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The Tempest by William Shakespeare - Great Read, Great Edition!

The Tempest by William Shakespeare - Great Read, Great Edition!

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Published by: kellyp285 on Jun 15, 2011
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The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Great Read, Great Edition!

It is entirely probable that the date of The Tempest is 1611, and that this was the last play completed by Shakespeare before he retired from active connection with the theater to spend the remainder of his life in leisure in his native town of Stratford-on-Avon. The main thread of the plot of the drama seems to have been some folk-tale of a magician and his daughter, which, in the precise form in which Shakespeare knew it, has not been recovered. The storm and the island were, it is believed, suggested by the wreck on the Bermudas in 1609 of one of the English expeditions to Virginia. Traces are found, too, of the author¿s reading in contemporary books of travel. But the plot itself is of less importance than usual. Supernatural elements are introduced with great freedom, and the dramatist¿s interest was clearly not in the reproduction of lifelike events. The presentation of character and the attractive picturing of the beauty of magnanimity and forgiveness are the things which, along with its delightful poetry, make the charm of this play. It is not to be wondered at that readers have frequently been led to find in the figure of the great magician, laying aside his robes and wonder-working rod in a spirit of love and peace toward all men, a symbol of the dramatist himself at the close of his great career; and it is surely legitimate to play with this idea without assuming that Shakespeare consciously embodied it. One can hardly conceive a more fitting epilogue to the volume which is the crown of the world¿s dramatic literature than the romance of The Tempest.

Personal Review: The Tempest by William Shakespeare
I have read THE TEMPEST again and again - usually after a break of several years - and it never fails to surprise and confound me. I can't think of many works of fiction that have undergone so many changes in interpretation and staging. (I will refrain from giving a synopsis, assuming that it's readily available here and elsewhere, and instead focus on interpretation).

What is the play about? It's about power struggles, shipwrecks, murder or intended murder, revenge, forgiveness, restitutuion, servitude and rebellion, the enlightening and corrupting influence of booklearning, sorcery, innocent young love, resignation.....Are there any large themes that have been left out? There are dazzling special effects, there is humor, bawdiness, entertainment appealing to a broad audience. The castaway Prospero has been likened to a theatrical Robinson Crusoe or seen as a Faustian figure who sells his soul in exchange for magical powers; as the playwright himself who bids farewell to show business (THE TEMPEST was Shakespeare's last play); as the colonial usurper who seizes control of a paradisical island and subjugates the natives. Ah - and then there is Caliban. He has been represented as half man/half beast, misshapen, uncouth, barbaric - the missing link. Or as the oppressed native, naively trusting the white conqueror, accepting tyranny and exploitation while nurturing hatred in his breast. At the pinnacle of this evolution is the "noble savage", a proud and disdainful figure, well-spoken and highly sensitive to music and aesthetic values while being forced to do the most menial and degrading work. And what about Ariel? Does he play Mephistopheles to Prospero's Faust? Is he the real Master? His days as a pleasant, airy sprite with an unlimited repertoire of magic tricks seem to be over. Feminists object to the treatment of Miranda: she does her father's bidding without question; she falls in love with the first young man she sees. And, I'm told, she got her biggest laugh from the Shakespearean audience when she uttered the famous lines: "How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in it." All this when meeting a bunch of scoundrels who have survived the shipwreck. What pernicious irony! Miranda is Prospero's creature in every way (we never hear a word about her mother): a fantasy, an invention. The new (2008) Modern Library edition backed by the Royal Shakespeare Company has interesting pictures of various stagings and interviews with well-known directors. RSC actors who played Prospero, from John Gielgud to Derek Jacobi and Alec McCowen have adapted the role to their own understanding of it. It is impossible to read the play today and not have these images in the back of one's mind. You may cringe, you may object or be disgusted (in one RSC production, people in the audience shouted "Rubbish!" when Ariel spat in Prospero's face after being released by him. The director "rather liked it". He had envisioned Ariel as a rebellious teenager escaping from a controlling father). And then there is the beautiful poetry. "We are such stuff as dreams are made on" and Prospero's final, haunting plea:"But release me from my bands/ With the help of your good hands" and "As you from crimes would pardoned be/Let your indulgence set me free".

So - is it all a Tempest of the Mind? A sort of catharsis for the audience? I urge you to read the play again. It will undoubtedly trouble you, as it did me. But perhaps you will come up with a new and entirely different interpretation. Set him free? Not a chance. We simply can't do without him.

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