April 27th, 2011

Bill Masks

30 Days of Bill

Day #1: Your Favorite Play - King Lear
Day #2: Your favorite character - Edmund
Day #3: Your Favorite Hero - Orlando
Day #4: Your Favorite Heroine - Rosalind

Day #5: Your favorite villain

I think everyone can guess my answer to this one, (Edmund) so I will instead take this opportunity to climb on one of my favorite soap boxes: villains in the comedies and romances.

Now, I understand that comedies are meant to be light and funny, really I do, and some times the villains can be an object of fun. Does anyone else remember seeing Much Ado About Nothing when it was in movie theatres? Remember the credits when they do a close up of each of the actors as they ride towards the camera? I certainly do, because the "Grr! I'm a Villain!" expression on Keanu Reeves made the entire audience hoot with laughter. Yes, we actually hooted. But it was okay. Keanu was certainly not the best Don John but they did give him some teeth. He was still shown hatching an evil plan rather that just being an ineffectual boobie who throws some futile wrench into the plot.

Sadly, the same courtesy is seldom extended to Caliban in The Tempest.

Caliban is a monster. He is the child of a witch (with a W) raised by the magician Prospero after Prospero kills the witch and takes control of the island's magic. Although Prospero treats Caliban well, he attempts to rape Prospero's daughter and Prospero resolves the situation by making Caliban his slave. When Caliban gains a modicum of freedom, his first act is to enlist Stephano and Trinculo, a fool and a drunk, as allies and set off to kill Prospero.

Many critics believe that Caliban's name is a malapropism of cannibal and that he is an amalgamation of Natives encountered by explorers in the New World, which may explain the tendancy of modern directors to treat Caliban with kid gloves and highlight his role as a noble savage rather than his actions as a potenital rapist. Regardless of the reasons, there is a trend in theatre to highlight Caliban as a mistreated soul who is deserving of sympathy from the audience.

But the problem is that this removes any sense of urgency and danger from the play.

In my opinion, the Tempest only works if Prospero is surrounded by a sea of enemies and his only ally is a 16 year old girl who is not Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sympathy for villains is all well and good, my favorite character is the villain of his play, but the villian cannot overbalance the theme of the play without the entire play sinking into melodrama.

On a semi-related note - does anyone even remember Caliban in Prospero's Books? The only things I remember about that movie is all the naked people but, in my defense, I was on a date at the time.

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