THE TEMPEST

SONY DSC

Author: William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
Editors: Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen
Publisher: Modern Library (2008 Edition)
Bought from: Book Depository

Introduction

This is generally taken as the last play written by William Shakespeare on his own, around 1611.

What is it about?

Prospero was exiled with his daughter Miranda from the Duchy of Milan. They were shipwrecked on an island where Prospero tamed the local denizens, including the ogreish Caliban, and plotted his revenge against those who wronged him. Ultimately, he learned to forgive them instead:

Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th’ quick,
Yet with my nobler reason gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance.
(5.1.29–32)

Themes

It is impossible to say with certainty if Shakespeare knew this was the last play he was going to write on his own. But reading the play today, it is difficult to avoid seeing striking connections between Shakespeare and Prospero, who controlled everything that took place on the island. It is also impossible not to see him bidding farewell in the following speech:

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–capped 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.
(4.1.161–171)

and in the famous epilogue delivered after all the other characters have left the stage:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell,
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
(5.1.360–379)

What about the book?

Each of the books in the RSC Shakespeare series published by The Modern Library comes with very informative footnotes, helpful scene-by-scene analysis and, best of all, commentary on past and current productions that comes with interviews with leading directors and actors. The books are also very reasonably priced. Best of all, the introductions are not overly long and focus on a few talking points for each play. The paper quality is not particularly good though. Also, the covers are not very attractive.

Finally …

So, on the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare (to the month), I finished all the plays I set out to read.

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