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About this book

The commentary at the heart of the book introduces readers to the challenge of reading The Tempest as a text and responding to the play in performance. Other sections discuss early performances and cultural contexts. A wide-ranging sample of critical responses accompanies consideration of key performances and productions on stage and film.

Table of Contents

1. The Text and Early Performances

Abstract
The Tempest was first printed in the 1623 Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays produced under the auspices of his fellow actors John Heminges and Henry Condell and published by William Jaggard. It is the first play in that Folio (a large format volume), which includes the majority of the plays now accepted as Shakespeare’s. The Tempest is divided into Acts and scenes throughout and has fairly comprehensive stage directions, though, like most Renaissance play texts, it misses some exits and entrances. It comes equipped with a list of characters and a statement of its location (‘The scene: an uninhabited island’). The list of characters and the location are placed at the end of the play, whereas modern practice would place them at the beginning where they would be of more help to the reader. It is possible that they were placed where they were because the printers wanted to fill up what would otherwise be some white space on the page.
Trevor R. Griffiths

2. Commentary

Abstract
The aim of this commentary is to respond to the potential of the text without suggesting that any reading could be definitive. Throughout the commentary considerable attention is given to the range of possibilities available in a Renaissance staging, but the play has been, and will continue to be, produced in many different theatrical environments and my intention is not to suggest that a ‘Renaissance’ staging should be preferred to any other approach. The commentary on each scene begins with a consideration of key issues that contribute to our understanding of that scene, exploring its place in the structure of the play and any unusual elements that may determine our response to the whole scene, such as aspects of its staging. The aim of these sections is particularly to remind readers of factors that might be obvious to viewers but that emerge less readily in reading.
Trevor R. Griffiths

3. The Play’s Sources and Cultural Context

Abstract
Shakespeare wrote The Tempest at a time of major intellectual and physical exploration. Although the play has no direct sources, in the sense that Romeo and Juliet has in being taken from a work by Bandello via Arthur Brooke, or that the Roman plays and the English history plays have, being taken from Roman historians and English chronicles, Shakespeare was influenced by a wide variety of materials and drew on a vast body of literary texts and folklore including both factual and fictional accounts of voyages and shipwrecks in many genres and from many cultures, as well as stories of magic and supernatural beings, philosophical speculations and the news of the day.
Trevor R. Griffiths

4. Key Productions and Performances

Abstract
The Tempest was supplanted for many years, in the theatre, by an adaptation which only gave way to a more or less Shakespearean version during the first half of the nineteenth century. It was effectively replaced by versions derived ultimately from an adaptation by John Dryden and William Davenant, first performed in 1667, that held the stage for some 170 years in the face of occasional more Shakespearean versions. The Dryden/Davenant Tempest usually gets a bad critical press as a sacrilegious assault on Shakespeare, but, as its 1959 professional revival, as part of the Purcell celebrations, showed, it works well in its own right, and recent academic interest has also helped to rescue it from the charge of mindless mangling. Dryden and Davenant addressed one problematic aspect of the original Tempest as a comedy, creating a traditional cross-purposes romantic plot between a quartet of would-be lovers by providing Miranda with a sister Dorinda and introducing Hippolito (a breeches part), who has never seen a woman, to parallel Miranda. In 1674 the Dryden/Davenant Tempest was further altered by Thomas Shadwell, with more songs, music and dancing (and burlesqued by Thomas Duffett as The Mock Tempest, or The Enchanted Castle, in which Miranda and Dorinda work as prostitutes). This adaptation became the basis for most productions until 1838, with actor-managers such as David Garrick or John Philip Kemble putting in more or less Shakespeare and adding or removing songs as their artistic and commercial instincts dictated.
Trevor R. Griffiths

5. The Play on Screen

Abstract
The relationship between The Tempest and the medium of film has been characterized by an emphasis on the potential of new technologies to realize magic with spectacular effect, from the earliest extant (silent) film of The Tempest, dating from 1908, to the computer technology deployed in Prospero’s Books (1991). The 1908 film exploits a mixture of theatrical and cinematic special effects to convey the magic of the play: the shipwreck involves a model boat capsizing, seen through a hole cut in a cloth in a style reminiscent of that used by many stage directors in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The director is able to use the camera to present Ariel as both present and absent, presumably by stopping the camera and getting the actor to move in and out of shot as required. In this film we also see Prospero and Miranda before the ship sinks, with Prospero creating the storm via a cauldron, thus initiating the filmic tendency to open out the play to include aspects of its back-story and scenes that Shakespeare himself did not dramatize (the film was recently released on Silent Shakespeare). Other silent versions are lost and there appears to have been little interest in the play as a potential film over subsequent decades.
Trevor R. Griffiths

6. Critical Assessments

Abstract
As well as dealing with conventional critical responses to the play, this section is a very highly selective account of some of the ways the play has inspired other creative works and played a role in wider political and commercial discourses. Like many plays, The Tempest has inspired numerous paintings, settings of music and sculptures that in some way relate to Shakespeare’s original work. It has been produced in a wide variety of different ways ranging from the faithful to the deconstructed and has been filmed for cinema and television from widely differing viewpoints. (Some of the most significant versions are discussed in Chapter 4, ‘Key Productions and Performances’ and Chapter 5, ‘The Play on Screen’.) However, the play has also found itself used in a very wide variety of discourses outside those of the arts: in South America Ariel and Caliban have a rich cultural and political life that extends over many decades and many countries; in political discourse in Britain Caliban can still be used to call up the bogey man in the same kinds of ways that he was in nineteenth-century Punch cartoons of the Irish as Caliban.
Trevor R. Griffiths
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