"The Tempest is full of magic and illusion. Consider the effect this would have on a 17th century audience and a 21st century audience. How might the magic and illusion be presented today?"

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Louise Jones

Shakespeare Literature

“The Tempest is full of magic and illusion. Consider the effect this would have on a 17th century audience and a 21st century audience. How might the magic and illusion be presented today?”

        William Shakespeare wrote The Tempest as a play. It was not intended for the text to be read by school children from a book. It was intended for performance in a theatre, where it would give enjoyment to an audience.

        One of the main “themes” of The Tempest is magic. Prospero is a magician, a sorcerer, a wizard, someone with magical powers. He uses these powers to make lots of things happen within the play. Indeed, the first scene focuses on the storm that Prospero has created to cause havoc on the ship upon which his enemies are travelling.

        At the beginning of the play, the storm just seems like any other storm, with an unfortunate crew being shipwrecked. By the end of Act 1, however, we discover that the storm was not a natural occurrence. Prospero conjured up the storm and deliberately picked out that ship. The audience get their first hint of this in Miranda’s first speech of the play. Miranda has watched the storm destroy the ship and she feels pity for the shipwrecked people. In her opening line, she asks her father if the storm is a product of his magic:

“If by your art, my dearest father, you have

Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.”

        This shows that Miranda knows about Prospero’s magic. She may not know everything that he does with his powers, but she knows that he does have supernatural powers.

        This storm is the beginning of a plan that Prospero has thought up to wreak revenge on his enemies. The plan involves a lot of magic. After being stranded on the island for 12 years, Prospero has had time to perfect his powers and to dream up a plan, a plan that never could have taken place without the storm. Because of this, the initial storm has a massive impact on the rest of the play. It also gives the audience an idea of how strong Prospero’s powers are. He is able to control the elements, something that only God is supposed to be able to do. However, as we learn later on in the play, Prospero may be able to conjure up storms and illusions, but he cannot control human nature, and must rely on good luck when trying to make Ferdinand and Miranda to fall in love.

        Some people believe that The Tempest was Shakespeare’s response of the courtly masque. This masque was a type of theatre, performed at court, which developed and was very popular during the reign of James I. It was during this king’s reign that The Tempest was written. In a masque, there were spectacular theatrical effects, music, dancing and bizarre and mythological characters. The court of King James’ time would have expected a masque to end in the triumph of virtue, peace and beauty, with harmony restored under its rightful monarch. All of these things occur in The Tempest.

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        This interpretation of The Tempest could well be what Shakespeare intended when he first wrote the play. Throughout the play there are lots of magical incidents which take place. Mythological creatures appear (Ariel as a harpy and the Gods - Juno, Ceres and Iris), and in Act 4 Scene 1, Prospero stages his own masque. At the end of the play, Prospero is re-instated as the rightful Duke of Milan, Miranda and Ferdinand marry, Ariel is set free and Prospero forgives his enemies. This is the kind of ending that would be expected in a masque in the reign of ...

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