Monday, August 16, 2010

The Tempest Read-Along Post 1.

I think William Shakespeare is one of those writers people are most intimidated by. First, he's a poet and a playwright-two things that a majority of modern readers have no exposure to. When we expose ourselves to a play we are usually in the audience, not reading the script. Second, a lot of language in Shakespeare's plays consists of words that were made up, and words we just don't use anymore. The meaning and interpretations of these words are complicated and complex. We certainly don't speak that way now, and to be frank, many people back in Shakespeare's time didn't speak that way either.

So, there seems to be this huge stigma against William Shakespeare and his plays. I think they are often seen as very elitist and intelligent. Personally, I find them slightly challenging...and fun. Here's something you might not know...Shakespeare is a very funny man, and his comedies/romances really display that sense of humor.

I'm not saying you won't have to struggle through Shakespeare. I still get intimidated going into his work. In fact, "The Tempest" is the first play by Shakespeare that I am tackling solo. The other Shakespearean plays I have read so far have all been re-reads of those I read in high school and college. But, surprisingly, I am faring rather well for being so scared.

I will say that it is nearly impossible to read straight Shakespeare. I have one of those big, bulky hardcover collections of his complete works, and I cannot read from it and understand it (maybe one day I will). I have been alternating my reading of his work from two different editions: the Folger's line of Shakespeare, as well as Barnes and Noble's versions. Both offer the direct Shakespearean text on one side, with translations and side notes on the other. It makes reading MUCH easier. I also really like No Fear Shakespeare. It is great for beginners as it gives a direct modern-day translation of the page for easier comprehension.

Anyway, moving on to "The Tempest" I have to say that this is a far more interesting play than I was anticipating. I haven't read it before, or seen it performed, so I am learning the story as I go. Prospero and his daughter Miranda were deserted on an island after Prospero was kicked out as the Duke of Milan. They were left with Prospero's books, which hold all of his knowledge (he can use magic).

One night/day a ship is wrecked near the island and we discover that Alonso, the King of Naples, is on board. Alonso was responsible for Prospero's exile, and seemingly, Prospero brought the tempest that shipwrecked the ship. It seems as if Prospero is going to get his revenge.

In the first two acts we meet some of the other men on board with Alonso, as well as the other inhabitants of the island. There is Caliban, who is a slave to Prospero and Miranda. We also meet Ariel and some of the other spirits. Prospero saved Ariel from his fate being stuck in a tree a few years earlier and has yet to set him free.

Ariel intrigues me. I perhaps owe this to a young adult novel I read last year, Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev, that displayed Ariel and his trickery. At the time, never having read "The Tempest" I didn't know Ariel's backstory. I like that I am learning more about a character I know from another novel.

I am also finding this play much easier to read than, perhaps, "Macbeth." It was one of Shakespeare's last plays, and perhaps he just got better with age. In any case, I love the writing and wit. And I am certainly looking forward to how Prospero gets his revenge...and what will become of Ariel.

I leave you now with some of my favorite lines from the first two Acts:

"'Tis far off
And rather like a dream than an assurance
That my remembrance warrants," (I.ii.44-46).

Prospero (the book nerd in me loved this):
"So, of his gentleness,
Knowing I loved my books, he furnished me
From mine own library with volumes that
I prize above my dukedom," (I.ii. 165-168).

And Ariel's introduction:
"All hail, great master! Grave sir, hail! I come
To answer they best pleasure, be't to fly,
To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride
On the curled clouds. To thy strong bidding, task
Ariel and all his quality," (I.ii. 189-193).

If you participated and completed a post, please comment and leave a link so I can add your name below!

Simpler Pastimes


  1. This is my first Shakespeare Play and I love it! I also have the translations on the right, which really does help out more then than now. But I have to say that I really like the story and also can't wait to see the revenge and what happens with Miranda. Thanks for giving the little extra push to read it Allie. Love, Mom

  2. One tip I learned for reading Shakespeare is to watch the BBC plays. They are usually almost word-for-word, and you can read and follow along. I would read a scene or an act (depending on how closely the play followed the original, sometimes minor scenes would be switched in order) and then watch it or vice versa. That helped me know I was following along correctly and get a better feeling for the tone. I felt like this was cheating at first, but my professor kept reminding us that plays are meant to be seen, not read. Of course, we don't always have access to good performances so it's good to know how to read them, but with Shakespeare the BBC versions really help. A lot of them are available on Netflix now.

  3. The quote about books is great! I'd forgotten it, shame on me. I'd also forgotten how much I enjoy Shakespeare, it's been so long since I've read any of his works. I'm pretty sure I've seen The Tempestperformed locally, though, but that was eons ago--I've completely forgotten the story. However, watching Shakespeare performed live, and well, does seem easier than reading it--less intimidating, somehow.

    My post on Part I is here.

  4. Hi, I'm a new follower.

    When reading Shakespeare (which is not often), i try to keep in mind that he wrote "crowd pleasers", not classics as many would have us believe. They became classic but the original intent was to get people in to the theatre.

    That train of thought, in my head, puts Shakespeare and James Cameron in the same category - and really, who can be afraid of James Cameron?

  5. I studied Shakespeare for 4 semesters in college. One of the ways I got through it and that really helped me comprehend the meaning of his work was by listening to recordings. If you can get the ones recorded with Richard Burton, so much the better. His were by far the best.

  6. Interesting post. I have to admit I find myself more interested in readers' reactions and experiences with reading Shakespeare than with a specific play and yours are no different.

    I too find it impossible to read "Straight Shakespeare" - I need some kind of help. For me, it has been the excellent book "Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare" which is like being handed a flashlight to help one navigate the often dark unknown of his language, plot, and mythological and other references.

    I've written a post more or less related to acts 1 & 2 at my blog and have also written a couple other Shakespeare/Tempest posts recently if you'd like to check them out.


  7. Seeing the plays performed makes a huge difference to my enjoyment of them, even if I feel I've enjoyed them the first time. The Tempest has always been a favorite of mine, but after I saw it performed at the Globe, I got a lot of nuances that had passed me by when I was reading. And I second the recommendation for the BBC radio plays--the Arkangel ones? Very good.

  8. Ah, stupid life! I was busy and forgot all about this. Ooops.

    I'll try to join in, but at the very least I'll enjoy reading the thoughts of y'all.