Review Of Prospero

’s Books, Based On The Tempest Essay, Research Paper

Review of Prospero?s Books

When adapting a play for the screen, a director?s primary responsibility is to visualize an enactment that remains true to the original work?s perception. In addition to this task, the director must also build upon the foundations laid by the script; without this goal, (s)he would have no reason to have undertaken the project in the first place. Providing an innovative reading of a well-known play is undoubtedly a challenging task, but few directors have met the challenge so successfully as Peter Greenaway in Prospero?s Books, an adaptation of Shakespeare?s play The Tempest. Greenway?s most compelling accomplishment in the film is his elegant rendering of the play?s theme of the artist as a creator. Prospero?s Books, as well as the original The Tempest, is an exercise in artificiality, genesis, and performance.

Rather than presenting a realistic interpretation of The Tempest, Prospero?s Books relies on imaginative artistic alchemy. The film revolves on the image of Prospero in his library; he is seated, framed by books, and surrounded by spirits. In this ornate setting, he inscribes The Tempest onto the manuscript while simultaneously performing the piece for the audience. Many of the scenes take place in his imagination, while others occur in the surreal palace around him. This impossible setting is full of dancing spirits, shimmering pools of water, monsters, and mountains of books. The palace appears to be analogous to Prospero?s mind; certainly, the film is independent of the workings of the real world. This fantastical existence is a labyrinth of memory and evolving reality, which transforms in order to accommodate Prospero?s desires.

While Prospero?s dramatic vision is certainly the most apparent example of artistry in Prospero?s Books, Peter Greenaway himself takes extensive liberties with Shakespeare?s story in order to present himself as a master filmmaker. In the opening scene, Greenaway demonstrates his artistry by depicting Prospero arranging the tempest and its resulting shipwreck. With help from Ariel and a large cast of nude spirits, Prospero sinks a tiny toy boat in a pool within his palace, seeing the fear of the boat?s crew only in his head. There is no indication that the storm occurs anyplace besides Prospero?s imagination. Greenaway stages this fantastic scene with soaring music, flickering lighting, and layers upon layers of action; there are, literally, frames within frames, and the movie screen is broken up into many layers, suggesting three-dimensional depth. Although much of Greenaway?s direction takes liberties with Shakespeare?s script, it remains relevant to the plot by emphasizing the same themes. Building upon The Tempest?s constant awareness of its own fictional status, Prospero?s Books continually stresses artificiality and performance.

To emphasize his roles as an artist and creator, Prospero confronts his audience at the end of the movie with a farewell speech that deliberately corresponds to Shakespeare?s departure from the theater. Although many critics have drawn parallels between Prospero?s closing speech and Shakespeare?s departure from the theatre, Greenaway takes the comparison to another level. In Prospero?s Books, Prospero actually becomes the bard, his identity flickering back and forth between these roles just as the images dance across the screen. By portraying the final scene this way, Greenaway hails Shakespeare?s career and works. Indeed, Shakespeare is very much a character in both The Tempest and Prospero?s Books. His artistic vision is paralleled by both Prospero?s and Greenaway?s.

Ultimately, Prospero?s Books presents the story of The Tempest through the eyes of three masterful artists: Shakespeare, Prospero, and Greenaway. Their characters emphasize the importance of performance and illusion, thus depicting the artist as a creator. By portraying the film in this way, Greenaway achieves a masterful version of The Tempest in film. Prospero?s Books builds upon Shakespeare?s themes while remaining true to his original vision.


Prospero’s Books — movie directed by Peter Greenaway.

The Tempest — Shakespeare


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