I’m excited to share my review of The Tempest by the Bard–William Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare and have read several of his comedies, histories and tragedies. Some of my favorites are Henry V, Macbeth, Hamlet, and Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve seen several performed in all sorts of venues from Shakespeare in the Park to London’s West End. I’ve studied them during both my undergrad and master’s degrees and always found his work fascinating and engaging. I suppose it’s fair to call me a Shakespeare nerd. Haha! This was my first time reading The Tempest and I found it fascinating. But this is unlike any other play I’ve read by him.
- I’ve heard before that Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be performed rather than read. I bet this is fantastic to see performed with the magical elements and the dramatic irony running throughout the play. I think I need to go back to London to see it 😉
- I didn’t realize how simple this plot is. Perhaps I am simply out of practice reading Shakespeare but I kept waiting for a intense, climactic moment and it didn’t really come.
The Tempest by William Shakespeare tells a story of magic, revenge, and love. According to Goodreads, “Prospero, sorcerer and rightful Duke of Milan, along with his daughter Miranda, has lived on an island for many years since his position was usurped by his brother Antonio. Then, as Antonio’s ship passes near the island one day, Prospero conjures up a terrible storm …”
It’s hard to categorize this play in only one genre; it’s part tragedy, part comedy, and part romance. There are tragic elements like the whole premise of Prospero being usurped by his brother and set to die at sea with his young daughter. But then there are comedic elements like Stephano’s character, the magical elements and Ariel’s invisible role in leading everyone together. Then we have Ferdinand and Miranda falling madly in love. And there’s also a relatively happy ending. I understand now why this is a difficult play to categorize. I’ve read that scholars have created a new Shakespearean category just for The Tempest: the romance (not to be confused with the more modern genre of the same name). I like that categorization because it allows for the juxtaposition of both tragic and comedic elements in the same play while also broadening the scope of the plot with magic.
I think what really makes this one complicated genre is the ending because it all wraps up quite neatly. The plot leads up to a potentially climactic moment between Prospero and the others, but it’s actually a bit underwhelming. There were no fights between Prospero and his brother Antonio, no deaths, no official marriages either (just the prospect of one between Miranda and Ferdinand). It seems than after so many years of planning revenge (of a sort) on the men that robbed him of his title and life, Prospero doesn’t have the human frailties that I expected. He doesn’t seem as upset as I thought he would be and everyone is rather civil and quick to forgive each other while forgetting the past. I would have liked more drama at the end.
I both appreciate how quick of a read this is and lament the lack of background details because of the genre. It’s not too complex of a plot and reads fast (at least for Shakespeare nerds like myself). I am not anticipating seeing this play performed to get the full experience. However, like in most pieces in the dramatic genre, there is little character development. We don’t get a ton of background on anyone. I would have liked more details about Prospero’s life before the island and how his interactions with Alonso, Antonio, and Gonzalo in his former life. And more background on other characters like Gonzalo, Stephano, and Caliban would have been fascinating. But that is not the nature of this genre. There are positives about reading plays–the focus is on the action. We see interesting relationships play out between brothers and others for power. We see the way love, jealousy, and fear can affect the ways we interact with others. There is so much that can be discussed from this play.
The number of themes that could be discussed seems nearly endless. A few of my favorite themes include power of magic, types of love, forgiveness and revenge, understanding our place in the world, power and jealousy, and the importance of order. If I were to teach this play in a class, I would ask students to write papers discussing some of these themes. A few particularly fun (and therefore nerdy) ideas:
- Discuss the role of power in this play. Who has the most power? Which kind of power is most powerful? How is power connected to magic, jealousy, and money?
- Discuss the differences between the magic in this play and other Shakespearean plays (like A Midsummer Night’s Dream). How is the magic used differently? How are humans involved with magic in new ways?
- Discuss a particular character’s development through the story. Is Prospero a hero or a villain? What is the importance of Gonzalo in this story? How does Miranda change through her experiences interacting with other people?
Overall, it was fun to feel like I was back in school reading Shakespeare again. I enjoyed the change of genre from my usual novels. And I found the plot engaging and the characters intriguing. A fascinating Shakespeare play!
Which is your favorite Shakespearean play? Why?
Are you an avid Shakespeare reader, aspiring, or intimidated by him?