Peter S. Donaldson
Prospero's Books offers a striking interpretation of The Tempest, similar to recent feminist and psychoanalytic accounts, in which Prospero attempts to to control female sexuality and “appropriate” the birth-giving powers of the maternal body. Greenaway gives such a reading of The Tempest a technological inflection. By associating Prospero's “magic” with the ability of the new medium of digital cinema to create enhanced illusions of life, Greenaway recasts central questions of the play in contemporary terms. And by associating his own electronic medium with earlier wonder-working technologies-the voice of the magus, the printed pages of the Renaissance book-the film suggests that we are still living in the era of Renaissance magic, perhaps at a time toward the end of that era when, to quote Donna Haraway, “our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert” (Haraway 1985:68).
In Peter Greenaway's version of The Tempest, Prospero is not not just the “master manipulator of people and events, but their prime originator” (Greenaway 1991:9) With the possible exception of Miranda, Caliban and Ariel, Prospero actually creates the world of the island, including its plants and animals, its buildings, the spirits who inhabit it, and the shipwrecked characters from the mainland who are cast up by the tempest. This creation takes place in two ways, both involving books. The first combines the roles of dramatist and magus. Prospero conjures with words he himself has written, the words of The Tempest:
On his island of exile, Prospero plans a drama to right the wrongs done to him. He invents characters to flesh out his imaginary fantasy to steer his enemies into his power, writes their dialogue and having written it, he