Summary of the Tempest by Shakespeare
Throughout the centuries, the tense connection between civilized people and habitats of the island has brought confusion and troubles between two groups. In the Tempest, Shakespeare showed Caliban as brutal savage and monster that had to serve Prospero after his capturing the Caribbean island. In the play, Prospero describes Caliban as “not honour’d with a human shape”, which gives a link between the imperiousness of Prospero and the racist slavery of Caliban. The writer represented Caliban and his mother in a stereotypical and racist form.
Colonization is clearly seen after Prospero’s coming to the island. The fact why Shakespeare portrayed Caliban as an Irish could be seen in the events of the British invasion. At that time Irish people had similarities with the Caribbean habitats, including unusual appearance, savage etc. Therefore, the author tried to represent this resemblance in the Caliban’s look referring to the Irish people. Caliban blames Prospero for taking his land away. In the play, Shakespeare wrote: “This island’s mine, by Sycorax, my mother” but ignoring this fact, Prospero makes himself the king of the island. First, Prospero treats him much better than in the end of the play as suddenly everything changes. In accordance to the play, Caliban is considered to have the attempt to rape Miranda, the Prospero’s daughter. Shakespeare wrote: “In mine own cell till thou didst seek to violate/The honor of my child”.
However, Miranda and Caliban have a lot of things in common as they both are under the dominance of Prospero; hence Caliban finds himself under the Prospero’s tyranny which causes Caliban magically pains and struggles. Apart from her father, Miranda considers Caliban as a fool and sometimes bullies him. Shakespear wrote: “Abhorred slave/Which any print of goodness wilt not take/Being capable of all ill!” In the play, Shakespeare showed the disdainful and dominance attitude. Propero is portrayed as a king who has a supreme power over the island while he does not have any knowledge about the island itself. His overbearing and terrible personality toward his servants demonstrates the enslavement over other nation and culture. Abusing and hating Caliban throughout the play shows the cord of racism and mockery as he calls him “thing most brutish”. Looking beasty and horrible, Caliban experiences the rude attitude and bullying by the Prospero, and even Trincula and Stephano treat him terribly referring to his appearance.
In the Tempest, there is a slight connection between two slaves – Caliban and Ariel. While Ariel is considered to be an “airy spirit”, Caliban is called “Hag-seed”. Ariel is described as the shiny and gaudy spirits which can sing and enchant the islanders while Caliban’s appearance is odd and ugly. Although Prospero treats the spirit much better, both Ariel and Caliban suffer from the violence of the king, but in different ways. The non-human race of the native islander is the thing why Prospero tortures him more terribly than the other servant. Prospero always promises to punish Caliban. Shakespear wrote: “If thou neglect’s or dost unwillingly/What I command, I’ll rack thee with old cramps/Fill all thy bones with aches, make thee roar/That beasts shall tremble at thy din”.
Regarding the race in the Tempest, there is a clear evidence of racism. Caliban is called by a variety of offensive and abusive words due to his appearance as the native Caribbean islander. Throughout the play, he experiences mockery, hatred, and discrimination by being different in comparison to others. Therefore, it is necessary to highlight that the role of race is relevant in the Shakespeare’s play.
Table Top Shakespeare: the Tempest
Connections between stories highlight the continuity of intrinsically human concerns throughout time. Hag-Seed being an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest inevitably means there are many parallels. However, being composers of very different contextual periods, Shakespeare and Atwood express different values and perspectives on particular issues. While Shakespeare’s tale is shaped by his theatrical Christian humanist context of England under James I, Atwood is influenced by her more egalitarian, democratic 21st century world. As a reader, it can be understood that Atwood has intentionally woven contextual elements into Hag-seed to bring sharpened relevance to the transformative powers of art, contemporary power imbalances and humanist values.
In Shakespeare’s context, the art of magic was of great cultural significance. In the Tempest, art is shown as a mechanism for manipulation by Prospero as well as an outlet to spark self-reflection and empathy. Prospero uses visual and aural illusions to manipulate his enemies and expose their true selves. From conjuring up the storm in the opening of the play to the illusion of a Banquet, Prospero’s magic gives him total control over others. At one point, Prospero even goes so far as to suggest that all of life is an illusion that vanishes with death: ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep’. Atwood introduces a new kind of magic to a contemporary audience in order to continue Shakespeare’s conversation about the unclear line between illusion and reality. Atwood explores how magic-like qualities can be created using special effects and technological advancements of her modern world. She also plays into drug culture and the hallucinatory effects of such recreational, illicit drugs that have become of significant interest in recent years. Felix is able to conjure his own type of magic through the help of 8Handz, who uses audio and visual effects to trick Tony and Sal into seeing things that are not really there. Here, Atwood asserts how the same issues can pervade humanity, although our changing cultural and technological paradigms certainly can influence the ways in which this is true.
Perhaps, a more recognisable “magic” that exists in both the play and the novel is the magic of art and the form of theatre. The power of performance and art lies in its ability to fashion alternate worlds and shape realities that have the potential to produce. As Felix’s plays in the novel, “the collective indrawn breath, the collective sigh,” but also to allow us to know ourselves better. Perhaps, this is the most important connection one must make whilst formulating a Textual Conversations essay. Both Shakespeare and Atwood illustrate the ways in which art can unite people, can candidly portray the worst of humanity whilst inspiring hope that we may choose to change – Shakespeare by creating this unbelievable, magical world of “oh, wonder!” despite telling grounded stories about humanity’s inherent downfalls and Atwood by immortalising the original text, presenting it in a new fashion to ultimately prove that theatre is as impactful today as it was in 1611. However, the art of theatre helps the reader understand the world as a stage and ourselves as actors with agency and individual choice.
Atwood’s modernised humanist concerns shows there is still a focus on humanist concepts, although it has shifted. Shakespeare’s context was heavily Christian humanism while Atwood’s time involved secular humanism. This is reflected in the themes of forgiveness and mercy in both texts, as well as the education and rehabilitation of prisoners in Hag-seed. While we are prone to inherently human desires of revenge and greed, the characters, like us, are able to choose different outcomes. Ultimately, it is only when Prospero breaks the cycle of violence by refusing to take revenge on Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, or Caliban that the political tensions in the play are calmed and reconciled. After Prospero’s merciful refusal to seek revenge, Alonso and Prospero quickly come to an understanding and unite their once warring cities through the marriage of their children. The Tempest suggests that compromise and compassion are more effective political tools than violence, imprisonment, or even magic. Atwood’s context of Secular humanism portrays her belief in humanity through Felix rehabilitating and educating the prisoners on Shakespeare. It is also demonstrated through Felix’s mercy on Tony by teaching his son, Freddie about the theatre. Like Felix chose to teach Shakespeare, Atwood also chose to adapt Shakespeare as she recognised the thematical parallels in her own context. Theatre to shape realities, Unveiling the complexities of power imbalances is an issue that concerned both Atwood and Shakespeare. The Tempest was written during a time of rapid colonisation for Europe, which Shakespeare explores through the complex and problematic relationship between Prospero as coloniser and Caliban as the colonised. Their dynamic is founded on a power imbalance between the two, with Prospero taking on the superior role of teacher to lift Caliban out of “savagery”.
