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The Tempest is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1610–11, and thought by many critics to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone. It is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place using illusion and skilful manipulation. He conjures up a storm, the eponymous tempest, to lure his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to the island. There, his machinations bring about the revelation of Antonio’s low nature, the redemption of the King, and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso’s son, Ferdinand.
There is no obvious single source for the plot of The Tempest, but researchers have seen parallels in Erasmus’s Naufragium, Peter Martyr’s De orbe novo, and an eyewitness report by William Strachey of the real-life shipwreck of the Sea Venture on the islands of Bermuda. In addition, one of Gonzalo’s speeches is derived from Montaigne’s essay Of the Canibales, and much of Prospero’s renunciative speech is taken word for word from a speech by Medea in Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses. The masque in Act 4 may have been a later addition, possibly in honour of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick V in 1613. The play was first published in the First Folio of 1623.
The story draws heavily on the tradition of the romance, and it was influenced by tragicomedy and the courtly masque and perhaps by the commedia dell’arte. It differs from Shakespeare’s other plays in its observation of a stricter, more organised neoclassical style. Critics see The Tempest as explicitly concerned with its own nature as a play, frequently drawing links between Prospero’s “art” and theatrical illusion, and early critics saw Prospero as a representation of Shakespeare, and his renunciation of magic as signalling Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage. The play portrays Prospero as a rational, and not an occultist, magician by providing a contrast to him in Sycorax: her magic is frequently described as destructive and terrible, where Prospero’s is said to be wondrous and beautiful.
Beginning in about 1950, with the publication of Psychology of Colonization by Octave Mannoni, The Tempest was viewed more and more through the lens of postcolonial theory—exemplified in adaptations like Aimé Césaire’s Une Tempête set in Haiti—and there is even a scholarly journal on post-colonial criticism named after Caliban. Because of the small role that women play in the story, The Tempest has not attracted much feminist criticism. Miranda is typically viewed as having completely internalised the patriarchal order of things, thinking of herself as subordinate to her father.
The Tempest did not attract a significant amount of attention before the closing of the theatres in 1642, and only attained popularity after the Restoration, and then only in adapted versions. In the mid-19th century, theatre productions began to reinstate the original Shakespearean text, and in the 20th century, critics and scholars undertook a significant re-appraisal of the play’s value, to the extent that it is now considered to be one of Shakespeare’s greatest works. It has been adapted numerous times in a variety of styles and formats: in music, at least 46 operas by composers such as Fromental Halévy, Zdeněk Fibich and Thomas Adès; orchestral works by Tchaikovsky, Arthur Sullivan and Arthur Honegger; and songs by such diverse artists as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Michael Nyman and Pete Seeger; in literature, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem With a Guitar, To Jane and W. H. Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror; novels by Aimé Césaire and The Diviners by Margaret Laurence; in paintings by William Hogarth, Henry Fuseli, and John Everett Millais; and on screen, ranging through a hand-tinted version of Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s 1905 stage performance, the science fiction film Forbidden Planet in 1956, to Peter Greenaway’s 1991 Prospero’s Books featuring John Gielgud as Prospero. Contents
3 Date and sources
3.2 Contemporary sources
3.3 Other sources
5 Themes and motifs
5.1 The theatre
5.3 The soul
6 Criticism and interpretation
6.2 Dramatic structure
7.1 Shakespeare’s day
7.2 Restoration and 18th century
7.3 19th century
7.4 20th century and beyond
7.6 Literature and art
8 See also
9.2 Secondary sources
10 Further reading
11 External links
Prospero, the main character. The overthrown Duke of Milan. He now lives on an island and has become a great sorcerer. Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, who then falls in love with the Prince of Naples, Ferdinand. Ariel, a mischievous spirit who does Prospero’s bidding and is visible only to him. He became Prospero’s “slave” because he was saved by him from being trapped in a tree by Sycorax. Caliban, a villainous island native, son of a witch named Sycorax, who ruled the island before Prospero arrived. He now works as Prospero’s slave but despises him. Son of Sycorax, sorceress who was put into exile and transferred to the island. Alonso, King of Naples
Sebastian, Alonso’s treacherous brother.
Antonio, Prospero’s brother, who usurped his position as Duke of Milan. He and Sebastian plot unsuccessfully to kill Alonso and his family so as to come to the throne.
Ferdinand, Alonso’s son. Falls in love with Miranda.
Gonzalo, a kindly Neapolitan courtier, who secretly provided Prospero and Miranda with food, water, and books when they were pushed out to sea. Adrian and Francisco, lords.
Trinculo, the King’s jester and friends with Stephano.
Stephano, the King’s drunken steward and friend of Trinculo who tries to help Caliban to overthrow his master Boatswain
Master of the ship
Iris, Ceres, and Juno, spirits and goddesses
Prospero and Miranda from a painting by William Maw Egley; ca. 1850
The magician Prospero, rightful Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda, have been stranded for twelve years on an island after Prospero’s jealous brother Antonio (aided by Alonso, the King of Naples) deposed him and set him adrift with the then-3-year-old Miranda. Gonzalo, the King’s counsellor, had secretly supplied their boat with plenty of food, water, clothes and the most-prized books from Prospero’s library. Possessing magic powers due to his great learning, Prospero is reluctantly served by a spirit, Ariel, whom Prospero had rescued from a tree in which he had been trapped by the witch Sycorax. Prospero maintains Ariel’s loyalty by repeatedly promising to release the “airy spirit” from servitude. Sycorax had been banished to the island, and had died before Prospero’s arrival.
