Monday, July 6, 2009

Review: The Tempest by William Shakespeare


Fuss about it all you want, I agree that he's not easy to understand, but the guy WAS a genius. I've been reading one play per year (about all I can handle :) for 4 years now - and while The Tempest isn't my favorite of the ones I've read, it's still full of the vivid language and intricate ideas that I've come to expect - a real commentary on the human condition.

What makes this one a bit different is that our main character, Prospero the unfairly de-throned former duke of Milan, is a magician. He is stranded on a deserted island with his beautiful daughter Miranda and not only does he have a special book that helps him to do magic, he also has an indentured "spirit" named Ariel (yeah, I thought it was a girl at first, but it's a boy :) who helps him to control the seas and create a tempest to bring his former enemies right to his virtual doorstep.

Of course there is love. Of course there are whisperings of treachery. There are even disappearing banquet tables - and about a thousand references to Greek literature that I have to be fine with not understanding. My enjoyment of Shakespeare comes from my acquired ability to glean as much as I can (making sure I understand the general plot) and then letting the gory details just slide on by. I know I could potentially obsess over every choice of words, but I choose not to. Perhaps I am shallow, but I just appreciate what I can and glory in those phrases that speak to me. Phrases like:
The rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance.

My library
Was dukedom large enough.

What's past is prologue.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on.

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
Twangling! What a great word and what a beautiful image! I read along as I watched a dvd of the play this time, and listening to the words being spoke as I read them really helped things make more sense. Sometimes, though, the watching did me a disservice - especially in the case of Ariel, who in my version wore a tiny little less-than-a-loincloth and acted extremely effeminate, which distracted me from the action if I was watching the screen instead of my book :)

**this could be a spoiler, I guess**Prospero is an interesting sort of double character - first with his God-complex and then becoming all forgiving in the second half. I can see, though, that this story is all about journeys - over the sea, over the island, from death to life, from sorrow to joy. Maybe Prospero just had a journey of his own - and I think the fact that all these things end happily (i.e. no one dying or killing anyone in the final scenes) is what makes this a "comedy." I never laughed, mind you, but I liked that there were chances for people to atone and find peace. For whatever reason, this one just did not grab me the same way others have - but it was still worth reading (watching).


Beth F said...

My father, in his 80s is reading through Shakespeare -- several plays a year. When he's done with them, he's moving on to the sonnets. I've read several plays over the years, I like your goal of one a year.

bermudaonion said...

I can't understand Shakespeare without some help. My son just took a Shakespeare class in college and loved it and he said his work is much easier for him to understand now.

Okie said...

The Tempest is a very intriguing play and well worth reading, though it is one that is definitely good to have some sort of guide as you read (like the DVD you watched) to help draw out some of the intricacies.

It's not one of my favorites, but I do enjoy it and like the multiple layers it has.

Nice review.

Hilarie said...

I love the idea of reading a play every year. As always, a lovely review!

MinorAgentofChaos said...

Shakespeare's plays were never meant to be read -- they were meant to be performed; they were meant to be watched. Bermudaonion, check and see if your area offers free Shakespeare theatre during the summer (many big cities do), and go to an actual performance. I have trouble understanding Shakespeare when I read him too, but when I see it performed, those problems go away.

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