When I left teaching behind several years ago, I made a commitment to myself not to leave Shakespeare behind as well. Shortly afterward, I successfully auditioned for and then played the role of Friar Laurence in a Frisco Community Theater production of Romeo and Juliet. So when I arrived here in Princeton, and was told that the seminary was undertaking a student production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, how could I resist? I auditioned for the role of Caliban, and found out yesterday that I got the part.
From the start, I was interested most in the character of Caliban because he is one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters. While he is often described as a “monster” he evokes (if played well) a full range of emotions from the audience/reader: laughter, disgust, sympathy, and even wonder. He has been treated by various productions as villain, clown, and even tragic hero — the noble savage who is the victim of colonialism and slavery. And like the timeless characters of Mordred and Judas, he betrays his master and teacher.
Personally, I think of him along the same lines of J.R.R. Tolkien’s character of Gollum. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if Tolkien drew upon Caliban for inspiration. The Tempest is one of only two Shakespearean plays (the other being A Midsummernight’s Dream) that are considered “fantasy,” and as such might have been a great interest to Tolkien, the “father” of modern fantasy literature. When one reads (or watches the film versions of) Lord of the Rings, one doesn’t quite know whether to love, hate, fear, pity, or laugh at Gollum (who also betrays his master in the end).
In any case, it’s certainly a fascinating role, and a challenging one to play well. Rehearsals start next week, and performances will be April 2-4 @8:00 in Scheide Hall here on Campus, and then a matinee performance Sunday, April 5th at 3:00. Hope to see you there, my precioussssesss…