After several days of relaxing off the coast of Italy, we’re… Well, we’re still of the coast of Italy on an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Shakespeare had quite the fondness for islands. However, his final play, The Tempest, does not only take place in an exotic location, but also contains a considerable amount of magic.
The play opens to Alonso, king of Naples, on a ship with his brother, advisors, and son. A tempest rages around them, and the men must abandon the ship. Ferdinand, Alonso’s son was tossed overboard by the storm. The king and his advisors reach shore, and Ferdinand does as well, although none of them know this. Prospero, who is currently residing on the island with his daughter Miranda, is a sorcerer and has caused the tempest by means of his spirit servant Ariel. Prospero was the Duke of Milan before being wrongfully deposed by his brother Antonio, who is currently with Alonso. Prospero has brought the men to his island because he wants order restored for the sake of his daughter.
The Tempest has several plots going on at once, which makes it difficult to summarize. Each of the characters has a complex relationship with the others. Prospero and Ariel, for instance, have built a strong bond from having worked to together after Prospero freed Ariel from a tree, but Ariel still seeks release from his servitude to Prospero and complains. The lives of all of the characters are woven together.
I have always loved fantasy, but I don’t love The Tempest. I like Ariel. I like Prospero. I don’t care much for anything else. Miranda is irritating in her naivety, although, that may have been Shakespeare’s intention. Ferdinand doesn’t have much for personality, and the villains are more humorous than frightening, not necessarily a bad thing, but not to my personal taste.
As irritating as Miranda is, she does have one redeeming moment:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!” Act V, Scene I
Aldous Huxley fans will immediately recognize from where he snatched the title for Brave New World. For some reason, I have a peculiar love for dystopian fiction, and Brave New World has a special place on my bookshelf. Miranda’s words here reminded me not only of the Aldous Huxley novel, but also of what a clever man William Shakespeare was. Miranda has just been introduced to the shipwrecked party, which includes liars, traitors, drunkards, and thieves. She seems them through the eyes of a child, honestly believing that they are “goodly creatures.” Prospero, on the other hand, has been around longer and seen more than Miranda has of what evil is in the world. He essentially tells her that these men only appear good because she is naive.
Prospero, a worldly, educated magician, is thought to bear some striking similarities to Shakespeare at the end of his career. Some critics speculate that Shakespeare was using Prospero to say farewell, being that The Tempest is his final play. At the end of the play, Prospero casts the tools of his magic into the ocean, renouncing them for the good of his daughter. He then begs “indulgence” of the audience, meaning applause. After having enchanted the crowds of London for years, Shakespeare also took his leave, asking only applause by giving them one last play.
The Tempest is a better read than The Winter’s Tale, but I don’t particularly like either. It’s all up to your personal preference.
You may recall that The Winter’s Tale had a twelve-minute silent film adaptation. The Tempest‘s is quite different. Julie Taymor, director of Across the Universe, directed this adaptation for the Venice Film Festival in 2010. Those of you who have seen Across the Universe will recognize the style. Taymor’s Tempest did not go over very well. It kept the original language, but Prospero’s role was made feminine and acted by Helen Mirren. The story is hard to follow if you aren’t familiar with the original, and the special effects are more distracting than entertaining. One good thing is that Russell Brand is hilarious.
The makers of this adaptation tried too hard to appeal to two rather different audiences, and that is where they went wrong. They could have pulled off Helen Mirren as Prospero if they hadn’t cheapened the feel of the movie by adding, in the words of a classmate, “trippy” special effects.
My biggest complaint is Ferdinand.
This is the man with whom Miranda falls in love? No. She describes him as being the most attractive man she’s ever seen, and while this may be true since Miranda doesn’t get out much… No. I find it impossible to suspend my disbelief in this situation. Maybe the director gave him a creeper mustache and a middle part on purpose to poke fun at Miranda’s naivety. In that case, I applaud you Julie Taymor. I just can’t get over it.