My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Tempest is mouse-trap tale, wherein our hero schemes to catch his brother, the deposer who unseated the true king of Naples. Prospero takes his sweet time drawing out the punishment for his traitorous brother Alonso, and his just desserts are our greatest pleasure. We’re constantly trying to suss out Prospero’s plan, as he keeps us guessing at his designs; the art of the play is to witness this grand manipulator at work. Of course, Shakespeare’s narrative needs to be performed, and readers can only glean so much by reading his work, which is only fully understood in action. At the time he wrote this, Shakespeare readied himself for retirement, eager to be with his family and finally relax. Through Prospero we see the playwright relinquish his mastery and learn how those who are most powerful become subservient to their own power.
Shakespeare outlines a hierarchy of power, and the magical spirit Ariel, not Prospero, unquestionably prevails at the top. His rescuer and our protagonist acts as medium between the fantastical realm of Ariel and Sycorax and the earthly mire where human desires drive men to manipulate and grapple for control. As comic as The Tempest appears, there are dark underpinnings. Shakespeare seems to warn us of the dangers of civilization. Men cannot be trusted. Power not only corrupts but binds those who wield it to its own exploitation. Nothing is ever as it appears, and life cannot depend on reason alone since, above all, love and justice matter most. Yet, overall the story slips through our fingers. We never really know what Shakespeare means with Caliban’s sad story, nor can we fully grasp the role of Ariel and how Sycorax who never appears in the play still manages to dominate the tale. As wild and unwieldy as the powers that each man and spirit tries to engineer, The Tempest , for all the sound and fury raised by the cast, is nothing more but shadows on a stage.