The Tempest



  • The last play to be wholly written by Shakespeare.A romantic fantasy, it was first performed before James I at Whitehallin 1611; two years later it was staged to celebrate the wedding ofPrincess Elizabeth and the Elector Palatine.

    The story is set on an enchanted island ruled by Prospero,the deposed Duke of Milan, who lives there with his beautiful daughterMiranda. A potent yet benevolent magician, he is served by variousspirits, including the delicate Ariel, and by Caliban,the misshapen son of a witch. In the opening scene a ship carryingAntonio, the brother who usurped Prospero's dukedom, and Alonso, kingof Naples, is wrecked through Prospero's magic. The courtiers arecast onto the island, where Prospero uses a variety of supernaturaldevices to bring his enemies to a sense of their guilt. Finally heforgives them and renounces his art in a speech that has often beeninterpreted as Shakespeare's own farewell to the stage.

    When Beerbohm Tree produced The Tempest in 1904, theopening shipwreck scene was staged using an entire ship that rockedin a sea with waves that splashed over the deck, making some in theaudience seasick. The play has inspired many adaptations, from anunfinished opera by Mozart to the 1954 science-fiction film ForbiddenPlanet. The most renowned Prospero of modern times was SirJohn Gielgud, who played the part more often than any other leadingactor.