8 min read ⌚
What if you are Shakespeare and you want to end your career?
Of course you’re going to do it with aplomb!
“The Tempest” is the most melodramatic, the most fairytale-like and possibly the most poignant of all Shakespeare’s plays.
And we bring you its summary!
Who Should Read “The Tempest”? And Why?
“The Tempest” is the last play that William Shakespeare, the greatest writer in the English language, ever wrote – and the only one whose plot he didn’t steal from someone else.
So, in other words, it seems like this time, he wanted to tell us something other people haven’t.
And there you have it – three reasons to include “The Tempest” in your must-read list for this month.
Want two more?
It’s one of the most lauded and most interpreted plays ever. And writers and directors have adapted and reimagined it numerous times – even by Shakespeare’s standards!
William Shakespeare Biography
William Shakespeare was an English playwright and poet, by acclamation the greatest in both categories. Shakespeare is also considered “the father of the English language,” having invented more than 1700 new words and having used about 20,000 different words in his oeuvre.
Born on April 23, 1564, he spent the first two decades of his life leading a pretty mundane life, and we still have no idea what he did during the next seven. However, it was exactly during that period that he became a successful actor and a writer.
By then, he had already made his name as an author of comedies and histories, and most critics believe that even “Romeo and Juliet” was already written before 1592.
Ever since then, his fame would only grow with each passing year, culminating in a creative outburst during the early years of the 17th century when he composed “the four great tragedies”: “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” “Othello,” and “King Lear.”
He spent the last years of his life writing tragicomedies (also called romances) and collaborating with other writers.
Shakespeare died on the exact same day he was born and the very same day Miguel de Cervantes passed away as well: April 23, 1616.
All in all, during his life he wrote about 40 plays and 150 sonnets, all of which have been studied, read, performed and reinterpreted continually to this day.
Meet Prospero, Shakespeare’s Gandalf.
He is the rightful Duke of Milan and – barring some misuse of magic here and there and few violations of basic human rights – an altogether nice guy.
But he’s also living on a desert island with his daughter Miranda and practically no one else even remotely human.
So, something fishy must have happened sometime in the past, right?
Of course it has – otherwise we wouldn’t have had a play.
And that something involves Antonio, Prospero’s jealous brother, and Alonso, the king of Naples.
Namely, twelve years before the events of the play take place, Antonio, with the help of Alonso, successfully deposed Prospero from his throne.
Fortunately, Prospero and his then 3-year-old daughter Miranda managed to escape in a small boat. Gonzalo, Alonso’s counsellor and a kind Neapolitan, secretly helped them, providing Prospero with things only kings wear and books only magicians read.
And that’s how Prospero and Miranda ended up on this godforsaken island, inhabited by as many humans as the Planet Earth about 4 billion years ago.
There’s one… thing, though.
It – now, is that the right pronoun? – is called Caliban, and, just like his namesake from the X-men universe, it is a mutant.
Caliban, besides inhabiting the island, will probably inhabit some of your nightmares as well, if you have a look at one or two of its representations in different media.
We’ll opt for a now harmless vision from an unforgettable Soviet animated feature we had the misfortune to watch when very young:
Caliban is the way that he/it is because he (yeah – we’ll go with he from now on), at least according to Prospero, is the son of a devil and a witch called Sycorax, Shakespeare’s Saruman.
And they are absent from the play because – well, devils are devils and Sycorax had died even before Prospero and Miranda came.
But Sycorax was not a nice… person – after all, she’s a witch – and when she came to the island (banished from Algiers) the first thing she did was enslaving its spirits, the most important among which is Ariel.
Prospero is a lot nicer than her, so after he comes to the island, he… enslaves both Caliban and Ariel.
Double standards, Billy, hey?
Anyway, it’s payback time once the play commences.
You see, Alonso, accompanied by his counsellor Gonzalo, his son Ferdinand, his brother Sebastian, and the illegitimate Duke of Milan, Antonio – and few other drunkards – are all returning from Alonso’s daughter’s wedding in Tunis.
Little do they know that they are passing by Prospero’s island, and that Prospero is capable of controlling the weather.
See the title of the play – because that’s exactly what happens next.
So everyone is now stranded on the not-so-very desert island anymore.
Prospero, however, wants to play a bit with his wrongdoers, so he divides them into groups.
