Monday, July 30, 2012

The Tempest in the Opening Ceremony

Branagh, Kenneth. "Be not afeard." By William Shakespeare. Opening Ceremony. Olympics, London, 2012. Dir. Danny Boyle. 27 July 2012.

When you heard that the 2012 Olympic Games in London would be opened by the ringing of an enormous bell inscribed with a quotation from Shakespeare, each one of you had an idea of what it would be. Those who admire the equestrian events were hoping for "My kingdom for a horse" while soccer fans expected "You base football player," a quote from King Lear. I wished for "Your hands than mine are quicker for a fray, / My legs are longer though, to run away" from Midsummer Night's Dream—or even "[They] shall with speed to England" from Hamlet, but I thought it much more likely that the famous speech from Richard II would make the final cut:
This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. (II.i.40-42, 50)
When I learned that it was from one of Caliban's speeches in The Tempest instead, I was a bit perplexed, especially considering the complicated ways in which Caliban's character has been read and the fact that the quote comes from a scene in which Caliban is urging the violent overthrow of Prospero. The line on the bell is short:
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises. (III.ii.135)
As inscribed, it has no context—not even the context of its author's name. All the same, it carries a calming sense.

In the opening ceremony, Kenneth Branagh delivered the speech in its entirety, re-contextualizing it as a speech of promise. The opening ceremony itself took a historical approach—and one that wasn't always sentimentalized. The opening song was the hymn "Jerusalem," its lyrics by William Blake. That song mentions "England's mountains green" and its "pleasant pastures" as well as the "dark Satanic Mills" usually read as the devastation of the Industrial Revolution. And the opening ceremony reflected both the joys of an English country green and the humble sports played upon it and the smokestacks and greed wrought by the Industrial Revolution. But the conclusion of the song points toward the hope of the redemption of the land and a determination to reverse the damage done to it.

Branagh's delivery of the speech from The Tempest similarly recognizes the ills done by the isle while hoping for a reversal of those ills.

Update: The BBC has released a six-disc set of the London 2012 Olympic Games; I was able to put together the following clip from it. I've left the two other permutations of the clip below.

Some kind soul operating under the on-line name Mikeatle captured Branagh's delivery of the speech. It is embedded below; below it is my own clip of the speech—in case Mikeatle's disappears; below that is the full text of the speech:

Note: The clip immediately above has been edited to bring the ringing of the bell closer to the delivery of the speech. I've also removed the commentary and extended both the ringing of the bell and the applause after the speech.
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices,
That if I then had wak'd after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again, and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I wak'd,
I cried to dream again. (III.ii.135-43)
What do you think? Is this an overly-optimistic reading of the speech? Does this address the issues of postcolonialism raised by the play itself? Does Kenneth Branagh always deliver speeches from Shakespeare in the voice of Henry V and with a matching soundtrack?

No one can emote awe and childlike wonder better than Kenneth Branagh.

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1 comment:

Rob Curry said...

I've always felt the speech reflected the idyllic nature of the island before the arrival of the colonial invaders. Ie Prospero and Miranda. It's complicated of course by the fact that in theory Sycorax herself was initially a colonial invader! Either way it's been great for us that the Olympic Ceremony chose to use the speech that's the centrepiece of the film version we've just completed!

Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest