{Book Review} The Tempest: How I Stopped Worrying and Loved the Play

“In The Tempest, long considered one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays, Prospero – a magician on an enchanted island – punishes his enemies, brings happiness to his daughter, and comes to terms with human use of supernatural power. The Tempest embodies both seemingly timeless romance and the historically specific moment in which Europe begins to explore and conquer the New World. Its complexity of thought, its range of characters – from the spirit Ariel and the monster Caliban to the beautiful Miranda and her prince Ferdinand -its poetic beauty, and its exploration of difficult questions that still haunt us today make this play wonderfully compelling. 

The Tempest is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1610–11. It is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place, using illusion and skilful manipulation. The eponymous tempest brings to the island Prospero’s usurping brother Antonio and the complicit Alonso, King of Naples. There, his machinations bring about the revelation of Antonio’s low nature, the redemption of Alonso, and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso’s son, Ferdinand.”*

I love reading classics, but that doesn’t mean I always read them. I have never been fond in particular of Shakespeare’s plays. Sure, reading them made you sound smart and sophisticated, but I always had a hard time understanding Shakespearean language in the past. More often than not, when I read Shakespeare (I actually just read Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth for school, and Romeo and Juliet, but I already knew the story – everyone did – so it was easier to understand), I usually consulted the modern version. This confession on my part might make scholars cringe, but I won’t deny it – reading the modern version made my life easier.

This time, however, I decided to take the plunge and read The Tempest in the original text. During the first few pages, I stumbled along with No Fear Shakespeare open in my browser, which annoyed me because I already planned out my schedule for today. If I wanted to finish in my allotted time frame (3 1/2 hours, or until dinner) I should quit constantly stopping to reread everything in modern-day format and just force my brain to understand everything.

Surprisingly, it worked. Granted, I still didn’t have a full grasp of everything that was said, but I understood the gist of each statement. I have always wondered how other people managed to read – and finish reading  – Shakespeare like it was a normal book, but that is just it. That’s the trick. Concentrate on the material, make sure you following what is being said before moving on to avoid rereading and wasting time, ponder a bit if you feel like it,  then move on. Don’t look back, and don’t stop. And I guess, most of all, don’t be afraid. It worked for me! Ever since I was young and decided to tinker with my dad’s Julius Caesar book, I got scared of the unfamiliar words that I resolved not to give myself a hard time on doing something I’m supposed to enjoy. I was propelled to read this because I was pressed for time but in the end, I found myself having fun. To think that this was a school requirement!
The Tempest begins with, strangely enough, a tempest. The raging storm drive Alonso, the king of Naples, his son Ferdinand, Alonso’s brother Sebastian, the lord Gonzalo, Antonio, Tinculo, the boatswain, the ship captain, and several other crew members to pray for their lives, thoroughly convinced the ship will sink. These events are witnessed with dismay by Miranda, who rushes to her father Prospero. The two have lived on an island far off sea for twelve years, and apparently, this was caused by the betrayal of Prospero’s brother Antonio (the same one in the ship). Prospero used to be the duke of Milan, and Antonio plotted with Sebastian and Alonso to send him and his daughter out to sea, to die. Unbeknownst to them, Gonzalo helps the fallen duke and his daughter by sending them supplies. Despite this treacher, Prospero saves the ship and all its inhabitants through the help of a spirit named Ariel (who is NOT a mermaid and is most definitely male – something I had to remind myself of several times). He orders Ariel to be invisible to everyone but him. Another character is introduced in the form of Caliban, the son of the late Sycorax (a witch), and is presently Prospero’s slave. It is obvious from his language and manners towards his master that he despises him, and this was explained due to the fact that Caliban believes the island was rightfully his, and Prospero just stole it from it.
The passengers of the ship slowly regain consciousness, but Ariel has scattered them all over the island. Alonso awakens to find Gonzalo, Sebastian, Antonio, and some others, but fails to find his son, which disheartens him greatly. Ariel makes everyone in the group except for Sebastian and Antonio sleep, and the two utilize the situation to plot the assassinations of Alonso and Gonzalo. As these bastards draw their swords, Ariel awakens Gonzalo, who in turn awakens Alonso and the rest, so Sebastian and Antonio make up some story about hearing some beasts or something and get away with it. Meanwhile, in some other part of the island, Trinculo, the jester, and the drunkard butler Stephano get reunited, the latter still managing to save some wine somewhere and cheerfully swigging a bottle. Caliban chances upon the two and was instantly fascinated by the intoxicating drink, jumping ship (haha) from Prospero to Stephano as his new master. As these three roll merrily along, Ferdinand stumbles upon Miranda and falls in love with her, and she him. Prospero watches all this, hidden. Despite his obvious delight, he makes things hard for Ferdinand by making him pile logs, just so the prince wouldn’t think Miranda as an easy chick.
Doesn't look so easy now, does it?
Just as I was starting to like Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban, they all decide to kill Prospero and turn Miranda into Stephano’s queen (he imagined himself king of the island because of Caliban’s praises; I don’t know what got into Trinculo to humor them). On the other side of the island, Alonso and company walk until they see illusions of a banquet taking place. As they near the food, it all disappears as  Ariel reveals himself as a Harpy and singles out Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian of usurping Prospero of his dukedom and causing him much grief. Ariel then disappears to celebrate with Prospero the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda. The spirit and his master then leave quickly to thwart Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban’s evil plan. In the end, all the characters reunite, Prospero forgives them all (despite Antonio’s not asking for forgiveness, the traitor), and they’re all happy.
Random thoughts: Imagine staging the tempest during Shakespeare’s time – not much props, barely a proper background, almost everything left to the actors’ skill and the audience’s imagination! They must all be good. And to think that the actors were usually given their lines as the play progressed!
I found a lot of parts funny, which was strange because I seldom had cause to laugh at in classics, much more Shakespeare ones, but yes, the Bard himself can be funny. The play reminded me a lot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (something I forgot to mention I read) because of the magical elements. In essence, this is mainly Prospero’s story. The play revolved around him getting back the justice he deserves from the betrayal of his brother and members of the royal family, but ironically it was okay for him to enslave Ariel and Caliban to achieve his ends. In the end, you can’t help but sympathize with him. He’s such a nice dad after all, and he forgave those who wished him ill (too easily, in my opinion). Conclusion: The Tempest is a great read, and I suggest you read it, even if it’s not a school requirement!

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Published: 1623
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance
For much deeper insights and more information, try SparkNotes. I checked my facts there, too.
PS There’s actually a movie version! I haven’t watched it yet. Is it any good?