January 17, 2017

Play Review: The Tempest

We saw a Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Tempest last week. If you don’t know the story, the super-condensed version of the plot is this:

The rightful Duke of Milan is usurped from his post by his scheming brother, and exiled to a remote island with his young daughter. After twelve years of exile, the Duke creates a storm, or ‘tempest’, to shipwreck his enemies on the island as they pass nearby.

Initially harbouring deep resentment, one-by-one he manages to forgive them. The Duke’s daughter and the King of Naples’ son, who was in the shipwrecked party, fall in love. They return together to Milan, restoring the kingdom to rightful harmony.

While the RSC production we saw was truly excellent, I have a few nagging reservations about the story of The Tempest.

Firstly, the play is mostly about forgiveness and resolution. All major wrongdoing happens in the back story, before the play begins. The story feels a bit inevitable; like the systematic untying of knots that were created before the story begins.

The hero of the story is the usurped duke, Prospero, who acts as the ‘wise old man’ of the story. Normally in a story, the ‘wise old man’ is a supporting character, not the hero. Gandalf in Lord of the Rings is a good example, or Yoda in Star Wars. For me, the story would be stronger is the main hero was Fernando, the King of Naples’ son.

Fernando and Miranda (the Duke’s daughter) see each other and fall instantly in love. They get married almost immediately. The whole thing feels a little too convenient. In my head I was like, ‘I don’t want all this happiness and joy. I want confusion, tears and fights, dammit!’

The Tempest was the last complete play that Shakespeare wrote. There’s a strong suggestion that Prospero, the usurped duke, is actually meant to be Shakespeare himself. Shakespeare is the ‘wise old man’, signing off and going to retirement in Stratford.

In making Prospero the hero of the story instead of the young Fernando, it is quite possible that Shakespeare’s ego sabotages the story to a degree. It’s beautifully written, but the weaknesses in the plot mean it’s far from being my favourite Shakespeare play.

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond runs the Maze Marketing Podcast and Maze Mastery. Rob specialises in content production, ad creation, storytelling and CRM systems. He has two published books, Magnetic Expertise and Simple Story Selling, affordable on Amazon.