The Tempest

Content Group

The Tempest: Miss Brown as Miranda, Mr. Mattocks as Ferdinand

This play is among Shakespeare's most popular with modern audiences, particularly in America, where it is seen as his American play because of allusions picked up from accounts of the Virginia voyages in William Strachey's manuscript Sea Adventure and Sylvester Jourdain's A Discovery of the Bermudas, which contribute details to Propero's island. Caliban's name is an anagram of "cannibal," which derives from the fierce tribe of Caribs who also gave their name to the Caribbean Sea (see Renaissance Marriages: The Caribbean for the Caribbean in English visual culture). The script also appeals to modern radicals (like Manoni, in our bibliography) who find Caliban to be an example of abused natives in the colonized zones of America, though Prospero's island clearly lies within the Mediterranean. This sympathy is reinforced by the comic misconduct of the clowns. However, great audience appeal lies in the innocent loves of Ferdinand and Miranda, fostered by Prospero's benevolent magic. The play is also sentimentally seen as Shakespeare's last, so that Prospero's surrender of his magical powers becomes a figure for Shakespeare's own retirement. However, he was involved in several other scripts thereafter, particularly Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, though scholars attempt to assign the former partly to his successor John Fletcher, and much of the latter to Fletcher too. Modern staging of The Tempest exploits the scenic enrichment developed in the script (as with other late Shakespearean romances) by the King's Men's use of an indoor theatre at Blackfriars. Modern staging tends to the spectacular (see Shakespeare and Co. 2001), particularly through the magical effects of Ariel, as in the elaborate Masque of Ceres.

The Tempest: Shakespeare and Company, 2001
The Tempest: J. L. Cathcart as Caliban
Prospero in The Tempest at the Bruns Theatre of the California Shakespeare Theatre, 2005.
Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada, 1976: The Tempest (I.ii.1)
The Tempest, Margaret Webster Production, 1945
The Tempest: Shakespeare and Company, 2001.



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Taylor, Geoffrey. Paul Mazursky's "Tempest." New York: New York Zoetrope, 1982.

Vaughan, Alden T. and Virginia Mason Vaughan. Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Wells, Stanley. "Problems of Stagecraft in The Tempest." New Theatre Quarterly 10 (1994): 348-57.

Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond