Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Reader's Diary #380- William Shakespeare: The Tempest

The Tempest seemed quite different than most Shakespearean plays that I've read lately. Initially, there's much more background than I'm used to from Shakespeare. So many characters told the stories of what led them to their current situations that I wondered why he didn't go back a write a prequel. Are those a modern invention?

It's also, as Wikipedia points out, a little hard to classify. It's easy to rule it out as a history or tragedy (there are no blood bath endings here). Originally it was listed as a comedy. It's not, however, all that funny-- there's a bit of humour involving the drunken trio of Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban, but it doesn't dominate the play. Later, it was listed as a romance play, though this is due more to the setting and supernatural elements than the love and relationship connotations modern readers might associate with the term. There is a love interest between Miranda and Ferdinand, but again, it doesn't dominate the play.

Perhaps it's the novelty of the play that gives it its appeal-- that and being set on a deserted island, which we still haven't gotten tired of after 400 years. There were parts I wasn't all that impressed with: the plot involving the trio I mentioned above seemed to go nowhere and added just a bit of comic relief.

I think I enjoyed Prospero's character the most. While not as likable as many of Shakespeare's protagonist, he's an intriguing sort. Controlling the destiny of spirits and mortals alike, even from his island cell, he's led some scholars to suggest he was meant to represent Shakespeare himself. I, however, see him even more godlike than the playwright. Over the course of the play, he seems to go from the vengeful God of the Old Testament to the more forgiving God of the New. And his final speech at the end, directed at the audience, could almost be taken literally:
"Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free."

God as a castaway... interesting premise, no?

1 comment:

Isabella K said...

Oh! I'm heading out to see The Tempest in the park this week and know very little about it. I love the idea of God as castaway — I'll be keeping that in mind as I watch.