The Tempest was one of William Shakespeare’s last plays. Into it, he put his heart and his soul. The epilogue in itself carries enough emotional weight to fill an entire play. The scene where Ariel says that she would feel bad for the men trapped on the island if she were human (V.
i. 20), if performed right, can be one of the most moving lines in the history of theater. The emotions in the play make the play extremely hard to perform. It is one of the most difficult stage plays for the audience as well as the cast to interpret, but isn’t impossible with a good director, cast, and crew.
If a play is not staged well, the audience may have a hard time understanding it. In The Tempest there are many scenes that are extremely difficult to stage. For example, in Act III Scene 3, there is the stage direction, ‘Enter several strange Shapes, bringing in a banquet; and dance about it with gentle actions of salutations.’ (Shakespeare, 57) Then, after the men decide to eat, ‘Enter Ariel, like a harpy; claps his wings upon the table; and with a quaint device the banquet vanishes.’ (Shakespeare, 58) How does one bring an entire banquet onto the stage and then in the blink of an eye, make it disappear? It is one of the greatest obstacles in known theater. The appearance of Caliban is something to be argued over. In some performances, he has been portrayed as a fish, in others a dog, in some a hunchback, but his appearance is an important part of the play. It is imperative that the audience hate him, be disgusted by him, for the emotions to work right.
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He has to be depicted as abhorrent and lewd. This is another dilemma for the director, and the actor who plays Caliban has to be notably gifted. The spirit, Ariel, is of undefined gender, and this is also quite a difficult thing to portray on the stage, as one must choose, to a degree, the sex of the spirit. Also, the language, late sixteenth century English, is rather hard for the modern ear to understand without scrupulous study.
Many words strange to those of the twentieth century were common, ever day words in Shakespeare’s time. The line, ‘You have often/Begun to tell me what I am, but stopped/And left me to a bootless inquisition/Concluding, ‘Stay! Not yet.’ ‘ (Shakespeare, 6) can seem extremely daunting to a listener not trained in medieval English. If the audience doesn’t understand the language the actors are using, they lose interest and don’t get the full meaning of the play. There are many songs in the play, describing beautiful things, and it is a director’s decision when it comes to whether or not these depictions are staged, or just described by the singer. They can help the audience understand the plot and get to know the character more, but if they are depicted, some spectators may become confused as to whether it is really happening. The feasible interpretations in which lies the meaning of The Tempest are endless, and one can find deeper and deeper meanings the farther one wants to dig.
Some people believe The Tempest is just a fairy tale with no real meaning. Others think it was Shakespeare’s adieu to theater, that Prospero was created in his own shadow, and that the epilogue was his goodbye to his faithful audiences. The deeper one goes, the more possible interpretations there are. For example, it could be a warning against meddling with magic, or a study of the nature of innocence.
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Unfortunately, it is impossible to include all of these renderings, because the audience will become confused and misconceive the overall plot of the play. They will be so wrapped up in discovering the intention that they won’t enjoy the play as a whole. Also, despite the director’s efforts to focus on one interpretation, the meaning will be different for each person, everyone will get something different from it, and will be able to connect it in some way with their own personal lives. John Clements stated that ‘A production should be staged with as much simplicity as possible, allowing the audience’s imagination to operate freely.’ (Clements, 366) This may have been true for the peasants of the sixteenth century, but with all of today’s technology, people’s imaginations have all but died. Clements also said that, ‘It is the journey, not the arrival, [in a theatrical production] that matters.’ (Clements, 367) But isn’t it true that it is the resolution that ties up loose ends and is the most important part of a play? The conclusion is what people will understand, and connect with what they absorbed from the rest of the play to this finale to get their final meaning out of it. It is not entirely incomprehensible, as Clements pronounces, and either he clearly underestimates the audience or his theories come from personal experience, in which he didn’t fully understand the play.
In his essay, stated to be on the topic of the difficulty of staging The Tempest (which was hardly mentioned), he makes wild stabs at comprehending the ingenuity of Shakespeare’s work and of Shakespeare himself. He obviously did not research his bold statements, for he declares, ‘In The Tempest, the mind consistently finds itself groping through levels of verbal beauty to try to reach the meaning, only in the end to realize that the process has involved an attempt to comprehend something as incomprehensible as a melody by Mozart.’ (Clements, 367) One cannot compare the genius of a writer with the genius of a musical composer. They are entirely different. Also, music is never unfathomable, as it holds a different meaning for each person listening. For apparent reasons, The Tempest is not a feasible high school play. It takes extremely talented actors and directors, as well as stage crew to put on a half-decent performance of this masterpiece.
... attention, and even more surprising, struggling after the play to comprehend the meaning. Inspector Goole's role was clearly to make this ... in our lifetime. The end of the play was ambiguous and it left the audience craving a clear and understandable ending. Were ... another twist and a collective sigh was heard throughout an audience battling with the same questions. I am yet to have ...
On the other hand, it is not entirely incomprehensible to an audience if they are willing to listen.