We’ve just watched the sheerly lovely Tempest at Wadham College, Oxford, a production of The Oxford Shakespeare Company. Clearly enunciated, the poetry brought to life, even though there was too much imported slapstick for my liking and not enough magic!
Oh but the poetry! It was delicious!
The Tempest is generally considered Shakespeare’s last play, and it is a fine one. The mischievous, adolescent spirit Puck has now morphed into Ariel, a delicate-spirited spirit, who sings this poetic requiem,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Where the bee sucks. there suck I:
In a cowslip’s bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
Is it too post-modern to imagine that Shakespeare here writes of colonialism–especially that of the newly discovered Americas?
And like all conquered peoples, looked down on as sub-human or inferior by the conqueror, Caliban does indeed love his native land most dearly.
This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou takest from me. When thou camest first,
Thou strokedst me and madest much of me, wouldst give me
Water with berries in’t, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I loved thee
And show’d thee all the qualities o’ the isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile:
Cursed be I that did so!
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king: and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o’ the island.
You taught me language; and my profit on’t
Is, I know how to curse you.
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
And as in many of Shakespeare’s plays, we see “reconciliation, word over all, beautiful as the sky!” Forgiveness, as I have noticed time and again, is something noble souls can come to, across cultures, whether believers or not.
Prospero displays this mature spirit, forgiving as much out of tiredness as anything else.
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to the quick,
Yet with my nobler reason ‘gaitist my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance:
His forgiveness is clear-eyed. It does not mitigate his disgust at their treachery, but he decides not to hold it against them.
For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother
Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive
Thy rankest fault; all of them;
The Tempest is unmistakeably the great master’s farewell to his loved art, to the joys of creativity.
The play was performed on a circular stage, out of doors. Watching the audience’s face as they watched spell-bound, often with a smile, I realized again that was Shakespeare created was magic, that art, like faith, is indeed a gift to help humankind bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.