Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For ABC WEDNESDAY

“T” is for “The Tempest”

I’d like to tell you about a tragic event, a shipwreck that happened some years ago – quite a number of years ago, actually; it was in 1609.
A ship named the “Sea Venture,” which was on its way to Virginia, was caught in a tempest, something that we today would recognize as a hurricane, and crashed on a dangerous island, a spot feared by all sailors of that day because of the rocks that surrounded it – they called it the “Isle of Devils.”

The ship was destroyed on the rocks, but all hands – 150 people and one dog – got ashore and lived to tell the tale.
They had landed on, of all places, Bermuda.


I have to admit that the place has changed a bit since then.
At any rate, the ship’s passengers learned, since they spent months there, that it wasn’t an isle of devils at all; in fact, it was a pretty great place to spend the winter. There was plenty of food: all kinds of edible animals and birds, and the sea around the island was chock-full of fish. The future governor of Virginia was in that group, as was the future husband of Pocahontas.

The ship’s crew used the timbers from their wrecked ship to build a different, much smaller ship, which they named “Deliverance.”
They waited till spring to set sail for Jamestown, Virginia.
Try to picture this situation. It was assumed by everyone, after nine months passed, that the folks on the “Sea Venture” had all died, and then they sailed into Jamestown, hale, as the saying goes, and hearty.
It would be as though we in our time were to lose a large crew in a spaceship that crashed on the dark side of the moon, and then they were to arrive back home, half a year later, in fine condition.

The news about the Sea Venture, when it got back to England, created a sensation. Will Shakespeare read about it and sat down to write a play, named, as you may by now have guessed, “The Tempest.”

For the playwright, the island was a magical, mysterious and enchanting place…
And he filled it with magical, mysterious inhabitants.


The main character of this play is Prospero, who lives with his daughter on this island. In exile, far away from everyone, he has somehow managed to acquire the power of magic to help him in his daily existence.

Beautiful young Miranda, his daughter, sees the shipwreck. She will fall in love with a young man, a survivor of the wreck. Why shouldn’t she? He’s just about the only man she’s ever seen, except for her father.

“The Tempest” is one of the most original and wildly creative of Shakespeare's productions. The human and imaginary characters, the dramatic and the grotesque, are blended together in a genuine work of art. Some scholars suggest that Prospero is really Shakespeare; when he gives us his thoughts and beliefs, he is speaking for the playwright. Well, I suppose it’s possible.
At any rate, this is the last play Will S. wrote, so when Prospero “signs off” at the end, it does indeed sound like Shakespeare saying good bye.
Prospero: “I have be-dimm'd the noon-tide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds, and 'twixt the green sea and the azur’d vault set roaring war. But this rough magic I here abjure; I'll break my staff, bury it certain fathoms in the earth, and deeper than did ever plummet sound – I’ll drown my book.”
And some time later that’s just what William Shakespeare did: as in “The Tempest,” he drowned his book, writing no more plays and retiring to his home in Stratford.

33 comments:

ds said...

I swear they do not convey that "tiny" detail about the Deliverance originating on Bermuda post-shipwreck at the Jamestown site. How fascinating are the tidbits of history.
As for "The Tempest" it is my favorite of all of Shakespeare's plays. "Full fathom five thy father lies/Those are pearls that were his eyes."
"O, what a brave new world, that has such people in't!"
Those are most likely mis-quotes, but you cited my favorite. Thank you!!

Jedediah said...

"Prospero's Books" by Peter Greenaway was one of the first Shakespeare movies I ever saw and it fascinated me. I had not read the play before, but I did so immediately and I found it just as fascinating as the movie. There's a great shot story by Tad Williams called Caliban's Hour which tells the tale from Caliban's perspective - I highly recommend it.

Nanka said...

Very interestingly done and lovely pictorial depictions too!! I have an affinity to seas and sailor tales!! Loved it immensely!!

Have a great start to a new festive month!!

Barbara said...

I do love this play - the poetry is wonderful, and I always find Prospero's speech at the end so moving. I've seen one version set in the Arctic and one in Africa with giant puppets - both worked amazingly well.

Leslie: said...

Always a fascinating read! I am currently tutoring a young fellow with The Tempest and am learning lots myself about the play and its author. It's amazing to me that this young man wants to do The Merchant of Venice for his next term's project - most teens would run for the hills rather than study Shakespeare.

EG Wow said...

Another entertaining post! I didn't know The Tempest is set in Bermuda. I guess I should read the play! :)

Roger Owen Green said...

Never knew the backstory behind The Tempest, as interesting as the actual play.
ROG, ABC Wednesday team

kathew said...

wow- what a great read! and thanks for visiting my blog and leaving such a nice comment.

Sylvia K said...

Interesting, fascinating post for the day.

Joy said...

What a lucky escape, indeed a magical island. The Tempest is a great way to sign off your career. I once saw it as a promenade performance, that too was magical.

Gerald (Ackworth born) said...

I'm not familiar with The Tempest but now after your post about its history I might give it a go.

Rinkly Rimes said...