And, hence, Shakespeare divides our plot into few subplots.
In the first one, Ferdinand, Alonso’s son, encounters Miranda, Prospero’s daughter. Unsurprisingly, they fall in love with each other: Ferdinand is fascinated with Miranda’s beauty, and Miranda is… well, let’s just say that Ferdinand is the only man she’s ever seen apart from her father.
However, Prospero doesn’t think that Ferdinand will value Miranda enough if he gets her without some effort. So, when Miranda doesn’t give him a worth for his money, he does – turning him basically into another slave of his.
Speaking of slaves – Caliban has found new masters in the meantime. And they are a court jester and a lively butler called Trinculo and Stephano.
Now, you wonder how did Caliban confuse two drunkards for gods even though he’s not a Native American?
Let’s just say that, just as Miranda hadn’t tasted a man before, Caliban hadn’t tasted wine before.
So, Caliban teams up with Stephano and Trinculo in an attempt to devise a plan to overthrow Prospero.
On the subject of overthrowing – Antonio doesn’t seem to be able to think of anything else. Once he had deposed Prospero. Now, a second into this new island, he joins forces with Sebastian in an attempt to bring the latter the crown of Naples.
In other words, Antonio and Sebastian try to kill Sebastian’s father Alonso and his noble counsellor Gonzalo.
This would have made a lot more sense if they weren’t on an island.
Pray, do tell us, Antonio and Sebastian, how do you plan to rule Naples and Milan from an island you know not how to get out off?!
But, it seems that that’s what desert islands do to people; not everyone is as nice as Tom Hanks, after all.
A lover/slave, a group of people conspiring to overthrow Prospero, and another to kill Alonso and Gonzalo – that’s just one too many problems to grant us a happy ending, isn’t it?
Not if you are the Bard it isn’t!
And especially not if you have a spirit-inhabited island!
We’re not talking about deus ex machina anymore – we are talking about multiple deuses ex multiple machinas all around!
In a nutshell, Ariel transforms into a harpy and makes Sebastian and Antonio rethink their decision to kill Alonso, and Alonso rethink their past ways.
Then, some other spirits transform into mad dogs and chase away Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo from Prospero’s cell – but, to be fair, this group didn’t seem that much of a threat at no point during the play.
And then – a third group of spirits helps Prospero organize a masque for the freed Ferdinand and Miranda whose betrothal Prospero personally blesses.
The Tempest Epilogue
At the end of the masque, one of Shakespeare’s most famous monologues is uttered:
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-capp’d 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.
Critics noticed early that it seems here that Shakespeare would like to tell us something.
And that something is – “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Including me, and the Globe theatre, and this play-within-a-play, and this play, and my whole oeuvre – which actually consists of plays.
And then it’s time for some nostalgia.
But this rough magic
I here abjure, and when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.
Prospero’s renouncing magic?
In Shakespeare’s last play?
If not – it’s Shakespeare’s badass way of telling the world “I’m done” via Prospero.
(The sound of a mic dropping.)
It’s only fitting that it’s accompanied with the most melodramatic of all scenes, in which, instead of everybody killing everybody (as we’ve grown accustomed to with Shakespeare), everybody forgives everybody and Prospero frees some.
And there is much rejoicing afterwards.
And it all seems so fake that when Miranda exclaims something along the lines “How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world!” Aldous Huxley, fathoming that she’s saying this based on absolutely nothing (there are only drunkards and schemers around her), realized that he had just found the perfect title for one of the most famous dystopian novels ever written.
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The Tempest PDF QuotesHell is empty and all the devils are here. Click To Tweet We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. Click To Tweet Full fathom five thy father lies; | Of his bones are coral made; | Those are pearls that were his eyes: | Nothing of him that doth fade, | But doth suffer a sea-change | Into something rich and strange. Click To Tweet Awake, dear heart, awake. Thou hast slept well. Awake. Click To Tweet Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
“The Tempest” is no “Hamlet” or “King Lear” but it is certainly a great work of art.
There are some scenes you’ll want to run through and some others you’ll have no idea why they are in the play – yes, we’re talking about the masque – but, the ending is so moving that you’ll forget about it all in an instant.
What you’ll certainly remember is Prospero’s final monologues and few memorable curses uttered by Caliban which sound even better than those by John Cleese in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
On second thought, nothing sounds better than John Cleese as an insulting Frenchman.