In beginning our exploration of Prospero, the women decided that the best place to start would be with his relationship with Miranda. So we spent today on Act I Scene I, cycling through different pairs of actors every now and again so that everyone who wanted to could get on stage. The first participant to read Prospero moved pretty quickly through the text without a lot of emotion. We paused the scene, and I asked the group if they thought that this story is an easy one for Prospero to tell. We talked about how, even though he and Miranda were victimized in being banished from Milan, the whole thing began when he gave some of his responsibilities to his brother, and so, in a way, he is at fault, too. At the very least, the telling of this story reveals that he is not perfect. One of the women volunteered that this reminded her of when she had to talk to her children about her crime. She said that the decision to tell them the truth was immediate, but that didn’t make it easy to do it.
We also talked about Prospero’s built up anger – how emotional it would have to be to relive the betrayal and trauma, especially since he hasn’t talked about it for twelve years. They particularly relished his line, “Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year since…” The fact that he says it twice spoke to them about how long that twelve years must feel isolated as he is.
Then the woman who, weeks ago, told us how she had sent some of Prospero’s lines to her daughter because they resonated so deeply for her stepped up to read his part. I didn’t realize it, and I don’t think she did either, but she stepped in just before those lines, which are:
Alack, what trouble
Was I then to you!
O, a cherubim
Thou wast that did preserve me! Thou didst smile,
Infuséd with a fortitude from heaven,
When I have decked the sea with drops full salt,
Under my burden groaned; which raised in me
An undergoing stomach, to bear up
Against what should ensue.
When the participant came to those lines, she paused, and she began to cry. But she didn’t stop – she kept reading the lines to her scene partner, with all of her real emotion behind them. The rest of the participants were rapt and respectful, and when she reached the end of those lines, she stopped, and we all thanked her for her truthfulness. She apologized for crying, and we all reinforced how amazing it was that she shared that with us. One said, “Remember how you said the characters might pick us? I think Prospero just picked her.” The others also said that the tears seemed completely appropriate to the character to them, and that it brought their understanding of him to a new level. They said that if Prospero shows some emotion here, early in the play, it will make more sense later when he softens.
We also discussed Miranda’s reaction to Prospero’s emotion, which is to immediately recall him to his story. “What does that tell you?” I asked them. They think it means that she is uncomfortable with that level of emotion from him, which tells us a lot about their relationship. We talked about different ways of interpreting and playing that moment.
Everyone left, again, feeling good about the discoveries they’d made. They decided that they want to keep exploring this scene on Tuesday.