Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeNuméros522 - Caliban et les arts visuels /...Peter Greenaway’s Film Adaptation...

2 - Caliban et les arts visuels / Caliban and Visuals Arts

Peter Greenaway’s Film Adaptation of The Tempest: Prospero’s Books (1991) and the Screening of Caliban

Raphaëlle Costa de Beauregard
p. 95-108
Bibliographical reference

Peter Greenaway, Prospero’s Books (1991), 120 mns., colour. Netherlands, France, Italy. Producer Kees Kassander, scenario Peter Greenaway, photography Sacha Vierny, music Michael Nyman, Cast: John Gielgud, Michael Clark, Michel Blanc, Erland Josephson. The film exists in VHS and DVD.


Dans cette étude de La Tempête à l’écran et du personnage de Caliban, il sera question du film de Peter Greenaway Prospero’s Books (1991) dans une perspective historique, car la thèse qui est soutenue cherche à le classer parmi les films 'muets,' alors même qu’il s’agit d’un film expérimental où dominent les effets spéciaux de la fin du vingtième siècle à l’écran ; cependant l’interprétation dans le film du rôle de Caliban par Michael Clark, danseur et chorégraphe dont le style a marqué l’histoire du ballet britannique des années 70-80, éclaire ce film d’un jour particulier. Tout se passe comme si le démiurge Greenaway/Prospero était forcé de composer avec un Caliban dont le statut mythique, qui était déjà bien établi au théâtre, est pleinement affirmé par l’art de Michael Clark.

Top of page

Author's notes

References to the play all come from William Shakespeare, The Tempest, ed. Stephen Orgel, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Full text

1This paper examines the screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s play by Peter Greenaway entitled Prospero’s Books with a special interest in the screen-image of Caliban which is created by the dancer and choreographer Michael Clark. I will argue that, in this film, Greenaway actually uses references to adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays in Early Cinema, as one of the many art forms which construct the film’s aesthetics. As to Caliban, who owes as much to the Bard’s inventiveness as to descriptions of the New World in texts available in his time, the character has inspired a variety of interpretations which range from the monster to the 'good savage' (Vaughan). These connotations inform the character of Caliban in the film, but it will be argued that Michael Clark gives him a special energy of his own, which might be said to counterbalance Prospero’s magic by the anachronistic independence of the modern anti-hero.

King John, The Tempest and Greenaway’s "Silent Film"

  • 3 A ditty making fun of Beerbohm Tree’s interest in Shakespeare on film published in the British Bios (...)

To film or not to film, that is the question / Whether ‘tis nobler for a man to suffer / The shrieks and rantings of outrageous actors, / Than freeze their voices in a moving picture/And, by congealing, end them?3

  • 4 W-K.L. Dickson, King John (UK) 1899, for British Mutoscope and Biograph Company; also in Silent Sha (...)
  • 5 "Tree is enacting King John’s death: he lies in languorous agony, slowly lifting a histrionic hand, (...)

2As a Greenaway opus, Prospero’s Books (1991) shares common features with the filmmaker’s other productions, such as frontal space, lateral tracking, and the use of the naked body as a metaphor of the human condition (Cieutat 187). However, I would like to suggest that it is unique in being a "Silent Film." Though the project "deliberately emphasizes and celebrates the text as text, as the master material on which all the magic, illusion and deception of the play is based" (Greenaway 9), the characters’ voices are muted and the celebration of Shakespeare’s text is limited to the author’s voice imagining their speech, like the "lecturer" of a silent film (Altman 142, 220). Film history will support my thesis here, by briefly looking at two silent films which screen plays by Shakespeare, King John, and The Tempest.4 The earliest known Shakespeare play on screen, "a scrap of film scarcely a minute long," is W-K. L Dickson’s King John (1999).5 The film could not have escaped Greenaway’s notice, given the publications which its re-discovery in 1988 (only three years before Prospero’s Books was released) occasioned (McKernan 1993). More significant still is the fact that many screen adaptations of Shakespeare’s works flourished between 1908 and 1911, indicating the birth of a new interest in Historical drama as a suitable topic for educated audiences. It must be recalled that this new film genre was initiated by the first French Pathé Film d’Art, L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise (1908), a Historical drama combining tragedy and romance (Albéra). Such a hybridization of genres, which is clearly Shakespearean, is found in Greenaway’s faithful adaptation of the play. One witnesses massacres—the Duke’s destitution, or tortured bodies "like Christ in a Spanish Pieta" (Greenaway 134; 1:18:00), which echo the shocking murder of Guise, but one also sees Ferdinand and Miranda’s love at first sight (00:45:18), an echo of the passionate romance between Guise and his mistress which frames the murder scenes. Moreover, The Tempest is also a play which focuses on magic, and is thus particularly suited to Greenaway’s art.