Her son, Caliban, a deformed monster and the only non-spiritual inhabitant before the arrival of Prospero, was initially adopted and raised by him. He taught Prospero how to survive on the island, while Prospero and Miranda taught Caliban religion and their own language. Following Caliban’s attempted rape of Miranda, he had been compelled by Prospero to serve as the magician’s slave. In slavery, Caliban has come to view Prospero as a usurper and has grown to resent him and his daughter. Prospero and Miranda in turn view Caliban with contempt and disgust.
The play opens as Prospero, having divined that his brother, Antonio, is on a ship passing close by the island, has raised a tempest which causes the ship to run aground. Also on the ship are Antonio’s friend and fellow conspirator, King Alonso of Naples, Alonso’s brother and son (Sebastian and Ferdinand), and Alonso’s advisor, Gonzalo. All these passengers are returning from the wedding of Alonso’s daughter Claribel with the King of Tunis. Prospero contrives to separate the shipwreck survivors into several groups by his spells, and so Alonso and Ferdinand are separated, each believing the other to be dead. Miranda by John William Waterhouse
Three plots then alternate through the play. In one, Caliban falls in with Stephano and Trinculo, two drunkards, who he believes have come from the moon. They attempt to raise a rebellion against Prospero, which ultimately fails. In another, Prospero works to establish a romantic relationship between Ferdinand and Miranda; the two fall immediately in love, but Prospero worries that “too light winning [may] make the prize light,” and compels Ferdinand to become his servant, pretending that he regards him as a spy. In the third subplot, Antonio and Sebastian conspire to kill Alonso and Gonzalo so that Sebastian can become King. They are thwarted by Ariel, at Prospero’s command. Ariel appears to the “three men of sin” (Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian) as a harpy, reprimanding them for their betrayal of Prospero. Prospero manipulates the course of his enemies’ path through the island, drawing them closer and closer to him.
In the conclusion, all the main characters are brought together before Prospero, who forgives Alonso. He also forgives Antonio and Sebastian, but warns them against further betrayal. Ariel is charged to prepare the proper sailing weather to guide Alonso and his entourage (including Prospero and Miranda) back to the Royal fleet and then to Naples, where Ferdinand and Miranda will be married. After discharging this task, Ariel will finally be free. Prospero pardons Caliban, who is sent to prepare Prospero’s cell, to which Alonso and his party are invited for a final night before their departure. Prospero indicates that he intends to entertain them with the story of his life on the island. Prospero has resolved to break and bury his magic staff, and “drown” his book of magic, and in his epilogue, shorn of his magic powers, he invites the audience to set him free from the island with their applause. Date and sources
A depiction from Nicholas Rowe’s 1709 edition of Shakespeare’s plays of the stage direction of the opening of the 1674 adaptation Date
The Tempest is thought by most scholars to have been written in 1610–11, and is generally accepted as the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone, although some have questioned either or both assertions. Scholars also note that it is impossible to determine if the play was written before, after, or at the same time as The Winter’s Tale, whose dating has been equally problematic. Edward Blount entered The Tempest into the Stationers’ Register on 8 November 1623. It was one of 16 Shakespearean plays that Blount registered on that date. Contemporary sources
There is no obvious single source for the plot of The Tempest; it seems to have been created out of an amalgamation of sources. Since source scholarship began in the 18th century, researchers have suggested passages from Erasmus’s Naufragium (1523), (translated into English 1606) and Richard Eden’s 1555 translation of Peter Martyr’s De orbo novo (1530). In addition, William Strachey’s A True Reportory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight, an eyewitness report of the real-life shipwreck of the Sea Venture in 1609 on the island of Bermuda while sailing towards Virginia, is considered by most critics to be one of Shakespeare’s primary sources because of certain verbal, plot and thematic similarities. Although not published until 1625, Strachey’s report, one of several describing the incident, is dated 15 July 1610, and critics say that Shakespeare must have seen it in manuscript sometime during that year.
E.K. Chambers identified the True Reportory as Shakespeare’s “main authority” for The Tempest, and the modern Arden editors say Shakespeare “surely drew” on Strachey and Montaigne for specific passages in the play. There has, however, been some scepticism about the alleged influence of Strachey in the play. Kenneth Muir argued that although “[t]here is little doubt that Shakespeare had read … William Strachey’s True Reportory” and other accounts, “[t]he extent of the verbal echoes of [the Bermuda] pamphlets has, I think, been exaggerated. There is hardly a shipwreck in history or fiction which does not mention splitting, in which the ship is not lightened of its cargo, in which the passengers do not give themselves up for lost, in which north winds are not sharp, and in which no one gets to shore by clinging to wreckage,” and goes on to say that “Strachey’s account of the shipwreck is blended with memories of Saint Paul’s – in which too not a hair perished – and with Erasmus’ colloquy.” Sylvester Jourdain’s A Discovery of the Barmudas
Another Sea Venture survivor, Sylvester Jourdain, also published an account, A Discovery of The Barmudas dated 13 October 1610, and Edmond Malone argued for the 1610–11 date on the account by Jourdain and the Virginia Council of London’s A True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie in Virginia dated 8 November 1610. Other sources
The Tempest may take its overall structure from traditional Italian commedia dell’arte, which sometimes featured a magus and his daughter, their supernatural attendants, and a number of rustics. The commedia often featured a clown known as Arlecchino (or his predecessor, Zanni) and his partner Brighella, who bear a striking resemblance to Stephano and Trinculo; a lecherous Neapolitan hunchback named Pulcinella, who corresponds to Caliban; and the clever and beautiful Isabella, whose wealthy and manipulative father, Pantalone, constantly seeks a suitor for her, thus mirroring the relationship between Miranda and Prospero.
