The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Caidyn’s Rating – 3/5

Chantel’s Rating – 3/5

For me, The Tempest is a play that’s just super odd. It’s not my favorite play by him, but I do like it. It strikes a melancholy tone, a feeling of finality, throughout the piece that I simply do not understand since the play is rather light compared to his others. It’s technically classified as one of his comedies, something I agree with since it has comedic elements throughout it, such as the trio of Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo. That story had me laughing this time. However, it’s also one of Shakespeare’s “late romances”. That’s another classification I agree with when you take a look at how deep Ferdinand and Miranda’s romance lies with the plot Prospero creates to get his dukedom back and more.

Yet, I also could call it a tragedy. Sure, no one dies in the end and everyone lives and goes along to be happy (which is likely why it’s called a comedy) the story at the heart of everything is a tragedy. Prospero was the Duke of Milan. His brother stole it from him, basically sending him and his infant daughter, Miranda, out to sea to die. And they miraculously live. Even odder is the fact that this is Shakespeare’s final play or the final play that was published under his name. Perhaps that’s why there’s a sense of finality running through it. Yet, the plot it takes is also familiar. The whole play is of Prospero making his final act, his final piece of magic as an attempt to restore himself to the greatness he once had. Even the last lines of the play are this:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own,

Which is most faint. (Epilogue, lines 1-3)

[…] 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 come from crimes would pardoned be,

Let your indulgence set me free. (Epilogue, lines 13-20)

 

Technically it’s Prospero speaking, but doesn’t it sound so much like Shakespeare could be saying his last words? And that’s how this play lives on. His last, his final outreach to the public he tried to please his whole life.

I assigned Caidyn to read The Tempest because when I read it in the Shakespeare class I took in college, I thought it was beautiful. This opinion hasn’t changed either. Prospero’s monologues are beautifully written. I have very fond memories of the play and I wanted him to give it another try since he told me he wasn’t fond of it. I even wrote a sonnet based on the play, which was a class assignment, but I haven’t been able to write a sonnet since.

This is definitely an unusual play. I would divide it into three different plays, a comedy, a romance, and a political play. The tone switches throughout the play and it often shifts from iambic pentameter to prose. In the end, it all comes together and Prospero gives up his magic and power.

Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, I didn’t enjoy the play as much this time around. I thought the political talk was tedious, the romance was quick as it happened over the course of hours, and the comedy fell flat for me. Now, I listened to this and read it at the same time. I believe Shakespeare is meant to be performed and it’s easier to follow if someone else is saying the lines. The most fascinating part of the play, for me, was Prospero. In the beginning, he is manipulative to everyone. From Ariel to Miranda to Caliban. At the end, he has let Miranda go and marry Ferdinand, he has released Ariel from servitude, and I’m not sure what happens to Caliban. Not only that but he gives up his magic, the source of all his power.

Like Caidyn, I see Prospero as a stand-in for Shakespeare himself. This was his last credited play, and the last lines of the play feel like a final bow. That’s a powerful thing, in my opinion, and I think it adds a layer to the play that you might not notice at first. This was his final play, incorporating every kind of play he ever wrote and wrapping it up by taking a bow. That’s what makes this play powerful for me. While I might not have enjoyed it as much as I did the first time, it is an important play and maybe the most personal of his works.

I do agree with Chantel, the heart of the story lies with Prospero and his journey. I never liked him, but I could appreciate him. He promoted slavery, manipulated every character up until the end, and on and on. It is definitely a final bow for Shakespeare. But, while I know we could each analyze Prospero for hours, what do you think about Caliban? I pictured him as a black man myself, and he was framed as rotten to his core and an attempted rapist as well. What do you think was Shakespeare’s point to that? This is way before the biological theories of criminality came into play, after all.

Prospero’s story frames the play and in the beginning, he goes from manipulative to having a change of heart. He has a redemption arc and I think that is why he is compelling. As for Caliban, he is portrayed by a black man in the movie by Julie Taymor and I think it’s interesting the way he is talked about throughout the play. He is seen as subhuman and it is often commented that his mother was a witch. He is seen as irredeemable because of his attempt to rape Miranda, but I do not believe Prospero is in the right by treating him as he did. I don’t know if I can speak to the point of his character, but it is interesting that he is portrayed by a black man and that it is even commented that his skin is dark. Which is a contrast to Othello who was a Moor and the tragic hero of the play. I’m not sure if that made any sense, but he is definitely portrayed as a savage, and I don’t know if that was a comment on natives or Africans or a criticism of slavery.

To me, Shakespeare is a racist. Being straight up honest about that one. He was racist. Othello was black. The “Moors”, last I checked, were considered black. They were Spanish Muslims — aka the people who used to rule Spain until, like 13th century — and I’m not sure how they were considered. But they were other for sure. Othello was demonized. Caliban was demonized because of his birth as someone non-European and then he had a deformity and the joyous Prospero manipulated him when he was kind to turn him further into what he became: A man who wanted a way out of his situation and attempted murder. I see his attempt to rape Miranda as a way to get back at Prospero.

I’m not sure on the history of the The Moors, but Othello is usually portrayed by a black actor. But I cannot deny that Shakespeare was racist. I think the treatment of Caliban is because of his skin color, just like Othello’s. It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s important to note. It is also important to note that Caliban was the one who exposed Prospero to magic and then it is used against him and he is made a slave. I think that you are right about Caliban wanting to get back at Prospero and Miranda is the way to do that. Then again, it just ends up being a way to make Caliban look worse. Further reinforcing the message that he is the way he is because of his skin color.

Othello is probably portrayed as black because our conception of what “dark” is has changed over the years. When I hear dark, I associate blackness. For Shakespearean times, it’s probably a bit different so that Arabic people, such as the Moorish people, were seen as dark as well. Caliban did do that. He gave Prospero magic and showed him how to survive, then he was enslaved because he was seen as “lesser” than Prospero and needed ruling. Whether that was due to his deformity or skin color, we really can’t be sure.

I think that is a good point, but I think the character is meant to be portrayed as non-white and was likely portrayed in that time with dark makeup. I do think that either way, Othello and Caliban are the “other”. They are different than everyone else around them and because of that they are treated differently. What were your thoughts on Ariel who was also enslaved and sent to do Prospero’s bidding even after he was promised freedom?

It sets up the us-versus-them mindset, one I’m very familiar with thanks to studying social psychology. Yet, I won’t get into that. Ariel was really cute to me. Probably because, just like Chantel, I listened to it and the guy who read him was just cute. I kept forgetting that he wasn’t The Little Mermaid. But, I found him interesting and Prospero sickened me with that. He used his power that he took through Ariel for setting him free from a tree. I mean, Prospero kept his promise. He did set Ariel free. But he was just a part of a political maneuver.

I think there is also a huge difference between Ariel and Caliban in that Caliban is commanded to do hard labor and take care of Prospero and Miranda while Ariel is sent off to do his political bidding like you said. Not to mention he frees Ariel when he is satisfied. They are both slaves, but in very different ways. I think that’s interesting as well when it comes to the topic of racism.

The difference between Caliban and Ariel remind me of the house slave versus yard slave, in a way.

I see Ariel as an indentured servant because he was able to gain his freedom whereas Caliban didn’t have the option, other than finding a new master.

I can see that as well. But, onto a slightly new topic, what about Miranda and Prospero? Or Miranda and Ferdinand? Those are interesting dynamics. Prospero manipulates her into loving the person he wants her to so he can get his kingdom back and then some. And how did Prospero even know that they were going to be on a ship so he could send the storm out?

So, I don’t blame anyone who says that Prospero’s relationship with Miranda is slightly creepy. I get it. She has never seen another man, other than Caliban, before and she falls in love with the first man she ever sees. In the movie because they change the gender of Prospero and it takes away that creepiness. So, I thought Miranda and Ferdinand was so instant that I didn’t really have time to process it. It reminded me of Romeo and Juliet without the death and tragedy. It was just a snap of the fingers and then they are running off to get married. With some manipulation and influence, of course. I think he’s more than willing to pawn off his daughter to get what he wants without any thought of her happiness. I think Prospero must’ve found out from Ariel, no?  

The change will also be interesting to have a woman enslaving Caliban rather than a man. But, an aside. Same! It felt a lot like other books I’ve read with insta-love. Two people suddenly in a place where they have never seen another person and boom. It’s just not realistic to me in some ways. Romeo and Juliet gets a bad wrap, but, man, they didn’t know each other for an hour and marry each other. They waited a full evening! …Not much of a difference, but oh well. Prospero is selfish. Let’s be honest with that.

It is the origin of YA! Just kidding, but seriously the insta-love would put any YA novel to shame. That being said, insta-love doesn’t exist. What exists between Ferdinand and Miranda is lust, hands down but that ends up getting Prospero what he wants in the end. By sheltering his daughter on a deserted island for her whole life, he was able to manipulate her completely. Even having Ariel put her to sleep so he could have a private talk with him. In some ways, his gesture in the end of getting rid of his magic means nothing because he still has power.

Okay, but Shakespeare writes better than most YA authors. No, it is just lust and it’s odd to me that he chose to stay on an island when he could have left, used magic to gain his crown back, and been done. It’s a very odd play. I still don’t think that it’s my favorite, but I appreciated it more. There were so many plot holes and odd occurrences that I can’t overlook it entirely, but I love reading it for Shakespeare writing how he might have perceived himself at the end of his life.

I will not deny that. He was one of the best writers in history. This play isn’t his best. It’s definitely no Macbeth or Hamlet or any of the others I still haven’t read. I didn’t find the side plots compelling and Prospero is indeed the most interesting part of the play. Whether Shakespeare meant him to be a stand-in for himself or not, it is interesting to think about. Also my favorite Shakespeare quote (from the plays I’ve read thus far) is in The Tempest.

We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep. (Act IV.1 Lines 156-158)

This is one of those hard to define plays. It’s probably one of the weirdest he wrote (or is credited to him). I’ve read all of his plays, from the great ones to the bad ones that have been analyzed and he likely only contributed a small portion to. But, Shakespeare is such an enigma and is an amazing author. He awes me at times.

 

3 thoughts on “The Tempest by William Shakespeare

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