Gender issues in The Tempest
The modern NBC miniseries adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest shares many similarities and differences on certain issues. The miniseries is an Americanized version, set during the period of the Civil war. Many issues involving gender were changed in the miniseries to reflect the new setting. The result is a more believable and understandable Tempest to which people can relate. The gender issue changes make the characters reflect modern individuals, and to remove the absurd characters the play forces us to believe in.
First, the characters in The Tempest have some basic differences in gender in the adaptation. In the play, the only beings that Miranda knows are her father, the nonhuman spirit of Ariel, and the half-man-half-monster Caliban. In the miniseries, the only people Miranda knows are her father, a black slave Ariel, and a human variation of Caliban: Gator Man. The miniseries uses male forms of Ariel and Caliban, which does not force the viewer into believing in non-human characters, which makes them easier to understand. In addition, in the miniseries, Miranda has relationships with these human characters, which is not seen in the play.
Ariel is a companion of sorts to Miranda and Prospero in the miniseries, unlike the play, where Ariel is a spirit who can only be seen by Prospero. Ariel’s black slave character provides a masculine character that is a companion to Miranda and Prospero. Although he is a male, he is still portrayed as inferior to Miranda and Prospero because of his race. He serves as a huge source of labor, and security for Prospero and Miranda. Anyone, who knows the history slavery in the United States, can understand the difficult position that he has been put in.
In the miniseries, Miranda has an active role in survival on the island. She is seen doing chores, such as collecting the traps for food in the swamp. Miranda working is barely seen in the play. In the play, upon seeing Miranda gathering logs, Ferdinand makes the statement “I had rather crack my sinews, break my back, than you should such dishonor undergo while I sit lazy by” 3.1.30-33.) Ferdinand was very upset that Miranda was working, and would rather do the work himself. The fact that Miranda has an active role in their survival in the swamp is more characteristic of a modern society, compared to the belief that woman were not supposed to perform manual labor in the past. When the play was written, it was probably not been acceptable for young woman to work at all, which is why Ferdinand was compelled to say something about Miranda’s chores.
Miranda does something in the miniseries that shows courage and strength that she does not display in the play. Miranda attempts to run away from her father with Ferdinand in the miniseries. In the play, Miranda does not exhibit any self-determination, and follows along with everything her father does. Miranda’s willingness to run away with her boyfriend is very characteristic of a young female of our present society. In the past, such an act by a young female may have been unimaginable, because women were expected to follow the lead of males.
Gator man is a portrayed as a lower class male, compared to Caliban, who is an inhuman monster. In the play, Prospero states he is inhuman; he was “a born devil,” “got by the devil himself upon thy wicked dam” (a devil when he say ” sounterpart in the miniseries, Gator man, is an unintelligent, poor, and love deprived male. Both characters are portrayed as being evil lower class individuals. Because of Caliban’s physical appearance, and the fact that he attempted to rape Miranda in the past, he is viewed as a threat. In the miniseries, Miranda is too trusting of Gator Man, before the rape attempt because he is a human, and has not harmed her in the past. Her character reflects a modern teenager, who does not know any better to not trust someone. In the end however, both Gator man and Caliban represent threats to Miranda
The miniseries adaptation of The Tempest provides a more modern look of the original play in a more modern setting. To accomplish this task, the physical genders of the character were changed, and with that, more modern social attributes to go along with their gender changes. The result is an easily believable adaptation of a normally difficult to understand work of art.