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I was surprised to discover how little I knew of this play. The central character is Prospero, former Duke of Milan and now stranded magician; he manages to capture his former political enemies on his island, and compels one of them to marry his daughter while confusing the others with sorcery.

Particularly since this is the last of Shakespeare's solo plays, it's attractive to see Prospero as the playwright himself, manipulating the spirits and the visitors to the island as the playwright does the actors and the audience. I find him an unsettling, sinister character, and his brother was probably right to kick him out of office in Milan. (Another post coming on Prospero and the First Doctor.)

The Caliban narrative is also instructive: Prospero has landed on the island and dispossessed and enslaved the indigenous inhabitants, decrying them as less than fully human. Jonathan Bate has written of Aimé Césaire's production of The Tempest which explicitly referenced the Caribbean; I can think of an island closer to Shakespeare geographically where this was happening in real life.

As with the last couple of plays, we have an extended interruption of a musical nature - the pagan goddesses who appear to bless Ferdinand and Miranda, plus Ariel is using music as a weapon throughout the play. This must be quite a challenge to stage, and it is one which the Arkangel audio production doesn't quite rise to; indeed, despite a pretty stellar cast (Simon Russell Beale, Adrian Lester) it doesn't really feel confident in itself. But I have got hold of the 1980 BBC production and may see if I can get more enlightenment from it.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 15th, 2009 04:49 pm (UTC)
I love The Tempest; it has a special place in my heart as (A) the play that finally convinced me that Shakespeare Didn't Suck (along with The Taming of the Shrew), and also as the source of the material for my final exam in Theater.
May. 15th, 2009 04:55 pm (UTC)
This is probably my favourite Shakespeare play, but I have to add I've never actually seen one, I've only read them.
Perhaps you will like Dan Simmons' "Ilium" (and "Olympos") a little better now that you've read "The Tempest" AND Proust?
May. 15th, 2009 05:09 pm (UTC)
>>his brother was probably right to kick him out of office in Milan. << I thought Prospero admits as much (something about too much time spent with books) but also think that his brother is no good because of the whole thing with the king.
May. 16th, 2009 11:01 am (UTC)
I've seen The Tempest twice, both in 2000, and both were incredibly skilled performances (Boston's Shakespeare in the Park performance, and London's Globe Theater with Vanessa Redgrave as Prospero). Obviously most of the skill lay with the cast, but subtle special effects helped as well. Though both had generous props/effects budgets, the way they made the "magic" an obvious sleight of hand (and not a genuinely inexplicable act of technical wizardry) was exceptionally effective. Ariel was there, you could understand the artistry of how it was accomplished, and that then allowed you to ignore that aspect from then on, to lose yourself in the rest of the play.
May. 16th, 2009 11:45 am (UTC)
blah blah "Forbidden Planet"
May. 16th, 2009 06:41 pm (UTC)
The Peter Greenaway film "Prospero's Books" is also well worth a look once you've seen the play.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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