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The Tempest

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The Tempest

The Tempest

W.W. Norton & Co.

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The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, was his final play. The Tempest is considered one of Shakespeare's greatest works. Neither tragedy, nor comedy, the play is sometimes classified as a romance because of its concentration on family, reconciliation, and the divine power of mercy to end conflict.

This famous drama is highly poetic and far more spiritual than many of Shakespeare's earlier works. The Tempest is rooted firmly in the human characters that walk across the stage of Shakespeare's fantasy world.

Overview: The Tempest

The play begins with the tempest that gives it its title. A ship has blown off course and a number of noblemen have washed up on the shore of a mysterious island. What they do not know is that the master of the island is Prospero, the man whom they deposed from the Dukedom of Milan many years before. Alone on the island for many years, Prospero had learnt many magical powers, and he conjured the storm that brought his enemies under his power.

We follow the progress of the marooned occupants of the ship as they make their ways around the island and finally come to meet Prospero in the play's final scenes. Ferdinand, the son of the King of Naples, is separated from his father and meets Prospero's daughter, Miranda. The pair fall in love at first sight, but Prospero makes Ferdinand prove his worth before letting him marry Miranda.

The King of Naples (on another part of the island) is with two of his noblemen, his brother and the current Duke of Milan. These men are led about the island by Prospero's airy spirit, Arial, before being made to see the error of their ways. Then, in a comic subplot, Caliban allies himself with the King's footmen and drunken butler; and they attempt to kill Prospero and take over the island. Prospero and his cohorts repent. In the final scene, Prospero renounces his magical powers and determines to return to Milan.

Farewell on Stage: The Tempest

Because of the valedictory tone of the play, and the fact that Prospero (the master magician) says he wishes to return home and give up his powers, many have seen The Tempest as Shakespeare's farewell to the stage. This may or may not be true, but what certainly is the case is that The Tempest explicitly links the power of magic to the magic created by a playwright and his actors in the theatre. Shakespeare brilliantly captures the nature of a man who is ready and content to bring a life of work to a satisfactory conclusion.

Magic and Sorcery: The Tempest

In The Tempest, Shakespeare offers up his most protracted and interesting use of magic and sorcery. By making Prospero a powerful wizard, he enables the central character to show a control of events that is unusual and which orders the rest of the play's action. Rather than being an ordinary drama (in which events come into conflict with what the characters wants or needs) The Tempest is a pageant where Prospero's desires are played out. And, in the end, Prospero's central aim is reconciliation--as he forgives his enemies. In this way, Shakespeare shows his support for the natural order.

The Tempest is a play of extraordinary power--with some of the most beautiful poetry that Shakespeare has written. Even Caliban, who is supposed to be the villain, speaks in praise of the beautiful island that gives him a certain dignity. His final work, and one in which he shows that his power for drama was undiminished by age, The Tempest is a truly beautiful tale, woven by the English language's greatest proponent.

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