I was pleased to discover that there is a big interest in Shakespeare among readers, so I decided that this article would be about one of my favorites, The Tempest.
About the Author
I figure that everyone is pretty familiar with The Bard of Avon, but I’ll give you a brief overview. William Shakespeare was born on April 26th, 1564 in Stratford Upon Avon to a glove maker father and a mother who was the daughter of a wealthy landowning farmer. He attended school, and when he was 18 married a woman named Anne Hathaway (no, not the actress from The Devil Wears Prada). They were married in a hurry, and Anne had a baby girl, Susannah, six months later, which explains the rush of the marriage.
They had two more babies, twin boys, and then the facts of Shakespeare’s life get a little bit muddy. These “lost years” last until his emergence into London theatre in 1592. He would continue to write until his death on April 23rd, 1616, just three days before his 53rd birthday.
Shakespeare is one of the most influential people in history with the English language. He invented many words and phrases that we still use in language today.
Some words from The Tempest he invented:
Some phrases are:
- In a pickle
- Vanish into thin air
- Fair play
- Brave new world
- Refuse to budge an inch
- Melted into thin air
- Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows
- What’s past is prologue
- Sea change
- Such stuff as dream are made on
His words are known as some of the most beautiful words ever written. One of my most favorite quotes actually comes from The Tempest:
This music crept by me upon the waters,
Allaying both their fury and my passion
With its sweet air.
Thence I have followed it,
Or it hath drawn me rather.
Why I Read
I had always wanted to read this play because it is his only play that is known as both a comedy and a tragedy. Although his comedies are all tragic and his tragedies are all comedic, they are split into either one of the two categories depending on whether there is a marriage or a death at the end. This play has both. The Tempest is also a significant play to me because it is the last play that he ever wrote.
About the Play
It starts off with a ship in the middle of a huge storm, or tempest. The lords Antonio, Ferdinand, Sebastian, Alonso, Gonzalo, Stephano and Trinculo are on board on the way to Italy. The storm gets worse, and they end up getting shipwrecked on a remote island, where Miranda and her father Prospero, who has the gift of magic, live. Miranda is worried about the men aboard the ship, but Prospero tells her that he had orchestrated the storm, with the help of Ariel, who is a spirit. Prospero explains to her that he wrecked the ship because one of the men aboard the ship, Antonio, is his brother. 12 years previously, Antonio had usurped Prospero’s dukedom, and Prospero wants back what is rightfully his.
Miranda goes off to sleep, and Ariel tells Prospero that all of the lords are safely on the island, as Prospero had ordered. We meet Caliban, a wild, rude, and barbaric inhabitant of the island who is magically enslaved by Prospero. Caliban is very unreserved about his amorous feelings for Miranda, which is part of the reason why Prospero is so disinclined towards him.
Ariel, at the request of Prospero, orchestrates a meeting between Miranda and Ferdinand.
Miranda, who is in her late teens, has never met a man before other than her father. She is confused and delighted by her rapidly growing crush on Ferdinand, the handsome man from aboard the ship. He easily returns the feelings towards her, and Prospero has Ferdinand carry out some demeaning tasks on order to make sure that he is worthy of his daughter.
Meanwhile, the other shipmates are looking for Ferdinand, who they think has drowned.
Some silly events transpire, spurred on by alcohol, such as plans to kill the king (which Ariel convinces them out of), Caliban convincing them to kill Prospero, and some silliness from the jester. Prospero sends Ariel out to play some tricks on them in their inebriated state to keep them out of his way. He then entrances them and lays out a magical banquet for the drunken lords.
While this is going on, Prospero is summoning the inhabitants of the island to celebrate the engagement of Miranda and Ferdinand. To keep trouble at bay, he has Ariel and the rest of the spirits of the island chase away Caliban and the other people who plotted to kill him. He vows that once he has achieved his desire, he will relinquish his magical powers and set Ariel free.
Ariel leads the lords of the ship, who are still in a trance, to Prospero, who awakens them.
They beg forgiveness from him, which he grants. Antonia surrenders the dukedom to Prospero, at which point Miranda and Ferdinand are revealed. Ariel takes the shipmates back to their ship. Caliban states his regret for his behavior and promises to start behaving better. Prospero then relinquishes his power over Ariel, setting the spirit free. He then turns to the audience and asks, through a beautiful soliloquy, to release him as well:
Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have ‘s mine own,
Which is most faint. Let me not,
In this bare island dwell by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
I loved this play. It has everything – adventure, romance, magic… It had wonderfully real relationships in spite of the fanciful elements. It’s my idea of what a fairytale should be. Some of the most beautiful words that Shakespeare has ever written, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, are peppered throughout the play. Shakespeare’s last play is an enchanting end to a miraculous career.
Our main protagonist. Father to Miranda and brother to Antonio. He was the Duke of Milan, but had his title usurped by his brother and forced to flee to a remote island with his daughter. He has spent the last 12 years honing his magic skills in order to take back the dukedom, which is rightfully his, and to learn the power of forgiveness.
Daughter of Prospero. Naive and sheltered. She has never even seen another man since she moved to the island with her father as a small child, having only met Ariel and the other spirits of the island. She is a true romantic and falls in love at first sight with Ferdinand. Miranda is very tender and compassionate.
The handsome shipmate who gets stranded on the island and falls in love with Miranda. He seems as naive and pure as Miranda, and obediently does his duties to Prospero in order to win her hand.
A spirit under the service of Prospero after Prospero had saved him from imprisonment of a witch. Although Ariel is referred to in the play as “he”, he gender is actually ambiguous. He is forever grateful to Prospero, who is very kind to him, but he does long for his freedom. After serving loyally for all of these years, Prospero does set him free at the end.
The son of the witch from whom Prospero rescued Ariel. He is a savage and coarse and believes that Prospero has stolen the island from him. He is lewd towards Miranda, and Prospero is not shy about his dislike for Caliban.
The power-hungry brother of Prospero. He stole the dukedom from Prospero and plots to kill the king.
A lord on the ship. He helped Prospero and Miranda escape after Antonia usurped the dukedom. Very honest and good, he provides sincere insight on the characters and the state of the island.
Trinculo and Stephano
A jester and a butler, these two drunken characters are the comedy relief.
He appears in only two scenes. He is kind and helpful, almost naively cheerful.
So, that’s The Tempest! Shakespeare is quite a trek. A good and fun trek (for me, anyway), but a trek nonetheless. I love the challenge of understanding the elevated language; it’s almost like a puzzle.
Let me know what your favorite Shakespeare play is!
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My name is Andrea and I live in Los Angeles, California. By day, I am an actor and by night I am working towards a degree in nutritional science.