Tuesday, 19 February 2013
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
I had forgotten how great this play is. Rereading it was like sinking into a hot bath at the end of a long day and I loved revisiting all of the familiar characters and plot-lines. I was surprised at how many lines I remembered and how all of the critical analysis I had learned came right back, but not in a way that interrupted the story. The more I read Shakespeare, the more I learn that familiarity is essential to a magical reading experience. It's a good to have a background in the critical response to the play, but nothing should get in the way of the story. This is why all my rereads have been more successful than original reads so far.
One of the best things about The Tempest is the island itself. It's enchanted, full of spirits (like the mischievous Ariel) and strange happenings. It's a character in it's own right and Caliban describes it wonderfully in my favourite passage;
"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 sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop on me, that when I waked,
I cried to dream again."
How beautiful is that? I remember being caught up during my first reading as a student with the idea of the story as a metaphor for colonisation. Prospero finds this wonderful, undiscovered paradise but soon sets about enslaving the inhabitants, using their differences as moral justification. This can been seen as an analogy for slavery or for the creation of the empires, and Shakespeare appears to be reflecting the views of the time. It seems like a simple reading of the story until you get Caliban, a stupid, ugly creature according to Prospero, delivering some of the most beautiful lines of the whole play. Caliban is deliberately ambiguous and now that I am older (and a tiny bit wiser!), I can see that this ambiguity is a far more fitting way of describing what happened when Europeans first started to discover the world.
I also remember writing lots of essays about Prospero as a stand-in for Shakespeare, drowning his books at the end of the play just as Shakespeare metaphorically puts down his quill. But on this reading I was struck by the love story between Miranda and Ferdinand, the son of the King of Naples. Given that Miranda has never seen any men apart from her father and Caliban, it's no wonder she instantly falls in love with Ferdinand. Given the beauty and wonder of the island, it's no surprise that he quickly falls in love with her too. But there's an endless preoccupation with Miranda's virginity and Ferdinand is at pains to make it quite clear on several occasions that he will only marry her if she is still a 'maid'. Given that this runs alongside the sub-plot of Caliban apparently attempting to 'people the isle with Calibans' using Miranda, the whole thing makes for uncomfortable reading. I'm glad that attitudes towards women have largely changed and don't think that Miranda is one of Shakespeare's finest examples of a strong female character.
It goes without saying that the writing in The Tempest is beautiful and as always, Shakespeare captures the essence of what it is to be human perfectly. Out of the plays I've read, it's definitely one of my favourites as it has a good balance of romance, comedy, magic and tragedy. I'm glad I took the time to reread it and I'm sure it won't be my last read.
Source: Personal copy (kindle)
Score: 5 out of 5
The Classics Club: Book 7 of 72
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Sadly our Shakespeare specialist left this play for the last three days of our course and all I remember is thinking "dear God, let me take enough notes to pass the exam in case the main question is ralted to it."ReplyDelete
Obviously calls for a re-read and more study time!
I'd love to take a Shakespeare course one day, I'm a big fan of the plays but do find them difficult if my hand is not held during the initial reading!Delete
Hope you get a chance to revisit The Tempest one day :)
I haven't read this play in at least 10 years (and now I feel old realizing this fact) but this makes me really want to revisit it.ReplyDelete
My first reading was almost 10 years ago too, that also made me feel old! Hope you get a chance to revisit.Delete
This sounds really beautiful. Up until now I knew virtually nothing about this play, I guess I've been too occupied with Shakespeare's tragedies, but it goes straight to my TBR list!ReplyDelete
I've got a soft spot for the lighter plays, I love both this & Midsummer Night's Dream. I enjoy the tragedies too but I love it when Shakespeare includes some magical elements.Delete
I studied this during my Drama A Level. I was cast as Ariel which was a lot of fun! I'm glad you enjoyed a re-read of this I have also recently been thinking about re-reading it.ReplyDelete
Ariel would be the most fun part to play!Delete
Hope you enjoy your reread :)
A few years back I vowed that I would read at least one Shakespeare play a year to flesh out what I've already read. I read Othello two years ago and loved it. Since then, not a single one. I've never read The Tempest. Methinks this is the perfect opportunity to renew my vows.ReplyDelete
Othello is on my classics club list. I've never read it before but am really looking forward to it.Delete
I'd love to know what you think of The Tempest if you do renew your vows :)
I reread this last year; it's always been one of my favorites. It's a sparkling fantasy, but has more meat to it (and a more coherent storyline) than, say, A Midsummer Night's Dream. And I always felt a little sorry for Caliban. :)ReplyDelete
I think it's now one of my favourites too. I like Midsummer Night's Dream bit as you say, it is lighter.Delete
You know, while I've seen this performed, I've never sat down to read it. After reading your analysis though, I'm dying to discuss it critically with others. That sounds like such fun.ReplyDelete
Caliban has always been one of my favourite Shakespeare characters. I don't know why, maybe I go for the underdog. I've noticed The Tempest is part of the Globe's 2013 season so it would be rude not to go and see it, I think. May have to do a reread first, it's been a while.ReplyDelete