The Tempest - UCSB Department of English

The Tempest
First lecture
Performance of Act III, scene 1
• This will happen at 3 p.m., so we’ll finish
the lecture at this point.
• The student actors, from the BFA program
are Josh Keeler and Samantha Stinger.
• Their director is Professor Irwin Appel,
from Dramatic Art.
Shakespeare’s most experimental play
• The Tempest feels like Shakespeare’s last play.
• (Though Henry VIII, written with John Fletcher, is his
actual last play.)
• Prospero isn’t Shakespeare, but when P. bids farewell to
his art at V.3.33ff, we feel it has something to do with
Sh’s retirement from the theater and his return to
Stratford that year.
• And the “metatheatricality” of the play, the way it refers
so often to theatrical processes, gives us a sense it has
to do with playwrighting.
• It’s certainly his most experimental play.
• Strange characters – Ariel and Caliban.
• A plot driven partly by magic.
• Observing the “unities” of time and place – a first for
• A wedding masque enacted by spirits.
• And Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s colleague and friend
(well, sort of), seems to have disliked it.
Ben’s critique
• Jonson’s own plays are mostly set in London, his characters, while
comic exaggerations, are London types.
• In the Induction to Bartholomew Fair (1614), Jonson has his
spokesman, the Bookholder, indicate what the audience will not find
in his play:
• There is no “servant-monster” or “a nest of antics.”
• Jonson “is loath to make nature afraid in his plays, like those that
beget Tales, Tempests, and such like drolleries, to mix his head with
other men’s heels, let the concupiscence of jigs and dances reign as
strong as it will amongst you.”
• The “servant-monster” must = Caliban, and the “nest of antics”
refers almost as obviously to the dancers of The Tempest or WT.
• In both plays, Sh. “mixes his head with other men’s heels” and
includes country dances.
• Ben disliked the reliance on fantasy, on the strange and outlandish.
• Characters and events that can happen only in the imagination.
• But more than subject matter: he disliked theatricality that isn’t afraid
of dancing, music, exotic theatrical effects.
• Even though The Tempest observes the “unities.”
Dating, sources, text
• As we noted in discussion of WT, the play was performed at court on
Nov. 1, 1611.
• There is no narrative source for the play . . .
• . . . a distinction it shares with Midsummer Night’s Dream and Merry
Wives of Windsor.
• Two minor but interesting “sources”:
• In 1610 a document was circulating in manuscript (not printed until
1625) by William Strachey called A True Report of a Wrack.
• Described the shipwreck of the Sea-Venture, the flagship of a flotilla
going to Virginia, wrecked on Bermuda.
• Contained descriptions of a storm and various elements of
• And Michel de Montaigne’s essay Of Cannibals, which praises the
inhabitants of the New World (Brazil) and imagines the possibility of
an earthy paradise there.
• Translated by John Florio and published in 1603.
• It forms the basis of Gonzalo’s discourse on a utopian
• The text of the play is the First Folio of 1623, where it appears as
the first play.
Is Sh. having some fun with Ben Jonson?
In spite of all the bizarre romance material of the play – and the fact that the
plot stretches over 12 years –
the play observes the unity of time and place.
P. asks Ariel (I.2.239): “What is the time o’ th’ day?”
And learns that it’s just after 2 p.m. (when plays began at the Globe). Lots to
do before 6.
At beginning of Act V, Ariel says it’s 6.
Bo’sun says (V.1.223) that “three glasses since” – three hours ago – we
gave the ship up for lost.
“Hey, Ben, I can do the unities if I want.”
The storm and shipwreck: pulling out all the theatrical stops: thunder, squibs
for lightening, lots of noise.
And very realistic sailing commands to keep a ship off a lee shore: “bring
her to try with the main course.”
But all fake!
Miranda was terrified, but Prospero says there was no harm – just his art.
Prospero’s speech to Miranda, to Ariel, to Caliban – a kind of jokey way of
doing exposition? Teasing the audience too? And Ben?
“Dost thou attend me?” “Thou attend’st not!” “Dost thou hear?”
The quarreling with Ariel and Caliban: Ben Jonson’s favorite way of doing
exposition was to have two characters come on stage quarreling with each
More metatheatricality
What are we supposed to believe about the island?
“How lush and lusty the grass looks,” Gonzalo says.
“The ground indeed is tawny,” Antonio replies.
They’re both pointing to the same bare stage of the Globe.
Which do we believe? A version of the Dover Cliff problem from
Prospero’s wedding masque: “some vanity of mine art.”
“Spirits, which by mine art/ I have from their confines called to enact/
My present fantasies” (IV.1.121-23).
Interrupted in a way that again reminds us we’re in a theater.
And Prospero’s speech that points – also! -- to the theater and to
London (ll. 146ff).
And the epilogue – “spoken by Prospero” – that enlists the audience
in the business of ending the story and the play.
And in the theme of forgiveness as well.
Which makes explicit the collaboration of the audience in the whole
project of theater.
Shakespeare’s constant insistence on the role of the audience.
(Very different from Ben Jonson’s attitude toward audiences.)
Not an easy-going guy!
Does his experience explain that?
He had been a devoted scholar: “for the liberal arts/ Without a parallel”
“Me (poor man) my library was dukedom large enough.”
In a way, he becomes a kind of fantasy of the Renaissance man, the magus
who could, through mastery of arcane learning, control the elements.
And also of the artist who could body forth his imaginative life?
But the result was to neglect the real business of being a duke (and to
neglect the real business of life?).
Which meant near death and 12 years of exile.
And the result of his indulgent treatment of Caliban?
Will he allow himself to be inattentive in the future.
Or to control everything?
Finally, what does he intend in the round-up of his enemies?
How can they be properly punished?
Does he know?
How can he be sure that Ferdinand is not some spoiled aristocratic jerk?

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