The Play’s the Thing: Prospero, ousted from his position as Duke of Milan by his brother, Antonio, is living on a deserted island with his daughter, Miranda. However, as luck would have it, Prospero is a bit of a sorcerer and the island is full of spirits, including Ariel who is loyal to Prospero after he released the spirit from his imprisonment. Also hanging out on the island is Caliban, the deformed bastard son of a witch (seriously) who is the slave of Prospero and absolutely detests him. Prospero uses Ariel’s powers to cause the titular tempest that founders a ship carrying Alonso, the king of Naples, the king’s brother, Sebastian, the king’s son, Ferdinand, Prospero’s brother, Antonio, and a few other lords and all the other people you’d expect to travel around with the king. Between Prospero and Ariel, they use their magic to split up the group on the island and torment many of them as punishment for the roles they played in aiding Antonio in usurping Prospero. Left alone, Ferdinand encounters and falls in love with Miranda, with Prospero’s blessing. Sebastian and Antonio plot to murder Alonso but are punished for their plotting and their entire group fall into madness. A couple of servants fall in with Caliban who plot to murder Prospero and are punished for their efforts. The play ends with Prospero revealing himself to the royal party, forgiving his brother for the overthrow, regaining his dukedom, and the king blessing Ferdinand and Miranda’s planned marriage.
Heroes and Villains: The proud winner of the prize of my favourite character in this play is (drumroll please) Gonzalo. Not only does he win for having a truly epic name that reminds me a little of Gonzo, but because the man enters into a really fantastic banter session with several of the other lords when they land on the island in Act II that is full of puns. A close runner-up is Stephano whose character description is actually drunken butler and when he shows up in the final act with all of the other characters is recognized for the fact of being the drunken butler. I bet his momma’s proud.
Wordsmith: Shakespeare coined many phrases that are now a common part of the vernacular. Some that cropped up in The Tempest include:
- sea-change (I.ii )
- what’s past is prologue (II.i)
- misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows (II.ii)
- brave new world (V.i)
- in such a pickle (V.i) -> this one blows my mind
Insults with Style: No one can craft an insult like Shakespeare and ignoring some of the more common ones like dog, whoreson, and cur (which will do in a pinch), there are still some choice terms with which to wither someone you really dislike. Only one insult that stands apart from the standards cropped up in The Tempest, but it’s definitely a gooder: “you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog!” (I.i)
Speech You Must Know: In Act IV scene i, Prospero gives the following speech to Ferdinand:
“Our revels now are ended : these our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind: We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
View from the Pit: The Tempest is just one island full of crazy sauce. Prospero is running around putting everyone who ever bothered him through some really nutty hoops with the help of Ariel, who is Prospero’s loyal sidekick but really just wants to be free (think the Genie in Aladdin). Meanwhile, Miranda falls for the first man, other than her father, she’s ever met and he is also immediately smitten with her (unbelievable love at first sight, party of two), but they really crack me up because when they’re finally revealed to Alonso, they’re playing chess. Nothing wins a girl’s heart like a good game of chess, apparently. While there’s quite a lot of crazy going on in this play with a liberal dose of comedy, on the page it’s unclear why Prospero forgives his brother so easily. Maybe it’s because if Antonio didn’t give up the dukedom, Prospero would just ditch him on the island with Caliban. There are a lot of sub-plots and none of them really go anywhere, but it’s enjoyable to just watch the nutty express go by and have the happy ending arrive with love and fairness for all.
I will eventually be watching the new adaptation of The Tempest with Helen Mirren, but I’m still waiting in the hold line for it at the library. So look for that review in a couple of weeks. Next week will be the first dose of twin comedy, with Two Gentleman of Verona.