Friday 3 April 2015

Devouring Books: The Tempest by William Shakespeare

"Remember first to possess his books; for without them he's but a sot, as I am."

For this term of Shakespeare, alongside reading 10 plays that were mostly tragedies, I spent ten weeks studying The Tempest and associated texts. Whilst I still can't even talk about King Lear (which I also studied for 10 weeks) in any coherent way because TOO MANY THOUGHTS, I think I'm ok to talk about The Tempest because of reasons that will become clear.

Plus, you know, I'm supposed to be writing an actual essay about it right now, so this is obviously the next best thing/excellent procrastination.

You've probably read The Tempest, and if you haven't then you probably at least know a couple of speeches from it- Prospero's 'our little lives are rounded with a sleep' speech, and Caliban's 'Be not afeard, this isle is full of noises'. They're beautiful, just as the whole play is kind of beautiful, but the problem with studying this play for 10 weeks is that it kind of kills the magic. You talk about post-colonial readings, you talk about circular structures, you talk about all kinds of smart things that are really interesting, but at the same time, I think The Tempest fulfils its function of enchantment and loveliness the less you think about it. But thems the breaks of an English student.

Let's talk about some things anyway. In case you don't know, The Tempest centres around Prospero, the ex-Duke of Milan who's also kind of magical, and has been exiled to an island where he can practice his magic and control his daughter*. The play begins with a tempest (aha!), raised by Prospero's airy spirit Ariel at his command, which fortuitously brings to the island the men who exiled him as well as a potential husband for his daughter Miranda. Thus forms two of the story threads of The Tempest, the third involving Caliban, 'a monster of the isle' and two drunk servants which we can basically ignore whilst also not ignoring Caliban because he's pretty important, and REALLY important in basically all criticism of The Tempest.

This is actually way harder to write about in a normal way than I thought it was going to be! Let's just talk about some likes and dislikes, shall we? I really kind of hate Prospero- his need to control everything can get really frustrating, and the way he treats both Ariel and Caliban, who are essentially both his servants, is kind of terrible. Ariel I definitely can't talk about coherently because I am fully exploring his character in my big scary essay and I have many thoughts that actually probably don't make any sense at the moment. Caliban, though, is genuinely interesting and post-colonial discussions of him are dull but completely understandable. Caliban is the de facto ruler of the island, as its native inhabitant, but Prospero's arrival means that this is taken away from him, that his home becomes the property of someone else, and it's all fucked up, basically.

Goddamn white people.

But I think the main thing I want to say about The Tempest is this: reading it by myself, before studying it, I was enchanted. It pretty much did exactly what it attempts to- you're drawn into the magic of the isle, you don't really question any of the magic, you just let it happen and it's a total experience. I would never ever say that studying literature is a bad idea (OBVIOUSLY), and there are so many things I've gained from class discussion and whatnot that I would never have thought about regarding The Tempest, but at the same time... It's kind of killed it for me. It's killed the magic, and I'm actually pretty relieved that I don't have to study it anymore (as soon as this essay is done...) 

What I'm saying is: YOU should definitely read The Tempest. just absolutely don't overthink it because you're going to kill it. Don't be me, guys. Don't be me. 

*I kind of have issues with Prospero. It's a thing. Don't worry about it.


  1. Been meaning to re-read this one for ages - I love the illustrations, especially Dulac's and Crane's :)

  2. I'm sorry I'm so so late commenting on things. BUT HERE I GO

    "They're beautiful, just as the whole play is kind of beautiful, but the problem with studying this play for 10 weeks is that it kind of kills the magic." yeaaaaaah. I miss studying lit but I don't miss this happening.

    Ugh Prospero. I'm with you, he's sort of a dick. More than sort of. I mean, I know Caliban is a pain in the ass BUT HE HAS GOOD REASONS. Poor guy.

  3. I think you did a great job by posting your thoughts about The Tempest by William Shakespeare and I somehow agree with most of the things you have mentioned here. Frankly, reading a book written by a pre-eminent dramatist is hell of a task. The book is definitely worth reading (even if you are not a literature or Shakespeare fan). The illusive description and skillful manipulation of words is just phenomenal. However, you are going to hate some characters, but will love some of them as well.