To Caliban, however, Prospero merely represents oppression and abuse of power, eventually turning him bitter and violent, which only reinforces Prospero’s view of him as a ‘savage.’ In Hag-seed, Atwood has replaced the power stemming from colonialism to political power. By integrating ideas of Machiavellian machinations and corruption, she is able to make comment on issues that plaque the modern political scene. This is evident in the manner Felix is vacated out of his position at the theatre. It is also expressed through Felix’s superiority over the prisoners as a free man and his control over the theatre program at Fletcher Correctional. However, Atwood also uses her more progressive context to comment on social inequalities in Shakespeare’s context. Rather than the animalistic treatment of Caliban in The Tempest, Atwood uses Leggs to question ideas of racism and inequality when he states “Why’s he have to suffer so much for being what he is? It’s like he’s, you know, black or native or something. He never asked to get born. “Through this connection, it is almost as though Atwood is telling Shakespeare and her readers that some issues seem to pervade humanity no matter how many centuries have passed and successfully given The Tempest new meaning to the implications of power, politics and revenge to suit a more contemporary, Western audience. What we can draw from this relationship between texts and their contexts is that, whilst many issues are relevant to a universal audience, the intentional connections between them allows us to reinvent specifically what they mean to us. Atwood’s recontextualization not only transports Shakespeare’s work to a new generation but it allows her to make commentary on issue that are pertinent to her own context. It creates a richer reading experience by deepening our capacity to find new meanings and interpretations of The Tempest.
Summary of the Tempest – Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
A fictitious theatrical art can only be enjoyed by the spectators only if they willingly, consciously, and, yet provisionally, choose to suspend their disbeliefs, to allow their imagination enjoy the indulgence of suspension of disbelief. Coleridge, a literary critic, suggests that a successful hoax is one that encourages its readers to suspend their disbelief, which does not necessarily mean to participate in the belief, rather to view the fiction as a possibility or truth for a moment, mainly to entertain that belief and enjoy it. This willed conscious choice relinquish rational of magic or transoceanic spirits begins by one’s abandonment of disbelief and such decision requires a kind of faith put into work of literature for the purposes of enjoyment. Coleridge coined the term Poetic Faith to explain the way in which readers experience joy in a poem through momentary suspension of disbelief. The notion of poetic faith and its importance in attracting spectator’s attention in hopes of disseminating the author’s intended messages is vividly observed throughout The Tempest written by William Shakespeare. This extraordinary play exercises the audience’s poetic faith as the story is entirely fictitious; it uses supernatural characters with a magical island as its setting in order to create a tone that is dreamy and magical. Shakespeare’s use of a mysterious island with magical powers creates an imaginative story and the spectator has to have faith in the play to make the choice of suspending disbelief, in pursuit of gaining joy as they follow the plot without rational. In addition to poetic faith being an essential component in momentarily believing in the supernatural characters and a magical setting, it is also important for overall understanding of the play’s themes, motifs, tone and genre. In the absence of poetic faith, potentially through rationalization, the audience fails to accept fiction as reality, thus lacks the attention to follow the plot and understand Shakespeare’s intended messages and themes. Although poetic faith is not a necessary component in all works of literature, its importance can be seen through The Tempest through Shakespeare’s use of character’s with supernatural abilities, a mysterious island as a setting and its significance in understanding the play’s overall messages.
The Tempest invokes its audience to use poetic faith through the use of fictitious characters, particularly evident through Prospero, the protagonist in possession of magical powers, and Ariel, the spirit who helps Prospero. Central to the play’s story is the main character, Prospero, who single-handedly generates the entire plot using various schemes, spells, magical manipulations in pursuit of designing his grand revenge and reestablishing his status as the Duke of Milan. Shakespeare develops Prospero as an enigmatic character who possesses and uses his magical knowledge throughout the play. For instance, Prospero uses his magical spells to rescue Ariel from a long imprisonment under a witch Sycorax and declares him as his spirit-helper until he decides to release him. It is evident that Prospero’s magical spells renders him an extremely powerful role; thus, making his character and magical powers a central component of the plot that the audience must follow along to understand the story. Furthermore, Prospero’s unwillingness to return Ariel’s freedom is mainly due to his desire to use this spirit’s immense powers. In Ariel’s first line in the play he states, “To answer thy best pleasure, be ‘t to fly, to swim, to dive into the fire, to ride on the curled clouds. To thy strong bidding, task Ariel and all his quality.” This line not only explains the spirit’s various range of abilities and impressive qualities, but also alludes to his power that can command a large number of other lesser-spirits. Shakespeare’s use of magical powers and spirits as characters demands the audience to use poetic faith in order to suspend any disbeliefs, which otherwise would lead to their inability to interpret and focus on the plot. In particular, by incorporating magical power to the protagonist’s character, rather than any of the other characters in the play emphasizes the importance of poetic faith in understanding the overall plot. In other words, failing to have faith in The Tempest’s play would lead to the audience’s inability to follow Prospero’s character, who possess majority of the play’s lines, leading to a vague understanding of the whole story. The possession of poetic faith is not only important in believing in the play’s fictitious characters but also in accepting an imaginative magical island as the setting of the plot.
Most of the actions taken in The Tempest occurs in a small isolated, yet magical and illusionary island which once again implores the audience to have poetic faith in order to momentarily believe such place exists in reality. Although the real and precise location of island remains a mystery to Shakespeare scholars, this setting plays a significant role in developing a dreamy and mysterious atmosphere that is essential to the story’s tone and theme. By setting a mystic atmosphere, Shakespeare can easily manipulate the audience’s imagination and invoke a momentary belief in all the magical characters and actions taken place on the island. For example, by placing Prospero in charge of an island and allowing him to have possession over Ariel and his commanded spirits, strange and magical events continuously occur in isolation of the outside world. In addition to that, by designating a remote island as essentially the only setting of the whole play, Shakespeare follows the Unity of Action – a component of the theory, proposed by Aristole, called Classical Unities: the three essential components for a successful dramatic tragedy. Furthermore, the Unity of Action suggests that a play’s plot should only contain one main setting in order to reduce other extraneous plot lines with little significance in order to redirect focus only on the main actions that help formulate the tragic story. By integrating the notion of Unity of Action, Shakespeare helps maintain the audience’s attention on the strange events and magical actions taken by the characters rather than overwhelming them with insignificant details on different settings. Therefore, the use of an isolated island as the major setting on the play, Shakespeare avoids losing the spectator attention which would otherwise interrupt their poetic belief in the play.
