As we come to the middle of July – the unofficial midway point of summer (already?!), I trust you will want to plan on attending a number of the productions currently (or soon to be) running at any number of the theatre and live performance establishments located here on the idyllic Central Coast of California!
The Central Coast Shakespeare Festival (http://centralcoastshakespeare.org/) will present The Tempest, July 12-28, at River Oaks Amphitheatre in Paso Robles.
William Shakespeare's The Tempest is unique among his plays. It is the last complete play he wrote – although he collaborated later on others. It is also his first published play. Some will disagree, but look at the First Folio – the opening play in the volume is Tempest – no other. Shakespeare is often taught as having composed three types of play: Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories. But Tempest does not fit neatly into any of these three types.
Many call it a tragicomedy, but that form was not invented for several centuries later. On this fact alone, Tempest stands alone, and must be treated with special care. Shakespeare loved the Italian theatre. He had many opportunities to watch the traveling troupes of Commedia dell'Arte which toured England. In addition, he had studied the Greek and Roman plays of the classic playwrights, and frequently borrowed stories and characters from them.
But not Tempest. Despite centuries of research, no one has yet discovered a prior literary source for the story related in the play. It is an original plot, in part and in complete. There is no other Shakespeare play about which that claim can be made. And there are those who say it is – in part – autobiographical.
Prospero is a magician. He controls the actors and the action – both natural and supernatural. Towards the end of the play, he abjures his magic and "drowns" his book. There are those who say that Tempest was Shakespeare's farewell to the stage – that he would write no more. But listen carefully. "What I have's mine own" leaves some talent yet to Prospero. As mentioned above, Shakespeare contributed quite a bit more to the stage after Tempest. Where is Prospero's island? Shakespeare usually gives clues to his locales, but they are few and far between here.
The ship is returning from a wedding in North Africa to Milan (perhaps via Genova?). Isaac Asimov suggests in his analysis that the island may be one of the Lipari Islands north of Sicily. They are volcanic (magic?) and the most known of them today is Stromboli. To follow the most likely route, they must have passed between Sicily and Italy through the Straits of Messina, location of the semi-mythical Scylla and Charybdis. What about the characters and their names? Here the Bard has some fun. Caliban is an obvious anagram of cannibal (with but one "n"). But at the same time explorers of the New World had returned with tales of the "savage and deformed" inhabitants of newly-discovered islands who called themselves "caribans."
Most of the other names in Tempest are either Italian or an anglicized version. An interesting exception is Trinculo, not a name in Italian. There was an interesting pub challenge in Shakespeare's day, "I can drink you low (under the table)." Considering Trinculo's love for the bottle, there might be a possibility there. Ariel, the other supernatural being, is from a Greek word meaning "light."
Prospero is an interesting name. It is not common in Italian and it could be derived from "prosper." But if you look into the Latin and Greek roots, you find that the prefix "pro-" means "in favor of" and "spero" means "I hope." An interesting combination for a magician, don't you think?
Many of the scenes in Tempest follow styles seen in other Shakespeare plays, some in a style of a pastoral comedy. There are the "mechanical" humor scenes (with Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban) to break the tension. There are scenes of instruction between Prospero and Miranda, Ariel and Caliban. There is a love story, a rather unusual one, between a young woman and the first man she's ever seen.
Not all scenes are happy ones, and not all characters are friendly. But this story finally resolves itself – for good or ill – that's up to the viewer. There are many interpretations of The Tempest – some excellent motion pictures made of the play. For possibly the most unusual one, try "Forbidden Planet," a science-fiction version starring Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis. Enjoy the performance! … Fred Wolf, Dramaturg [PHOTO: Katherine Perello as Ariel]