Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Tempest

I can't remember why I decided to re-read it. I haven't read The Tempest since college, but back then I knew it well. I did a production treatment -- sketches of scenery, costumes, notes on staging and direction -- as a directed study for my degree in theater. (Yep, that was my undergraduate major.) I have always remembered much of the poetry, but it turned out I had forgotten a good deal of the plot.

The play is seldom staged because it is enormously difficult. It requires a large cast of skilled actors who can portray sharply drawn characters while speaking some of the world's most famous words, dancers, singers, instrumentalists, and elaborate special effects. But it seems to me the time is just right for a major Broadway attempt. Theatrical effects have advanced astonishingly in recent years, in the service of some truly stupid projects. The time has come to put that technology to good use. The theater has lacked strong material and cultural heft. The Tempest could help it come back.

Most critics are convinced that Prospero is Shakespeare's alter ego. I have no doubt of it. The play is a reflection on the playwright's art, and on the art of theater in general; a celebration of his daughter's wedding (and the poignancy of a father seeing her leave); and of course a profound meditation on the human condition. The frank self-portrait of the artist as a gifted curmudgeon is entirely credible, and probably the most we will ever know about Shakespeare as a person.

I once had this posted on my dorm room door:

These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

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