Gonzalo’s description of his ideal society (2.1.148–57, 160–5) thematically and verbally echoes Montaigne’s essay Of the Canibales, translated into English in a version published by John Florio in 1603. Montaigne praises the society of the Caribbean natives: “It is a nation … that hath no kinde of traffike, no knowledge of Letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate, nor of politike superioritie; no use of service, of riches, or of poverty; no contracts, no successions, no dividences, no occupation but idle; no respect of kinred, but common, no apparrell but naturall, no manuring of lands, no use of wine, corne, or mettle. The very words that import lying, falsehood, treason, dissimulation, covetousnes, envie, detraction, and pardon, were never heard of amongst them. In addition, much of Prospero’s renunciative speech (5.1.33–57) is taken word-for-word from a speech by Medea in Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses. Text
The Tempest presents relatively few textual problems in comparison with many of Shakespeare’s other plays. The text in its current form has a simple history: it was first published in the First Folio in December 1623. In that volume, The Tempest is the first play in the section of Comedies, and therefore the opening play of the collection. This printing includes more stage directions than any of Shakespeare’s other plays, although these directions seem to have been written more for a reader than for an actor. This leads scholars to infer that the editors of the First Folio, John Heminges and Henry Condell, added the directions to the folio to aid the reader, and that they were not necessarily what Shakespeare originally intended. Scholars have also wondered about the masque in Act 4, which seems to have been added as an afterthought, possibly in honour of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick V in 1613. However, other scholars see this as unlikely, arguing that to take the masque out of the play creates more problems than it solves. Themes and motifs
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-capped 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 on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. …
The Tempest is explicitly concerned with its own nature as a play, frequently drawing links between Prospero’s Art and theatrical illusion; the shipwreck was a spectacle that Ariel performed, while Antonio and Sebastian are cast in a troop to act. Prospero may even refer to the Globe Theatre when he describes the whole world as an illusion: “the great globe … shall dissolve … like this insubstantial pageant”. Ariel frequently disguises himself as figures from Classical mythology, for example a nymph, a harpy, and Ceres, acting as the latter in a masque and anti-masque that Prospero creates.
Early critics, such as Thomas Campbell in 1838, saw this constant allusion to the theatre as an indication that Prospero was meant to represent Shakespeare; the character’s renunciation of magic thus signalling Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage. This theory persists among later critics, and remains solidly within the critical canon. Magic
Magic was a controversial subject in Shakespeare’s day. In Italy in 1600, Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for his occult studies. Outside the Catholic world, in Protestant England where Shakespeare wrote The Tempest, magic was also taboo; not all “magic”, however, was considered evil. Several thinkers took a more rational approach to the study of the supernatural, with the determination to discover the workings of unusual phenomena. The German Henricus Cornelius Agrippa was one such thinker, who published in De Occulta Philosophia (1531, 1533) his observations of “divine” magic. Agrippa’s work influenced Dr. John Dee, an Englishman and student of supernatural phenomena. Both Agrippa and Dee describe a kind of magic similar to Prospero’s: one that is based on 16th-century science, rationality, and divinity, rather than the occult. When King James took the throne, Dee found himself under attack for his beliefs, but was able to defend himself successfully by explaining the divine nature of his profession. However, he died in disgrace in 1608.
Shakespeare is also careful to make the distinction that Prospero is a rational, and not an occultist, magician. He does this by providing a contrast to him in Sycorax. Sycorax is said to have worshipped the devil and been full of “earthy and abhored commands”. She was unable to control Ariel, who was “too delicate” for such dark tasks. Prospero’s rational goodness enables him to control Ariel where Sycorax can only trap him in a tree. Sycorax’s magic is frequently described as destructive and terrible, where Prospero’s is said to be wondrous and beautiful. Prospero seeks to set things right in his world through his magic, and once that is done, he renounces it, setting Ariel free. The soul
The Tempest can be interpreted as Shakespeare’s last treatise on the human soul, in particular the Renaissance conception of the tripartite soul divided into vegetative, sensitive, and rational spheres, as described in both Platonic and some Christian Philosophy (and later in Freud’s id, ego and super ego) which was first linked to The Tempest by James E Phillips in 1964. Prospero is exiled to an island with a symbol of his baser, ‘vegetative’ nature – Caliban – and his higher, ‘sensitive’ or supernatural side – Ariel. Some productions have seen the same actor play all three roles, making them symbols of the conflict within a fully actualised or awakened Prospero – that between crude selfish physicality and a higher, mystical side.
