Recently I read, for the first time, Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, and I was truly spell bound. A comedy filled with love, lust and revenge, it is one of the most artfully written plays I have ever read, and I could easily recommend it, even to one who is not usually concerned with the classics.
The basic storyline follows a father and daughter who are stranded on a desert island, some fifteen years before the beginning of the play. They were put there after being shipped off by the main character’s brother- Prospero, the rightful duke of Milan, exiled by his own flesh and blood, Antonio, with his three year old daughter Miranda in his arms. On the island, they find Caliban, a savage (whom Prospero educates and “civilises”), and Ariel, a spirit of the wind, imprisoned by Caliban’s mother, Sycorax. The storyline begins with a huge storm- a tempest- which throws Alonzo (the king of Naples), Ferdinand (his son), Sebastian (Alonzo’s brother) and Antonio (Prospero’s brother and the usurping Duke of Milan) onto the very same island. Little do they know that the storm was brought about by Prospero who was exiled in the first place for practicing the dark arts, and controlled by Ariel who is under the instruction of Prospero after having been freed by him from a pine cone, where Sycorax left him.
The play follows a series of events as Prospero separates the group [which includes Gonzalo, an honest councillor and previously the friend of the duke, as well as Trinculo, a jester, and Stephano, a drunken butler] and plays with them, getting his revenge for what they did to him so long ago.
Ferdinand finds Miranda, and the two fall in love. Their story, in my opinion, rivals that of Romeo and Juliet. Theirs, at least, has a happy ending.
Ferdinand: Admir’d Miranda! Indeed the top of admiration; worth what’s dearest to the world! … O you, so perfect and so peerless, are created of every creature’s best! Miranda: The jewel in my dower, – I would not wish any companion in the world but you; Nor can imagination form a shape, besides yourself, to like of.
She has never seen a man before in her life, apart from her father and Caliban, yet feels she does not need to ever see any other men after having met Ferdinand. He has met and liked several women, having seen so many, but none have been as perfect as this one. It’s truly the epitomy of romantic fiction, in my opinion.
Then we have Trinculo and Stephano, who meet Caliban. Caliban, a savage who has never seen anyone but his mother (an evil witch), Prospero (a hard master), and Miranda (who he likes, but tried to rape and so hates him), believes Stephano to be a god, especially as Stephano carries with him a bottle of alcohol.
Caliban: I’ll swear upon that bottle to be thy true subject; for the liquor is not earthly.
Apart from watching what happens with the hilarious trio, especially as they get messed about with Ariel, the question arises of what Caliban is. He is, at root, a savage, however has been educated by Prospero- some of his verses in the play are amazingly beautiful and poetic, but some of his actions, such as the way he acts towards Miranda, are very primal.
The last group upon the island are the nobles. Alonzo grieves over his son, who he believes has drowned, and the other two plan ways to kill him so that they can take his throne. This story is also very interesting as the trio are forced to think about what they’ve done through little actions of Prospero and Ariel throughout the play. By the end, they’re driven mad by the guilt of what they’ve done and how horrible they’ve been. Prospero, however, is implored by his sprite to set them free, and in the end decides to forgive them.
Ariel: Your charm so strongly works ‘em, that if you now beheld them, your affections would become tender. Prospero: Dost thou think so, spirit? Ariel: Mine would, sir, were I human. Prospero: And mine shall.
Being a comedy, the play is full of humour and life- thankfully, it also has a happy ending. The story lines are all interesting and weave together, and in the end, they all discover a sort of freedom. The main ideas of the play are ones we perhaps all think to ourselves- the limits of forgiveness, the adventure of love and the worth of humanity.