The poetic faith allowed Shakespeare to use imagination, creativity, and art to establish a famous play which is read as exploration of colonialism and moral dilemmas, but this could potentially have some risks if the imaginations do not hook the audience successfully. If the author uses too much unreal moments along the story being beyond the imagination level of the audience, it may not attract the audience and one’s attention if the spectator fails to imagine the events happening along the story or relates the events to some unrelated historical events. In addition to lose of audience’s attention, there is potentially the risk of misinterpretation of the story and the message that is conveyed throughout the story. To conclude, The Tempest might seem a simple imaginative story, but many important messages, interesting tonal fluctuations, and conflictions are observed throughout the play by applying poetic faith, which in essence, is willing suspension of disbelief and sacrifice of realism for the sake of moment. The imaginative setting of the story in terms of the unity of time and the unity of the action help Shakespeare to emphasize the illusion of justice throughout the story which might not happen in the real life. The story is restricted to the island and it covers as much as time is required to complete the story. In other words, the real life may not be compatible with our natural sense of justice, expecting good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people, and injustice of the reality cannot be ignored in the real world. Sacrificing the realism for the sake of enjoyment gives an opportunity to the author to give magical power to Prospero, the main character of The Tempest, to take advantage of the features of the mysterious place and time to bring all his enemies at the same place. Prospero used his power to confront his enemies, to forgive them, to take his power back from them, and to relinquish his magic once he reprimanded Alonso, the king of Naples, and his brother, Antoni, for their treachery. Also, it is a considerable factor that the author establishes the idea of justice to give power and control to the good character of the story to make the bad characters of the story repent. This illustrates the importance of poetic faith and creativity of the author in shifting the story from threatening beginning to the happy ending although applying the poetic faith to the story could potentially represent some risks of inability of disbelief or misinterpretation of the story.
Theme of Fortune in the Tempest
The Tempest demonstrates fortune as a theme throughout the story. It may be difficult to see how this play demonstrates luck, but if looked at from the right angle it can be found. In the play there are many times when things look bleak, but if you look for the silver lining then you can see how truly fortunate the characters are, especially for it being a Shakespeare play. The first place where luck takes place in the play is when the boat is in a storm. It may not seem fortunate that they are in the storm, but the fact they live through the storm and end up on an Island is lucky. The fact that no main characters die in the play, also just shows their good fortune when there were murder attempts that failed to kill. By the end of The Tempest, the characters all end up back home and there is a sense of peace between them. This can be difficult to believe with everything that has happened between everybody. Fortune is in short supply, but it tends to show up when needed, but in The Tempest, it can be found in unique places.
Some people are lucky while others are not so much. In The Tempest there were some unlucky events, but based on the definition of luck they did have moments where things turned into a great outcome. What is luck though? I believe it is when despite a difficult situation there is a brighter side just around the corner yet to come. Like in this play a boat goes down, but then there is an island and they get to live longer on that island. This demonstrates the luck of getting to live yet another day. There are people who could argue with that, but then is luck only if you win the lottery. Of course it is not only when you win the lottery. It is when you defeat cancer or beat the odds of winning a state championship when the odds of everything is stacked against you. When you are lost in a sea ready to die and you end up living you will count yourself lucky that you defeated those odds. If you are stuck on an island for years and then a boat passes by and you get to go home after those years of doubt of never getting back home, you will count yourself fortune to get to be home. Luck tends to show up when things are looking dark or bleak.
There are times on the boat and the island where things were not working out, but later on all will end well. The crew on the ship had lost all hope and were getting to the point of giving up all hope and they pray for their lives. “All lost! To prayers, to prayers! All lost!” They may have been giving up but it does not affect the luck they will face soon after. In events taking place after the storm Prospero and his daughter get stuck on an island for 12 years. With luck they get discovered upon and the boat remains in tack to bring everyone back safely. They would not be able to get lucky without the unfortunate events that happen in this play. On the island Prospero is fortunate to find the spirit Ariel, and he rescues him, and then he becomes Prospero’s worker. “All hail, great master, grave sir, hail! I come To answer thy best pleasure; be’t to fly, To swim, to dive into fire, to ride On the curl’d clouds.” This is Ariel calling Prospero his master in which shows Prospero’s luck to meet this spirit who will end up helping him. The event of the boat and what happens on the island are not the best situations, but it could always be worse.
Even with the tragedies that happen there is a positive outcome in the end of the play that usually only happens in children’s stories. In children stories there is always a happy ending and a lesson to be learned. The Tempest shows us this by everyone being alive and the lesson of forgiveness. Prospero forgives his brother Antonio for what he’s done. Prospero’s daughter who was stuck on the island with him ends up with the luck of getting married to someone she loves. “Go quick away: the story of my life And the particular accidents gone by Since I came to this isle. And in the morn ‘ll bring you to your ship and so to Naples, Where I have hope to see the nuptial Of these our dear-belovèd solemnized, And thence retire me to my Milan, where Every third thought shall be my grave.”He gets the luck of getting to see his daughter get married after being stuck on the island with her. Most parents count themselves fortune to see their children walk down the aisle on their wedding day.
In The Tempest the characters face challenges, but their unfortune at some point turns to luck. Prospero ends up getting to go home and Ariel gets set free. After being strayed on an island for 12 years, Miranda gets to marry the man she loves. Antonio gets his brothers mercy after attempting to get rid of him. All these events that happen are because of luck. Thanks to these peoples fortunes they all get to go on living in the end and we the readers are left with the morals of this play. Not every play gets a happy ending, but with some luck we get to read at least one book with a happy ending in adulthood.
How Shakespeare’s Final Play, the Tempest, Reflects the Religious, Political and Social Environment of the Jacobean Period
In this essay I will be showing how Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest, reflects the religious, political and social environment of the Jacobean period. Nearly every scene in the play portrays a relationship between a figure that possesses power and a figure that is subject to that power. I will explore how the environment of the early 1600s is reflected by the themes in the play; such as colonialization, the importance of the monarchy, belief in God and the Devil, magic and power.
When Queen Elizabeth died and her Scottish cousin James became King, the plays Shakespeare wrote changed and became a lot darker and violent. This reflected the brutal violence and torture that was happening at the time. This period ‘was an age of close proximity to death and decay, in which the goriest of stage spectacles might be outdone on the streets outside by the agonies of a plague victim, or the sight of traitor’s head maggot- ridden on its spike at the foot of London bridge. King James I loved the theatre and was a huge fan of Shakespeare. He paid him one of the biggest compliments by bestowing upon its members the title of The King’s Men. Shakespeare would have done all he could to please the monarchy at the time in the same way he previously did for Queen Elizabeth. He included scenes between Prospero and Caliban which involved threats and curses to cause great pain. The play also contains Caliban brutally describing how they should smash Prospero’s skull to kill him.
During the Jacobean period the British Empire had begun to colonize The Americas and The Caribbean. Shakespeare shows and examines the relationships that would have been between the white Europeans, who were colonizing many countries including America and the Caribbean, and the people whose countries were being taken over and forced into becoming slaves. In The Tempest, Prospero and Caliban represent these two relationships in that Prospero arrived on the island and override Caliban and Sycorax to become almost King of the island. Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a social commentary on the effects of colonialism on the colonized nations. Prospero views Caliban as being lesser then himself and below him and believes that Caliban should be grateful to him for educating Caliban and teaching him his language. Caliban becomes Prospero’s slave in effect. This is referring to how the English colonizers would have treated the natives when they arrived at the discovered lands. Caliban represents the innocent native people of countries like St. Lucia and Granada in 1604. Native people like Caliban were stolen from their countries and used as slaves. Shakespeare effectively shows this through the characters in his play.
One of the main themes of The Tempest is power and overthrowing the King. This shows how people were trying to overthrow King James at the time. King James was hated by lots of people because he was Scottish, and they didn’t think he should be the king of England. Nearly every character, from the lord Gonzalo to Stephano, plot how he would rule the island if he were King. The duke of Milan, Antonio, usurps Prospero from his Dukedom at the beginning and multiple times different characters attempt to kill King Alonso. He is nearly killed by Sebastian and Antonio, but they are interrupted by Ariel. Later, Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano plot to kill Prospero who is king of the island, but they are all stopped too. King James would have enjoyed watching this because the only plot that is succeeded in the play is Prospero’s. Furthermore, the gunpowder plot was in 1605 where King James nearly got murdered. This play was written six years later in 1611, so King James would have watched this part of the play and been relieved to see that Ariel interrupts (on Prospero’s command) and King Alonso is saved.
Shakespeare uses a lot of religious aspects in his play The Tempest because it was such a predominant part of people’s everyday life. The Tempest explores religion at the time by comparing Prospero’s character to a Godlike figure making it very clear that he views God as vengeful and powerful and as a being who ultimately controls everything. He also includes a lot of language from the bible. For example, when Miranda askes how they got to the island, Prospero answers ‘By providence divine’. In the Elizabethan period and through to the Jacobean period ‘People believed there was a hierarchy among all things in the world, starting with rocks at the bottom and rising through plants, animals, humans, angels and ultimately god. This is called the great chain of being and is depicted in his plays with Prospero at the top; representing God and Caliban at the bottom. Additionally, in Shakespeare’s time, the law said you had to go to church every week and most people believed in Hell as a very real place, and that the Devil was real. Religion was a very important part of life and it influenced a lot of things in the Jacobean period. ‘James Stuart arrived in England in 1603 with a well-developed understanding of the role of a King in the religious life of his kingdom. This understanding had two prime sources: the Protestant understanding of the bible as it related to kingship and his experiences as a young king of Scotland’. King James was brought up being a protestant and his mother Mary, Queen of Scots, was a Catholic as backed up by Doalman ‘religious life and religious culture continued to be centered in the Catholic Church and its officials, especially the pope’. James was more sympathetic to the Catholic Church then Elizabeth had been so religious tension began again and people were martyred on both sides. They were often burnt at the stake or tortured violently before being killed.
Shakespeare talks about black magic and magic in the play a lot which would also be referring to the witch-hunts that swept across Europe from 1450 to 1750. This was among the most controversial and terrifying phenomena in history. King James ‘had had a personal experience with witchcraft in 1590 when a conspiracy of witches had allegedly tried to prevent the arrival of his bride, Princess Anne of Denmark, in Scotland. The witches also allegedly ‘tried to use witchcraft to murder him’. Shakespeare reflects this through his spirit character Ariel and through Prospero’s use of sorcery. Although Prospero and Ariel’s magic are shown to be ‘good’ magic or ‘white magic’, the play ends with Prospero giving up his magic powers by throwing his staff into the sea. This is a symbol of how magic has no place in the real world where they are heading back to at the end of the play.
The marriage scene in the Tempest was made to celebrate the Kings daughter’s wedding. We can infer from this that it would have been important to write plays that pleased the monarchy. The court would join in on the dancing this was called a masque. The whole of The Tempest play can be seen as a masque, with much of the story told in music and song but there is also a scene at the end where there’s dancing. This showed how personal Shakespeare’s plays would have been to King James and how important it would have been to impress the monarchy. Masques were, ‘for the court and about the court… the monarch was at the center, and they provided roles for members of the court within an idealized fiction’. The lavish, private court masque continued throughout the Jacobean period.
Although Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, shows many different aspects of the early 1600s, I think his most powerful portrayal is of the social environment of the early 1600s. The portrayal of Prospero’s relationship with Caliban and the fact that soon after they arrived on the small island Prospero took power over Caliban, shows the increasing colonialization of the time. It also effectively depicts how people were being treated across the world by the British Empire and how they were being used as slaves
Common Themes and Characters in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night and the Tempest
Analogs in The Tempest
Many of Shakespeare’s works share common themes and characters. The similarities between his many plays allow readers to draw parallels which can provide deeper understanding to the individual plays as well as Shakespeare’s works as a whole. In his final play entitled The Tempest, Shakespeare draws from many of his earlier works to create a meaningful piece that is uniquely Shakespearean. Although there are many familiar elements in The Tempest, the initial storm which allows for the rest of the plot is the most intriguing. Similar storms can be found both in Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night. In each of these plays, the storm is one of the first events and plays a role in breaking up a family. The storm at sea has become a recurring motif among Shakespeare’s works to foreshadow the emotional storms that are to come.
In the opening scene of Comedy of Errors, Egeon reveals the fateful incident which has brought him to Ephesus where he is now imprisoned. He describes the storm for the Duke, saying, the sailors sought for safety by our boat/ And left the ship, then sinking-ripe, to us./ My wife, more careful for the latter-born,/ Had fastened him unto a small spare mast,/ Such as seafaring men provide for storms./ To him one of the other twins was bound,/ Whilst I had been like heedful of the other./ The children thus disposed, my wife and I,/ Fixing our eyes on whom our care was fixed,/ Fastened ourselves at either end the mast/ And, floating straight, obedient to the stream,/ Was carried towards Corinth, as we thought. (1.1.76-87)
After the storm, Emilia, Antipholus E., and Dromio E. are taken to Ephesus, while Egeon, Antipholus S., and Dromio S. are taken to Syracuse. The storm sets up the rest of the plot and allows for the confusion that later ensues. Although Comedy of Errors is, in fact, a comedy, there is still an underlying sadness in the years lost as a family.
