ahoy there! speed read island dwellers

Step ashore, sailor. Welcome to our mystical island.
For our cast of castaways, there are shiploads of laughter and love to be found here.
Not to mention magic, misbehaviour and emancipation.
The Tempest in a nutshell
The Duke of Milan, Prospero, was usurped by his brother Antonio and cast adrift at sea. Our play opens twelve years later,
with Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, now marooned on an island. Their only company is the native Caliban, and the
airy spirit Ariel. Prospero has spent the past decade biding his time, plotting his revenge, and now finally, after more than a
decade, ‘bountiful Fortune’ sees Antonio and his pals sailing right past the island. Prospero’s ship has come in!
Prospero conjures up a tempest to shipwreck his brother and then has Ariel make all sorts of mischief as the survivors
stumble about the island. Ferdinand falls in love with Miranda; Stephano and Trinculo fall for Caliban’s misguided plans for
a coup; and Sebastian falls victim to that old chestnut: envy. He intends to kill King Alonso of Naples and steal the crown,
mirroring Antonio’s overthrow of Prospero all those years ago. But Prospero has eyes everywhere and he gathers the
motley crew together, before choosing mercy and forgiveness over power and retribution.
The Tempest character lowdown
Prospero: The rightful Duke of Milan, Prospero has been exiled and is now the ruling patriarch of… an empty island. He also
does a nice sideline in sorcery and slave-management.
Miranda: Prospero’s daughter. Miranda has lived most of her life on the island with her father so she is somewhat more
cloistered than your average Facebook-frenzied teenage girl. LOL. She has barely clapped eyes on a man until she meets
Ferdinand: Son of Alonso and the prince of Naples. Not bad first-date material.
Antonio: Prospero’s brother. File under ‘n’ for: nefarious and ne’er-do-well. Or just plain nasty.
Alonso: The King of Naples and Ferdinand’s dad. He allowed Antonio to overthrow Prospero, but by the end of the play he is
genuinely cut-up over his part in that sorry saga.
Sebastian: The feckless younger sibling of Alonso, who plans to fast track his career path to kingship by killing his big
Ariel: The ‘tricksy’ spirit of the air. (No, not of the water. That’s the other Ariel; the Disney one.) This Ariel serves Prospero
in exchange for his freedom.
Caliban: An island native enslaved by Prospero. Caliban is either a ‘strange fish’, or a very ‘demi-devil’, depending on who
you ask.
Gonzalo: A counselor of Naples, with dreams of a utopian society. Gonzalo is Prospero’s man and even packed the former
Duke a doggie bag (full of food and his fave magic books) when he got booted out of Milan.
Trinculo: A jester. Along with Stephano, Triculo inadvertently provides a comic foil to the other (more powerful) duos in the
play: Prospero and Alonso; Antonio and Sebastian.
Stephano: The butler (it’s always the butler). Stephano spends much of the play plotting with Trinculo. The rest of the
time? Drunk.
A whopping 79% of The Tempest is written in verse, rather than plain prose, and some of the very best poetry is reserved
for that ‘poor credulous monster’, Caliban. Take this, for example:
Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears...
Not bad for an uneducated ‘hag-seed’, right?
Caliban is often viewed by contemporary audiences as a symbol for victims of colonisation. However, it’s more likely that
Shakespeare was thinking of Montaigne’s essay about the noble savage when he created Caliban. Montaigne’s piece, which
was popular at the time Shakespeare was writing The Tempest, argues that all that is natural is good.
Shakespeare saw more shades of grey than Montaigne. He juxtaposed his two indigenous islanders – the sensitive and
affectionate Ariel, versus the base and brutish Caliban – showing that no heterogeneous group of people (indigenous or
otherwise) is wholly good or bad. Then just for good measure, he made Caliban – a would-be rapist – speak with the tongue
of an angel. Nothing, especially issues of race and colonisation, is black and white in Shakespeare’s eyes.
Unlike most Shakespeare plays, The Tempest does not borrow from any pre-existing fictional story. But it is almost
certainly inspired by a real event.
On 2 June 1609 an English ship named the Sea Venture set sail from Plymouth, bound for Jamestown, Virginia. On 24
July, the ship was damaged in the mother of all storms but managed to limp towards dry land.
The beleaguered members of the expedition then spent a perilous nine months stranded on what turned out to be
Bermuda. Eventually they constructed two new ships and sailed into Jamestown in May 1610.
When news reached London of this amazing true story, it captured the popular imagination. Survivors’ stories were
published, and it’s likely that Shakespeare drew inspiration from these when he wrote The Tempest soon after.
Post-show conversation starters to make you look smart
High brow
• Ralph Fiennes, aka Voldemort, has played Prospero. Other notable Prosperos include: Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart,
Derek Jacobi, John Gielgud and our own John Bell. In the 2010 movie version, Helen Mirren played ‘Prospera’.
he Tempest has inspired many musical compositions including the symphonic fantasy Lélio (1832), by French composer
Hector Berlioz, and Sir Michael Tippett’s opera The Knot Garden (1969).
• The first recorded performance of the play was on ‘Hallowmas nyght’, 1 November 1611, in front of King James. It had
another royal outing a couple of years later as one of the plays performed at the wedding festivities of Princess Elizabeth
to Frederick of Bohemia.
Low brow
• The 1956 sci-fi flick Forbidden Planet bears a spooky resemblance to The Tempest. It tells of a scientist who dabbles with
dark powers and who has been stranded on a distant planet for years, with only his daughter and Robby the Robot for
company. Then one day another spacecraft lands on the planet… Sound familiar?
• Humphrey Bogart uttered an immortal Tempest misquote in the film The Maltese Falcon: ‘It’s the stuff that dreams are
made of’ (derived from Shakespeare’s: ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on’).
• Like your drama with a side of drama? Early performances of The Tempest embraced special effects to create the storm
in Scene One. They would roll a loose cannonball down a wooden trough to simulate thunder, or even use fireworks!
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