Tempest (The)

By William Shakespeare
June 1 1993
directed by James Symons

Prospero, Duke of Milan, relinquishes all of his governing rights and responsibilities to his brother Antonio in order to give his full attention to his literary studies. Not satisfied merely to govern at Prospero's sufferance, Antonio, with the help of Prospero's old enemy Alonso, King of Naples, usurps his brother's rightful place as Duke. Rather than killing Prospero outright, Antonio causes him and his three year old daughter Miranda to be set adrift with a minimum of supplies and Prospero's books. By divine providence, Prospero and Miranda are delivered to an island peopled by spirits and monsters. The mystical knowledge Prospero discovers in his books allows him to quickly subjugate the denizens of the island and he comes to rule them as their lord and master. Twelve years pass, during which time Prospero and Miranda have no contact with the outside world. By chance, a ship bearing all of Prospero's old enemies ventures within range of his new magic, awakening his old desire for revenge. He raises a tempest which drives their ship to the island and leaves them separated and stranded. Prospero, as magical lord of the island, holds their fate in his hands and must choose between forgiveness and revenge.

Date Time
Tuesday June 1 12:00 am
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The Tempest is unique for its accurate division of Scenes and Acts, specific locality, listing of Dramatis Personae, and excellent punctuation.

Prospero, Duke of Milan, relinquishes all of his governing rights and responsibilities to his brother Antonio in order to give his full attention to his literary studies. Not satisfied merely to govern at Prospero's sufferance, Antonio, with the help of Prospero's old enemy Alonso, King of Naples, usurps his brother's rightful place as Duke. Rather than killing Prospero outright, Antonio causes him and his three year old daughter Miranda to be set adrift with a minimum of supplies and Prospero's books. By divine providence, Prospero and Miranda are delivered to an island peopled by spirits and monsters. The mystical knowledge Prospero discovers in his books allows him to quickly subjugate the denizens of the island and he comes to rule them as their lord and master. Twelve years pass, during which time Prospero and Miranda have no contact with the outside world. By chance, a ship bearing all of Prospero's old enemies ventures within range of his new magic, awakening his old desire for revenge. He raises a tempest which drives their ship to the island and leaves them separated and stranded. Prospero, as magical lord of the island, holds their fate in his hands and must choose between forgiveness and revenge.

Current texts for The Tempest are universally drawn from the First Folio of Heminge and Condell, printed in 1623. First published twelve years or more after the play's first performance, the Folio text is generally accepted to be one of the purest, or cleanest representations of Shakespeare's original work. It has been suggested that this is a result of the fact that Shakespeare wrote The Tempest at the end of his career, and that his retirement to Stratford left him ample time to edit his own work for publication and subsequent performance. While most of Shakespeare's works can be traced to specific historical sources or antecedents, The Tempest has been described as a marriage between a sailor and a mermaid. On the sailoring side, the setting of The Tempest was probably suggested to Shakespeare by an actual shipwreck and recovery that occurred very shortly before the play's first staging in 1611. On July 25, 1609, the Sea- Adventure, one of a fleet of nine ships bound from England to John Smith's Virginia colony, was separated from the rest of the fleet by an unusual storm and was lost at sea. On board were Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Summers, the leaders of the expedition. Their ship did not go down, as was presumed, but was driven onto the shoals of an island in the Bermudas. All of the passengers survived the wreck, and in the ensuing weeks and months they were able to salvage sufficient stores and fittings from the ship to eventually re-embark. In May of 1610, the survivors of the Sea-Adventure appeared in the Virginia colony with a miraculous tale of shipwreck and survival on a hospitable island, which they described as a kind of paradise. By the end of the year their story was the talk of England. In addition to suggesting a setting for the play, the New World offered Shakespeare a ready made character in the person of Caliban. As a character, Caliban represents the Elizabethan conception of a New World savage. He is not evil, but he is ignorant, base, and amoral. Driven by his passions and his appetites, he has no recourse to reason and must be "civilized" by a more advanced master for his own sake. Like a mermaid, the sources for the story of The Tempest are harder to trace and capture. Certain motifs or ideas, such as those found in the wood carrying scene between Miranda and Ferdinand, are drawn from the oldest oral traditions of folklore around the world, making it impossible to credit them to a specific author. Critics who cite Virgil's Aeneid as a major source for The Tempest point to Shakespeare's scene between the two young lovers as a refiguring or retelling of the scene in which Aeneas builds Carthage after his time in the cave with Dido. While there are certain similarities in the basic structure of the two scenes, there are enough differences to indicate that Shakespeare's scene does not rely on Virgil's writing, but that the two authors share a common source which predates both works. Our own Paul Bunyan stories may very well be traced back to the same mythic archetype that Shakespeare and Virgil drew on. It is a story of progress; of clearing the land to make room for something new. At the same time, the image of wood carrying suggests the idea of creating something new out of something old, of imposing order on chaos, and of discovering, through he faculty of the imagination, the usefulness of the things we already have and know. In writing The Tempest, Shakespeare was able to marry the historical sailor to the fantastical mermaid and, out of their union, create something beautiful and new.