In Twelfth Night, another family is broken up by a similar storm. This time, twin siblings Viola and Sebastian are separated at sea. Both believe that the storm was too great for the other to survive. When Viola arrives in Illyria, the sea captain tells her, “…after our ship did split,/ When you and those poor number saved with you/ Hung on our driving boat, I saw your brother,/ Most provident in his peril, bind himself/ (Courage and hope both teaching him the practice)/ To a strong mast that lived upon the sea…” (1.2.10-15). Again, without the storm, the sequence of events that followed would not have been possible. Twelfth Night is also considered a comedy, but that does not discount the emotional toll of losing a sibling (or so they thought).
Finally, the storm in The Tempest is the culmination of all the storms before. This time, the storm at sea has a slightly different purpose. One family is broken up (temporarily), but another family is reunited, much to their dismay. The cause of this storm is no mystery, for it is revealed that Prospero conjured the storm with magic to bring his enemies to the island where he has been exiled. The storm again foreshadows the turmoil that is to come. Immediately following the storm, Alonso discovers that his son, Ferdinand, is nowhere to be found. He fears that his heir has been lost at sea. Meanwhile, Ferdinand awakes on another part of the island, fearing he is the only survivor. Unlike the other stories, one family is reunited because of the storm. Prospero’s brother, Antonio, is brought to the island to face Prospero. This is a twist on Shakespeare’s typical storm scene.
There are many reasons for using the storm as an analog between stories. First, it enables the drama of the story that follows. Secondly, the physical storm symbolizes the emotional storms that are to follow. Finally, it serves as a metaphor for life. Storms cannot last forever, and in each of these plays, neither does the turmoil. The two Antipholi, Viola, Sebastian, and Ferdinand all overcome the storms of life to find their happy ending. In The Tempest, Shakespeare uses a familiar symbol to guide his audience, but he manages to give the storm a new twist to set his final work apart.
Humanistic Approach to Life in Decameron and the Tempest Novels
Humanism in the Early Modern World
The term ‘humanism’ was a newly rediscovered idea brought upon to the early modern world during the fifteenth century. It is described as the “manner of seeing the world which, as it’s name implies, placed man rather than God at the center” (928). This rejection of all supernatural powers made for the humanistic viewpoint the authors in the early modern world wrote with. Although many of the early modern world texts we read this semester touched on humanism, the ones that I believe had it be most prevalent were Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron and William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Many look at the humanistic values today as means of describing the way the modern world was built through science. Although there were many things unexplainable by science, the writers of that era had set their world to revolve around the humanistic approach.
Giovanni Boccaccio was a humanist who wrote the well-known story Decameron. The story tells of several men and women who escape the city of Florence during the harsh events of the Black Plague. Amongst the story, the humans chose the way they lived their life. These humanistic tendencies put forth the plot of the whole tale. Their human ability represented the outcome of their personal future. The chaos that followed the Black Plague enabled humans to come together and figure out what they wanted to do themselves. They didn’t rely on the spirituality of God to determine their faith but instead focused on fully embracing their human life.
In Decameron, there are no mystical or magical occurrences. Boccaccio takes us to the very real and cruel setting of Florence during the plague. He captures the horrors within the city through his vivid imagery. Boccaccio writes this imagery by saying, “One day, for instant, the rags of a pauper who had died from the disease were thrown into the street, where they attracted the attention of two pigs. In their wonted fashion, the pigs first of all gave the rags a thorough mauling with their snouts after which they took them between their teeth and shook them against their cheeks. And within a short time they began to writhe as though they had been poisoned, then they both dropped dead to the ground, spread-eagled upon the rags that had brought about their undoing.” (939). This brutal reality we read about allows us to see why humans would think in the ethical way they do. With all of the harsh consequences surrounding them, it’s easy to lose faith and depend on merely your self.
Finally, we see humanism shown as a metaphor when the group composed of ten people flees Florence based on their own decision to. Rather than choosing to stay in the grieving city, they chose to act on free will and not follow the rules already predisposed upon them. The social normality and regulations were all wiped out from their minds as they chose the path of self-governance. The story is almost touching on the term ‘survival of the fittest’ through the characters. Rather than staying and having a feeling of guilt encompass them, they choose a path defining the true meaning of humanism. Although they do feel remorse and sadness over the deaths of people, their primary interest is in saving themselves.
William Shakespeare is another writer during the early modern period that shows the nature of the universe through humanism in The Tempest through several ways. Mostly all of the characteristics of humanism revolve around the protagonist, Prospero. Prospero, followed humanistic values and focused on his own emotions rather than the emotions he should be feeling when believing in a higher power. Unlike Decameron, in The Tempest there is a bit more enchantment in the sense that Prospero uses his magic as a weapon. His books symbolize the power he has and is a metaphor on how he later takes on to be the role of “God” on the island he is stuck on. He uses himself to self govern and dictate the ways of life for others. He commands and punishes the people of the island whenever a situation occurs. I believe Prospero was very power hungry, which led to a lot of decisions fueled by his motivation to be in charge. He describes his past as being the Duke of Milan and how important he was as a prince. I think he still craves this attention and power, which, fuels his negative characteristic traits and touches on humanism. Humanism is what placed an importance for Prospero’s leadership and individualism. Due to Prospero being as power greedy as he was, we can see an example of humanism shown in Prospero’s sole concern for himself. He even calls on the spirit Ariel and she replies by saying, “All hail, great master, grave sir, hail! I come to answer thy best pleasure; be’t to fly, to swim, to dive into the fire, to ride on the curled clouds, to thy strong bidding task” (1097). This shows Ariel’s willingness to obey Prospero due to his power. As the ruler of the island, he wants to take the humanistic approach and live life through his values instead of living by preset rules.
In Act IV, Prospero also disregards the importance of dreams. “We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life, Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex’d;Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled.” (1133). This is an example of a humanistic quote among many that Shakespeare incorporates into The Tempest. There is to be no fantasy that is associated with dreams because of the realistic approach to looking at life.
Overall, we see how Prospero’s life is focused on his self-governance and not the belief of magic or illusion. Perhaps the most important example of humanism in The Tempest is shown towards the end in Act V and the epilogue. In the epilogue we see that Prospero decides to destroy his magic abilities with his closing statement to the readers. “Now my charms are all o’erthrown, and what strength I have’s mine own, which is most faint. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you or sent to Naples. Let me not, Since I have my dukedom got and pardoned the deceiver, dwell In this bare island by your sell, but release me from my bands….” (1144). Here, Prospero shows the humanistic values he holds as he focuses on self-government and relies only on himself.
I believe Shakespeare wrote his characters with the humanistic approach just as Boccaccio did in terms of showing that humans would tend to focus on themselves first as opposed to others. There will be people opposing humanism like the character of Caliban in The Tempest, but mostly, texts from the early modern world all have the same ideals. To understand humanism is to understand stressing on the importance of scientific nature rather than focus on the divine. The dignity and worth of all of the characters we read are of utmost importance to them and their dependency on faith seems to be the furthest thing on their mind. The rational thoughts composed throughout the texts of the early modern world all have the same similarities. The search for truth, morality, and reality are all done through the support of human’s best interests at heart.
In conclusion, for all the reasons stated above, I believe the humanistic approach to life was one that could be excellently argued and described. Shakespeare, Boccaccio and many more authors during the early modern world period wrote texts that embodied the philosophy of humanism and showed that modern science was the way to the universe. With humanism, there was to be no idea that the cosmos or supernatural beings made up the world. A person’s dedication and mindset solely revolved around governing themselves and focusing on their own abilities and free will. There is no denying that humanists are similar to naturalists with a focus on the origin of a planet in a rational way. Humanists take pride in seeking knowledge for themselves and relish in the ability to think freely with no rules or spiritual faiths holding them down.
An Evolution of Prospero’s Character in the Tempest
In The Tempest, Prospero shows quite a development in himself starting as a cruel and vengeful sorcerer, to finding the humanity and forgiveness within himself. Prospero starts the play by seeking revenge for what Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian did to him twelve years prior but later finds that virtue is a better answer than revenge. I agree in some sense that Prospero realizes that knowledge and power aren’t everything and he has much to learn from normal human beings, but I also don’t believe Prospero is really giving up all of his power so he may never learn and act upon the true definition of virtue.
Throughout the play Prospero showed he had a plan for how he wanted things to turn out. He starts the play by summoning a great storm to bring the ship of his enemies to his island. But significantly Prospero wanted them be unharmed and safely at the shore, Prospero and Ariel converse after the ship is brought in:
PROSPERO. But are they, Ariel, safe?
ARIEL. Not a hair perished. On their sustaining garments not a blemish, (1.2.216-218)
This conversation between Prospero and Ariel clearly shows that Prospero has no real intention of hurting Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian because he easily could have had his vengeance by disposing of them during the storm he used to bring them to the island. While this shows a possibly more human and kind side to Prospero, it also shows that Prospero has a plan and sees his enemies as his only option to return to Italy and a better life for himself and Miranda.
Prospero’s interactions with Miranda show his human side much more than his interactions with many of the other characters. Prospero’s plan also includes bringing Alonso’s son, Ferdinand, to Miranda; for them to eventually fall in love and get married. When Miranda first sees Ferdinand she instantly falls in love, just as Prospero desires:
MIRANDA. I might call him a thing divine; for nothing natural I ever saw so noble.
PROSPERO. It goes on, I see, As my soul prompts it. Spirit, fine spirit, I’ll free thee within two days for this. (1.2.418-422)
Prospero’s plan is working out very well to this point as he has his enemies in captivity and he has no found a husband for his daughter. Conveniently the husband Prospero finds for Miranda is the heir to the King of Naples, which possibly shows Prospero’s constant desire for power, as Ferdinand is quite the man to pick for Miranda to fall in love with. Prospero has a clear plan to come back to Italy and live a better and normal life, this plan was furthered by making his daughter happy and marrying her into the royal family of Milan.
While Prospero’s plan throughout the play also showed how terrible he can be to the ones he finds inferior to himself. Prospero shows his cruel and vindictive nature by doing many terrible acts. He treats Ariel very poorly and threatens him with a return to the torture and enslavement of Sycorax. Prospero also treats Caliban with no respect and sees him only as a disgusting creature created by a witch. These examples show Prospero’s harsh nature, mainly used to conserve and consolidate his power over whom he feels are inferior to him. They are also habits that he is familiar with and have proved good to himself after twelve years of being trapped on an island. During Prospero’s time on the island he has lost any sympathy for others and sees himself as better than his inferiors. Only when Ariel, a spirit lacking the emotions of a human being, opens up to Prospero and tells him of the suffering being done by Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, and even his friend Gonzalo during their imprisonment; is it that Prospero seems to find the empathy within himself to forgive his enemies:
ARIEL. They cannot budge till your release. The king, his brother, and yours abide all three distracted, and the remainder mourning over them, brimful of sorrow and dismay; but chiefly him that you termed, sir, the good old Lord Gonzalo. His tears runs down his beard like winter’s drops from eaves of reeds. 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 mind shall. (5.1.11-20)
This scene continues with Prospero asking Ariel to release the prisoners and Prospero giving up his book and staff, relinquishing him to a normal human being. Prospero giving up his magic abilities is the most blatant example of Prospero changing, relinquishing the only thing that makes him better than the ones he first saw as inferior. Prospero is now able to show humility and benevolence to others no matter his prior relationship to them. He is able to forgive Alonso and Antonio for unseating him as the Duke of Milan and says he will help them sail to Naples and then retire in Milan.
Prospero’s plan worked just as he wanted it to; starting with the storm bringing in King Alonso’s ship, then getting his daughter a husband, eventually freeing himself of his power so he can show empathy on those that did him wrongly, and finally being able to forgive his enemies and sail safely home to Italy. I find Prospero does realize that knowledge and power isn’t everything in life and he learns that love and forgiveness are a much better alternative to hate and revenge. But I still find Prospero desires power and control over the situations that have anything to do with him. Throughout the whole play there is not a moment when Prospero isn’t in control and isn’t dictating the situation for the outcome he desires. While his end goal is seemingly a moral one, the way Prospero gets to his solution is one that should be questioned but it is likely to be the necessary method to get exactly what he wants. Overall, I believe that Prospero has changed from a sorcerer who desires knowledge and power and values them above everything, to a man who has found empathy and forgiveness within himself to bring a better life for, not only himself, but the people around him.