For as long as Prospero is battling with these qualities and lost in books, he is banished from Milan. As the play finds its conclusion, he is both able to accept his base, brutal nature (“this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine” he says when taking responsibility for Caliban) while letting go of his connection with higher, powerful forces (“then to the elements be free, and fare thou well” he says, setting Ariel free). Abandoning magic and acknowledging the brutal potential of his nature, he is allowed to return to his rightful place as Duke, subject to agreement from the audience: “as you from crimes would pardon’d be, let your indulgence set me free.” Criticism and interpretation
The story draws heavily on the tradition of the romance, a fictitious narrative set far away from ordinary life. Romances were typically based around themes such as the supernatural, wandering, exploration and discovery. They were often set in coastal regions, and typically featured exotic, fantastical locations and themes of transgression and redemption, loss and retrieval, exile and reunion. As a result, while The Tempest was originally listed as a comedy in the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, subsequent editors have chosen to give it the more specific label of Shakespearean romance. Like the other romances, the play was influenced by the then-new genre of tragicomedy, introduced by John Fletcher in the first decade of the 17th century and developed in the Beaumont and Fletcher collaborations, as well as by the explosion of development of the courtly masque form by such as Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones at the same time. Dramatic structure
The Tempest differs from Shakespeare’s other plays in its observation of a stricter, more organised neoclassical style. The clearest indication of this is Shakespeare’s respect for the three unities in the play: the Unities of Time, Place, and Action. Shakespeare’s other plays rarely respected the three unities, taking place in separate locations miles apart and over several days or even years. The play’s events unfold in real time before the audience, Prospero even declaring in the last act that everything has happened in, more or less, three hours. All action is unified into one basic plot: Prospero’s struggle to regain his dukedom; it is also confined to one place, a fictional island, which many scholars agree is meant to be located in the Mediterranean Sea. Another reading suggests that it takes place in the New World, as some parts read like records of English and Spanish conquest in the Americas. Still others argue that the Island can represent any land that has been colonised. Postcolonial
Ferdinand Lured by Ariel by John Everett Millais, 1851
In Shakespeare’s day, much of the world was still being discovered by European seafarers, and stories were coming back from distant islands, with myths about the Cannibals of the Caribbean, faraway Edens, and distant tropical Utopias. With the character Caliban (whose name is almost an anagram of Cannibal and also resembles “Cariban”, the term then used for natives in the West Indies), Shakespeare may be offering an in-depth discussion into the morality of colonialism. Different views of this are found in the play, with examples including Gonzalo’s Utopia, Prospero’s enslavement of Caliban, and Caliban’s subsequent resentment. Caliban is also shown as one of the most natural characters in the play, being very much in touch with the natural world (and modern audiences have come to view him as far nobler than his two Old World friends, Stephano and Trinculo, although the original intent of the author may have been different). There is evidence that Shakespeare drew on Montaigne’s essay Of Cannibals—which discusses the values of societies insulated from European influences—while writing The Tempest.
Beginning in about 1950, with the publication of Psychology of Colonization by Octave Mannoni, The Tempest was viewed more and more through the lens of postcolonial theory. This new way of looking at the text explored the effect of the coloniser (Prospero) on the colonised (Ariel and Caliban). Though Ariel is often overlooked in these debates in favour of the more intriguing Caliban, he is nonetheless an essential component of them. The French writer Aimé Césaire, in his play Une Tempête sets The Tempest in Haiti, portraying Ariel as a mulatto who, unlike the more rebellious Caliban, feels that negotiation and partnership is the way to freedom from the colonisers. Fernandez Retamar sets his version of the play in Cuba, and portrays Ariel as a wealthy Cuban (in comparison to the lower-class Caliban) who also must choose between rebellion or negotiation.
Although scholars have suggested that his dialogue with Caliban in Act two, Scene one, contains hints of a future alliance between the two when Prospero leaves, Ariel is generally viewed by scholars as the good servant, in comparison with the conniving Caliban—a view which Shakespeare’s audience may well have shared. Ariel is used by some postcolonial writers as a symbol of their efforts to overcome the effects of colonisation on their culture. For example, Michelle Cliff, a Jamaican author, has said that she tries to combine Caliban and Ariel within herself to create a way of writing that represents her culture better. Such use of Ariel in postcolonial thought is far from uncommon; the spirit is even the namesake of a scholarly journal covering post-colonial criticism. Feminist
Prospero, Ariel and sleeping Miranda from a painting by William Hamilton
The Tempest has only one female character, Miranda. Other women, such as Caliban’s mother Sycorax, Miranda’s mother and Alonso’s daughter Claribel, are only mentioned. Because of the small role women play in the story in comparison to other Shakespeare plays, The Tempest has not attracted much feminist criticism. Miranda is typically viewed as being completely deprived of freedom by her father. Her only duty in his eyes is to remain chaste. Ann Thompson argues that Miranda, in a manner typical of women in a colonial atmosphere, has completely internalised the patriarchal order of things, thinking of herself as subordinate to her father.
The less-prominent women mentioned in the play are subordinated as well, as they are only described through the men of the play. Most of what is said about Sycorax, for example, is said by Prospero. Further, Stephen Orgel notes that Prospero has never met Sycorax – all he learned about her he learned from Ariel. According to Orgel, Prospero’s suspicion of women makes him an unreliable source of information. Orgel suggests that he is sceptical of female virtue in general, citing his ambiguous remark about his wife’s fidelity. However, certain goddesses such as Juno, Ceres, Iris, and sea nymphs are in one scene of the play. Afterlife
A record exists of a performance of The Tempest on 1 November 1611 by the King’s Men before James I and the English royal court at Whitehall Palace on Hallowmas night. Harold Bloom wrote in Shakespeare: Invention of the Human that this record “is known to be a forgery” but confirmed 1611 as the accepted year of publication. The play was one of the eight Shakespearean plays acted at court during the winter of 1612–13 as part of the festivities surrounding the marriage of Princess Elizabeth with Frederick V, the Elector of the Palatinate of the Rhine. There is no further public performance recorded prior to the Restoration; but in his preface to the 1667 Dryden/Davenant version, Sir William Davenant states that The Tempest had been performed at the Blackfriars Theatre. Careful consideration of stage directions within the play supports this, strongly suggesting that the play was written with Blackfriars Theatre rather than the Globe Theatre in mind. Restoration and 18th century
Adaptations of the play, not Shakespeare’s original, dominated the performance history of The Tempest from the English Restoration until the mid-19th century. All theatres were closed down by the puritan government during the Commonwealth. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, two patent companies—the King’s Company and the Duke’s Company—were established, and the existing theatrical repertoire divided between them. Sir William Davenant’s Duke’s Company had the rights to perform The Tempest. In 1667 Davenant and John Dryden made heavy cuts and adapted it as The Tempest or, The Enchanted Island.
