Performing Prospero: Intertextual Strategies in John Banville’s Ghosts
This essay investigates John Banville’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the second novel of his Frames Trilogy, Ghosts (1993). It situates this adaptation against the background of Banville’s overall postmodern intertextual project and the scattered references to Shakespeare’s plays throughout his oeuvre. If most of these references can be categorised as intertextual quotations and intertextual allusions, typically ironic or playful, the more sustained engagement with the plot, setting, characters and themes of The Tempest in Ghosts qualifies as an adaptation. Ghosts draws on the play’s concern with theatricality, art and morality to explore the dubious moral power of the imagination. For, although the first-person narrator of Ghosts tries to style himself as Caliban, he really is a Prospero figure who uses his imaginative powers to conjure up a world and control its characters. Yet, unlike Prospero, the narrator of Ghosts can find no release from these powers under a postmodern condition in which the real is always a representation, the original always a copy and a text always an intertextual web of quotations.