Daughters as Means of Power in Shakespeare’s The Tempest
Familial relationships are the principal driving force behind the plot of Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest. For example, the sole reason Prospero, the protagonist, is on the island is because of his brother, Antonio, usurping him. Despite the plot seemingly revolving around this relationship, in actuality, the entire play mostly concerns itself with father-daughter relationships, more specifically, Alonso and Claribel and Prospero and Miranda. At first glance, it appears that these fathers only want the best for their daughters and are trying to give them lifelong happiness through marriage; however, after analyzing the true motives behind these marriages and Prospero’s constant anxieties about virginity, one can tell that these fathers are solely using their daughters as a means to expand their power.
The only reason that Alonso and his men become shipwrecked on the island and the play is able to take place is due to Claribel’s marriage to the prince of Tunis in Africa. According to Stephen Orgel, the author of this play’s introduction, this marriage was “not a happy occasion, to which the bride went unwillingly, and of which much of the court disapproved” (30). Much of the reason the court disapproved was because the marriage was to an African and not a fellow European. In turn, this voyage of Africa leads many of the men to blame Alonso for the shipwreck, which can be seen when Sebastian states: Sir, you may thank yourself for this great loss, That would not bless our Europe with your daughter, But rather lose her to an African, Where she, at least, is banished from your eye, Who hath cause to wet the grief on’t. (2.1.121-125) Here, Sebastian is telling Alonso that the shipwreck is entirely his fault for marrying off his daughter to an African, where he will never see her again, as opposed to a European. This argument makes sense and leaves the readers wondering why Alonso did choose to marry her to a man so far away. The most likely reason is that the marriage was solely a political move. If Alonso, the King of Naples in Italy, marries his daughter off to the Prince of Tunis in Africa, his rule would then expand across the entire Mediterranean Sea, giving him ultimate power over this area. This, in turn, makes Claribel more than just a daughter, but a form of currency for expansion and power, which Alonso hastily uses for his benefit.
Alonso is not the only father in this play to use his daughter for his own benefit; Prospero’s willingness to let Miranda marry Ferdinand, Alonso’s son, is not as innocent as it seems. Orgel writes, “Claribel’s marriage will give us notice that more is at stake in the match Prospero is arranging than the happiness of two young people” (30). Here, Orgel is stating that, in the context of Claribel’s marriage to the Prince of Tunis, the readers can more easily see that Prospero is marrying off his daughter to further his own power, much like Alonso. This is not only seen in Orgel’s words and the context of the play but Prospero’s own words as well. When he is listening in on Miranda and Ferdinand’s first meeting, he states “They are both in either’s powers; but this swift business/ I must uneasy make lest too light winning/ Make the prize light” (1.2.451-453). He refers to Miranda and Ferdinand falling for each other and most likely developing a relationship as “business,” implying that, to him, it is a form of trade or transaction in which his daughter is the compensation. Similarly, when Prospero finally consents to the marriage between Miranda and Ferdinand, he states, “Here, afore heaven, I ratify this my rich gift” (4.1.7-8). In this speech, the “gift” he is referring to is his daughter, proving that she is solely a form of compensation. Despite there being a multitude of evidence from Stephen Orgel and Prospero’s own words for this being a political marriage that Prospero has arranged solely for his benefit, one of the most powerful indicators of this comes in the final scene of the play. In this scene, Alonso is fretting over the supposed loss of his son when “Prospero discovers Ferdinand and Miranda playing at chess” (5.1). Out of context, it seems odd that a romantically involved couple would be playing chess when given alone time. However, with Prospero’s power play in mind, it becomes apparent that these two are playing a game of strategy, much like the entire backbone of their political marriage.
Despite these daughters being used as tools for power for their fathers, there is a massive threat constantly looming that could hinder these fathers from gaining this power. This threat is a violation in the daughters’ virginities. The readers can assume that Claribel was married off still with her virginity; however, Prospero is constantly worrying about the state of his own daughter. The first possible violation of Miranda’s virginity that Prospero must prevent is Caliban, an indigenous man of the island. When introducing Caliban for the first time, Prospero states: Thou most lying slave, Whom stripes may move, not kindness, I have used thee- Filth as thou art- with human care, and lodged thee In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate The honour of my child. (1.2.344-348) Here, Prospero is scolding Caliban for trying to rape Miranda after all he has done to care for him. However, Prospero’s love for his daughter is not the only driving force of his anger concerning this attempted rape. It could be argued that he is mainly concerned with this act due to the fact that it would violate Miranda’s virginity, therefore making her more difficult to marry off, especially to someone in a place of power. Caliban replies to this by saying, “Would’t had been done!/ Thou didst prevent me- I had peopled else/ This isle with Calibans” (1.2.348-350). By this, Caliban means that he would have gone through with his plan to rape Miranda and populate the island with their children if he had not been caught. This is especially terrifying to Prospero if he is using Miranda as a tool for power, seeing as not only would her virginity be violated, but she would not be able to be married off elsewhere, giving Prospero power only over the island, which he already has.
However, Caliban is not the only threat to Miranda’s virginity. Throughout the play, there are constant allusions to similarities between Caliban and Ferdinand. Orgel writes, “[Prospero’s] ambivalence towards Ferdinand is expressed, too, in the tasks Prospero sets for him, which are, explicitly, Caliban’s tasks” (29). Here, Orgel is referencing the fact that Prospero makes both Caliban and Ferdinand carry logs for him. In the beginning of Act Two, Scene Two, Caliban enters the stage with “a burden of wood” after Prospero tells him to “Fetch us fuel” (1.2.365). Additionally, in the beginning of Act Three, Scene I, Ferdinand enters the stage “bearing a log.” However, these tasks are not all that equate Caliban and Ferdinand in Prospero’s eyes; he sees both of these men as threats to his daughter’s virginity. After giving Ferdinand permission to marry Miranda, Prospero states: If thou dost break her virgin-knot before All sanctimonious ceremonies may With full and holy rite be ministered, No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall To make this contract grow; but barren hate, Sour-eyed disdain, and discord shall bestrew The union of your bed with weeds so loathly That you shall hate it both. (4.1.15-22) Here, he is warning Ferdinand not to take Miranda’s virginity before they are actually married or their marriage will not be blessed but cursed with strife. However, Orgel writes, “Prospero’s repeated warnings to Ferdinand against pre-marital sex are not prompted by anything we see of Ferdinand’s behaviour” (28). Because Prospero has no evidence that Ferdinand would take Miranda’s virginity before they were married, readers can infer that Propsero is warning him against this action for his own benefit. He wants to ensure that Miranda stays a virgin until the marriage is final to make sure that she can still be of use as a means to power if anything were to happen.