How interesting and informative. I think the word 'tempest' is the most descriptive of all the wild-weather words. Thank you.

Kay L. Davies said...

Fascinating post, Berowne. So many things I never knew. Today's "learn something new" and enough for the rest of the week! Thanks so much.
-- K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Berowne said...

Gerald: "...after your post about its history I might give it a go."
The Julie Taymor film of "The Tempest" is due to open here in the Stytes on December 10. Prospero becomes Prospera; he's played by a woman, Helen Mirren. Advance critical comment ranges from "it's lousy" to "fantastic!" We'll see...

Berowne said...

Kay: "Fascinating post, Berowne." Rinkly: "How interesting and informative." Sylvia: "Interesting, fascinating post for the day." Kathew "wow- what a great read!"
Thanks, friends, for such great comments.

Tumblewords: said...

Good thing they missed the Triangle...Interesting tale.

OJ Gonzalez-Cazares said...

Thanks for another great Shakespearean adventure!

Mar said...

A fascinating post for T! love the stories!
T is for ...

Cezar and Léia said...

Thanks for all explanation, this story is fascinating!
Léia :)

Marie said...

Wonderful blog. I love Shakespeare (I studied The Tempest at Montpellier III not so long ago), movies (one of my essays was published in your country), the USA (where I spend much of my time) and Connecticut where I was for six months in 2008. Merci ABC Wednesday.

RuneE said...

I seem to have missed a lot in this life...

helenmac said...

Yes, thank you so much for a marvelous post on the background of the The Tempest and your always outstanding synopsis.
I too love this play and eagerly await seeing Helen Mirren as "Prospera." What film version of the play do you reccommend?
Helen Mac, ABC Team

Francisca said...

Well done for a T post! A chunk of literary history that was new to me. Had no idea the Bard's Tempest was set in Bermuda.

Berowne said...

Francisca: "Had no idea the Bard's Tempest was set in Bermuda."
It isn't. The actual shipwreck of the Sea Venture was in Bermuda, but Shakespeare's imaginary island is supposed to be in the Mediterranean.

Berowne said...

Marie: "Wonderful blog."
Je me vois dans vos "Blogs I Follow" -- merci.

Berowne said...

helenmac: "What film version of the play do you reccommend?"
The one I like was a TV production, years ago, which featured a novel version of Caliban, played by Richard Burton. Maurice Evans was Prospero and the lovely young Lee Remick was Miranda. This was so long ago the VHS I have is about as old as I am. :-) We'll soon be able to see the Taymor film.

Elizabeth said...

Oh dear, I'm afraid I'm going to diverge from the majority of your worshippers here, Mr Berowne. Although I do like the wonderful imagery employed and the ways in which it differs creatively from some of Will's work, I'm afraid 'The Tempest', isn't a favourite of mine -or at least not as a stage piece. As a piece of literary analysis, more so.
The character I find most interesting and inventive is, of course, the monster "not honoured with human shape", that near annagram of cannibal, Caliban, as confined to the rock as he is to the darker recesses of his mind. The aborigine of the island, where Prospero and Miranda are 'superior' colonisers, portrayed as the savage and 'villain' that those early British colonisers perceived in the America's natives that they were in the process of conquering, at the time this was written. A character with many, many complex sides in a play that can be analysed for ever and the bottom not fathomed.
Of course, nobody would ever think of casting you in the role of the monster Caliban, Berowne...the godly Prospero for you every time, I think. ;-) x

Berowne said...

Elizabeth: "Caliban, the aborigine of the island, where Prospero and Miranda are 'superior' colonisers."
This is the most popular interpretation of the play today; we might call it the Frantz Fanon view. But the question is, do you really think this is the way Shakespeae saw things?
"Of course, nobody would ever think of casting you in the role of the monster Caliban, Berowne...the godly Prospero for you every time, I think."
And you are my Ariel. :-)

Elizabeth said...

Certainly I think talk of the colonies would have been 'front page' news at the time, but how far WS carried that over into his writing is always going to remain conjecture as are the other motifs in this - or indeed any other - play. If only we could time-travel.

Ah,to be your Ariel, Berowne; that ethereal and elusive air sprite that lures with sweet music and causes storms to arise at sea. Then, sire, I must “do my spiriting gently" until the moment you effect my freedom. x

Berowne said...

"Then, sire, I must “do my spiriting gently" until the moment you effect my freedom."
Okay, but till then get back in your tree.

chiccoreal said...

Dear Berowne: Thank-you for this remarkable account on The Tempest; you've piqued my always fervent interest in Shakespeare once more! I've got to re-read this play, I have misplaced my Complete Works of Shakespeare, so will find online. The mystical and romantic nature of the play, with subplots, witches, monsters, and of course tempests! Tempest in a teapot? What a wonderful fourth wall idea of Shakespeare as Prospero to make the audience applaud to be "set free" from the island and stage. Who could stage a better Exeunt than the master bard? Great history lesson thank-you so much! Wonders if William prospered as much as Prospero? To live in Bermuda...nice!

Berowne said...

chiccoreal: "Great history lesson thank-you so much!"
It is I who thank you...

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