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Love Conquers All?

A Review of Korea’s Mokwha Repertory Company’s The Tempest 

When a single father decides it is time for his daughter to marry, very seldom will he simultaneously plan revenge against a bitter enemy.  But as in the case of King Zilzi, even the best of schemes can take a turn for the worse when plots overlap and your daughter falls in love with the son of your enemy.

In this 2011 production of “The Tempest”, Korea’s Mokwha Repertory Company brings to life Shakespeare’s tale of love, forgiveness, and happily ever after. As indicated on the production website, Director Tae-Suk Oh intertwines Shakespeare’s original storyline with Korean history and tradition.

The opening scene of the performance is strikingly memorable. Under the choreographic instruction of Keun-Sung Moon[K1] , the dancers glide wordlessly together across a darkened stage to the sound of a traditional Korean drum, casting a momentary image of calming ocean waves. As the drumming accelerates, the dancers become a choppy sea. At the very climax of the music, directed by Eun-Jeung Wu, the dancers fall to chaos as the crew of the ship, while the tempest rages on.

As in the first scene, the accompanying music for the production is equally moving throughout the performance. With the use of original Korean drums and flutes as well as traditional songs, the audience is taken back to a simpler time without grand orchestras and musicians. King Zilzi is even given his own musical theme to signify when he releases his magic. Overall, Keun-Sung Moon does an excellent job in creating a score of music to guide the audience through the progression of the play.

Although the use of props and set decorations (Eun-A Cho) is minimal, it seems fitting for a deserted island with very few inhabitants. It also succeeds at focusing the audience’s attention on the actors’ movements and expressions. For viewers unfamiliar with the Korean language, the actors’ expressions, inflection and body language are vital in understanding the play.

Costuming is also key in helping identify players. Seung-Mu Lee’s work is by no means exquisite or ornate; however, each piece describes the character being portrayed. The daughter’s garments were tattered and dirty; showing her life on the island was one of work rather than relaxation. King Zabi, the prince, and their shipwrecked companions all wear finer clothes, showing power and title, an easy lifestyle.

But particularly interesting is Lee’s use of masks to indicate the invisible spirits commanded by King Zilzi. It is ironic that the characters meant to be invisible have by far the more intricate and detailed costumes of the entire cast.


Caliban attempting to capture and claim Zilzi’s daughter in a scene from the performance (Edinburgh International Festival).

King Zilzi and his daughter effectively remind both parents and youth that seeing eye to eye with each other is downright difficult, especially in teen years. After all, how many teens want their father to marry them off or understand why he wants revenge on events occurring over a decade ago?

The young daughter and the shipwrecked prince capture hearts with their fairy-tale love-at-first-sight relationship. While it may be viewed as puppy love, the couple shows some level of maturity as they work to complete the tasks the king has assigned the prince, proving that while young love may be short, it can still be true.

It’s notable that in this adaptation of “The Tempest”, Caliban is a two headed human figure. In fact the two heads are constantly at war with each other, adding an additional layer of humor to an already preposterous figure.

Caliban, Zilzi’s main spirit, as well as Zabi’s men all show a resistance to power and resent being under the command of anyone but themselves. They plan murders, robberies, and uprisings even though all of their attempts are futile.

When at last the prince and daughter’s love is secured, and Zabi has reunited with his son, Zilzi is persuaded by the young couple’s love to end his attempt at revenge. The two families are united with love and come to a truce, conquering past grievances.

The play ends happily to the delight of viewers and cast. Overall the performance provides a significant amount of entertainment with funny one-liners as well as moments of hold-your-breath suspense.

Tae-Suk Oh and the Mokwha Repertory Company weave a wonderful that captures imagination and emotion, pulling you deep into the production. “The Tempest” presents the audience with a unique and memorable rendition of Shakespeare’s work while smoothly incorporating Korean culture and traditions.

 Kali Hartzold is a second year student at The Ohio State University. She is an athletic training major from Bloomington, Illinois. In her free time she enjoys attending sporting events, reading, and spending times with friends.


This guest post is one installment of revised student reviews of plays watched on the MIT Global Shakespeares digital archive