The Tempest: wrap-up

The Tempest.

So. I think I like this play more for the memories and nostalgic feelings it induces in me than I do for what’s on the page (or on the stage in some cases). Yes, two of my favorite moments in a Shakespearean theater have come with this play, but one of those, I’m absolutely positive, is out of nostalgia.

And now, on another read, I’m not blown away. Don’t get me wrong. I still rate this in the top half (barely) of my favorite plays in the Canon. It’s number two on my list of romances, just behind Pericles.

But really, I’m underwhelmed, given my memories and good feelings about the play.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I took such a long break during the reading of this.

It just feels so…lightweight. It deals with probably the most important of all human endeavors, forgiveness, but dramatically not a whole lot happens during this afternoon on the island. My gut tells me that it should feel monumental (and NOT just because this is his last play); after all, families are reunited, a new family is born of love, servants are set free, political situations are righted. It should feel large, expansive, GREAT–only it doesn’t. Maybe that’s Shakespeare’s point here at the end of his career. Even the most monumental things in life are just everyday occurrences. It’s just life. And life is but a dream.

I guess I wanted something bigger here at the end.

And maybe that’s at the root of my ambivalence. This is the ending of what I had originally planned as “The Project.” Maybe my mixed feelings are because of the fact that this does feel like an ending of sorts. Maybe I don’t want it to end.

3 Replies to “The Tempest: wrap-up”

  1. I’m so pleased to have tripped belatedly over your blog. Over here in the U,K, a company called Scaffold Shakespeare have spent (over)three years on a similar exercise, with some very startling results, and some delightfully huge divergences of opinion. As a result, I’ve just spent some time on this play with a gathering of actors and directors, many of whom felt as you, and I’m in the minority, clearly, in loving this play with a furious passion, and feeling that it seems to be consistently speyed in performance. I’d like to provoke a bit of a debate about it generally. I’d direct it like a shot. And I say that as someone who has played Prospero, and not at all well. Taken scene by scene seismic changes occur, but I have never seen them played with complete conviction. In just the second scene, a man tells his daughter the whole truth for the first time in her life. In his first line he addresses her as a servant, and in the second recoils from that. He is just managing to make her understand why he is such a difficult horse’s posterior of a father when he makes a prize fool of himself with the help, and is made to look small again. That’s just for starters. It is, on one reading, a pretty unremitting manifesto for the Cynical school of philosophy, and an argument that the whole world’s tendency is descent into entropy. The ‘romance’ between Ferdinand and Miranda technically makes the play a comedy, but I don’t think we are supposed to go away smiling happily. People keep telling me that this part of the play ‘doesn’t work. I don’t think it’s meant to. The change that Miranda undergoes from meeting F, to her thunderous silence in Act V, is very ominous. An elegiac ‘farewell to the stage’ it certainly is not, and yet it was almost always done as that until people decided it would be rehabilitated by being done as a polemic on slavery, which it isn’t , mainly, either. The problem is, I think, that it takes a very long time to unpick, even for the professionals, and no-one will ever pay us to give it the attention and really close analysis it deserves. If we allow it to be ‘difficult’ and ‘nasty’ line by line, it gains a whole new life. That’s my twopenn’orth in the scale, any way. It’s a debate I would LOVE to continue.

    1. I love the idea of directing it “like a shot”…especially as it’s one of the two plays in the Canon that are told in (relative) real-time.

      I had never thought of the ongoing silencing of Miranda before…and “ominous” does just about sum it up, now that I think about it.

      I think your comment that it would take “a very long time to unpick” the play has some incredible validity to it. The only way to do that is in an ongoing, expansive rehearsal setting, almost without a director–who more likely than not would have come to the production with a preconceived notion of where to take it. In such a free setting, with debate raging day to day, I think a smart group of actors could create the “whole new life” you reference.

      Thanks for the great comment!

      1. Thankyou so much for a generous reception. My comment which, on re-reading, seems a little hectoring in tone, was written in the grip of a manic enthusiasm. born of half-opening the play up and then having to stop, because we ran out of time and money. Also, I had not then had the inspiring conversation I had with my wife this morning which has sent me back scuttling to the Trinculo/Stephano/Caliban plot. apropos what is REALLY going on there, what you say about directorial technique (more Keeper of the Book, almost) has given me an idea about where to pitch a production here. Heaven alone knows if they’ll bite.

        I shall now have to go back over your archive in my spare time, which I am beginning to realise, is about as [cough] copious as yours.

        Thankyou again for a hands-across-the-sea moment.

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