Review: The Tempest

Posted 10 January, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 6 Comments

The Tempest
By: William Shakespeare
Format/Source: Ebook; my copy

In The Tempest, long considered one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays, Prospero—a magician on an enchanted island—punishes his enemies, brings happiness to his daughter, and comes to terms with human use of supernatural power. The Tempest embodies both seemingly timeless romance and the historically specific moment in which Europe begins to explore and conquer the New World.

I decided to read this play first to kickstart the Shakespeare Reading Challenge for two reasons: 1) I want to see the recent adaptation starring Helen Mirren (so pretty) and 2) I remember picking up an illustrated copy of this play in the library when I was in elementary but never finished reading it. Actually, three reasons: 3) I love Loreena McKennitt’s “Porspero’s Speech”. So this is me, finally getting around to it =P

This book is part of the William Shakespeare Reading Challenge 2014 that I am participating in.

The Tempest was quite a fantastical read. I’m not sure if Shakespeare’s written many plays with this sort of fantasy vein to it–I think I read somewhere that this play was pretty strange compared to the rest of his body of work because of the presence of that genre–but it’s interesting. Spirits, harpies, Roman goddesses and magic, there’s quite a number of supernatural elements running around and coupled with the geography of the island that Prospero and Miranda were marooned on and the deadly natural weathers in and around the island, it really creates this different atmosphere for this story.

The story itself was very interesting. Prospero’s tale, his goal of striking back against those who had exiled him, is a familiar tale of revenge and recompense but it was interesting to read as Prospero’s full intentions are revealed and the way he orchestrates his confrontation with those who had plotted against him twelve years earlier. I enjoyed reading his scenes more than anyone else’s in the play, in part because he’s such an intriguing and powerful figure (and pretty sneaky) but also because he had some of the best lines of the play (see below). Trinculo and Stephano’s scenes were probably my least favourite; they were amusing at times but otherwise pretty random and too long for my liking.

Despite having not read the play previously, there’s a lot of lines here in the play that I’m familiar with and that I love:

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-capped towers, 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. (IV.i.148–158)


Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

I know they’ve been referenced plenty of times before but they are quite wonderful. I wish I had made a note of it when I was reading but there was also a line that I really liked from early on in the play; you could really feel the hurt and injustice that Prospero endured by Antonio and co.

I can really see why many have regarded this play as the cap off to Shakespeare’s career in theatre and playwriting (apparently there’s a lot of debate about the date of when this play was written; I didn’t read any further as to what was happening with the three other plays that were listed after this one); a lot of the quotes here, like the two I posted above, refer to the world as a stage, the characters as actors going through situations and experiences. I can also see why this play is also very contemporary for its time as the exploration to the New World was very well happening in England at the time that this play was released; you can see it in the way that Prospero and Miranda treat Caliban, who was born and had grown up on the island while the former were merely passing through.

I realise at this point that my comments on this play are not really in-depth, probably in part because this is the first Shakespeare I’ve read in its entirety for a very long time. But suffice to say I’m happy to have finally read The Tempest.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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6 Responses to “Review: The Tempest”

  1. The Tempest is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, so I’m really glad you decided to kick off your reading challenge with it! I’m not up on all my Shakespeare dates (and date controversies), but just to clarify a bit for you, The Tempest is generally regarded as the last play Shakespeare wrote by himself. So Henry VIII is dated later, for example, but parts are believed to have been written by John Fletcher. Anyway, for that reason, I do find The Tempest a pretty intriguing look at what Shakespeare may have been thinking about Art and the artistic process at the end of his career.

    I’ve heard about the movie version with Helen Mirren as Prospera and I’ve wanted to see it, just to see how the gender switch plays out.

    • Thanks for the background info on The Tempest! 😀 It certainly does feel like Shakespeare was contemplating on Art and Art/Life in this particular play.

      I hope I can watch the movie sometime soon, it looks fantastical and the gender switch looks like it works (but then again I’m just judging from the trailer, lol) 🙂

    • Thanks! 🙂 I haven’t seen any adaptations on this play but the book that I picked up back in elementary featured some gorgeous, Romantic-esque art from the story. Sort of stayed with me all these years…

  2. One of my favorite Shakespeare plays! It’s so rich in imagery and emotion — well, all of Shakespeare is, of course, but as you point out, here you get the fantasy elements as well. I even designed costumes for a hypothetical production in my Costume Design class in college. I love Loreena McKennitt; I’ll have to check out that song, which I’m not sure I’ve ever heard.

    • That’s really cool about the costumes for your college class!

      Awesome that you love Loreena McKennitt’s stuff too! “Prospero’s Speech” was from one of her early albums and I just fell in love with the song 🙂

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