Jul 6, 2008

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

The Tempest is the story of Prospero and Miranda, a magician and his daughter who are stranded on a Mediterranean island. Prospero, the Duke of Milan, ended up on the island after his brother deposed him and set him and his infant daughter adrift. The island had been previously inhabited by a witch named Sycorax, who had been imprisoned spirits who did not do her biding inside trees. Ariel, one of these spirits, is released by Prospero and becomes his servant. The witch’s son, Caliban, is also Prospero’s servant.

The story begins when Prospero causes a storm – the tempest of the title – to bring a ship with his brother, the King of Naples and the King’s son on board, among others, to the island. According to Prospero’s design, Miranda and he prince, Ferdinand, fall in love.

The Tempest is a great story, full of elements that make it memorable: there’s romance, intrigue, fantasy, reconciliations, comedy, and also serious and touching scenes. To get myself familiarized with the plot before reading it, I read retellings by E. Nesbit and Charles and Mary Lamb. It was interesting )but not really surprising) to see that both retellings left out the storyline concerning Caliban and his attempt to overthrow Prospero. Even though this was my first time reading the play, that was probably the part of the story I was the most familiar with.

It probably helps that I’ve read Marina Warner’s novel Indigo, a retelling of The Tempest that I really recommend. The book has the following structure: it starts with a contemporary story, then goes back in time and retells The Tempest with Sycorax as a native woman, Ariel as her daughter and Caliban as a survivor of a wrecked slave ship that she brings up, and then returns to the present time and finished the first story. I have to confess that I didn’t much care for the story set in the present time, but I loved the other one enough to still highly recommend the book. This retelling emphasizes the slavery, colonialism and domination themes of the play, so I had those in mind to some extent when reading it now.

Given that this is Shakespeare, it goes without saying that the language was amazing. There were several parts I loved, but none as much as the “Chris bit”:
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-capp'd tow'rs, 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.
After reading the play, I couldn’t resist revisiting the Sandman story “The Tempest”, which is about Shakespeare’s writing of the play. Reading it gave me a new way to look at it – as a story about a man who decides to change, to break his staff and burn his magic books, to leave his island, to embrace a new life. For this reason, I think it’s brilliant and very fitting that this story closes the tenth Sandman book. I can’t explain further without spoiling the end of the Sandman, though, so those of you who haven’t read it will have to forgive me for being vague.

Prospero and Miranda by Charles Vess

Other Blog Reviews:
A Fondness for Reading
(Have you reviewed it as well? Please let me know so I can add your link to this list.)


  1. Megan, I definitely am interested in seeing a movie version. Thanks for the recommendations!

  2. I love those Charles Vess illustrations! What a nice review. I enjoyed The Tempest but agree with you that the "Chris" part is the best!

  3. This is one of the plays I haven't read yet but I really want to get around to (this and A Midsummer Night's Dream). I saw it on the stage last year and really enjoyed it with Patrick Stewart as Prospero. I read a fairly comprehensive online summary but it isn't the same as reading it properly.

  4. I was planning on reading another Shakespeare play with Annie this year for school. Kind of had The Merchant of Venice in mind, simply because I already have it. But now I think we may have to read this one instead! (Or in addition to.) This really sounds wonderful! I may have to read Indigo first though...I have to admit that there are often passages when I have a tough time, much tougher than Annie, understanding the nuances of what Shakespeare's saying. It's nice for me to have a feel beforehand for what I might encounter with him.

  5. I'm so glad you enjoyed this! The Tempest is my second favourite Shakespeare play, after Hamlet. I love the magical side of it, so raw and unpredictable. I was given a gorgeous hardback collected works for Christmas, which I spent hours this weekend leafing through!

  6. Great review (again), I was only familiar with the story through The sandman and Nesbit's retelling, but it's going on the pile to be read...

  7. Robin: It really is :)

    Rhinoa: That must have been great. And do read it when you have the chance, you'll enjoy it for sure.

    Debi: This would be a great one to read with Annie! I have trouble with some passages too, but fortunately my edition has some helpful notes, and knowing the story beforehand definitely helps a lot.

    Mariel: I so have to read Hamlet!

    Ken, I really think you'll enjoy it!


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