underground energy of the volcano” and by the trees laden with unfamiliar fruits in the courtyard to the cell, intended to be interpreted as Prospera’s “botanical creations” (Taymor, 19).

14In line with the dichotomy she adopts as a structuring device, Taymor’s assessment of Caliban as “the ‘natural’ that Prospera tries and fails to reform in her nurturing” (Taymor, 18) seems perilously close to the rigidly dualistic view expressed by Prospera/Prospero: “A devil, a born devil, on whose nature/Nurture can never stick” (Taymor, 145; 4.1.188-189). However, Taymor qualifies her interpretation by emphasising that the clashes between Caliban and his ‘master’ are intended to “leave the audience discomforted, unsure as to whom to root for”, on the basis that “Shakespeare never chooses sides” (Taymor, 18). 

  • 24 For a discussion of these compounds in the textual source, see Anne Righter’s introduction to the N (...)

15And, ultimately, no side is chosen. The actors’ performances and Taymor’s overall artistic design are sufficiently Shakespearean for the Nature/Nurture dichotomy to dismantle itself into more intriguing dialectical relations. In the case of Caliban, the character’s skin is made to resemble the island’s black lava rock and cracked red earth, in accordance with Taymor’s contention that he is “Nature personified” (Taymor, 25). The details which are added to his make-up do not contradict this interpretation but they nonetheless tend, on another level, to disturb rather than to reinforce dualistic thinking. Contrasting elements are yoked together: one of his eyes is brown, the other blue, inspired by the textual reference to his mother Sycorax as a “blue-eyed hag”; the white circular moon which frames the blue eye and the white patches on his otherwise dark skin tie-in with the nickname of “Mooncalf” attributed to him by Stephano; his webbed fingers link to Trinculo’s characterisation of him as a “strange fish.” The overall effect is one of unexpectedly integrated juxtapositions which act as the visual equivalent of the text’s abundant recourse to striking compounds, by which conventional dichotomous categorisations are confounded.24

16Another example of an artistic choice through which Shakespeare’s verbal imagery is indirectly rendered visual and extended occurs in the scene in which Prospera is depicted as preparing Ariel’s intimidation of the court party. Once again, the effect tends to generate complexities which exceed surface oppositions. Surrounded by her alchemical apparatus, Prospera carefully drops a raven’s feather into a vial of liquid. The vial explodes, the shattered pieces transforming into a multiplicity of feathers before revealing Ariel in the guise of gigantic harpy “its breasts, face and talons covered in black, oozing oil” (Taymor, 124), a myriad of smaller harpies multiplying around it. The raven’s feather operates as a visual echo of Caliban’s earlier curse on Prospera and Miranda: “As wicked dew as e’er my mother brushed/With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen/Drop on you both!” (Taymor, 58; 1.2.322-324), serving to reinforce parallels between Prospera and Sycorax and confound any temptation to consider them in simplistically oppositional terms.

17Furthermore, the “unwholesome fen” of Caliban’s curse links implicitly to the pollution motif which is developed in this scene. Tar drips from Ariel’s teeth as he rebukes the terrified group; following his disappearance, Alonso is left staring into a puddle of oil. The latter shot serves not only as a visual reinforcement of Alonso’s mental state at this point, as he concludes that his son “i’th’ooze is bedded” (Taymor, 130; 3.3.100), but also generates a contrastive parallel with Prospera staring into the clear pool in her courtyard from which she summons Ariel earlier in the film, and anticipates the later transformation of that same pool when black molten lava dogs surge from its depths, accompanied by Ariel, to chase Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban. The employment of Prospera’s powers to terrify her enemies is therefore associated with a revenge motif which links her not only to Caliban and Sycorax but also to the Neapolitan and Milanese courts, and by which natural fens and volcanic lava are interchanged with the civilisation-infused connotations of oily pollution. Whereas Taymor does not encourage her audience to question Prospero’s apparent ability to dominate her environment and the forces of nature, her artistic choices therefore nonetheless result in a problematisation of the source and potential effects of that power.

18Meanwhile, the textual emphasis on the intimate bond between Prospera and Ariel, enhanced by the gestural subtleties of Helen Mirren and Ben Whishaw’s performances, is further reinforced by filmic devices which operate a decidedly Shakespearean blurring of distinctions between the spheres of the natural, the human and the supernatural. Ariel’s first appearance is made from the pool in the subterranean cell, his translucent form swirling out of cloudy depths to replace Prospera’s reflection. Similarly, the two characters are briefly but strikingly superposed towards the end of the film: when Prospera commands Ariel to fetch her Milanese apparel, the camera pans 180 degrees to the left as if to follow Ariel’s movement, but instead reveals Prospera already in her courtly dress, where the viewer would be likely to ‘anticipate’ Ariel’s reappearance in the frame.

  • 25 Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan make this observation in their appraisal of the film, i (...)

19Such composition choices also reinforce one of Ariel’s fundamental characteristics—his/her fluid capacity for Protean transformation. Whishaw’s Ariel is an androgynous, semi-transparent figure in most of his scenes with Prospera but appears in a plethora of computer-generated forms in the course of the film, seeming to meld with the winds, the sea and the greenery, often separating into multiple Ariels. He/she also appears in the celestial spectacle which replaces the textual masque, a projection of evolving geometrical patterns, drawings of sea creatures and star constellations, culminating in “an androgynous image of Vitruvian man/woman as one being”25. Similarly, Ariel’s long-desired release from servitude is depicted by means of multiplications of his form, making up geometrical patterns which give way to a myriad of particles, dissolving into a shot of the sea crashing around the rocks onto which Prospera throws her staff.

  • 26 5.1.88-9. Taymor (171) places this song to coincide with Ariel’s release.
  • 27 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Mille Plateaux, Capitalisme et Schizophrénie (Paris, éditions de (...)
  • 28 For a discussion of the compatibility between Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘machinics’ and the postulates (...)

20The film’s visual imagery thereby gestures towards the imperceptible multiplicities with which Shakespeare’s verbal imagery associates Ariel: “Where the bee sucks, there suck I, / In a cowslip’s bell I lie […]”26. Such multiplicities resist fixed dualisms, by definition; by implying the porosity of boundaries between entities, they resist the notion of any rigid separation between individuals and open up possibilities of ontological interconnectivity. To borrow Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s terminology, they operate on a “molecular” plane,27 the “plane of consistency” which can be assimilated to the ecosphere of ecological science28. In his introduction to Dialogues II, Deleuze explains how to him and Guattari it seemed that:

  • 29 Gilles Deleuze in his Preface to Dialogues II, p. ix.

The great project of English and American literature was to get close to such multiplicities: it is in this literature that the question ‘What is it to write?’ has undoubtedly received the answer which is closest to life itself, to vegetable and animal life.29

  • 30 “Singing or composing, painting, writing have no other aim: to unleash these becomings.” (Deleuze a (...)
  • 31 “Every becoming is a block of coexistence.” (Deleuze and Guattari, 322).

21From this perspective, Ariel can be seen as emblematic of the gesturing beyond unified subjectivity, of the imaginative possibility of “becoming-other, becoming-animal, becoming-imperceptible”, which Deleuze and Guattari suggest is inherent in artistic endeavour.30 Yet such a decentered imaginative engagement with “coexistence,”31 with the multiplicities beyond subjectivity, implies an ecocentric humility which may only be striven after, as it is necessarily in tension with the separatist assertions of language, with the subjectifying ‘I’. Deleuze and Guattari anticipate such a problem and turn it to account:

So much caution is needed to prevent the plane of consistency from becoming a pure plane of abolition or death, to prevent the involution from turning into a regression to the undifferentiated. Is it not necessary to retain a minimum of strata, a minimum of forms and functions, a minimal subject from which to extract materials, affects and assemblages? (Deleuze and Guattari, 298).

22Hence, the fluid “becomings” of the “molecular” mode, of ecocentric sensibility, operate in tandem and in tension with the more separatist tendencies of the “plane of organization or development” (Deleuze and Guattari, 297), the “molar” mode of conscious “being.”

23It seems to me that this interdependence of the molecular and molar modes is particularly apparent in The Tempest—both in the play and in Taymor’s film—in the contrasts and connections established between Prospero/Prospera and Ariel. The molar mode is the mode of binary oppositions, associated with the enforcement and maintenance of control; it is Prospero/Prospera’s dominant mode, and one which the textual source, more clearly than the film, suggests is bound up with the exercise of rhetorical power. In contrast, as we have seen, Ariel’s protean forms and language of multiplicity can be assimilated to the fluid becomings associated with the molecular mode, an aspect of his/her characterisation which the visual imagery of the film tends to draw out. The molecular has the potential to destabilise the propensity of the molar to operate along dualistic and hierarchical lines—bringing to mind the famous exchange between Ariel and Prospero/Prospera in which the sprite encourages the power-wielding magus to engage empathetically with his/her enemies:

  • 32 5.1.17-24; Taymor cuts “that relish all as sharply, Passion as they”, p.151.

Ariel: […]

Your charm so strongly works ’em
That, if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.

Prospero/a:

Dost thou think so, spirit?

Ariel:

Mine would, […] were I human.

Prospero/a:

And mine shall.
Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself
(One of their kind, that relish all as sharply,
Passion as they) be kindlier moved than thou art?
32

24Ariel’s intervention may therefore be interpreted as promoting a capacity for molecular “becoming-other”, leading to the abjuration of the pretension to hegemonic power which Prospero/Prospera makes shortly after. Meanwhile, Ariel’s clamouring for liberty could be seen as expressive of the molecular mode’s tendency to attempt to “extricate itself” from the molar “plane of organisation” (Deleuze and Guattari, 298). With these considerations in mind, Taymor’s depiction of Ariel’s release in the form of images associated with the rhizomatic multiplicities of chaos theory seems particularly apt, in that Ariel’s final on-screen metamorphosis can be conceived of as that of a “becoming-imperceptible” (Deleuze and Guattari, 278; 308-9)—a process without a determinable telos, by which the film gestures away from itself. Whilst, as we have seen, certain aspects of Taymor’s approach to the play tend to undermine the problematisation of human control of the non-human which Shakespeare’s fuller text invites, her Ariel’s line of flight soars far beyond the bounds of the nature/culture dichotomy.

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Notes

1 Deleuze, Gilles and Claire Parnet, Dialogues II (originally published as Dialogues. Paris: Flammarion, 1977). Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, with the addition of ‘The Actual and the Virtual’, translated by Eliot Ross Albert. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), p.35.

2 All line references for the textual source relate to William Shakespeare, The Tempest, revised edition, eds. Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan, The Arden Shakespeare, third series. (London: Methuen Drama, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011).

3 The Tempest. Touchstone Pictures and Miramax Films, 2010. Direction and screenplay by Julie Taymor. Starring Helen Mirren as Prospera, Ben Whishaw as Ariel, Djimon Hounsou as Caliban, Felicity Jones as Miranda and Reeve Carney as Ferdinand. For a full cast-list and production details see the published screenplay: Taymor, Julie, The Tempest: Adapted from the Play by William Shakespeare (New York: Abrams, 2010).

4 Taymor reshaped the backstory, inserting lines of verse by Glen Berger before reverting to Shakespeare’s text. Prospera is depicted as the deceased Duke of Milan’s widow and heir, exiled following Antonio’s accusations of witchcraft. (Taymor, 14-15).

5 Kenneth S. Rothwell explores the “anxiety of inauthenticity” provoked by “a text-centric preoccupation with literal translation of Shakespeare’s language into film language”, as part of his survey of changing attitudes to cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, entitled ‘How the Twentieth Century Saw the Shakespeare film: “is it Shakespeare?”’, Literature/Film Quarterly. Volume: 29. Issue: 2, 2001, p.82.

6 Glotfelty, Cheryll. ‘Introduction: Literary Studies in an Age of Environmental Crisis.’ The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Eds. Cheryl Glotfelty and Harold Fromm. (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1996, pp. xviii-xix).

7 For a detailed examination of ecocritical issues and approaches see, for example, Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, (London; New York: Routledge, 2004).

8 A point Glotfelty emphasises in her introduction to The Ecocriticism Reader, p.xix. For the scientific background to the concept of the ‘ecosphere’ see, for example, ‘Ecology as a Science of Synthesis’, introduction to The Philosophy of Ecology: From Science to Synthesis, edited by David R. Keller and Frank B. Golley (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2000), p. 2.

9 Timothy Morton explores the limits of certain ecocritical approaches in Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 2007). The characterisation of the movement as rhizomatic, in the Deleuzean sense of the term, is made by Serpil Opperman, in ‘The Rhizomatic trajectory of Ecocriticism’, European Journal on Literature and Environment, 1.1 (Spring 2010).

10 For an indication of the variety of questions this field of study raises, see Ivakhiv, Adrian, ‘Green Film Criticism and its Futures’ in Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 15.2 (Summer 2008); see also Willoquet-Maricondi, Paula ‘Introduction: from Literary to Cinematic Ecocriticism’ in Framing the World: Explorations in Ecocriticism and Film, ed. Paula Willoquet-Maricondi (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010), pp.1-22.

11 Bate, Jonathan, The Song of the Earth, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2000), pp.77-8.

12 Bate (79-93) goes on to offer readings of a number of works inspired by The Tempest, including Aimé Césaire’s Une Tempête and Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s poem entitled ‘Caliban’.

13 Egan, Gabriel. Green Shakespeare: From Ecopolitics to Ecocriticism (London; New York: Routledge, 2006), p.153.

14 It should be noted that Egan’s reading explicitly differs from Bate’s in relation to a number of textual details, in its approach to the question of transmutation and in its main focus.

15 Egan (155-171) explores the abundant references to wood in the play and links issues of colonialism with those of deforestation.

16 Brayton, Dan, ‘Shakespeare and the Global Ocean’, Ecocritical Shakespeare, eds. Lynne Bruckner and Dan Brayton (Farnham, Surrey; Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2011), p.184.

17 For example, Judith Buchanan argues that “the physical world, unlike its material counterpart, still offers spaces to be explored and in which to be awed and bemused. The frontier, that is, has moved inwards.” Shakespeare on Film, (Harlow; New York: Pearson Longman, 2005), p.178.

18 Willoquet-Maricondi, Paula, “Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest and Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books as Ecological Rereading and Rewritings of Shakespeare’s The Tempest,” in Reading the Earth: New Directions in the Study of Literature and Environment, eds. Michael P. Branch, Rochelle Johnson, Daniel Patterson and Scott Slovic, (Moscow, ID: University of Idaho Press, 1998) pp.209-224.

19 For details concerning the location choices and filming techniques, see Stasukevich, Iain, ‘The Tempest Hits Hawaii’, American Cinematographer. Volume: 92. Issue: 1, January 2011.

20 For an analysis of the connections between Taymor’s various stage productions of The Tempest and her choices as film director, see Quarmby, Kevin A., ‘Behind the Scenes: Penn & Teller, Taymor and The Tempest Divide Shakespeare’s Globe, London’, Shakespeare Bulletin, 29.3 (Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 2011), pp.383-397.

21 Jonathan Bate makes this observation in his Foreword to the published screenplay (Taymor, 8).

22 See Lanier, Douglas, ‘William Shakespeare, Filmmaker’ in The Cambridge Companion to Literature on Screen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) for an examination of the “reinvention of Shakespeare as filmmaker” and a consideration of the potential limits and more negative aspects of such a trend.

23 Taymor (18-19) also explains that her choice of exterior locations was intended as metaphorical reinforcement of the extent of Prospera’s art: “black volcanic rock, red earth canyons, white coral bones, and a deep blue sea. The alchemist’s sandbox – a tabular rasa for Prospera’s powers.”

24 For a discussion of these compounds in the textual source, see Anne Righter’s introduction to the New Penguin edition of the play, ed. Anne Righter (London; New York: Penguin Books, 1968) pp.13-14.

25 Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan make this observation in their appraisal of the film, included in the ‘Additions and Reconsiderations’ in the 2011 revised edition of the play, p. 159.

26 5.1.88-9. Taymor (171) places this song to coincide with Ariel’s release.

27 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Mille Plateaux, Capitalisme et Schizophrénie (Paris, éditions de Minuit, 1980). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translated by Brian Massumi (London: The Athlone Press, 2004), p. 298.

28 For a discussion of the compatibility between Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘machinics’ and the postulates of ecological science, see Bernd Herzogenrath, ‘Nature/Geophilosophy/Machinics/Ecosophy’ in Deleuze/Guattari and Ecology, ed. Bernd Herzogenrath (Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 1-22.

29 Gilles Deleuze in his Preface to Dialogues II, p. ix.

30 “Singing or composing, painting, writing have no other aim: to unleash these becomings.” (Deleuze and Guattari, 300).

31 “Every becoming is a block of coexistence.” (Deleuze and Guattari, 322).

32 5.1.17-24; Taymor cuts “that relish all as sharply, Passion as they”, p.151.

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Clare Sibley-Esposito, « Becoming-Ariel: Viewing Julie Taymor’s The Tempest through an Ecocritical Lens », Babel, 24 | 2011, 121-134.

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Clare Sibley-Esposito, « Becoming-Ariel: Viewing Julie Taymor’s The Tempest through an Ecocritical Lens », Babel [En ligne], 24 | 2011, mis en ligne le 19 juillet 2013, consulté le 20 novembre 2017. URL : http://babel.revues.org/156 ; DOI : 10.4000/babel.156

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Clare Sibley-Esposito

Université du Sud Toulon-Var
Laboratoire Babel (EA 2649)

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Babel. Littératures plurielles est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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