Tempest (The)

By William Shakespeare
June 1 2000
directed by Gavin Cameron-Webb

A storm at sea ravages King Alonso of Naples' ship. On a nearby island, the magician Prospero acknowledges that he raised the tempest, and reveals to his daughter Miranda that he was Duke of Milan, until his brother Antonio-now aboard Alonso's vessel-usurped his title. Ariel, a spirit, reports that the ship's men are safely wandering the island, each ignorant of the others' fates. Ariel leads Ferdinand, Alonso's son, to Miranda. He loves her on sight, and Miranda returns his affections under her father's watchful gaze. Elsewhere on the island, several Milanese courtiers debate the qualities of ideal society as they wander together. In time, they tire and sleep, except for Duke Antonio and Sebastian, who plot the deaths of King Alonso and Gonzalo. Closer to Prospero's cell, two crewmen, Stephano and Trinculo, meet Caliban, a slave. They share liquor, and Caliban pledges them eternal service; they plot to kill Prospero and take the island for themselves. Thanks to Ariel, Prospero discovers both plots, and works first to prevent the courtiers' plan by immobilizing them with spells. Prospero next blesses Ferdinand and Miranda's union, and presents a masque of goddesses for their enjoyment. The masque is interrupted when he remembers Caliban's plot; Ariel locates the conspirators, and chases them through bogs and briars. At last, the time comes for Prospero to perform his greatest magic, undoing his own spells in order to restore broken bonds and create new, more harmonious realities. 
---Heather A. Smith

Date Time
Thursday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

During the twelve years that Prospero has been on the island, he has established an environment based on imagination and in tune with the natural surroundings. He has developed his magical powers in harmony with the natural world instead of imposing his values on it. Standing in stark contrast to Prospero's world is the culture from which he was exiled. It is a culture that celebrates wealth and values appearance over reality, style over substance. It is a glittering world, astonishing in its parades, spectacles, worship of celebrity and adulation of style. In other words, it is a world very much like our own, echoing Wilde's aphorism "in matters of grave importance, style not sincerity is the vital thing". The play is grounded in the collision of these two cultures. The shallow but glamorous (our reliance on modern two-dimensional media is instructive; it echoes the surfaces we love) and the harmonious and environmental which seems uncomfortably close to the cliche of the "New Age". To the shipwrecked party clothes, rank, and appearance are essential. They can never be comfortable on this island. Their fine clothes are out of place - even absurd. Ironically these clothes have been kept in perfect condition (like new) since the tempest and the shipwreck, as if Prospero knew how important they were to the wearers. This cultural gulf raises an inevitable question: why does Prospero return to Milan at the end of the play? I think the answer has less to do with his daughter's future security in Naples than with John Donne's observation that "No man is an island". At the beginning of the play Prospero is fully focussed on revenge. His plans for the future (his plan for Miranda, his promises to Ariel) are muddy and ill thought out. He has not worked out the details. But he has spent hours on revenge. As the play proceeds, Prospero is deflected from pure revenge and forced to clarify his vague plans for the future, even as he comes to realize that he can't exist alone. The catalyst is Miranda's first look at Ferdinand. Yes, Prospero had planned this - but the distance between intellectual imagination and physical realization is huge. The moment of their meeting fairly takes his breath away; and suddenly he cannot proceed as he had planned. So he postpones, pushing Ferdinand back into menial subservience. Prospero keeps himself from Alonso and the Court for four of the five acts. He is unwilling to confront the hurt of past betrayal, but also to recognize his own complicity and failure as a ruler. During the action Prospero realizes his own responsibility for the coup d'�t�t mounted against him by his brother with the connivance of the King of Naples; his self-imposed scholastic isolation was an abdication of his ducal duty. Ironically it echoes his forced exile on this island. I believe that the play is transcendent in acknowledging John Donne's dictum that no man is an island: that we cannot live in isolation without denying our own humanity. This play is one of Shakespeare's most humane, and demonstrates his love of mankind. So despite the many imperfections of the Milanese culture, Prospero recognizes his need to rejoin society and to forgive those who sinned against him. --Gavin Cameron-Webb

