In this re-write of Shakespeare’s play, Caliban saves the exiled Prospero and his little daughter Miranda when they washed up on his island—the way indigenous people saved European settlers. And then Prospero enslaves him and takes his island. He seduces him as well: Caliban is gay—just as Shakespeare himself, to use our language, not his, was certainly bisexual; the love of his life was a man. Prospero invents a theoretical creature and calls him Ariel. He rejects his earthy lover in favor of his own invention. Caliban revolts—against Prospero, against Shakespeare, against God. He forces Shakespeare to confront his own true Monster, which is not Caliban, but rather his own inner darkness and denial.
Here are two brief extracts from the play, as performed at an industry session at the Festival de Casteliers in Montreal on March 11, 2018. (WILL, Nicolas Dave Amott; CALIBAN, Jake Smith; CALIBAN’s voice, Brad Brackenridge; Photo Marc Gilbert.)
(Three performers enter, carrying a trunk, singing a love song derived from Shakespeare’s sonnets and set to music by Brendan Taaffe. As the song finishes, two performers place the trunk and open it, removing the Caliban mask, a black sheet, and the Prospero life-size puppet.)
(Voices of all three performers, in unison.)
In telling you this story, I use language, your language. But when I found the vessel and the man and the child, I had no words. I was alone here, on this island, my island.
(PERFORMER #1 puts on the CALIBAN mask and shrouds himself in a black sheet, grunting and snorting like a bison, as the others continue speaking. CALIBAN moves on all fours.)
There was no before and after, there was only now. I lived without knowing that I lived. Now I understand that there was a time before the boat, and a time after. I can speak. I belong to time, and to you. But not then.
(CALIBAN finds the child; takes it in his arms.)
So I saw these two living creatures, who looked and smelled unlike any other thing I’d ever known. I pitied them. I took up the mewling child. I looked around the wooden cave that seemed to be their home. They had water. They were provisioned. I fed the child. She fell asleep in my arms.
(CALIBAN moves, with the child, to the far edge of the stage.)
So that was the beginning.
(PROSPERO awakens from long sleep.)
(PERFORMER #2 delivers this line; CALIBAN is still inarticulate at this point in the play.)
I laid the child gently on the ground near the edge of the woods, for him to see that she was safe, unharmed.
(PERFORMER #1, draped as the bison, lays down the child. He removes his mask, locks eyes with the puppet PROSPERO; replaces the mask. He backs away. He gestures toward her, and backs further away. PROSPERO does not move. He scans the trees; he scans the empty sea, the long beach in both directions. CALIBAN turns and joins the woods, and watches, unseen, from the dim as slowly, slowly, puppet PROSPERO advances toward the child, and takes her in his arms.)
(Night. It’s 1603 and Will Shakespeare is alone, looking for a hero for his next play. He is searching for masks in the trunk, and fails to find the one he wants—stalwart ANTONIO, the gay seaman from Twelfth Night. In the previous scene (not included here), ANTONIO has visited the rejected CALIBAN and explained to him that he’s not alone; that most of Shakespeare’s heroes are gay; that Shakespeare himself is bisexual and male-male relationships are the only nurturing ones in his work; but that all those same sex relationships are frustrated, like his own, and like Caliban’s.)
Antonio! Antonio! It’s me, Will. I have a part for you, a big one, a wonderful part, in fact I have two, both strong and manly and faithful. You’ll love them both.
Dear Antonio. Be reasonable. I need you. I can’t people a play without you – and here we are, it’s only 1603 and I have so much more to do. The best is still to come. There’s a great part for you in a piece I’m planning – Coriolanus. And there’s more. Enobarbus. Honest Kent, still unwritten. There’s possibly a dozen more. You are my secret collaborator, you’re my gay muse. I know that, I admit that, I give you that. I need you, Antonio. You can’t forsake me now.
(WILL has picked up CALIBAN, without realizing it. The puppet rears up and confronts him. For the duration of the scene, PERFORMER #2 and WILL himself jointly animate the CALIBAN puppet, with WILL managing its head while the other puppeteer provides both arms. Caliban’s voice is provided by PERFORMER #3 from the edge of the stage.)
Who are you?
Antonio won’t answer any more.
Sure he will. He always answers.
No, Will. No. You have used our faithful, ass-fucking Antonio once too often. You’ve humiliated him. You’ve cheated and betrayed him. So now, when you need him again, for some new play, he’s angry. He’s sent me, instead.
And who are you?
I am the price of your denial. I am Antonio’s revenge. Not just revenge on the respectable ones, the safe, good, virtuous heterosexual fuckers who do their duty and populate this sceptr’d isle, this England, but – I warn you, Will, I warn you – he’ll have his revenge on you.
You wrote that play. You wrote that part. You put gay love, our love, on the stage – and then you betrayed it.
Necessity, my friend, necessity! It wasn’t personal. You should thank me for the recognition that I gave. And before some audiences – private audiences – that opening scene? With young Sebastian? Marlow had nothing on me.
You should have made a different ending. You should have made us happy. It was a comedy, Will – so everyone except the two gay lovers ends up happy? That’s betrayal, buddy, and you of all men. You! The reigning queen of secret London. You could have made a political statement. You could have told it like it is. You could have been before your time. It sucks, what you did, you coward, and Antonio isn’t playing your games any more. You can call and call, but he won’t come. Or if he does –
If he agrees to visit your immense imagination, if he agrees to gift your creaky plot with the latent power of his masculinity; if he allows you to give him words, and those words will, semen-like, carry all your paying customers to another world, a world in which they can briefly glimpse truths and beauties otherwise unvisited in their poor ignorant, smelly, crowded, brief, brief, lives –
OK, OK, cut the fustian, what’s his condition? Or yours?
You’ve got it backwards, Will. You still imagine that you’re in charge. You think you’re the boss, but you aren’t. I’ll be waiting for you, in your dreams – or your nightmares. I’ll be lurking out there, when you sit down to write your next play. You’ve murdered good safe honest Antonio. You’ve sacrificed him and his love on the little altar of your resperespectability. So like Banquo’s ghost, I’ll turn up instead of him – whether you want me it or not. Especially if you don’t. I’ll surprise you. I’ll be there, giving you words, beckoning you, leading you on. And you won’t be able to write anything, unless you answer me. Oh don’t worry, Will, it will all be safely heterosexual. Nothing unnatural here. I’ll show you natural law. I’ll show you male and female. I’ll show you procreative union. I’ll show you lawful matrimony. Antonio is now Iago.