Prospera’s Whip and Other Props of Bardolatry: Toward an Intersectionalist Re-telling of The Tempest


  • Celia Caputi



This essay engages in a cross-analysis of four woman-authored “island stories” from both black and white perspectives, employing disparate vocabularies of skin color, and covering a spectrum of attitudes toward Shakespeare’s The Tempest, from the thinly veiled bardolatry of Julie Taymor’s The Tempest screenplay (2010), to a stance I may go so far as to call “bard-blind.”  The bulk of the discussion pits Gloria Naylor’s womanist fable, Mama Day (1988), against Caryl Cude Mullin’s young adult novel Rough Magic (2009), two texts which seem to offer a feminist critique of The Tempest by foregrounding the story of Sycorax, but which radically contrast in their attitudes toward Shakespeare, in their ideological underpinnings, and—ultimately—in their degree of artistic coherence. More specifically, I will argue that Naylor’s deconstruction of racial binaries and critique of phallogocentrism stand as the counter example to Mullin’s misguided pseudofeminism and muddled racial politics—both effects of her uncritical approach to Shakespeare’s masculinist-colonialist message. I conclude with a surprising intertext, Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State (2014), whose accidental titular allusion ironically underscores its critical (shall we say) “innocence.” For Gay’s novel, though a rape-narrative set on an island, owes nothing to Shakespeare's dramatization of misogynist violence in The Taming of the Shrew and owes nothing to his colonialist parable, The Tempest. Indeed, the book contrasts point for point with the preceding Tempest retellings not only by virtue of its realism but also by virtue of its unswervingly progressive gender and racial politics.

Author Biography

Celia Caputi

Celia R. Caputi, PhD, is Professor of English at The Florida State University and author of some two dozen articles and book-chapters in Shakespeare/Early Modern Studies, feminist critical theory, and cultural studies, in addition to two Cambridge University Press monographs, Eroticism on the Renaissance Stage: Transcendence, Desire, and the Limits of the Visible, and Racism, Misogyny and the Othello Myth: Interracial Couples from Shakespeare to Spike Lee.  She is also co-editor with Gary Taylor of a Revels Student Edition of John Fletcher’s The Woman’s Prize; or, the Tamer Tamed.