Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Tempest

The first Shakespeare play of my New Year's Resolution is The Tempest.

Its few scenes are so efficient, each one showing the nature of one or a few more of the characters who live on the island or come in on the ship. First the shipwreck: both real and illusory, with violent storming waters empowered by Prospero's magic and his magic spirits. Before one can ask why he desired the storm, he tells the story to his innocent Miranda.

The immediate love between Ferdinand and Miranda has its own existence. It is a love that Prospero could hope for, could set the stage for, but then could only wait for. As well, we learn of the inexorable deception, engendered regret, and reconciliation of the various noble passengers. I remembered each part of the plot, but upon this rereading again I loved the condensation, the impact of each expressive scene.

I had also forgotten the interplay of the elements: water-earth-fire-air. Caliban, the earth-bound spirit, begs the rude and drunken servants from the ship to be his new masters, having already wished every evil on Prospero, who must constantly remind him of his obligations.

"I'll show thee every fertile inch o'th'island" (II, ii, 152) says Caliban of the earth. "I with my long nails will dig the pignuts." (II, ii, 172) Most of all, he wants these strangers to kill Prospero, obtain his book, and take over the powers that he hardly comprehends.

Ariel, all air and spirit, so strongly feels the emotion of the end of the play that Prospero says "Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling/Of their afflictions...?" (V, i, 21) Each delicate song that Ariel sings, his longing for freedom, even the sound of his name, all relate to his airiness. Each time Prospero asks a new magic act from Ariel, he must repeat the promise of freedom to follow almost immediately, as Ariel is ready to rejoin the airiness and timelessness of his nature.

The water all around the Island storms and rages at Prospero's command. Finally, it will drown his book: source and symbol of his island power. Like Ariel, at the end Prospero is free from a spell: "But release me from my bands...As you from crimes would pardon'd be,/Let your indulgence set me free."

No comments: