Dr. Ralph's Brief
1. When was the play first performed?
2. Where was the play first performed?
The first recorded performance was a court performance for King James I at Whitehall Palace, but the play probably had public performances at the Blackfriars; and may have had some at the Globe as well.
3. How does this play fit into Shakespeare’s career?
The Tempest is the last play he wrote on his own.
4. How is this play like Shakespeare’s other plays?
The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s late “Romances” – with Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter’s Tale – in which Shakespeare puts his main characters through harrowing trials before bringing them to a happy ending forged from forgiveness.
5. How is this play unlike other Shakespeare plays?
More than any other of Shakespeare’s plays, The Tempest is a sort of one-man show, in which Prospero, the magical master of ceremonies tells us his story and brings it to a happy conclusion. In that regard, the closest parallel is Henry V, where the Chorus presides over a pageant whose outcome is never in doubt.
6. What do scholars think about this play?
They pretty universally admire it, especially Shakespeare’s two imaginative creations, Prospero’s otherworldly slaves: Caliban, the servant monster who does his menial chores, and Ariel, the ethereal spirit who assists Prospero in his magic. While other of Shakespeare’s plays go in and out of fashion at the box office, The Tempest seems to be popular in every age. It’s popularity in performance translates to other art forms, especially painting, where only Hamlet has been as popular a subject with artists. Since this is Shakespeare’s last play before he returns to Stratford, scholars also draw parallels between the playwright’s leaving the theatre – “our revels now are over” – and Prospero’s abjuring his magic powers and returning to Milan. No harm in that.
7. Does any controversy surround the work?
Contemporary critics see the play as an expression of European colonialism and xenophobia in which the white man invades a foreign land and subjugates its natives.
8. What scene should I especially look for?
The meeting of Miranda with Ferdinand is so dear that it almost makes us forget that Prospero is spying on the whole thing.
9. What characters should I especially look for?
The Boatswain in the first scene has a healthy disregard for royalty. Don’t blink or you’ll miss him.
10. What is the language like?
Somewhat exotic, echoing the sounds of the island; and somewhat ruminative, echoing the themes of the play.