3The screening of plays without the spoken words seemed weird from the start, since "a Shakespeare play or poem is indeed 'a thing of words'" (Bevington 50), but the great success abroad of the first French Film d’Art, L’Assassinat, with Griffith in particular (Gauthier 184), showed that violence and romance could come across without words. As to magic, it is the very essence of Cinema (Moure 47-57), and Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, combining tragedy and romance with magic, was ideally suited. A remarkable example is the English 1908 adaptation of The Tempest (McKernan 3, 4). Here, screen magic blends with Prospero’s own in a series of visual tricks typical of Méliès (Forsyth), as shown by his Le Royaume des Fées (1903) or La Fée Carabosse (1906) (Malthête 78). This early screening of The Tempest rests on the illusionist’s 'special effects,' while also relying on the unmediated filming of a performance. Similarly, in Prospero's Books, the many possibilities of the special effects of the Graphic Paintbox (Greenaway 28-33) offer images that make us travel in time from the Cretan Minotaur to the Renaissance (Costantini-Cornède), with an Elizabethan 'Machiavel' planning revenge on his enemies, down to the present 1990s crisis of knowledge in the West (Louguet). On the other hand, Greenaway’s screening of the play, as Lanier writes, "relentlessly draws our attention to performers’ bodies; it converts Shakespeare’s narrative into non-narrative non-verbal bodily forms, into mime, acrobatics, static live tableaux masque-like processionals" (Lanier186).

4In fact, the borrowings from silent films in Prospero’s Books answer Guneratne’s definition of the sources of interest in screening a Shakespeare play (Guneratne 2006, 32)—i.e. the global scope of the texts, topicality of political situations as well as a wealth of attractions which offers the filmmaker possibilities of re-appropriation (Maheu). However, as far as topicality is concerned, the character of Caliban has been the vehicle for the expression of post-colonialist issues in the productions of the play. By casting star dancer and choreographer Michael Clark in the role of Caliban, Greenaway actually invited into his film an artist with enough authority to re-appropriate the role to suit his own purpose, as I will argue below, while the art of dancing in itself has a special relation to language which is not inappropriate in a silent film. Moreover, the film also addresses topical concerns of 1990s audiences such as feminists’ claims, and the development of techno-culture with an interest in Artificial Intelligence (Donaldson 106-108).

Polyphony in the film: Sir John Gielgud/alias Prospero/’s multiple voices

  • 6 I wish to thank Professor Wayne Narey for his generous help in collecting references and proof read (...)

5In his introduction, Peter Greenaway writes that "the proposition to make a film of The Tempest came from Sir John Gielgud and this film-script was devised for his playing of Prospero" (Greenaway 9). The star actor had been playing Prospero four times on the stage before his fifth performance for Greenaway, so the film opens as a homage to his career by enhancing his remarkable physical presence on the screen (Bevington 2006, 864).6 A close-up of his naked hand playing with a water-drop, then shown in the act of writing re-asserts his physical presence. Later an extraordinary blue hat gives his handsome features an exceptional aura (Greenaway 99; 00:43:00). Some close-ups of his keen eyes as he stares into the camera-eye also make him powerfully convincing (1:59:05). As for Sir John Gielgud’s voice, it makes Shakespeare’s own oddly 'present' as well: "thus naturalizing national identity to performance, the voice becomes both author-itative and authentic, promising (cinematic) access to early modern origins" (Hodgdon), before Ariel’s voice adds a tonality of its own. As to hearing Caliban’s voice, it is Gielgud’s, which is made to sound guttural and raucous to the point of being unrecognizable (Walker 170).

6The filmmaker insists on a deliberate "cross-identification between Prospero, Shakespeare and Gielgud" (Greenaway 9). In order to do this, the lines of all the characters are spoken by Gielgud, and the first shots warn us that the actor will experiment with various intonations (Greenaway 43). The soundtrack plays on such variations throughout the film. The 'cross-identification' thanks to the 'hybridization' of the main voice between the three voices, Prospero's, Shakespeare's and Gielgud's, develops against a sound-track of off-screen 'voices,' suggesting a crowd of sounds ranging from the mechanical, animal, or the human. Moreover, the sound of Prospero’s magic is heard in the "distant flying machines… a noise reminiscent of implacable, massive stage machinery in a masque or pageant that is several streets away" (Greenaway 43). The ostinato rhythm, dominant from the opening sequence—the mechanical 'plop' of a drop ricocheting upon the still waters of the Roman 'bath-house'–soon becomes a scansion to dances performed by Prospero’s creatures, i.e. naked men and women who cross from left to right and back in the background of scenes from the play.

7As to the assumption that Shakespeare’s voice is heard in the source text (Orgel, Intr., 1), it characterizes Prospero’s character, but is further expanded in the film as it encompasses not only the playwright, the actor and the character-magician, but also the filmmaker himself (Guneratne 2008, 238-240). Moreover, due to this 'polyphony' but contrary to the play, Caliban is remarkably voiceless in the film. It sounds as if the whole dimension of post-colonial discourse were dismissed by its relegation to the Gielgud-Prospero-Greenaway world of imagination.

Michael Nyman

8In addition to Sir John Gielgud’s spoken words, two other 'voices' who address the audience’s attention and empathy by other means than words make themselves heard in the film, i.e. those of composer Michael Nyman (Walker) and dancer-choreographer Michael Clark (Cotter). The music of the off-screen orchestra score (The Michael Nyman Band) and the on-screen music sung by Sarah Leonard—the four Ariels, and Ceres, Juno and Iris—contribute to the ostinato on the soundtrack by Nyman’s characteristically repetitive and beautifully minimal music. "In Prospero’s Books, the music engages us emotionally, working against the distancing self-consciousness of numerous artistic allusions" (Walker 166), though the use of dissonance, in particular for the singing of Ceres and Iris, echoes the coldness and aesthetic distancing of Greenaway’s style. When Prospero creates his first storm, the film’s introductory music follows the action:

Based in B flat minor, emphasized by tonic pedal notes. The music ends suddenly on a falling minor seventh and this unsettling end is overtaken by the sound of machinery, synthesised crashes, birds cowling, wind and rain, indistinguishable voices […] distorted echoes "we split, we split." (Walker 166).

9As this example shows, Nyman’s music often appears inaudible under a deluge of sounds from the action under way. It is heard in the songs, but strains to be heard over the constant cacophony of sounds which are used to provide a background to Gielgud’s own voice, signifying his magic at work. "The soprano lines written for Ariel […] are so high that the music sounds close to breaking point" comments Elsie Walker who continues "the melodic unpredictability creates unremitting tension […]. It is not until the masque, towards the end of the film, that the music comes into its own" (Walker 167). Otherwise, when it is heard, as in the deceptive banquet (III, iii; 1:11:53), it "bursts out magically often from no visible source" (Walker, 166). Thus the beauty and emotion which Michael Nyman’s music brings to the film is more like the sounds heard by Caliban on the island, i.e. foreign to Prospero’s magic; the songs do not proceed from his magic either, though he acts as if they were. This tension between Prospero’s power over the elements in the island and the sound of music is also characteristic of his ambiguous relations with Caliban, as Michael Clark is careful to make clear. One is tempted to perceive an equal tension between the three artists, Greenaway on the one hand, and Michael Nyman and Michael Clark on the other.

Michael Clark and choreography

10The dancer choreographer plays a unique role in the film, an honour which Clark owes to his international reputation in the 1980s. His performance in the film must be understood within the larger context of theatrical productions of Shakespeare’s play in the same period or earlier, which had created well-established expectations among the public.

  • 7 S.Q., vol. 27, n°2, Winter 1976, 203-205.

11Caliban "has in various eras been seen as a tortoise, a giant fish, a grotesque monster, a primitive everyman, an anthropoid missing link, and—especially nowadays—an American Indian or a Caribbean slave of African or mestizo ancestry." (Vaughan xiv). This diversity shows that several meanings have been given to the character as signifier, depending on the cultural preoccupations of audiences and stage managers. These might actually also be heard in the way he is addressed by the other characters, which informs us about his identity, i.e. as a non-identified species. He is called 'human' but in terms of animal life: "she did litter here/A freckled whelp…" (I, ii, 283), a "slave," who "never yields us a kind answer," or a "villain" (I, ii, 308-309). The stage-prop which characterizes him in many productions is the wood he carries on his back, and the man in the moon, a folktale icon of drunkenness—already in the play of course, is a compulsory attribute of his character.7 The audience expectations which Clark’s performance was addressing in 1991 had to be deconstructed by his own work. The costume in a Massachussetts 1981 production consisted in the following:

  • 8 S.Q., vol. 32, n°2, Spring 1981, 188-190.

a narrow, flared leather cape as a tail, a dagger-less scabbard dangling from his waist; leather gloves which, blended in with his blackened skin, gave the illusion of enormous hands, a face mask of light brown…this Caliban was typically on or near the ground—he walked bent over at the waist, torso swaying up and down or shaking vigorously in an animal-like posture…. Emphatic gestures—a vertical clapping or pounding of the fist on his bare chest…convincing groans and growls … imbuing his language with striking visceral impact.8

  • 9 Shakespeare Survey, n° 28 (1975), 117-123.

12This demonstrates the animal connotations which were read in the signifier, here as an ape or Darwinian missing link, earlier, dressed as a tortoise, taking Prospero’s words literally: "Come, thou tortoise" (I, ii, 316). More damnable is the charge of hybrid ancestry "got by the devil himself/Upon thy wicked dam" (I, ii, 319-320) which sounds like a curse, from which Caliban’s own words as it were take their cue in a profuseness of curses promising poisoning, freezing (l. 321-324).9

  • 10 S.Q., vol. 31, n°2, Spring 1980, 261.
  • 11 S.Q., vol. 32, n°3, Autumn 1981, 414-415.

13The ethnic meaning, read into the signifier, i.e. his non-white race, relies on Caliban’s words: "This island’s mine by Sycorax my mother/Which thou tak’st from me" (l. 331-332). Examples of this ethnic meaning in the 1980s productions of the play are rife, such as the 1980 production in Los Angeles in which The Tempest was staged as "utopian," the ethnic traits being applied to the whole cast instead of being restricted to Caliban.10 In a 1981 German production of the play, Caliban was "played as much into the foreground as Jan Kott would have it. He was a black slave, who, though curbed by his bondage, had moments when he seemed to be discovering his true nature."11 This trait not only becomes part of the folktale icon of the overworked or drunken figure bending under the weight of his burden, but plays on skin colour. Besides, we learn that he "indulged in African dances and rituals." The play itself tells us that Caliban performs a dance in the scene with Trinculo, a significant trait which is also a stage direction for the actor, just as the qualifiers which are used for him are indications of the kind of performance the said actor was to play.

14In Greenaway’s film, Michael Clark, alias Caliban, does not dance or gesture in relation to the music, though the music sometimes suggests the sounds of the island, a fact which isolates the character within a world of his own. This singularity is introduced first as the camera frames him in a posture which clearly recalls Michelangelo’s Adam, reclining on a rock above water. However instead of a heavenly backdrop of dynamic clouds and pale blue skies, the world in which he appears is a dark ill-lit subterraneous place, "at the confluence of six sewers" (Greenaway 95) suggesting that he belongs to the earth as well as to the waters in which he vanishes, as if Inferno had replaced Heaven. And instead of God’s divine creation by the touch of a finger, Caliban is summoned by Prospero’s distant call and he is filmed coming out of a large sewer. As Sophie Fiennes recalls: "it was a low budget film and the conditions in which Michael was expected to perform were quite miserable. At one point he had to descend down a chute in cold water and then dance; there were repeated takes" (Cotter 117). There is no love lost between the creature and his creator; a close-shot of his head in profile shows him sticking his tongue out at Prospero, giving us a clue for all his further actions in the four following scenes in which he appears.

