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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What actresses should play Shakespeare’s great male characters?

Woo-hoo! Helen Mirren is going to play Prospero — the wizard has been redubbed Prospera — for a new film adaptation of The Tempest from director Julie Taymor, according to BBC News:

“I’d been to see a stage version of the play and I remember thinking that, with a little alteration of the back story, it would be easy to make Prospero into a woman,” Dame Helen says at the movie’s world premiere at the Venice Film Festival.

“All you would have to do to change ‘his’ into ‘her’ and you could perform it as it is.”

Some fans of the bard may be appalled with the thought of tampering with one of his greatest characters – but the Oscar-winning actress is adamant the crossover is a smooth one.

“Actually I felt making Prospero into a woman was very valuable to the play,” she says.

“All the relationships shift because she is female. There’s the maternal relationship with her daughter – rather than a patriarchal one. She is a lot more vulnerable herself because she understands Miranda’s emotional life and need for romance.

“I am actually convinced that were he [Shakespeare] writing in the modern day, he would have made Prospero into a woman.”

I think it’s a brilliant idea, whatever Shakespeare himself may have thought. My pal Bonnie — who posts comments here as bronxbee — and I have long discussed an entirely gender-switched Hamlet — wherein all the men’s parts are played by women, and vice versa — and we recently came to the conclusion that Tilda Swinton would be awesome as the Danish Prince(ss).

What actresses should play Shakespeare’s great male characters?

Judi Dench as Queen Lear? Joan Allen as Macbeth? Meryl Streep as Shylock?

Have fun!

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • RogerBW

    There’s the maternal relationship with her daughter – rather than a patriarchal one.

    That’s a bit stereotypical, isn’t it? Simply changing a character’s sex need not imply a massive change of personality. This sounds like rather more than a “new adaptation”.

  • amanohyo

    Othello – Lisa Bonet
    Shylock – Mayim Bialik
    Macbeth – Jane Lynch
    Queen Lear – Kirstie Alley
    Hamlette – Julia Louis-Dreyfus
    Orlando – Claire Danes
    Benedick – Cynthia Nixon
    Caliban – Tina Fey

    Also, the comedies are tragedies and the tragedies are (unintentional) comedies.

  • Kate

    Androgyny in Shakespeare is such a time-tested topic of scholarship that I can easily see the gender switches working.

    Tilda Swinton as Hamlet is a brilliant idea. I like the idea of Cate Blanchett as Hamlet too.

  • Ah, the classics from Wilhemina Shakespeare (thanks to Red Dwarf):

    Lady MacBeth as… well that wouldn’t change much…
    The Two Ladies of Verona!
    Julius and Romea!
    Comedy of Errors with two sets of sexy hot twins! (les yay porn version)
    King Henrietta IV Parts One and Two
    King Henrietta V
    King Rochelle II
    Julia Caesar
    A Winter’s Tale (with female bear pursuing you exit stage left)
    And, of course, as expected
    The Saleswoman of Venice!

  • Helena Bonham Carter as the waffling Lady Macbeth, with Brad Dourif as her scheming husband who goads her into murdering the queen.

  • Hank Graham

    Cate Blanchett as Hamlet is the one I’d like to see. Although I think my mental territory has been colonized by the David Tennant version.

  • Nina

    A few years ago, I saw a production of The Tempest with a female Prospera at the Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga,CA. It was astonishly good. I think Mirrin would be an amazing Prospera.

  • MC

    I was thinking Laura Fraser for Macbeth myself… she was great in Taymor’s Titus.

  • Hank Graham

    Angelina Jolie as Macbeth or Henry V.

    Cathy Tyson as Othello. I was lucky enough to see her in 1998 as Cleopatra in “Antony and Cleopatra.” She was incandescent. It is incredibly wasteful that she hasn’t been cast in more parts. Most people only know her from “Mona Lisa.”

    Judi Dench as Falstaff would be fun, I think.

  • I’d love to see Lisa Wolpe, of the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company, take on any of Shakespeare’s male roles.

    Also: Gina Torres as Othella and Alan Tudyk as Desdemonio.

  • kathleen

    I adapted a version of Hamlet once into Hamlette

    I only switched Hamlet to female – the others stayed the gender already assigned. It made for an interesting perspective on the relationships.

  • Tilda Swinton as Hamlet is a brilliant idea.

    No, Tilda Swinton as Iago! (Iaga?)

    And Angelina Jolie as yon Cassius (Cassia?) who has a lean and hungry look…

  • the rook

    if hamlet is going to be a girl, i want the ophelia role to be played by crispin glover.

  • Lisa

    I think Robert Pattison would make a great Ophelia with Kristin Stewart as the great Dane

    well it’s the least they could do…

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