DRIVING THE TEMPEST The Tempest is a challenging play to stage for a variety of reasons. First, there is the fact that the story is ending as the play begins. Prospero's withdrawal into the world of his books, the loss of his dukedom to his scheming brother, Antonio, and his discovery of magic and subsequent conquest of the island all precede the opening of the play. As a result, Shakespeare must devote a large section of the early dialogue between Prospero and Miranda to exposition, which is always challenging for a director to stage no matter how beautifully it is written. Second, the play contains a great deal of spectacle and magic, beginning with a tempest at sea and including a magically created masque in which a banquet is catered by spirits and goddesses! Finally, The Tempest lacks many of the elements of dramatic conflict that drive most of Shakespeare's plays. Prospero is such a power on the island that his foes are virtually unable to oppose his will. Caliban and his scheming companions are more comical than dangerous. Even the lovers, Ferdinand and Miranda, find little real opposition to their romance. As a result, the play is not driven forward by dramatic conflict; it is drawn forward by an exploration of the dramatic theme of choice between the opposing forces of confinement and release. The relationship between confinement and release in The Tempest is not static, but reciprocal. The two forces don't merely balance each other, they constantly give way to each other in a circular dance that draws the play forward. In Milan, Prospero has the freedom accorded to a ruler, but he feels confined by his political responsibilities. His books are a source of escape, releasing him into a world of the imagination that is not accountable to political realities. When Antonio usurps Prospero's position and title, Prospero is released from his worldly responsibilities, but he is physically confined on a small island. On the island, Prospero discovers a source of magic power in his books and that power allows him to subjugate the native spirits and savages to his will so that he and Miranda can thrive and prosper. The magic that Prospero discovers carries with it a responsibility; the responsibility to use it wisely. Having conquered the native islanders, Prospero must now rule them as he refused to rule in Milan when he was Duke. Prospero discovers that only by embracing the confining aspects of responsibility can he be released from them, and, by the end of the play, he is ready to return to Milan to take up both the role and the responsibilities of Duke (albeit with an eye towards retirement in the not too distant future). Confinement gives way to release, which leads to confinement, and the play is drawn forward in their wake. In the CSF production of The Tempest, Prospero's magic is a magic that extends not in space, but in time. Like Merlin, who lived backwards through time, Prospero has been to the future and he brings it back with him to shape his 17th century island. When Prospero is confined to the island, his magic releases him into the future, but the use of his magic binds him more tightly to the confinement of the island. Only by surrendering his magic can Prospero be released from its constraints; that is the nature of reciprocity. In binding the natives with his magic, Prospero is bound to them in turn. Only by freeing them can Prospero find freedom himself. Both the stage and the staging of this production are shaped by this reciprocal dynamic of confinement and release. The circular stage is both an island and a magic circle. The two ramps that embrace the space both enclose it and extend it outward and upward. Prospero begins and ends the play in front of his cell, but the time between sees him transformed from captive, to jailer, to free man. It is this transforming power of the cyclical journey from confinement to release, and the role of choice in the journey, that lies at the heart of the CSF production of The Tempest.

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