Reflections on The Tempest

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"Reflections on The Tempest"

A few summers ago we hosted two Japanese students for 11 days. One afternoon a violent storm came up; we unplugged appliances and from our living room watched the lightning and listened to the loud, almost instantaneous thunder. One of the students, unaccustomed to thunder storms, was terrified; he clapped his hands against his head and appeared ready to dive under the table in spite of our attempts to reassure him.

The proud members of a wedding party on their way home to Naples are also terrified in the opening scene of The Tempest. During these first chaotic moments when the mariners tell their noble passengers to get back under deck so that they can keep at their work, we realize that things are out of control--that the usual order of society doesn't mean much when one is in the process of being shipwrecked.

Audiences in Shakespeare's time would have realized that a storm held symbolic meeting. Either one of the characters or society itself was literally and figuratively "at sea," chaos was threatening the established order.

If "The Island" seems like a more appropriate title than "The Tempest" for our play, we perhaps need to take a closer look at the storm which deposited King Alonzo and company on an unhabited island somewhere in the Mediterannean Sea. Alonzo had just married off his daughter Claribel to the King of Tunis and was on his way home to Naples with his son Ferdinand, his concillor Alonzo, and Antonio, the Duke of Milan. Actually two people were living on the island: Prospero, the duke of Milan, had been kicked out of power by his evil brother, Antonio and put in a boat with his daughter, Miranda to drift up onto the island. Prospero commands an uncivilized monster, Cali...

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...as eventually able to resolve), I had thought of asking Jay B. Landis to substitute for me. When I told him about my inclination to emphasize the oppression of Caliban, he said that he felt much more comfortable with the theme of reconciliation and forgiveness, (which I also believe seems closer to the intentions of Shakespeare himself.)

One can see this why this play written near the end of Shakespeare's life contains the moving passage found on page 103. Certainly the words of Prospero on page 109 and at the end of the play provide an eloquent testimony of the value found in a voluntary relinquishment of power, the possibilities of transformation found in forgiveness. That vision prompted by love inspires Miranda to exclaim: O, wonder! / How many goodly creatures are there here! / How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world / That has such people in't! (115).

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