It takes bloody nerve for a rank amateur to write about Shakespeare – but here goes anyway, with all due brevity and humility!

July 24, 2007 at 12:11 pm (Shakespeare)

pooletempest.jpg Last month I saw The Tempest at the Folger Theatre in Washington DC. It was the first time I had seen that particular play. I enjoyed it greatly and learned from the performance. I loved the way Ferdinand and Miranda gazed out over the audience as Prospero presented his fabulous pageant. But then, suddenly: “Our revels now are ended.” Here is that famous passage in its entirety:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Act 4 Scene 1

shakespeare-after-all.jpg These are “…lines that seem to resonate across the centuries,” observes Marjorie Garber in her mighty tome, Shakespeare After All. garber.jpg (And isn’t Marjorie Garber worthy of admiration! The William R. Kenan Professor of English and American literature and the chair of the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard, possessor of homes in Cambridge and Nantucket, here she sits, looking justifiably proud, with her two splendid retrievers.)

I was deeply moved by Prospero’s forgiveness of those who had wronged him; even more so, by his deliberate decision to abjure sorcery and return to live in the world of men, in his rightful place as the Duke of Milan.

Then, of course, there is the other famous passage from this work, Ariel’s haunting song:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
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.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them,–ding-dong, bell.

Putrefaction has been transformed into a thing of beauty, almost of reverence.

fuseli_prospero.jpg nixontempest.jpg The Tempest seems to me a transcendent, mystical play, in which two worlds miraculously exist side by side. It is not only a brilliant but also a consoling work of art, ultimately filled with hope for the redemption of mankind through the sheer force of goodness. (For details about the paintings featured in this post as well as other paintings based on Shakespeare’s works, see Shakespeare Illustrated .)

will-in-world.jpg I remember reading somewhere in a review of Stephen Greenblatt’s hugely enjoyable Will in the World, that the truly strange thing about Shakespeare is not that almost four hundred years after his death in 1616, we know relatively little about him, but that from a vantage point of all those many years ago, he knew so much about us – now.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: