Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Hello, learners, and welcome to week nine’s summary video. This week we’ll be talking about The Tempest. Yeah. Shakespeare’s last solo authored play and one that does seem to pull together a range of fascinating things. It does kind of feel like one of those ones where he’s just chucked everything at it, doesn’t it? Once again, magic comes up in this one but in a very different way than it came up in Macbeth. Yeah, that’s right. Macbeth we’re talking about black magic. Here we’re talking about white magic. The idea that there is such a thing as good magic. And that, in a way, magic is almost like the Shakespearean, Elizabethan, Jacobean equivalent of science. The idea of taking control of nature.
Skip to 0 minutes and 53 seconds A very powerful idea. And there was a fascination with these kind of mage figures– this extraordinary man, John Dee. And I think the other thing to remember is that the figure of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus was hugely admired in the theatre. Doctor Faustus was one of the most widely performed revived plays at the time. And this is about bad magic. This is magic as a contract with the devil. In a sense, it’s close to Macbeth. I think one of the things Shakespeare is doing with Prospero is reimagining Doctor Faustus in terms of good magic.
Skip to 1 minute and 39 seconds But it’s always complicated with Shakespeare because although Prospero is the good magician, trying to bring about a harmonious end, trying to control both nature and his enemies for good purposes, there are moments when he becomes angry. And there are moments when you think, actually, is that distinction between black and white magic so sharp? So you get those interesting references to Sycorax, the mother of Caliban, who is a witch in the black magic sort of sense. But then when Prospero sort of says, “well, I can raise the dead” – this kind of thing. That’s a blasphemous thing to raise the dead. So you actually think, “is the black magic/ white magic distinction quite so sharp?”
Skip to 2 minutes and 23 seconds And maybe Prospero comes to see that himself when he renounces his magic. And of course, what’s interesting there in terms of Shakespeare’s writing is that the language that Prospero uses in the speech where he speaks of his spirits, “ye elves of hills and brooks and standing lakes and groves,” and then he says, “I renounce my rough magic”– that speech– the language is taken very, very closely from the language of a witch, Medea, in the Metamorphoses of Ovid, one of the books Shakespeare knew and loved from his school days. So if Prospero’s using Medea, who’s a really sort of wicked witch in many ways, using that language, he is again, as always, asking questions, not providing answers.
Skip to 3 minutes and 10 seconds And Caliban’s a very interesting character, being portrayed very differently. Being portrayed very differently by actors down the ages and in different films. And there’s been obviously– it’s sometimes been read in terms of racial oppression, of the play as a kind of allegory of colonisation or empire. But then Caliban has also been played in a kind of Darwinian way, as, you know, the missing link between animal kind and humankind. And Caliban himself– sympathetic, unsympathetic? Well, we hear he’s attempted to rape Miranda, so that’s pretty unsympathetic. But on the other hand, he speaks this extraordinary poetry. There’s that wonderful sort of intuitive at oneness with the music of the island and the animals, the places of the island. Very fascinating, complex character.
Skip to 4 minutes and 8 seconds And music is a very big part of this play. Music is, yeah. One of the things we need to remember is that by this time, end of Shakespeare’s career, they’ve acquired the indoor playhouse in the Blackfriars where plays can be put on in winter, in a more intimate, more controlled setting, where you have more control over light and sound, more opportunities for special effects. But you could also have quieter kinds of music, the kind of music that perhaps wouldn’t really be heard in the big, noisy outdoor theatre. And music, especially that sort of unearthly music that Ariel is associated with, a very beautiful central part of the play.
Skip to 4 minutes and 48 seconds Would Shakespeare have been involved in writing that, or how would it work? He seems to have written the lyrics for the songs in his plays. But then a professional composer would have been brought in for the music. There’s some interesting connections with a composer called Robert Johnson. And some original music from the period for Shakespearean songs, not ones in The Tempest but one or two others, does survive. And we know that Shakespeare was also, for a time, a neighbour in London of a well-known composer. So we know little of Shakespeare’s own technical musical abilities. But he certainly knew that writing songs and having musical interludes was a very important part of the theatre.
Skip to 5 minutes and 38 seconds That’s the other thing actually about the Blackfriars Theatre that because it’s indoor, it’s by candlelight, the action had to stop at various points for the candles to be changed. And there would have been a little musical instrumental interlude while that happened. So these late plays– music, very much part of it. And would there have been an orchestra, or how– Very, very small. Very small? Very, very small, but there would have been. Again, exactly where they were, we don’t know. Thinking back to the outdoor theatre, to the Globe, that upper space, the sort of gallery space that is sometimes used for above scenes– it seems in some cases the musicians would have been up there, above the stage.
Skip to 6 minutes and 20 seconds And next week, we’re not looking at a play. Instead we’ve got an assignment. Well, that’s right. I mean, we’ve covered a huge spectrum of plays through the course– comedies, tragedies, histories, a romance like The Tempest. I sound like Polonius in Hamlet– comical, tragical, historical, pastoral. And we’ve really tried to give a sense of the full range, the full breadth of Shakespeare’s achievement whilst also leaving plenty of other plays for learners to go off and read in their own time. But what we thought we should do in the last week is just think a little bit about how we get from Shakespeare, the man who lived from 1564 to 1616, to Shakespeare 400 years on.
Skip to 7 minutes and 1 second 2016, the year of Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. How did the Shakespeare houses emerge? How did Stratford become a tourist site? Throughout the course, we’ve been looking at objects and books. And we’ve perhaps had a kind– we’ve almost been treating them like holy relics. So we thought what we’d do in the last week is explore that process of the evolution of Shakespeare’s name and fame. We begin from The First Folio of the collected works of 1623. But we follow him through history.
Skip to 7 minutes and 42 seconds But what we try to suggest is that one of the things that keeps Shakespeare new, keeps him alive, is the process that later artists, whether it’s other writers, novelists, poets, or people in other art forms– painters, composers of opera, ballet, symphonies– Shakespeare has had this– and filmmakers as well, of course– Shakespeare has had this huge cultural influence. And so we look at some examples of Shakespeare inspiring later creativity, later invention. And our assignment, although we stress that it’s strictly optional. Nobody has to do this. But our assignment is to look at a reinvention, a recreation of Shakespeare. It might be a stage production. It might be a film.
Skip to 8 minutes and 30 seconds But it might be an adaptation, a novel, a poem, a musical work, a painting, anything that is inspired by Shakespeare. And we hope that process will help us to see something of this extraordinary story of how Shakespeare still lives today.
Week 9 summary
In this summary video, we bring together some of the themes and ideas from Week 9 of Shakespeare and His World.
© The University of Warwick and The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust