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Shakespeare's "The Tempest" & Director Julie Taymor

Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest” may have been the Bard’s last solo play. But before he began to lay down his pen, he gave a mighty staff of magic to the great, wronged “Prospero,” master of a fantasy island. To call up hell and down heaven. To rule and dream.

Now Julie Taymor – the Broadway and Hollywood spectacularist behind “The Lion King” and “Spiderman” – has taken on “The Tempest.” And she’s handed the magic not to master Prospero, but to Dame Helen Mirrin as exiled potentate calling up all the powers of the Earth.

We look at “The Tempest,” and speak with Julie Taymor about Shakespeare’s “rough magic.”

-Tom Ashbrook


Julie Taymor, writer and director of “The Tempest,” a new film starring Helen Mirren as Prospera.

Stephen Greenblatt, renowned Shakespeare scholar and professor of the humanities and English at Harvard University. His new book is Shakespeare’s Freedom.

Emily Mann, artistic director and resident playwright at the McCarter Theatre Center at Princeton University. She has directed “The Tempest.”

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  • ♥♦♣♠

    Oh my god. Do not watch that trailer stoned.

  • geffe

    What a cast. Dame Helen Mirrin and Shakespeare.
    Looking forward to seeing this.

    I also love Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books. Which was, is a wonderful film. Which had John Gielgud in the lead.

  • j.d. smith

    This play was also the basis for the plot of the great 1956 sci-fi gem “Forbidden Planet” starring Leslie Nielsen. Same story in a 24th century futuristic context.

  • Ann, Barrington, RI

    Can your guests discuss and compare the Tempest film with John Gielgud? I think it was in the 1990′s. I FAILED at being able to appreciate it, but I was HOPING it would help eluciate that work of Shakespeare’s FOR me. …. perhaps I didn’t go in prepared enough.


  • Jake O’Hara

    I first experienced Julie Taymor’s Tempest via Penn & Teller’s “Behind the Scenes” when I was five or six. I was immediately taken by Taymor’s use of puppetry and stage magic to produce “real” magic. Since then, I have followed her work intensely, from her work at the A.R.T’s “King Stag” to “Lion King”. it is important to note that Wheelock Family Theatre created The Tempest in 1999, Boston actress Jane Staab played Prospera. ( I was lucky enough to play one of the Ariels). What I find wonderful is that while watching the trailer for the new “Tempest”, it is so exciting to see the elements of her 1986 production that she has been able to keep in the film, Prospera drawing the circle in the sand, etc.

    Taymor is a visionary, and one of the theatre greats of our time. Whether it be film, theatre or live performance art, she captures relevance, excitement and a belief in the fourth wall and the creation of the real.

    I should also say that for any production to capture the imagination and fascination of a 5 year old, the creation of relevance is extraordinary. Watching the clips of the production, coupled with Taymor’s interviews on the PBS show, began a life-long love of both Shakespeare and theatre for me.

    Boston, MA

  • Barbara O’Neill

    Please comment on casting Helen Mirren, and whether john
    boorman’s Excalibur and her portrayal of Morgana (arguably a parallel sorceress to the character of Prospera) influenced. Also, are there any plans for those of us outside NYC to appreciate the Met production of Magic Flute?

  • Ann, Barrington, RI

    Did “The Tempest” have anything to do with the colony at Jamestown? (I think that the Tempest was written about 1610-11, according to Wikipedia; SO, there would have been no African slaves in Jamestown, yet; but the British knew of the Native Americans. The ending of Shakespeare in Love is what causes me to ask this question, plus something else I may once have heard — I know SO little about Shakespeare!)


  • Ann, Barrington, RI

    How cool! A guest just asked my question, with much more prior knowledge, and his info plus the answer made an amazing package of stuff to learn and PICTURE!

    Again, thank you!

  • Mary Ann, Hingham, MA

    Some years ago I was privileged to see the The Tempest performed at the University of North Carolina, hHapel Hill, with my niece in the lead. I am still pleasantly haunted by her capable hands roiling the waters. She is now an OBGYN surgeon.

    I was embarrassed to be cornered by one of her male professors very wound up that Prospero CAN’T be played by a woman.

    My niece’s superb performance is a permanent profound touchstone for me!

  • geffe

    Ann, Barrington, RI as I mentioned it was Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books. Which I loved and have watched many times. However Greenaway’s version was based on the Tempest and not full reading of the play. It is visually stunning.

    Ann my advice, read the play at least once or more if you can.

  • Betsy Cherepko

    I am completely captivated by the trailer and I cannot wait to see the movie! Oddly, The Tempest was one of the most widely read works of Shakespeare when I was an English major at the University of Pittsburgh. I read it in 4 separate classes and never tired of it (I even CHOSE to teach it to my high school sophomore students). What an incredible interpretation and I’m certain Helen Mirren is captivating!

    Betsy Cherepko
    Watertown, NY

  • http://warblerwoods Pete H in SC

    You are not alone, Ann! Here is a good website for discussion:
    http://www.shakespearefellowship.org/ubbthreads/ubbthreads.php/forum_summary and please, please, please check this out:


    There is SO much out there that makes sense time-wise, re: when the works were written, especially the Tempest, when the template of Edward de Vere’s live (the 17th Earl of Oxford) is added to the timeline. William Shake-speare was EdV’s pen name.

  • Ann, Barrington, RI

    Geffe and Pete H.,

    Thank you both so much! I’ll check out all your great leads!

    I was such a slow reader in high school in NJ (and still am), that I indulged in RE-reading Midsummer Night’s Dream every time we had a choice in Shakespearean works to read. We did have a classmate whose father was a Broadway actor and who would become an actor himself. Several of our teachers were smart enough to make sure that Eric read Shakespeare out loud to us — significant readings — and during those times, I really got the meaning, the tone, the extraordinary imagination of the “Bard”. I also got to see the Peter Brooks’ Midsummer Nights Dream (with acrobatics, etc.), a theatrical version, not a movie, maybe in the early 1970′s. I wanted to see it because of the “visuals”, but was convinced beforehand that I would not understand a word, especially because it was a British production — i.e., English accents (I often think I need sub-titles on some of the Masterpiece Theater pieces!)! Yet, the performance was crystal clear in its impact! I once read a latter-day critic retrospectively criticize that version because of the “circus” style, but that version was the first time (in spite of my own, multiple readings in high school) that I understood so many of the various themes, relationships between characters, etc.!

    Bye for now, I have to get other stuff done today! Thanks again!

  • Alan Lemerande Jr.

    Ignore the critics! Spider Man, Turn off the Dark may perhaps be the greatest play of the 20th century, indeed of the modern era. This is a play on par with King Lear.
    In an age of confusion and lack of understanding, when the line between duty and personal longing is blurred by confusing images in the media, the church, the government, parents and even misinterpreted signals from the past, a play emerges that questions conscience, longing, belonging and meaning in a world that is just starting to reawaken to such ideas after two generations in which they have been lost.
    Turn off the Dark is a signal for reemergence, a play the sends messages from another world, from ghosts of the ancients who are either good or evil based on how we set ourselves to understand them. It challenges us to awaken in ourselves the spirit of what we are and what we are capable of becoming. It pushes us to understand that all of existence is a dynamic undertaking, that there is no magical place of peace we can uncover, discover and inhabit without the price of constant appraisal and reappraisal of the ideas of who we are and what we stand for.
    It is a life-changing, epoch-shifting, thought-transforming work of the highest magnitude.
    This play is nothing short of a great masterpiece!
    If you do not see these things when you see this play, look again, you may just be missing one of the most important messages you will receive before you die.
    All the best, Al Lemerande Jr.

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