A storm at sea ravages King Alonso of Naples' ship. On a nearby island, the magician Prospero acknowledges that he raised the tempest, and reveals to his daughter Miranda that he was Duke of Milan, until his brother Antonio-now aboard Alonso's vessel-usurped his title. Ariel, a spirit, reports that the ship's men are safely wandering the island, each ignorant of the others' fates. Ariel leads Ferdinand, Alonso's son, to Miranda. He loves her on sight, and Miranda returns his affections under her father's watchful gaze. Elsewhere on the island, several Milanese courtiers debate the qualities of ideal society as they wander together. In time, they tire and sleep, except for Duke Antonio and Sebastian, who plot the deaths of King Alonso and Gonzalo. Closer to Prospero's cell, two crewmen, Stephano and Trinculo, meet Caliban, a slave. They share liquor, and Caliban pledges them eternal service; they plot to kill Prospero and take the island for themselves. Thanks to Ariel, Prospero discovers both plots, and works first to prevent the courtiers' plan by immobilizing them with spells. Prospero next blesses Ferdinand and Miranda's union, and presents a masque of goddesses for their enjoyment. The masque is interrupted when he remembers Caliban's plot; Ariel locates the conspirators, and chases them through bogs and briars. At last, the time comes for Prospero to perform his greatest magic, undoing his own spells in order to restore broken bonds and create new, more harmonious realities. 
---Heather A. Smith

The Tempest: Utopian Magic, Practical Politics In The Tempest, Prospero's wizardry changes a desert island into a remote paradise, a utopian society for himself and his daughter Miranda. The outside world is far from forgotten, though; when Prospero's usurping brother Antonio sails within striking distance of the island, worldly politics interfere with paradise. This conflict between politics and idealism is hardly new to literature or to pop culture. From Homer's Odyssey, to Lucas' Star Wars, to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, we find rule-breaking exiles, powerful evil forces, spunky damsels in distress, and young men in dire circumstances. Odysseus' incantations to the gods, Obi Wan's channelling of the Force, and Harry Potter's ever-developing powers all rely on various kinds of magic, beliefs in forces not explained in rational human experience. Prospero's mastery of enchantment is rooted in the idea of white magic, or magic used for good. His will is done using the skills of the spirits he controls, with powers he gained from studying books. The idea that humans can control the elements, if only they possess the proper knowledge, is as old as the oldest myths of mankind. Great literature often begins at the crossroads where supernatural forces and human nature meet. One of the ways the tale of The Tempest is unique involves Shakespeare's storytelling through the spirit characters. Ariel and Caliban, in particular, display human emotions and motivations-love, honor, pleasure, revenge-that make them more than magical plot devices. Because they are more than slaves, Ariel and Caliban sculpt a world where all the power is not in Prospero's hands; they can freely choose to disobey, to be distracted from their duties, even to commit crimes, just as the human characters wandering the island do. The island Shakespeare creates for The Tempest, though magical, is no easy escape from reality. Here, people become visible as they truly are, not as they wish to appear. As characters' intentions are put to the test, their consciences awake, and they reveal their true motivations. For example, Trinculo and Stephano imagine the perfect society as one where they rule without responsibility, getting their food, women, and "music for nothing." When their comic attempt to take over the island with Caliban fails, their selfishness becomes transparent. Sebastian and Antonio's plan springs from much more dangerous emotions than simple greed. Their need for "advancement" is born of jealousy, envy, and the hunger for power, three strong murder motives that leave them waiting for the proper opportunity to create their own ideal political climate. Without the help of spirits such as Ariel, even Prospero--who has motives for revenge himself--cannot keep the desire for worldly power from destroying his magical paradise. In the end, Shakespeare shows us that complex political questions cannot be answered with spells alone; we must mix imagination with practicality in order to discover fully human solutions to the problems of existence. 
--Heather A. Smith