15He seldom stands, and usually curls up and then, balancing his body on his elbow and forearm, stretches his legs horizontally, one of them twitching to the tip of its toes in convolutions suggestive of the coils of a serpent. His naked and clean-shaven body is painted with several brown patches in the Neo-Naturist style of Clark’s earlier performances (Cotter 111), "patterned with black markings like a mottled pig…with mandrill-coloured genitals" (Greenaway 94, 95). Actually the film is not following the script in all its details, rather, Clark performs in keeping with the explicit sexuality of his earlier staged works (Cotter 28). The dancer thus not only deconstructs stereotypes about the character by showing his expressive skills, but also performs in the style which he had already created earlier. The references are thus those of his own earlier performances.

16In the film, however, among the literary sources for the character, a reference to the Minotaur has been added to the current view of Caliban as a creature from the New World of the West. Greenaway seems to have been familiar with the theory that Caliban has a double literary origin, not only the texts from travellers which provided a wealth of information on the New World but also a text which was known to Shakespeare, Apollonius of Tyre (Fiedler 199-253). The reference to Greek Mythology is transcribed in the performers called "Prospero’s Spirits." They are seen in profile, moving in a plane at right angles to the screen, in a smooth tracking shot from left to right; their gestures recall Egyptian or Assyrian dancers on friezes by their angular rhythmic spasms. Obtained by infographic intervention, we find an explicit reference to Cretan art, as for example in Book 18, The Autobiography of Semiramis and Pasiphae: "Greenaway had Eve Ramboz put women wrestlers in motion, similar to Muybridge’s chrono-photographs" (Louguet 150). The prehistory of cinema is thus referred to by the decomposition of movement through photographic snap-shots, which is compared to a cinematic freeze. The image by image animation, one of the founding principles of Early Cinema, together with Meliès’s stop tricks, transpires in Ramboz’s composite image obtained by "the animation of drawings or stencilled out photograms graphically manipulated to give them more depth" (Louguet 150). The Books in the film are over-framed flat surfaces, the source of animation and metamorphoses, the focus being on the 'organicity of matter' as in Francis Bacon’s works.

17It is against such a background that Michael Clark’s performance stands out. Elsie Walker compares Clark’s performance to Ariel’s singing. He "combines balletic leaps with modern dance leaps—his dances are beautiful, poised and full of pain like the music for Ariel." Yet, continues Walker: "Caliban does not dance in painful curls and twists to music. The film does not tie the freedom of music with him." (Walker 169). In the scene where Caliban meets Trinculo and Stephano on the beach (II, ii, 1:06:00) "Caliban dances to the sound of wind and strange, bestial, synthesized, 'automated' noises." (Walker 169). Caliban’s movements have emotional import suggesting a kind of freedom, yet they also suggest containment, since even when he shivers, his bodily movement is rhythmical and choreographed (Walker 170). The key idea that he is suffering from Prospero’s oppression is thus present in the dance. This is made clear to the audience thanks to Michael Clark’s 'signature,' so to speak, since here he is actually transposing within a dramatic context a specific quality of his own style. As Suzanne Cotter writes: "in the 1980s, he affected something of a seismic shift in the culturally elite world of classical ballet in which he trained, transposing onto it the underground culture of music and fashion that has come to define the period" (Cotter 21). Clark’s productions of "movement, sound, lighting and design in multiplemedia, form striking and richly textured visual and spatial compositions" (Cotter 21). This echoes Greenaway’s own carefully designed visual texture in the film, but Clark added a special technique of variations on a choreographic theme, by which he re-appropriates the theme of the master’s violence and the slave’s delicacy in the film. Clark also expresses the loneliness of Caliban by his joy when meeting Trinculo and Stephano, while the tension between his naïve childishness and his perversion by culture, be it language or drink, is made clear as well. The part of Caliban in the film seems to have allowed the artist to return to his earlier experiments with the "no to spectacle, to comedy, to narrative, no to virtuosity" of his work at London’s Riverside Studios in the 1970s (Cotter 25), inasmuch as Caliban’s persona fits this conception of performance.