They tried to appeal to upper-class audiences by emphasising royalist political and social ideals: monarchy is the natural form of government; patriarchal authority decisive in education and marriage; and patrilineality preeminent in inheritance and ownership of property. They also added characters and plotlines: Miranda has a sister, named Dorinda; and Caliban a sister, also named Sycorax. As a parallel to Shakespeare’s Miranda/Ferdinand plot, Prospero has a foster-son, Hippolito, who has never set eyes on a woman. Hippolito was a popular breeches role, a man played by a woman, popular with Restoration theatre management for the opportunity to reveal actresses’ legs. Scholar Michael Dobson has described Enchanted Island as “the most frequently revived play of the entire Restoration” and as establishing the importance of enhanced and additional roles for women. Oil sketch of Emma Hart, as Miranda, by George Romney
In 1674, Thomas Shadwell re-adapted Dryden and Davenant’s Enchanted Island as an opera (although in Restoration theatre “opera” did not have its modern meaning, instead referring to a play with added songs, closer in style to a modern musical comedy). Restoration playgoers appear to have regarded the Dryden/Davenant/Shadwell version as Shakespeare’s: Samuel Pepys, for example, described it as “an old play of Shakespeares” in his diary. The opera was extremely popular, and “full of so good variety, that I cannot be more pleased almost in a comedy” according to Pepys. The Prospero in this version is very different from Shakespeare’s: Eckhard Auberlen describes him as “… reduced to the status of a Polonius-like overbusy father, intent on protecting the chastity of his two sexually naive daughters while planning advantageous dynastic marriages for them.” Enchanted Island was successful enough to provoke a parody, The Mock Tempest, written by Thomas Duffett for the King’s Company in 1675. It opened with what appeared to be a tempest, but turns out to be a riot in a brothel.
In the early 18th century, the Dryden/Davenant/Shadwell version dominated the stage. Ariel was—with two exceptions—played by a woman, and invariably by a graceful dancer and superb singer. Caliban was a comedian’s role, played by actors “known for their awkward figures”. In 1756, David Garrick staged another operatic version, a “three-act extravaganza” with music by John Christopher Smith.
The Tempest was one of the staples of the repertoire of Romantic Era theatres. John Philip Kemble produced an acting version which was closer to Shakespeare’s original, but nevertheless retained Dorinda and Hippolito. Kemble was much-mocked for his insistence on archaic pronunciation of Shakespeare’s texts, including “aitches” for “aches”. It was said that spectators “packed the pit, just to enjoy hissing Kemble’s delivery of ‘I’ll rack thee with old cramps, / Fill all they bones with aches’.” The actor-managers of the Romantic Era established the fashion for opulence in sets and costumes which would dominate Shakespeare performances until the late 19th century: Kemble’s Dorinda and Miranda, for example, were played “in white ornamented with spotted furs”.
In 1757, a year after the debut of his operatic version, David Garrick produced a heavily cut performance of Shakespeare’s script at Drury Lane, and it was revived, profitably, throughout the century. 19th century
Miranda and Ferdinand by Angelica Kauffmann, 1782
It was not until William Charles Macready’s influential production in 1838 that Shakespeare’s text established its primacy over the adapted and operatic versions which had been popular for most of the previous two centuries. The performance was particularly admired for George Bennett’s performance as Caliban; it was described by Patrick MacDonnell—in his An Essay on the Play of The Tempest published in 1840—as “maintaining in his mind, a strong resistance to that tyranny, which held him in the thraldom of slavery”.
The Victorian Era marked the height of the movement which would later be described as “pictorial”: based on lavish sets and visual spectacle, heavily cut texts making room for lengthy scene-changes, and elaborate stage effects. In Charles Kean’s 1857 production of The Tempest, Ariel was several times seen to descend in a ball of fire. The hundred and forty stagehands supposedly employed on this production were described by the Literary Gazette as “unseen … but alas never unheard”. Hans Christian Andersen also saw this production and described Ariel as “isolated by the electric ray”, referring to the effect of a carbon arc lamp directed at the actress playing the role. The next generation of producers, which included William Poel and Harley Granville-Barker, returned to a leaner and more text-based style.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it became Caliban, not Prospero, who was perceived as the star act of The Tempest, and was the role which the actor-managers chose for themselves. Frank Benson researched the role by viewing monkeys and baboons at the zoo; on stage, he hung upside-down from a tree and gibbered. 20th century and beyond
Continuing the late-19th-century tradition, in 1904 Herbert Beerbohm Tree wore fur and seaweed to play Caliban, with waist-length hair and apelike bearing, suggestive of a primitive part-animal part-human stage of evolution. This “missing link” portrayal of Caliban became the norm in productions until Roger Livesey, in 1934, was the first actor to play the role with black makeup. In 1945 Canada Lee played the role at the Theatre Guild in New York, establishing a tradition of black actors taking the role, including Earle Hyman in 1960 and James Earl Jones in 1962.
In 1916, Percy MacKaye presented a community masque, Caliban by the Yellow Sands, at the Lewisohn Stadium in New York. Amidst a huge cast of dancers and masquers, the pageant centres on the rebellious nature of Caliban but ends with his plea for more knowledge (“I yearn to build, to be thine Artist / And ‘stablish this thine Earth among the stars- / Beautiful!”) followed by Shakespeare, as a character, reciting Prospero’s “Our revels now are ended” speech.
John Gielgud played Prospero numerous times, and called it his favourite role. Douglas Brode describes him as “universally heralded as … [the 20th] century’s greatest stage Prospero”. His first appearance in the role was in 1930: he wore a turban, later confessing that he intended to look like Dante. He played the role in three more stage productions, lastly at the Royal National Theatre in 1974.
