Shakespeare Uncovered Teacher Viewing Guide

The Tempest with Trevor Nunn

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THE TEMPEST with Trevor Nunn

The Gist. Sir Trevor Nunn, former artistic director at both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre, is a hugely prolific guy who has directed Cats, Les Miserables, a number of other musicals and plays, and dozens of Shakespeare plays. In 2011, he directed The Tempest (with Ralph Fiennes as the magician Prospero), and remains utterly intrigued with the play. It’s the last complete play that Shakespeare wrote, yet its radical ideas and experimental staging make The Tempest perhaps the most ambitious of all his plays. Nunn believes that it may be the most autobiographical. “Through Prospero,” he says, “we can get closest to the genius of William Shakespeare.”

Nunn is on the hunt through The Tempest, full of questions because the play prompts so many. On one level, he’s about the action:

  • Will Prospero be capable of forgiveness? Does he have to be?
  • Whose island is it anyway?
  • What are the complexities of Prospero’s relationship with Ariel?

On another, he’s about the questions he believes are at the root of the play:

  • How do we become the people we are?
  • What does it mean to be human?
  • What happens when, for the first time, we fall in love?
  • Can anyone be trusted with power?

Nunn takes us with him as he looks for answers everywhere: he prowls rehearsal halls, stages, libraries, video archives. He strides the beach. He queries actors and directors, scholars and historians, a Prospero or two, and are you ready? the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Not To Miss.

  • Justin Champion (Royal Holloway College)’s lively account of the wreck of the Sea Venture in 1609, almost certainly a source for The Tempest
  • Clips from the extraordinary 1911 film. Other bits from the BBC TV film (1978), Derek Jarman’s film (1979), the play staged at Stratford, Ontario in 2010 with Christopher Plummer as Prospero, and the 2010 film with Helen Mirren as Prospera, Djimon Hounson as Caliban, Alfred Molina as Stephano, and Russell Brand as Trinculo
  • Gail Kern Paster (Folger Library) on the play as a paternal fantasy
  • Nunn and Dominic Dromgoole (Shakespeare’s Globe) on candlelight and sound effects as “game-changers” in Elizabethan theater
  • Nunn and film critic Mark Kermode reviewing a segment of Nunn’s favorite Shakespeare adaptation, Forbidden Planet
  • Nunn and Jonathan Bate (Oxford) on the parallels between Prospero and Shakespeare
  • Helen Mirren on Prospero’s need to “grow up and let go”
  • Christopher Plummer and the “Our revels now are ended” speech
  • Nunn and Jerry Brotton (Queen Mary University) poring over 16th and 17th century maps, trying to work out Shakespeare’s idea of the island’s location
  • Thoughts of many on the colonialism theme traditionally laid on The Tempest
  • Marjorie Garber (Harvard), Abigail Rokison (Cambridge) and Helen Mirren on Ferdinand and Miranda’s love
  • The Tempest in rehearsal at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA, the only American theater included in this six-part series

After Watching, Keep On Talking (with colleagues and students)

  • With whom do your sympathies lie? Why?
  • Whose island is it anyway? Why?
  • Helen Mirren feels that, though the lines are the same, there are significant differences between Prospero played by a man, and Prospera played by a woman. Agree? Disagree? What might those differences be? If there are none, why not?