Hybridity and screen image: Clark’s Caliban as a post-modernist anti-hero

18While the hybridization of the screen image remains a characteristic of Greenaway’s film, as has been seen above, this quality affects Michael Clark’s screen image of Caliban in a specific way. Hybridity, a concept from Bakhtine’s writings which has been widely explored in the 1990s and may have influenced Greenaway’s art, since it is linked with his concept of polyphony (Plana 222-229), is actually inbred as far as the character is concerned, being caused by the 'monstrous union' of a witch and a devil, and it informs his own body and gestures in the play (Shakespeare is well-known for his familiarity with Rabelais’s works). More appropriate to this discussion is the fact that Michael Clark himself has a reputation of combining "the paradoxical elements of beauty and brutality, order and anarchy, vulgarity and serenity" (Jann Parry, quoted in Cotter 26), which accounts for his decision to act the part of Caliban and explore the possibilities of his screen image. But Greenaway himself adds to his source text by making the four elements also contribute to hybridization in the film, since Caliban symbolises the mingling of water and earth, with icons such as 'mud,' and he is paired off with Ariel who symbolises air and fire. Skin pigmentation matches this dichotomy, the four Ariels’ fair skin and blond hair contrasting with Caliban’s dark skin and implicit dark hair. Here Michael Clark interferes with the racial clichés by shaving his head and even his whole body, which makes his smooth skin glitter in the chiaroscuro lighting of the subterraneous places where he is held a prisoner, while reflections on his wet skin also add an effect of sparkling light, thus contradicting Prospero’s insulting assumption that Caliban is his creation, and, I would like to suggest, also questioning Greenaway’s demiurgic claim.

19Hybridity in the play is generic as discussed above; it is also a major trait of the Mannerist aesthetics of the late Renaissance. In Clark’s dance, one finds echoes of this feature of the source text, in particular the search for elegance, dainty subtlety and fluidity, qualities which are the opposite of the two dimensional aesthetics of the frieze dances performed by Prospero’s spirits in the film. While the latter are relegated to the continuous movement of the background, Clark’s choreography explores the three dimensions of sculpture, which for the Renaissance was epitomized in the Laocoon—i.e. serpents and 'serpentine' contortions of the human figures. These aesthetic references address the educated audience, allowing us to recognize the source-text in the midst of avant-garde technology. As Patricia Falguières argues, mannerist artists are both virtuoso and modern, and Pina Bausch is but another example of this link between mannerist and avant-garde aesthetics (Avanzani). They draw oblique motifs which compel us to adopt a side glance upon reality, using anamorphosis instead of metamorphosis. In the play, Caliban’s apparent metamorphosis into an animal when hiding under his "cloak" is only due to Trinculo's special angle of vision: "legged like a man, and his fins like arms!" (II, ii, 33). The ethics of this 'awry' glance relies on the conception of truth as elusive, a mere appearance, entailing self-derision, since the observer always remains in doubt. Interestingly, the 'avant-garde' aesthetics developed by Michael Clark in his interpretation of the character of Caliban are seen as 'mannerist' in the "exquisite poise as each movement is threatened by physical collapse, in which the staged precision of classical form is subject to loss of control and spectacular flaunting of convention" (Cotter 26).

20Moreover, Caliban’s dancing is continuous in the film since movement is his sole mode of expression, and this enables Michael Clark to make Caliban’s 'voice' heard in a unique manner. This presence is inscribed in the 'mannerist' dimension of time, since Clark is a master of live performance and the ephemeral event. In an interview by Sophie Fiennes, the artist compares dance to music in this respect:

You can’t deny that the body has a brain behind it or there’s a mind at work, and to deny that would be kind of foolish, but I don’t think music or movement are necessarily the best ways to communicate very literal things. I mean, I love words […] but I guess I’m more interested in what I consider a more complex place, which is where things can’t be made specific through language. (Cotter 118)

21The difficulty of screening Shakespeare’s text, which Greenaway attempts to solve by giving Prospero a hybrid identity, is also addressed by Michael Clark. The dancer’s 'perpetuum mobile' interpretation of Caliban becomes a metaphor of life itself, and makes him an authentic inhabitant of the island. He reacts to its 'voices' in a manner that utterly denies any claim by Prospero that Caliban would be a figment from his imagination. Michael Clark’s Caliban meets this challenge by the "spectrum of anti-positions" in which "dissonance" and "harmony," aesthetic categories of avant-garde and mannerist ethics, alternately inform his performance (Cotter 26). By his forever changing postures woven in and out of uncannily repetitive rhythms, which make his screen image so elusive and mysterious, Michael Clark gives life to a hybrid creature who embodies the insecure relation of post-modern man with the world.

22Hybridization in the film is a post-modern language which qualifies Greenaway’s creative genius; yet, it is also fully explored by the dancer and choreographer Michael Clark on his own terms, as he transforms the Shakespearean character into a post-modern anti-hero.

