Face Lifting & Shape Shifting Shakespeare for Prospero’s Tempest

July 21st, 2017

When I was a 20-year-old Texan tyke, a fortune teller told me that, in an Elizabethan past life, I was one of Shakespeare’s players.  Truth or no, it’s given me absurd confidence to take on the weirdest & wackiest of Shakespearean renditions.  You can bet I stepped up to the plate & swung for the Lone Star State when offered the role of Prospero (& sound designer) in Sea-Change Theatre’s all female, all fabulous ‘The Tempest’ – first as a promenade performance in Skala Eressos, Isle of Lesbos, Greece; next at Shakespeare’s own Rose Playhouse, London Southbank, and comin up again at LFest 2017, Leicestershire 22nd July. THE TEMPEST @ L-FESTIE Saturday 22nd July 2017

Prospero’s a complex creature & her relationship to Sycorax is downright baffling, but I found clues to better understand her/it when researching the Crimean slave trade. I eventually connected Sycorax to an actual historic figure, and felt I had permission to do so in the language used by the good duke’s ally, Gonzalo. We witness him entertaining King Alonso & co (Act 2, Scene 1) with a speech, widely recognised as a facelift from Utopian Michel de Montaigne: On Cannibals (1580), introducing the concept of the ‘noble savage’. GONZALO’S BIG UTOPIAN SPEECH

For me it also begs questions about Sycorax’s progeny, Caliban, denied access to this Utopian-scape by Prospero.  What’d Sycorax ever do to Prospero? I had to brand Sycorax with something so heinous it might justify Prospero enslaving Caliban & filching her servant, Ariel, to the same purpose.  The mysterious, “blue-eyed hag’ of Argier” upstages us all, offstage (though Sea-Change Theatre’s ‘Tempest’ conjures her on to the stage as well); but if Gonzalo is a facelift, Sycorax is a shapeshift.

Revels Ended

I was already familiar with the Barbary War, in which Thomas Jefferson laid to ruin Ottoman traffickers guarding passage from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, via the ports of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia & Libya. (Christopher Hitchens, Author of America, 2005) Since the 15th Century, these dudes extracted hefty toll from passing ships and procured for their harems teenage girls specifically from Danubian principalities, Poland-Ukraine, Lithuania, Muscovy.  Further research rendered a triumphant, if enigmatic, survivor of this practice:  Aleksandra Lisowska, known throughout Europe as Roxelana.  In the 1520s this Polish/Ukraine teen was sold into sexual slavery during a raid on her Russian Orthodox priest father.  A real tough cookie, though, she rose up through the ranks of her captors to became Hürrem Sultan, 1st Haseki Sultan, then “favourite wife of Suleiman, greatest of all Ottoman sultans, and mother of Sultan Selim II.” and finally Queen of the Ottoman Empire. Trafficking in the Crimean

Notorious for her ruthlessness in international politics and in the trade over which she triumphed, Hürrem Sultan was so influential over her powerful husband that rumours circulated around the Ottoman court she’d bewitched him.  She certainly fits Sycorax’s spec and surely would have been legendary to Shakespeare: found my brand.    In Act 1, Scene 2, Prospero tells Caliban she has been banished from court on the island, after her attempts to groom daughter, Miranda. Caliban retorts that she would otherwise have “peopled the island with Calibans”, unapologetically aspiring to the family biz of sex slave trafficking.  That’s heinous enough to fuel the good duke’s self-righteous indignation…. and mine. It doesn’t excuse Prospero’s tyranny, but it does make her more understandable.



9:00pm – 11:30pm



DISCLAIMER – The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of Sea-Change Theatre – writers, director, producers, other designers or other actors.

Comments are closed.