Prospero, the Duke of Milan, is deposed of, and along with his daughter Miranda, they are drifting at sea until they find an island which becomes their new home. Together they have been stranded for twelve years. Ariel, a spirit trapped within a tree, helps them. Caliban, the son of the witch Sycorax, is kept in servitude by Prospero after he attempts to rape his daughter Miranda. Then, when his brother Antonio (the one who has taken his dukedom away from him) is on a ship passing by the island, Prospero uses his magical powers to trigger a storm, leaving the survivors stranded on the island. Caliban gets acquainted with Stephano and Trinculo whom he believes have fallen from the moon. Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love, helped by Prospero’s spells. Antonio and Sebastian plot to kill Alonso, in order to let Sebastian become king, but Ariel disrupts their plans. At the end, all the main characters are brought together ; Prospero forgives his brother Alonso for what he has done, he also forgives Antonio and Sebastian in spite of their betrayal, and asks Ariel to allow the safe travel of the boat back to Naples, where Ferdinand and Miranda will be married. He also forgives Caliban and invites the audience to listen to the story of his life on the island.Retour en haut de page
The greatest of Shakespeare’s plays ?
“The Tempest” is Shakespeare at his most magical. The rightful but deposed duke of Milan, Prospero, now a mighty sorcerer, holds sway over the elements and spirits of his Island, when an opportunity for vengeance appears in the guise of a shipwreck. Using his powers, he is able to engineer both his reinstallation as Duke and the perfect love match for his daughter. The villains of the play are some of the more interesting characters. The most obvious is the monstrous but simple Caliban, who is given some of Shakespeare’s greatest insults but interestingly, the far more perfidious villains are the humans, whose plans and plotting left Prospero on the Island in the first place. Of course, every great play requires a great love. The love between Ferdinand and Miranda is instantaneous, but Prospero forces Ferdinand through his very own love’s labours to create one of the most endearing pairings of any of Shakespeare’s plays. However the greatest character development is with Prospero himself. Despite all the pains his persecutors have caused, he manages to find forgiveness in his heart in order to return home, creating the lasting message of The Tempest, one of peace and reconciliation.Retour en haut de page
Sources of inspiration
Shakespeare mentions numerous sources of inspiration for what is probably the most extraordinary tragicomedy of all times, full of sombre and light-hearted moments, filled with the five elements : wind (Ariel), fire (Caliban), sea (the tempest itself, the sea around the island), earth (the mysterious island), and the sky (the man fallen from the moon), but also enlightening the audience with a perfect combination of masculine and female elements (Prospero and Miranda, Ariel and Caliban…).
Firstly, there is talk of a German play, “Comedia von der schonen Sidea” by Jacob Ayrer, which also talks of a stranded magician with his daughter, who ends up falling in love with the son of her father’s enemy. Then there is the story of the shipwreck of the Adventurers and Company of Virginia in 1609, which Shakespeare would have heard of. The survivors apparently spent nine months on Bermuda, before making it to Jamestown, the recent English settlement in America. When news of their survival came to England, through the publication of two accounts, “The discovery of the Barmudas”, and “A declaration of the Estate of the colony in Virginia”, it created a sensation. Then, also quoted as possible sources are Erasmus’s “Naufragium”, but some also recognise behind the modern Shakespeare, many of the fantasy and colours of the Commedia dell’arte heritage : a magician, a monster who could be a hunchback, an ethereal spirit, a story of treason, a young and pure woman etc. There is also of course the perceivable influence of Montaigne in Les Essais about the chapter on “Les cannibales” in Gonzalo’s depiction of a perfect society : “All things in common nature should produce without sweat or endeavour : treason, felony, Sword, pike, knife, or need of any engine Would I not have…”. Interestingly, there are also numerous mentions of “The man in the moone” in the scene between Caliban, Stephano, Trinculo : “C : Hast thou not dropped from heaven ? S : Out o’the moon, I assure thee : I was the Man in the Moon, when time was.”. We can’t believe that Francis Godwin would not be aware of “The Tempest” ; therefore he must have thought about “The Tempest” at some point when writing The man in the moone, or Shakespeare refers to something that both he and Godwin were familiar with at the beginning of the Seventeenth century, but that modern readers are unaware of. Or maybe it is Shakespeare who has fallen from the moon ?Retour en haut de page
Magic at its best
Moments of beauty are so common in “The Tempest” that we would not know when to stop. We just chose three moments of poetic arrest, starting with one of our favourite Shakespeare moments, this quote by Caliban :
“Be not afeard : the isle is full of noises, Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears ; and sometimes voices, That, if I then had wak’d after long sleep, Will make me sleep again : and then, in dreaming, The clouds methought would open and show riches Ready to drop upon me ; that, when I wak’d, I cried to dream again.”]
Or Prospero :
And finally Miranda :
“O, wonder ! How many goodly creatures are there here ! How beauteous mankind is ! O brave new world That has such people in’t !”
Some say that God created the world, the Dutch created the Netherlands, the Italians the modern stage with the Commedia dell’arte and the Opera, but Shakespeare probably created the English language.
© 2013- Les Éditions de Londres