Many read Shakespeare’s The Tempest to be a play about fatherly love; however, upon further inspection, this play also concerns itself with fathers using their daughters as means for expand their power. This is first seen in the reason for the shipwreck that starts the play, or Alonso’s marrying off of his daughter, Claribel, to the Prince of Tunis so that he can have control of the Mediterranean Sea. Additionally, this theme can be seen in Prospero’s marrying off of his daughter, Miranda, to Ferdinand, the Prince of Naples, so that when he escapes the island he still has some form of power. However, Prospero constantly lives in a state of anxiety due to the possibility that Miranda’s virginity could be threatened, which would, in turn, cause Prospero to lose his only remaining means to power, his daughter. However, since she is able to keep her virginity until marriage, as Prospero has ensured, she is still a powerful asset to him and can be used, as daughters were, to expand his power.
The Tempest and Use of the Masque Genre
During the 16th century, the court masque was a popular form of entertainment, one often used to celebrate the king and aristocracy. Shakespeare’s greatest contribution to the genre was his play The Tempest, which masterfully wove the elements of the popular masque right into the fabric of the plot. This drama enables us to examine the inner workings of a masque without necessary classifying as a pure masque. In order to truly understand how The Tempest was a significant contribution to the masque genre, the reader must understand what the basic elements of a court masque are, and how these different elements were weaved into the creation of The Tempest.
The court masques of the Renaissance era where a form of entertainment that combined spoken word, dance, song, and storytelling into an allegorical story of the power of the king and aristocracy. Court masques began to flourish during the 16th through 17th centuries, and reached their zenith at the end of the reign of house Stuart (Frans Van Dijkhuizen). In a departure from the plays and dramas of the time, most of the action during a court masque was taken up by the settings itself. The audience, the actors, the King, and the set were all equal parts of the performance. Attendants wore elaborate costumes and disguises as part of the event. Masques thus blurred the lines between storytelling and reality, as the sitting monarch or aristocrat was a meaningful part of the story, along with the audience. For those in power masques, were not only a form of entertainment but also a demonstration of power, command, and control over society. A masque was a highly political event that was meant to glorify those who held authority.
There were several elements they were particular to the genre during the 15th century. The dancers performing in a masque were not paid actors or dancers, but were rather the political elite of society. It was not rare to see a king or an aristocrat dancing during the performance of a masque. A masque was not just a dance, though; it was the totality of everything that encompassed the performance. Every costume, audience member, and set piece was a part of the masque. All masques had a central motif, called a device, that would bring all of these elements together (Frans Van Dijkhuizen). This device determined what kind of scenery was used, what costumes were worn, and even what kinds of dances were held. At the beginning of the masque a device would be introduced by a smaller, darker, and more grotesque performance called the “anti-masque.” All of these elements worked together to create the masque genre.
What makes The Tempest unique in its contribution to the masque genre is that the work is very aware of what it is. Shakespeare integrated the elements of the masque right into the story of The Tempest. The play didn’t just contain the typical elements of song, poetry, and dance, but constantly referenced the concept of the court masque within the body of its own action. The Tempest takes concepts from the genre and interludes them with anti-masques concerning passion, disruption of hierarchy, and murder.
In Act IV of the play, Prospero demands that Ariel make spirits appear before him to perform a masque in celebration of Ferdinand and Miranda’s wedding. Prospero says to Ariel, “Thou and thy meaner fellows your last service, Did worthily perform, and I must use you In such another trick. Go bring the rabble, O’er whom I give thee power, here to this place” (Shakespeare IV i 35-39). Spirits and the supernatural were a common theme in masques. They acted as allegories for the power of the aristocracy and kings. When asked by Ferdinand if what he is seeing were truly spirits, Prospero responds, “Spirits, which by mine art, I have from their confines called to enact my present fancies” (Shakespeare IV i.132). Suddenly, three goddesses appear before Prospero and begin to sing: “Honor, riches, marriage, blessing, Long continuance, and increasing, Hourly joys be still upon you. Juno sings her blessings on you” (Shakespeare IV I 106-108). Masques were commonly thrown for special occasions such as a new ruler or a wedding. These three spirits performed and glorified the new couple as would traditionally be done in a masque.
While Prospero is entranced in the performance of the spirits, he suddenly remembers the plot against his life and bids the spirits away. Prospero says “Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air; And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve; And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep” (Shakespeare IV i.148–158). The way this scene is framed, it gives the audience a look into how a masque would appear to an observer. Due to the nature of how masques were performed, the audience was always an active participant in the performance. Shakespeare framed the court masque within the play in a way that the viewer could see how reality melds with fiction in the eyes of the participants. At one moment Perspero is captivated by the magic of what is occurring around him, and then the next he remembers that his very life is in danger. He mourns, “I had forgot that foul conspiracy Of the beast Caliban and his confederates Against my life” (Shakespeare IV I.130-132). He himself became a part of the magic around him, if only for a second.
Moral instruction was also an important aspect of a masque. While they had little to no story to carry them forward, masques would take a moral ideal and work it into the fabric of the masque as a device. Prospero uses the masque as a moral lesson, and has Ariel tell the wicked Antonio and his fellow conspirators the meaning of the masque being performed. Ariel says, “You are three men of sin, whom Destiny… the never-surfeited sea hath caused to belch up you, and on this island where man doth not inhabit” (Shakespeare III.i.53-57). All of these passages take common elements from masques and turn them on their head. The work is not about glorifying power, but instead is an existential work about a person’s place in society as the social hierarchy topples all around him. The play thus appropriates a tool of propaganda and uses it to tell a humanistic story.
With the technology that we have available today, a masque would truly be a marvelous thing to behold. We currently have machines that can create smells, projectors that can create three dimensional images, and the ability to project sound in three dimensions. I imagine that a masque today would look something like Cirque du Soleil, except in a more open area and with more viewer interaction. The technology could really be used to create an immersive experience in which the audience is actually part of the story that is occurring. If it rains in the story, the theatre can turn on sprinklers; if ghosts appear, then the theatre can use three dimensional projectors.
The Tempest takes concepts from the court masque genre and turns them on their head by interweaving them with antimasque elements and a dramatic story line. Masques were developed as social performances where every single viewer, set piece, costume, and most importantly the King, were an integral part of the act. Shakespeare framed The Tempest in a way that the audience would be able to watch a court masque as an observer. This gave the viewer a unique perspective on how masques are able to blend reality and fiction together. While not directly a masque itself, The Tempest makes a significant contribution to the genre.
Frans Van Dijkhuizen, Jan. “PROSPERO’S DREAM The Tempest and the Court Masque Inverted.” Shakespeare Society of the Low Countries. Web. 20 Sept. 2014. <http://shakespeare.let.uu.nl/masque.htm>.
Weisser, Brian. “The Masque.” Folger Institute Stress Site. 2003. Web. 20 Sept. 2014. <http://www.folger.edu/html/folger_institute/cultural_stress/court_masque.html>.