|Caroline Gombé as Caliban. Photo: Jaime Medrano, Jr.|
What a crazy ride since last September, when I first proposed the idea of The Bookend Project in my Intro to the Profession class. It was just a proposal on a single sheet of paper talking about this double production of Titus Andronicus and The Tempest with the same cast acting in both plays. And after that, things just started to snowball. I worked for hours with sticky notes to achieve the doubles I wanted. We had auditions (which P.S. - we're about to have again! Aaaaaah! How did this year go by so quickly?) Before production was even upon us, I had submitted an abstract taken from my seminar paper for publication, and it was accepted. Again, whaaaaaat? Production came and went in the blink of an eye. The draft of my article was due in May. Last month I received revision recommendations, and now it's basically done. Yep. Still not believing all this.
Here is a taste of the fruits of my labor for the past year. Enjoy. I have. For the rest ... well you'll have to wait until December when it's -- whaaaaaat? -- published! (insert freak out here)
Oh! And here's why The Bookend Project is having its penultimate hurrah -- I will be presenting an incredibly condensed version of this paper at the Blackfriars Conference at the American Shakespeare Center at the end of this month. I am so so excited to have an opportunity to work with two members of their amazing acting company to present this paper on Wednesday, October 26 at 3:15 p.m. After that I can kick back, relax, see a bunch of other presentations, not to mention their entire season of plays. Whaaaaaat?
The Bookend Project: Transforming Shakespeare’s Revenge Play
from Violence to Virtue in Titus Andronicus and The Tempest
In Titus Andronicus and The Tempest we have perhaps the earliest and latest examples of Shakespeare’s revenge play. Violence is a hallmark particularly of Shakespeare’s early work, Titus, but is certainly present in The Tempest as well. In February, 2011, I directed a dual production of Titus Andronicus and The Tempest with the Adirondack Shakespeare Company entitled The Bookend Project. The intent of this project was to explore in production how Shakespeare’s revenge play altered from the beginning of his career to the end. How does Shakespeare move from violence to virtue? I employed a company of thirteen actors across the two shows and made very specific choices in doubling the roles. In this article, I will explore the particular choice I made in doubling Lavinia and Caliban. The same actor (Caroline Gombé) was cast as Lavinia, Alarbus, and ensemble in Titus Andronicus and as Caliban and the Ship’s Master in The Tempest. By using the same physical body in these vastly different roles, my intention was to invite the comparison between the characters. I felt the greatest challenge for the actor would be to inhabit the identities both of the victim of sexual violence -- in the role of Lavinia who is brutally raped in Titus Andronicus -- and the perpetrator -- in the role of Caliban, who has attempted to rape Miranda in The Tempest. It is unusual to see Caliban played by a female actor, and perhaps more so to invite comparisons between this role and Lavinia, considering their respective relationships to sexual violence. Yet I see Caliban and Lavinia both as victims of violence and revenge in their respective plays. They operate in these texts in strikingly similar ways: both cast in the role of children, both the pawns of powerful male figures. Both have violence perpetrated upon them, and yet they respond to it very differently. For characters who seem on the surface to have very little power, I think we may see both in their speech and in their silences, they have much more agency than they are often attributed. Throughout this article, I will explore how the ways in which these characters use language and how silence might have a significant impact on the transformation of the revenge play from violence in Titus Andronicus to virtue in The Tempest.
(lots and lots and lots of paper ... and then!)
In the final scene of The Tempest, the text enforces a different kind of silence on Caliban. Whereas in describing the noises of the isle, Caliban is overcome with high emotion, his silence at the end of the play seems to be rather fearful. In the entire scene, he speaks a mere eight lines of verse, upon only three separate occasions. The first two are declarations of his fear of Prospero: “I am afraid / He will chastise me” (V.1.262-3) and “I shall be pinched to death” (V.1.276). His silence is broken by exclamations of fear, which prove to be unfounded. Prospero pardons the ill-conceived rebellion, and indeed acknowledges Caliban as his own: “this thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine” (V.1.275-6). With this acknowledgment, the cycle of threats and violence between Prospero and Caliban comes to an end. Prospero owns the Otherness of Caliban; he brings it into himself, rather than continuing to “other” Caliban. Caliban, in turn, responds to Prospero’s gesture: “I’ll be wise hereafter, / And seek for grace” (V.1.294-5). Caliban’s sexually, violently charged speech of his first scene is dissipated. He has exchanged it for a more elegant, peaceful language that may emerge because in his silence, Caliban has learned to listen. His silence is directed outward; it is attentive. Lavinia’s silence, however, draws attention only to herself; she seeks to be understood. Caliban understands.
In both plays, language tinged with violence and sexuality, as represented in the characters of Lavinia and Caliban, is superseded in the end by silence. Alexander Leggatt points out “the extraordinary power to command attention and concern” Lavinia’s silence gives her. He claims that Chiron and Demetrius in their wanton violence, “inadvertently made her the most powerful character in the play.” Certainly, Lavinia’s silence is incredibly powerful, and she finds new, resourceful ways of communicating. Her resourcefulness threatens the integrity of the narrative text, however, and she is destroyed at the end of Titus Andronicus. Caliban seems, on the other hand, ultimately to be transformed at the end of The Tempest. Silence itself is not what actually ends the cycle of revenge in The Tempest, but silence is what allows for the possibility of acknowledgement of the Other. It promotes active listening and sympathy. It allows us to be “wise hereafter” and to “seek for grace.” This is what successfully breaks the cycle of violence and vengeance. We must “seek for grace.”
Alexander Leggatt, “Titus Andronicus: This was thy daughter,” Shakespeare’s Tragedies: Violation and Identity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 26