Peter Brook directed an experimental production at the Round House in 1968, in which the text was “almost wholly abandoned” in favour of mime. According to Margaret Croydon’s review, Sycorax was “portrayed by an enormous woman able to expand her face and body to still larger proportions – a fantastic emblem of the grotesque … [who] suddenly … gives a horrendous yell, and Caliban, with black sweater over his head, emerges from between her legs: Evil is born.”
In spite of the existing tradition of a black actor playing Caliban opposite a white Prospero, colonial interpretations of the play did not find their way onto the stage until the 1970s. Performances in England directed by Jonathan Miller and by Clifford Williams explicitly portrayed Prospero as coloniser. Miller’s production was described, by David Hirst, as depicting “the tragic and inevitable disintegration of a more primitive culture as the result of European invasion and colonisation.” Miller developed this approach in his 1988 production at the Old Vic in London, starring Max von Sydow as Prospero. This used a mixed cast made up of white actors as the humans and black actors playing the spirits and creatures of the island.
According to Michael Billington, “von Sydow’s Prospero became a white overlord manipulating a mutinous black Caliban and a collaborative Ariel keenly mimicking the gestures of the island’s invaders. The colonial metaphor was pushed through to its logical conclusion so that finally Ariel gathered up the pieces of Prospero’s abandoned staff and, watched by awe-struck tribesmen, fitted them back together to hold his wand of office aloft before an immobilised Caliban. The Tempest suddenly acquired a new political dimension unforeseen by Shakespeare.”
Psychoanalytic interpretations have proved more difficult to depict on stage. Gerald Freedman’s production at the American Shakespeare Theatre in 1979 and Ron Daniels’ Royal Shakespeare Company production in 1982 both attempted to depict Ariel and Caliban as opposing aspects of Prospero’s psyche. However neither was regarded as wholly successful: Shakespeare Quarterly, reviewing Freedman’s production, commented that “Mr. Freedman did nothing on stage to make such a notion clear to any audience that had not heard of it before.”
In 1988, John Wood played Prospero for the RSC, emphasising the character’s human complexity. The Financial Times reviewer described him as “a demented stage manager on a theatrical island suspended between smouldering rage at his usurpation and unbridled glee at his alternative ethereal power”.
Japanese theatre styles have been applied to The Tempest. In 1988 and again in 1992 Yukio Ninagawa brought his version of The Tempest to the UK. It was staged as a rehearsal of a Noh drama, with a traditional Noh theatre at the back of the stage, but also using elements which were at odds with Noh conventions. In 1992, Minoru Fujita presented a Bunraku (Japanese puppet) version in Osaka and at the Tokyo Globe.
Sam Mendes directed a 1993 RSC production in which Simon Russell Beale’s Ariel was openly resentful of the control exercised by Alec McCowen’s Prospero. Controversially, in the early performances of the run, Ariel spat at Prospero, once granted his freedom. An entirely different effect was achieved by George C. Wolfe in the outdoor New York Shakespeare Festival production of 1995, where the casting of Aunjanue Ellis as Ariel opposite Patrick Stewart’s Prospero charged the production with erotic tensions. Productions in the late 20th-century have gradually increased the focus placed on sexual (and sometimes homosexual) tensions between the characters, including Prospero/Miranda, Prospero/Ariel, Miranda/Caliban, Miranda/Ferdinand and even Caliban/Trinculo.
The Tempest was performed at the Globe Theatre in 2000 with Vanessa Redgrave as Prospero, playing the role as neither male nor female, but with “authority, humanity and humour … a watchful parent to both Miranda and Ariel.” While the audience respected Prospero, Jasper Britton’s Caliban “was their man” (in Peter Thomson’s words), in spite of the fact that he spat fish at the groundlings, and singled some of them out for humiliating encounters. By the end of 2005, BBC Radio had aired 21 productions of The Tempest, more than any other play by Shakespeare. Music
The Tempest has more music than any other Shakespeare play, and has proved more popular as a subject for composers than most of Shakespeare’s plays. Scholar Julie Sanders ascribes this to the “perceived ‘musicality’ or lyricism” of the play.
Two settings of songs from The Tempest which may have been used in performances during Shakespeare’s lifetime have survived. These are “Full Fathom Five” and “Where The Bee Sucks There Suck I” in the 1659 publication Cheerful Ayres or Ballads, in which they are attributed to Robert Johnson, who regularly composed for the King’s Men. It has been common throughout the history of the play for the producers to commission contemporary settings of these two songs, and also of “Come Unto These Yellow Sands”.
“Full Fathom Five” and “The Cloud-Capp’d Towers” are two of the Three Shakespeare Songs set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. These were written for a cappella SATB choir in 1951 for the British Federation of Music Festivals, and they remain a popular part of British choral repertoire today. Michael Nyman’s Ariel Songs are taken from his score for the film Prospero’s Books.
The Tempest has also influenced songs written in the folk and hippie traditions: for example, versions of “Full Fathom Five” were recorded by Marianne Faithfull for Come My Way in 1965 and by Pete Seeger for Dangerous Songs!? in 1966. The Decemberists’ song “The Island: Come and See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel The Drowning” is thought by many to be based on the story of Caliban and Miranda.
Among those who wrote incidental music to The Tempest were:
Arthur Sullivan: His graduation piece, completed in 1861, was a set of incidental music to “The Tempest”. Revised and expanded, it was performed at The Crystal Palace in 1862, a year after his return to London, and was an immediate sensation. Ernest Chausson: in 1888 he wrote incidental music for La tempête, a French translation by Maurice Bouchor. This is believed to be the first orchestral work that made use of the celesta. Jean Sibelius: his 1926 incidental music was written for a lavish production at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. An epilogue was added for a 1927 performance in Helsinki. He represented individual characters through instrumentation choices: particularly admired was his use of harps and percussion to represent Prospero, said to capture the “resonant ambiguity of the character”. Malcolm Arnold, Lennox Berkeley, Arthur Bliss, Engelbert Humperdinck, Hector Berlioz, Willem Pijper and Henry Purcell.
