The Tempest by William Shakespeare.

Miranda, The Tempest by John William Waterhouse (1916).
This week for the Deal Me In Challenge I was supposed to be writing now about Investigations of a Dog by Franz Kafka and I did read it, but that short story of Kafka's was so dense that I don't think I could possibly even come close to doing it justice. Indeed, after a second read I probably still won't, but I thought it would be best to least hope that I might. So I drew another card and I got William Shakespeare's The Tempest

The Tempest was probably written between 1610-11 and entered into the Stationers' Register on 8th November 1623. It was written around the time of The Winter's Tale (1609–1611) and Cymbeline (1610) and so was one of his final plays. It's classified as one of his comedies and some parts of it were inspired (but not necessarily based on) a variety of sources: Michel de Montaigne's essay Des Canibales and Medea in Ovid's Metamorphoses (Book VII) to name but two. The plot, however, would appear to be wholly original (the only other play with this claim is Love's Labour Lost, 1597).

By Edmund Dulac.
The play begins on a ship at sea during a storm (or a 'tempest'):

On a ship at sea: a tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard. Enter a Ship-Master and a Boatswain.  
Mᴀsᴛᴇʀ: Boatswain! 
Bᴏᴀᴛsᴡᴀɪɴ: Here, master: what cheer? 
Mᴀsᴛᴇʀ. Good, speak to the mariners: fall to’t, yarely, or we run ourselves aground: bestir, bestir. 


Enter Mariners. 

Bᴏᴀᴛsᴡᴀɪɴ. Heigh, my hearts! cheerly, cheerly, my hearts! yare, yare! Take in the topsail. Tend to the master’s whistle. Blow, till thou burst thy wind, if room enough! 
Illustrated by Robert Anning Bell.
The scene is witnessed by Miranda and her father Prospero, a sorcerer, who reveals it is he who cast a spell and caused the storm, then proceeds to tell her of their past:
Pʀᴏsᴘᴇʀᴏ: Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year since,
Thy father was the Duke of Milan and
A prince of power.
From here he tells of how, when Miranda was three years old, Prospero's brother, the "perfidious" Antonio, wanted to be Duke of Milan and so, aided by Alonso, the King of Naples, he kidnapped Prospero and Miranda and cast them adrift. But Gonzalo (Alonso's adviser) leaves supplies on their little raft:
Mɪʀᴀɴᴅᴀ: How came we ashore?
Pʀᴏsᴘᴇʀᴏ: By Providence divine.
Some food we had, and some fresh water, that
A noble Neapolitan, Gonzalo,
Out of his charity, who being then appointed
Master of this design, did give us, with
Rich garments, linens, stuffs, and necessaries
Which since have steaded so much. So, of his gentleness,
Knowing I loved my books, he furnished me
From mine own library with volumes that
I prize above my dukedom.
Aboard this ship in the tempest they are witnessing is Antonio, King Alonso, Sebastian (Alonso's brother) and Ferdinand (Alonso's son), and Gonzalo, all returning of the wedding of Alonso's daughter and the King of Tunis. Having shared his story with Miranda, he casts a spell to make her sleep and his servant Ariel (a spirit) comes forth and tells of how he brought Prospero's plans to fruition, and that the individuals on board are separated into different groups. In this conversation it is revealed that Ariel serves Prospero out of thanks for his rescue from the evil witch Sycorax who imprisoned Ariel in a tree, leaving him up there when she died. This service is with the promise of freedom that Ariel is impatient to have. When Miranda awakes, the three (though Ariel is invisible to all but Prospero) visit Caliban, the son of the witch Sycorax. In this scene, Ferdinand, charmed by Ariel, comes across them and he and Miranda immediately fall in love.

What follows now is the development of three plots. Act II begins with Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo and some others on another part of the island. Ariel arrives, "playing solemn music" and puts all but Sebastian and Antonio to sleep. The two discuss their plight, and wonder of Ferdinand's fate, Antonio remarking "'Tis as impossible that he's undrowned / As he that sleeps here swims". Ferdinand is (or was, in their eyes) heir to the throne. If he is dead, Claribel is next in line however she is far away in Tunis. Thus, if Alonso was dead, Sebastian could claim the crown. They conspire to kill Alonso, but just as they are about to Ariel wakes them all up. Sebastian claims,
While we stood here securing your repose,
Even now, we heard a hollow burst of bellowing
Like bulls, or rather lions. Did't not wake you?
It struck mine ear most terribly.
Ariel departs to inform Prospero of the events.

In the next seen, we meet again Caliban, who resents being a servant of Prospero. Trinculo and Stephano, part of the ship's crew, come across him. After a brief exchange the three end up getting drunk.