Top of page



Greenaway, Peter, Prospero’s Books (1991), 120 mns, colour. Netherlands, France, Italy.

Stow, Percy, The Tempest, U.K.1908, Clarendon Film Company.


Altman,Rick, Silent Film Sound, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Bevington, David et als., Shakespeare: from Page to Stage; Screenplay to Screen, New York & London: Pearson-Longman, 2006.

Burt, Richard & Lynda E. Boose, eds. Shakespeare, the Movie—Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, video, and DVD, London: Routledge, 2003, 2 vols., vol. II.

Cieutat, Michel, et Jean-Louis Flecniakoska, Le Grand Atelier de Peter Greenaway, Strasbourg: Université des Sciences Humaines de Strasbourg, 1998.

Cotter, Suzanne and Robert Violette, Michael Clark, London: Violette Ltd., 2011.

Dorval, Patricia ed., Shakespeare et le cinéma, Montpellier: Presses de l’Université de Montpellier, 1999.

Falguières, Patricia, Le Maniérisme : Une Avant-Garde au XVIe siècle, Paris: Gallimard, 2004.

Fiedler, Leslie A., The Stranger in Shakespeare, London: Croom Helm, 1972.

Greenaway, Peter, Prospero’s Books—A Film of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, London: Chatto&Windus, 1991.

Guneratne, Anthony R., Shakespeare, Film Studies, and the Visual Cultures of Modernity, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Henderson, Diana E.,A Concise Companion to Shakespeare on Screen, Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.

Kay, Carol McGinnis and Henry E Jacobs, eds., Shakespeare’s Romances Reconsidered, Lincoln and London: The University of Nebraska Press, 1978.

Malthête, Jacques, Méliès—Images et illusions, Paris: Exporégie, 1996.

McKernan, Luke & OlwenTerris, (eds.) Walking Shadows: Shakespeare in the National Film and Television Archive, London: Bfi, 1994.

Moure, José & Daniel Banda, Le cinéma : naissance d’un art—Premiers écrits—1895-1920, Paris: Champs Flammarion, 2008.

Plana, Muriel, Adaptation, hybridation et dialogue des arts, Rosny-sous-Bois: Bréal, 2004.

Shakespeare, William, The Tempest, Stephen Orgel, ed., Oxford: O. U. P., 1987.

Shaughnessy, Robert, ed., Shakespeare on Film—Contemporary Critical Essays, London: Macmillan, 1998.

Stalpaert, Christel, ed., Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books: Critical Essays, Ghent University: Academia Press, 2000.

Vaughan, Alden T. & Virginia Mason Vaughan, Shakespeare’s Caliban: A Cultural History [1991], Cambridge (U.K.): Cambridge University Press, 1993.



1895-Association française de recherche sur l’histoire du cinéma (AFRHC)

Shakespeare Quarterly, abbreviated as S.Q.


Albéra, François, "L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise, produit 'semi-fini'", Le Film d’Art et les films d’art en Europe (1908-1911, 1895-n°56 (2008), 95-120.

Avanzini, Susanna, "Orpheus und Eurydike according Bausch/Gluck", Choreologica—The Journal of European Association of Dance Historians, Vol.6, n°1, Winter 2013, 17-41.

Costantini-Cornède, Anne-Marie, "Pictorialité et pictorialisme dans Prospero’s Books de Peter Greenaway", Etudes Anglaises, Shakespeare à l’écran, 55e année, n°2, avril-juin 2002, 157-166.

-----, "Cinéma et peinture dans les adaptations de Shakespeare à l’écran", Ligeia—Peinture et cinéma, XXème année, n° 77-78-79-80, juillet-décembre 2007, 138-150.

Donaldson, Peter S. "Shakespeare in the Age of Post-mechanical Reproduction—Sexual and Electronic Magic in Prospero’s Books", Shakespeare, the Movie—Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, video, and DVD, eds. Richard Burt, Lynda E. Boose, London: Routledge, 2003, 2 vols.,vol. II, 104-119.

Forsyth, Neil, "Shakespeare illusionniste", Patricia Dorval, ed., Shakespeare et le cinéma, Montpellier: Presses de l’Université de Montpellier, 1999, 115-130.