At least forty-six operas or semi-operas based on The Tempest exist. In addition to the Dryden/Davenant and Garrick versions mentioned in the “Restoration and 18th century” section above, Frederic Reynolds produced an operatic version in 1821, with music by Sir Henry Bishop. Other pre-20th-century operas based on The Tempest include Fromental Halévy’s La Tempesta (1850) and Zdeněk Fibich’s Bouře (1894).
In the 20th century, Kurt Atterberg’s Stormen premiered in 1948 and Frank Martin’s Der Sturm in 1955. Michael Tippett’s 1971 opera The Knot Garden, contains various allusions to The Tempest. In Act 3, a psychoanalyst, Mangus, pretends to be Prospero and uses situations from Shakespeare’s play in his therapy sessions. John Eaton, in 1985, produced a fusion of live jazz with pre-recorded electronic music, with a libretto by Andrew Porter. Michael Nyman’s 1991 opera Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs was first performed as an opera-ballet by Karine Saporta. This opera is unique in that the three vocalists, a soprano, contralto, and tenor, are voices rather than individual characters, with the tenor just as likely as the soprano to sing Miranda, or all three sing as one character.
The soprano who sings the part of Ariel in Thomas Adès’ 21st-century opera is stretched at the lower end of the register, highlighting the androgyny of the role.
Luca Lombardi’s Prospero was premiered 2006 at Nuremberg Opera House. Ariel is sung by 4 female voices (S,S,MS,A) and has an instrumental alter ego on stage (flute). There is an instrumental alter ego (cello) also for Prospero.
Orchestral works for concert presentation include Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s fantasy The Tempest (1873), Fibich’s symphonic poem Bouře (1880), John Knowles Paine’s symphonic poem The Tempest (1876), Benjamin Dale’s overture (1902), Arthur Honegger’s orchestral prelude (1923), and Egon Wellesz’s Prosperos Beschwörungen (five works 1934–36).
Ballet sequences have been used in many performances of the play since Restoration times.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s 1802 Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2, was given the subtitle “The Tempest” some time after Beethoven’s death because, when asked about the meaning of the sonata, Beethoven was alleged to have said “Read The Tempest”. But this story comes from his associate Anton Schindler, who is often not trustworthy. Literature and art
Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the earliest poets to be influenced by The Tempest. His “With a Guitar, To Jane” identifies Ariel with the poet and his songs with poetry. The poem uses simple diction to convey Ariel’s closeness to nature and “imitates the straightforward beauty of Shakespeare’s original songs.” Following the publication of Darwin’s ideas on evolution, writers began to question mankind’s place in the world and its relationship with God. One writer who explored these ideas was Robert Browning, whose poem “Caliban upon Setebos” (1864) sets Shakespeare’s character pondering theological and philosophical questions.
The French philosopher Ernest Renan wrote a closet drama, Caliban: Suite de La Tempête (Caliban: Sequel to The Tempest), in 1878. This features a female Ariel who follows Prospero back to Milan, and a Caliban who leads a coup against Prospero, after the success of which he actively imitates his former master’s virtues. W. H. Auden’s “long poem” The Sea and the Mirror takes the form of a reflection by each of the supporting characters of The Tempest on their experiences. The poem takes a Freudian viewpoint, seeing Caliban (whose lengthy contribution is a prose poem) as Prospero’s libido.
In 1968 Franco-Caribbean writer Aimé Césaire published Une Tempête, a radical adaptation of the play based on its colonial and postcolonial interpretations, in which Caliban is a black rebel and Ariel is mixed-race. The figure of Caliban influenced numerous works of African literature in the 1970s, including pieces by Taban Lo Liyong in Uganda, Lemuel Johnson in Sierra Leone, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in Kenya, and David Wallace of Zambia’s Do You Love Me, Master?. A similar phenomenon occurred in late 20th-century Canada, where several writers produced works inspired by Miranda, including The Diviners by Margaret Laurence, Prospero’s Daughter by Constance Beresford-Howe and The Measure of Miranda by Sarah Murphy. Other writers have feminised Ariel (as in Marina Warner’s novel Indigo) or Caliban (as in Suniti Namjoshi’s sequence of poems Snaphots of Caliban). William Hogarth’s painting of The Tempest ca. 1735.
From the mid-18th century, Shakespeare’s plays, including The Tempest, began to appear as the subject of paintings. In around 1735, William Hogarth produced his painting A Scene from The Tempest: “a baroque, sentimental fantasy costumed in the style of Van Dyck and Rembrandt”. The painting is based upon Shakespeare’s text, containing no representation of the stage, nor of the (Davenant-Dryden centred) stage tradition of the time. Henry Fuseli, in a painting commissioned for the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery (1789) modelled his Prospero on Leonardo da Vinci. These two 18th-century depictions of the play indicate that Prospero was regarded as its moral centre: viewers of Hogarth’s and Fuseli’s paintings would have accepted Prospero’s wisdom and authority. John Everett Millais’s Ferdinand Lured by Ariel (1851) is among the Pre-Raphaelite paintings based on the play. In the late 19th century, artists tended to depict Caliban as a Darwinian “missing-link”, with fish-like or ape-like features, as evidenced in Noel Paton’s Caliban.