In the third act we return to Prospero, Miranda, and Ferdinand. Miranda and Prospero are in love, though Prospero, despite wanting the two to marry, does not want them to rush into things. Prospero has put Ferdinand to work; at the opening of the first scene we seem him bearing logs and saying to himself:
There be some sports are painful, and their labour
Delight in them sets off: some kinds of baseness
Are nobly undergone, and most poor matters
Point to rich ends. This my mean task
Would be as heavy to me as odious, but
The mistress which I serve quickens what’s dead,
And makes my labours pleasures: O, she is
Ten times more gentle than her father’s crabbed.
And he’s composed of harshness. I must remove
Some thousands of these logs, and pile them up,
Upon a sore injunction: my sweet mistress
Weeps when she sees me work, and says, such baseness
Had never like executor. I forget:
But these sweet thoughts do even refresh my labours,
Most busy lest, when I do it.
Miranda greets him and, thinking Prospero does not see him, they talk, enjoy each other's company, and they decide (with Miranda proposing) to marry. Prospero, watching all the while, inwardly rejoices.

Meanwhile, Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo are still drinking and growing irritable. Ariel is lurking and provoking them further into fighting, during which time Caliban decides the time has come for him to kill Prospero and take back the island he believes is rightfully his. Fortunately, Ariel intervenes to distract them. At the same time, Antonio and Sebastian are still plotting murder in the company of Alonso and Gonzalo. Prospero, watching, invisible. makes a banquet appear to distract them, then Ariel appears as a harpy, makes the banquet disappear, and confronts them on their betrayal of Prospero which, Ariel tells them, is the cause of Ferdinand's disappearance. Naturally they panic, and Gonzalo observes,
All three of them are desperate. Their great guilt,
Like poison given to work a great time after,
Now ’gins to bite the spirits. I do beseech you,
That are of suppler joints, follow them swiftly,
And hinder them from what this ecstasy
May now provoke them to.

In Act IV the tale begins to conclude, and I don't want to spoil the play for those who haven't read it. Each of the different plots - Miranda and Ferdinand's love, Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo's plot to kill Prospero, Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian treachery in casting Prospero and Miranda adrift to die, and Sebastian and Antonio's plot to kill Alonso - are tied up. It is, I believe, one of Shakespeare's more satisfying plays. It's fun, full of magic and beauty, and I did love the strong theme of justice. Ariel, I think, was one of my favourite characters: Ariel is commonly referred to as a male but there is no clear indication as far as I can remember. Ariel shape-shifts into a variety of mythical creatures: a nymph, a harpy, and even appearing as Ceres. This drama is acted out according to Prospero's wishes, but this magic is not that of, say, Macbeth, but more of A Midsummer Night's Dream, on the whole gentle and without the claustrophobic darkness and malevolence. It's a very bright play, very enjoyable; a pleasure to read.

The Tempest, I would say, is possibly one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, but I can say with certainty it contains some of my absolute favourite illustrations by Edmund Dulac from 1908:


  1. My limited understanding of The Tempest leads me to conclude that Shakespeare was making a theatrical (and secular) statement about the sublime act and responsibility of creation. I include The Tempest among my five favorite Shakespeare plays. However, I have yet to see a production that measures up to what I experience in my "mind's eye" when I read the play. The illustrations you have generously included nicely supplement your fine posting and Shakespeare's play. Bravo!

    1. What are your other favourite plays? I would include this, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Hamlet in my top plays I think :)

      I haven't yet seen a production of The Tempest but I would like to.

      Glad you liked the illustrations :)

  2. Love the Waterhouse and Dulac illustrations. I want to get those latter ones. I remember seeing The Tempest at the Theater at Stratford on Avon. Just wonderful.

    1. The Waterhouse painting is one of my favourites - I have a print (only about A4 size) on my bedroom wall. Love it - a symphony in blue :)

      It's my ambition to see a Shakespeare at Stratford upon Avon! :D

  3. The Tempest is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. I was introduced to it in a somewhat unusual way in college (which I wrote about once ) and have liked it ever since. And yes, I have also read somewhere that it was the only one of his plays where the plot is not largely borrowed from an existing 'myth' or history - although I guess it was "inspired" by a shipwreck in the Bermuda island group(?)

    1. I did read something after I wrote this post about the shipwreck... :) And yes, it is a bit unusual in that it was wholly original. I thought Midsummer Night's Dream was another original one, but since learned I was wrong on that. :)

  4. Great post. William Shakespeare is my favorite author and The Tempest is undoubtedly his best composition. Prospero is an interesting character and had actually handed over much of the running of the state to his brother in the past when he was pursuing the magic and obscure.


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