Year Of The Bard: The Tempest

Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that’s gone. – William Shakespeare

Yesterday I finished the first play in my Year of the Bard challenge.  There is no major list I’m following; I’m just starting at the beginning of my Complete Works of Shakespeare, and going play-by-play until I’ve read them all.  First on the list: The Tempest.

Coincidentally, The Tempest was also the topic of the last episode of Shakespeare Uncovered, so some information was foremost in my head; namely, this was quite possibly the last play he wrote (himself), and he left London shortly after.  He died 2 years after writing this play.

With this knowledge, of course readers will look for signs of his retirement in his work.  High school and first-couple-years-of-college me would be flippant.  “Why do we always have to look for ‘stuff’ in novels, poems, and plays?”  Older, wiser me actively seeks them out.  Now that I can call myself a playwright when people ask me what I do, I realize more and more I do write things intentionally.  Drowning Ophelia was written to help me deal with a terrible time in my life where emotional abuse and manipulation ran rampant.  Empty Spaces was written to explore this need in society for people to reach beyond themselves and help, regardless of whether people would appreciate the help or not.  The Courtship of Sarah Chandler was written to help me elucidate how I felt about marriage, and whether I want to venture in (should the opportunity arise).  Just because Shakespeare is entertaining, and was written to entertain does not mean he didn’t write what he wrote for a reason.   For example, I believe Titus Andronicus was written at a time when there was an impending regime change (Elizabeth I was about to kick it, and she had no natural heirs.  Enter James I).

There’s some talk about colonisation, but I was hit more strongly by Prospero’s final address.  At first blush, it reminded me of Puck’s final address to the audience (“if these shadows have offended…”).

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own

Which is most faint.

 I found this most powerful if we think this is the last Shakespeare wrote.  Is he tired?  Had he grown weary of “city life”?

Prospero as a man had been holding onto a grudge for 12 years, only to suddenly forgive those who exiled him.  How exhausting would that be?  The 12 years would be exhausting enough, but to suddenly let go of such a driving force in his life would be like wind going out of his sails.  Everything he had done to that point had been in direct relation to how he was wronged.  Now that he has forgiven, what is he to do?  Despite Prospero and Miranda being “freed”, that is the plan at the end of the play is for Miranda and Ferdinand to be married, so they are no longer stuck on the island, Shakespeare ends the play with them still there.  Why is that?  Is it possible that after 12 years of scheming, there is nothing left for Prospero to do?  After all the years of creating plays, there is nothing left for Shakespeare to do?

 How empty it would feel if there was nothing else for us to do.

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