Charles Knight produced the Pictorial Edition of the Works of Shakespeare in eight volumes (1838–43). The work attempted to translate the contents of the plays into pictorial form. This extended not just to the action, but also to images and metaphors: Gonzalo’s line about “mountaineers dewlapped like bulls” is illustrated with a picture of a Swiss peasant with a goitre. In 1908, Edmund Dulac produced an edition of Shakespeare’s Comedy of The Tempest with a scholarly plot summary and commentary by Arthur Quiller-Couch, lavishly bound and illustrated with 40 watercolour illustrations. The illustrations highlight the fairy-tale quality of the play, avoiding its dark side. Of the 40, only 12 are direct depictions of the action of the play: the others are based on action before the play begins, or on images such as “full fathom five thy father lies” or “sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not”. Screen
Fyodor Paramonov as Caliban, Maly Theatre (Moscow), 1905
The Tempest first appeared on the screen in 1905. Charles Urban filmed the opening storm sequence of Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s version at Her Majesty’s Theatre for a 2½-minute flicker, on which individual frames were hand-tinted, long before the invention of colour film. In 1908, Percy Stowe directed a Tempest running a little over ten minutes, which is now a part of the British Film Institute’s compilation Silent Shakespeare. Much of its action takes place on Prospero’s island before the storm which opens Shakespeare’s play. At least two further silent versions, one of them by Edwin Thanhouser, are known to have existed, but have been lost. The plot was adapted for the Western Yellow Sky, directed by William A. Wellman, in 1946.
The 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet set the story on Altair IV, a planet in space rather than an island in the ocean. Professor Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) are the Prospero and Miranda figures. Both Prospero and Morbius has gained the knowledge required to harness the mighty forces that inhibits their new home. Ariel is represented by the helpful Robbie the Robot, while Sycorax is replaced with the powerful race of Krell. Caliban is represented by the dangerous and invisible “monster from the id”: a projection of Morbius’ psyche, born from Krell’s technology instead of Sycorax’s womb.
In the opinion of Douglas Brode, there has only been one screen “performance” of The Tempest since the silent era: he describes all other versions as “variations”. That one performance is the Hallmark Hall of Fame version from 1960, directed by George Schaefer, and starring Maurice Evans as Prospero, Richard Burton as Caliban, Lee Remick as Miranda and Roddy McDowall as Ariel. Critic Virginia Vaughan praised it as “light as a soufflé, but … substantial enough for the main course.”
In 1979, animator George Dunning, director of Yellow Submarine, planned an animated version of The Tempest; but died while working on it.
Also in 1979, Derek Jarman produced a homoerotic Tempest which used Shakespeare’s language, but was most notable for its deviations from Shakespeare. One scene shows a corpulent and naked Sycorax (Claire Davenport) breastfeeding her adult son Caliban (Jack Birkett). The film reaches its climax with Elisabeth Welch belting out Stormy Weather. The central performances were Toyah Willcox’ Miranda and Heathcote Williams’ Prospero, a “dark brooding figure who takes pleasure in exploiting both his servants”
Paul Mazursky’s 1982 modern-language adaptation of The Tempest, with Philip Dimitrius (Prospero) as a disillusioned New York architect who retreats to a lonely Greek island with his daughter Miranda after learning of his wife Antonia’s infidelity with Alonzo, dealt frankly with the sexual tensions of the characters’ isolated existence. The Caliban character, the goatherd Kalibanos, asks Philip which of them is going to have sex with Miranda. John Cassavetes played Philip, Raul Julia Kalibanos, Gena Rowlands Antonia and Molly Ringwald Miranda. Susan Sarandon plays the Ariel character, Philip’s frequently bored girlfriend Aretha. The film has been criticised as “overlong and rambling”, but also praised for its good humour, especially in a sequence in which Kalibanos’ and his goats dance to Kander and Ebb’s New York, New York.
John Gielgud has written that playing Prospero in a film of The Tempest was his life’s ambition. Over the years, he approached Alain Resnais, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, and Orson Welles to direct. Eventually, the project was taken on by Peter Greenaway, who directed Prospero’s Books (1991) featuring “an 87-year-old John Gielgud and an impressive amount of nudity”. Prospero is reimagined as the author of The Tempest, speaking the lines of the other characters, as well as his own. Although the film was acknowledged as innovative in its use of Quantel Paintbox to create visual tableaux, resulting in “unprecedented visual complexity”, critical responses to the film were frequently negative: John Simon called it “contemptible and pretentious”.
The Swedish-made animated film from 1989 called “Resan till Melonia” (directed by Per Åhlin) is an adaptation of the Shakespeare play, focusing on ecologial values. “Resan till Melonia” was critically acclaimed for its stunning visuals drawn by Åhlin and its at times quite dark and nightmare-like sequences, even though the film was originally marketed for children.
Closer to the spirit of Shakespeare’s original, in the view of critics such as Brode, is Leon Garfield’s abridgement of the play for S4C’s 1992
Shakespeare: The Animated Tales series. The 29-minute production, directed by Stanislav Sokolov and featuring Timothy West as the voice of Prospero, used stop-motion puppets to capture the fairy-tale quality of the play. Disney’s animated feature Pocahontas has been described as a “politically corrected” Tempest. Another “offbeat variation” (in Brode’s words) was produced for NBC in 1998: Jack Bender’s The Tempest featured Peter Fonda as Gideon Prosper, a Southern slave-owner forced off his plantation by his brother shortly before the Civil War. A magician who has learned his art from one of his slaves, Prosper uses his magic to protect his teenage daughter and to assist the Union Army.
The PBS series Wishbone featured a television adaptation of “The Tempest” in its episode “Shakespaw” with Wishbone as Ariel.
In Julie Taymor’s 2010 film version of The Tempest, Prospero is a woman named Prospera, played by Helen Mirren.