Sunday, 10 February 2013

Review: 'The Tempest' by William Shakespeare

We all know I'm a massive Shakespeare fan. I love that man's plays, even if I don't like all of them. And now it seems I have found a play to add to that 'not my kind of Shakespeare'-list. 
The Tempest is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1610–11. It is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place, using illusion and skilful manipulation. The eponymous tempest brings to the island Prospero's usurping brother Antonio and the complicit Alonso, King of Naples. There, his machinations bring about the revelation of Antonio's low nature, the redemption of Alonso, and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso's son, Ferdinand.
According to some, this is Shakespeare's best play. Of course this si said of many of his plays, but 'The Tempest' seems to have a special place in the hearts of many people and I have to admit, I don't entirely understand why. Perhaps the reason for that can be found in my favourite Shakespeare plays, such as 'Hamlet' or 'Henry V'. These plays have protagonists you can either like or dislike and have a plot that leads to something, that means something. In many ways I found both plot and characters lacking in 'The Tempest'. I did not like Prospero. Many of my reasons to dislike him are reasons why I like other Shakespeare characters. He is, for example, a manipulator. So is Iago, whom I love. In Prospero I saw no honour or loyalty, nothing to truly admire or truly despise. He is degrading to Ariel, but also reliant on her. He loves Miranda, but has no problem using her in his own plans. He despises Caliban, but still claims him as his own. He feels wronged by Antonia, but has done the same to Caliban. 

But then I didn't really appreciate Caliban either. He has much less time on stage than Prospero, which means he is hardly a true antagonist. He is both rebellious and subservient, desires freedom but wants to be ruled. There are almost too many oppositions to make him a complex character and none of the oppositions are explored or explained enough to make them real. And this is where my true problem with the play lies. I was completely untouched by it. Ophelia's death in 'Hamlet' is heart-breaking, Henry V's St Crispian's speech is rousing, Benedick and Beatrice's battle of wits in 'Much Ado About Nothing' is hilarious. 'The Tempest' left me very calm and placid and, dare I say it, bored. The plot did not help. The concept of a storm stranding these enemies onto the same island is great, but since everything is controlled and orchestrated by Prospero there is hardly any doubt as to whether his plan will fail or not. Antonia, who stole his dukedom, is very easily convinced to return it, Miranda hopelessly falls in love with Ferdinand and Caliban drops his new master in favour of Prospero in a heart beat.

Let's return to Miranda for a moment. Shakespeare is often criticized for his female character but I find myself liking most of them. Miranda however is almost a non-entity, a lack of character rather than a character. She has completely accepted the patriarchal society established by her father and is not much more than a tool to him. Yes, Prospero loves her but only because she is his daughter, taught by him. She falls in love unconditionally with the first man she sees on her father's design and has no other role in the play. 

My criticism of plot and character aside, it is still Shakespeare which means I still enjoyed the language and the occasional jokes. Some things were really fun and Caliban's 'The Isle is Full of Noises' speech is beautiful. It is no coincidence that speeches from this play were chosen for the Opening and Closing Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. Perhaps it speaks to Britain because the play is essentially about love and war on an tempestuous island. I think seeing it live might change my opinion so perhaps I should try to go see it in the Globe next season!

I give this play...


Have you read 'The Tempest'? Did you like it or do you agree with me?


  1. I felt more or less the same about "The Tempest". I had the most wonderful time reading plays such as Henry IV or The Merchant of Venice, but for some reasons this one didn't quite reach the same level. I mean, there were some very beautiful parts but the story itself felt... well,everything that happens it's because Prosper wishes so and, even if it reminds of the role of the writer, it still wasn't very exciting.

  2. Man, I really need to read more Shakespeare. There is so much of his work that I still have not read!