Guneratne, Anthony R., "'Thou Dost Usurp Authority': Beerbohm Tree, Reinhardt, Olivier, Welles, and the Politics of Adapting Shakespeare", Diana E. Henderson, ed., A Concise Companion to Shakespeare on Screen, Oxford: Blackwell, 2006, 31-53.

Gauthier, Christophe, "Histoire d’un crime. Vies et morts du Duc de Guise", I895, n° 56, (2008), 173-190.

Hodgdon, Barbara, "Spectacular Bodies: Acting+Cinema+Shakespeare", Diana E. Henderson, A Concise Companion to Shakespeare on Screen, Oxford: Blackwell, 2006, 96-111.

Hoy, Cyrus, "Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare’s Romances", Carol McGinnis Kay and Henry E Jacobs, eds., Shakespeare’s Romances Reconsidered, Lincoln and London: The University of Nebraska Press, 1978, 77-90.

Lanier, Douglas, "Drowning the Book: Prospero’s Books and the Textual Shakespeare", Robert Shaughnessy, ed., Shakespeare on Film— Contemporary Critical Essays, London: Macmillan, 1998, 173-195.

Latham, Jacqueline E. M., "'The Tempest' and King James’s 'Daemonologie'", Shakespeare Survey, n° 28 (1975), 117-123.

Louguet, Patrice, "Travelling as Strolling about in Prospero’s Books", Michel Rémy, dir., Peter Greenaway, Cycnos, volume 26, n° 1, 2010, 143-155.

McKernan, Luke, "Beerbohm Tree’s King John Rediscovered: The First Shakespeare Film, September 1899", Shakespeare Bulletin, (Winter): 35-36, 1993.

Maheu, Fabien, "Cinema, Painting and Digital Technology: Peter Greenaway’s Hybrid images", Michel Rémy, dir., Peter Greenaway, Cycnos, volume 26, n° 1, 2010, 127-142.

Urban, Raymond A.,"Why Caliban Worships the Man in the Moon", SQ, vol. 27, n°2, (Winter) 1976, 203-205.

Walker, Elsie, "The Aesthetic Construction of Musical Forms in Prospero’s Books", Christel Stalpaert, ed., Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books: Critical Essays, Ghent University: Academia Press, 2000, 161-179.

Top of page


3 A ditty making fun of Beerbohm Tree’s interest in Shakespeare on film published in the British Bioscope, (1 June 1916, 1009) and originally published in the New York American (McKernan, 1994, 5).

4 W-K.L. Dickson, King John (UK) 1899, for British Mutoscope and Biograph Company; also in Silent Shakespeare, Bfi DVD, 2004. The other films on the DVD are The Tempest (1908), King Lear (1910), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1909), Twelfth Night (1910), The Merchant of Venice (1910), Richard III (1911).

5 "Tree is enacting King John’s death: he lies in languorous agony, slowly lifting a histrionic hand, writhing in his chair." Nicci Gerrard, "Silent Shakespeare," an excerpt from "What: No sound and fury?" The Observer, 11 April 1999, leaflet accompanying the Bfi DVD Silent Shakespeare.

6 I wish to thank Professor Wayne Narey for his generous help in collecting references and proof reading this paper.

7 S.Q., vol. 27, n°2, Winter 1976, 203-205.

8 S.Q., vol. 32, n°2, Spring 1981, 188-190.

9 Shakespeare Survey, n° 28 (1975), 117-123.

10 S.Q., vol. 31, n°2, Spring 1980, 261.

11 S.Q., vol. 32, n°3, Autumn 1981, 414-415.

Top of page


Bibliographical reference

Raphaëlle Costa de Beauregard, « Peter Greenaway’s Film Adaptation of The Tempest: Prospero’s Books (1991) and the Screening of Caliban », Caliban, 52 | 2014, 95-108.

Electronic reference

Raphaëlle Costa de Beauregard, « Peter Greenaway’s Film Adaptation of The Tempest: Prospero’s Books (1991) and the Screening of Caliban », Caliban [Online], 52 | 2014, Online since 22 April 2015, connection on 29 June 2022. URL : ; DOI :

Top of page


Licence Creative Commons
Caliban – French Journal of English Studies est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Top of page
  • Logo Presses universitaires du Midi
  • Logo DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • OpenEdition Journals
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search