Shakespeare's The Tempest--likely the last play he wrote alone--is probably my favorite of the Bard's plays. I've seen it many times--here and there and everywhere--and "The Tempest" is my answer to that what-if? question about what book would I take with me on the desert island where there are no other books. (Actually, I'd rather be on a dessert island.)
The play has a little bit of everything--magic, music, goddesses, a brute, revenge, fools, love, and gorgeous language that swirls through all. And some famous phrases and lines--like "brave new world" and "We are such stuff as dreams are made on."
When I was about to retire from Western Reserve Academy in the spring of 2011, I decided that the last thing I would do in each of my three English classes that day (juniors) would be to recite Prospero's moving speech from 4.1, the speech that begins with "Our revels now are ended ...." (See below for the text of the speech.) I'd memorized the lines a year or so earlier, so I was not worried about that part of it.
First class of the day, May 19, 2011. Here's what I wrote later in my journal:
... kids had put up banners bidding me farewell: one on the glass doors leading into the English Wing, one on my TV monitor, another on the pull-down screen (one I did not discover until I … pulled down the screen); we talked about the exam, about Flannery O’Connor ... and then about some Huck Finn sequels and transformations (including Big River); ... at the end, I tried to recite “Our revels now are ended” from The Tempest, but managed only about five words before I dissolved; listening to Jim’s song in Big River (“Free at Last”) had devastated me, and I was just plain incapable of going on; walked home for lunch, sobbing all the way, where Joyce greeted me—as she has for 42 years—with deep affection, understanding, and—today—some tears; what a gift she is; drove back up for two afternoon classes, which I handled better (though I didn’t dare try the Shakespeare again) ...
So, yes, I broke down while trying to recite Prospero's lines. Couldn't, you know, "man up."
But I love those lines. I still recite them (silently) each week a few times--to keep them alive in my head. They still move me ...
And then ... this morning ...
I was over at Open Door Coffee Company where I read some more from Margaret Atwood' newest novel, Hag-Seed, which is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series--modern novels based on Shakespeare plays. I've read the previous ones, based on The Winter's Tale, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Merchant of Venice. (Here's a link to the Hogarth site that tells about them.) Atwood's is based on TheTempest.
I'm going to blog more thoroughly about Hag-Seed when I finish it (next week), but I'll just say that it deals with a veteran play director who is ousted fom his long-time position at a Canadian theater festival (think: The Stratford Festival, which Joyce and I attend every August) and plots his revenge, which he is hoping to accomplish by doing a production of The Tempest in a Canadian prison (with prisoners doing all--except Prospero, which he himself will play).
So ... this morning ...
I got to page 177, where our Prospero figure is talking to the young woman he has hired to play Miranda (Prospero's daughter--we're in an all-male prison), and he tells her that this is "my best speech in the entire play"--and Margaret Atwood prints the speech (see below) (176-77). Yes, it's the same damn one I know ...
And right here in Open Door (which, fortunately for me was thinly populated at the time) ... I wept.
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.