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In casting a female Prospero, as Andrew James Hartley observes, the actress herself experiences "an escape from patriarchy" only to engage in "a study of oppression," as she is forced "to sympathize with the oppressed while being powerless (for the bulk of the play) to escape her own tyranny." (134). In Julie Taymor's film adaptation of The Tempest (2010), this dynamic between tyranny and oppression is a reflection of Prospera's status as a montage effect of the two figures from whom she derives her authority: Prospero, her Shakespearean namesake, and Sycorax, the disinherited female ruler who, like Prospera, was banished to the island based on accusations of witchcraft. Radical montage, first theorized by Sergei Eisenstein and the Russian Constructivists, revolves around collision rather than continuity; it is the process whereby the clash of two discrete frames produces a dramatically new concept-not a synthesis so much as a third term that cannot be reduced to its component parts. Whereas continuity montage is always potentially co-optable by totalizing schemes, collision-based montage is intended "to make manifest the contradictions of Being" (Eisenstein 46)—a process that Walter Benjamin would later term "the politicization of the aesthetic."
Replacing Benjamin's concept of "the age of mechanical reproduction," W. J. T. Mitchell characterizes the Twenty First century as the age of "biocybernetic reproduction." In Taymor's film, I shall argue, Prospera's unique heritage "reproduces" her as the site of a biocybernetic struggle. White, Western, imperializing, and male, Prospero is the quintessential Shakespearean patriarch and a figure whose magic we might think of as cybernetic—operationalized through C3I—the military paradigm known as command-control-communication-intelligence. Within this system, Ariel plays a crucial role as the literal interface between Prospero and his enemies. Sycorax, by contrast, is the profoundly "not-Shakespearean" matriarch who bequeaths to Prospera an ability to subdue the natural world, or bios, along with a keen awareness of her own place in the hierarchy as an oppressed female subject. Caliban, Sycorax's son and the island's only native, holds the key to Prospera's delicate navigation of this colonial paradigm. Whereas Caliban functions as Prospera's limbs by hauling firewood and performing other "offices that serve" the maintenance of her authority (1.2.313), Ariel functions as the sinews of her mind, purveying her thoughts to their material execution. Together, they collide to reinvent Prospera as a montage effect that epitomizes a distinctly posthuman and, indeed, biocybernetic "concept of agency . . . where actors fit oddly, at best, into previous taxa of the human, the natural, or the constructed" (Haraway 21). Ultimately, in Taymor's film, Ariel becomes more monstrous while Caliban becomes more human, as Prospera must come to identify, in the end, more with "this thing of darkness" than with her "diligent spirit." In so doing, Taymor's Tempest dramatizes the "contradictions of Being" female in the Twenty-First-Century.