Prospero, the Witch

Magic plays a big role in Shakespeare’s The Tempest as the protagonist Prospero uses magic to conjure the eponymous tempest which stirs the play into motion.

During Shakespeare’s time, magic was divided into two camps, white magic and black magic. The former was thought to be beneficial and healing, while the latter was meant for harm and practiced by witches. People believed that witches had minions or animals that would do their bidding for them, the actual deliverers of the black magic. White magic operated much like totems or charms which could ward off evil. So called magicians would sell their wares, promising immunity, good health, and other miscellaneous effects. In place of science, people relied upon magic to cure them of ailments and to wish for good fortune. When tending to medical wounds, magic was often used to try and cure the ailment. One cure for headaches involved taking a lock of one’s hair, boiling it in one’s urine, then boiling the entire thing over fire.

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Shakespeare in the Park’s The Tempest

The last theater production I saw was in fact, the Shakespeare in the Park’s version of The Tempest. It was a boiling hot, incredibly humid June evening when we stumbled into the Delacorte theater in the middle of the park, ready for some culture. For a first viewing of Shakespeare’s debatably last play, it was a dramatic setting. The air, heavy with moisture made the audience feel as if they were truly sitting on a desert island. It was the best and worst part of the production.

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The Unsolved Case for Nature and Nurture

The theory of nature vs. nurture in the upbringing of children is a theme we have seen in several of Shakespeare’s plays. The theory questions to what extent a person’s personality and skill are inherited by nature or the extent to which they depend on the nurture provided in ones upbringing. The effects of nature and nurture are difficult to attribute and quantify in the real world where nature and nurture of a specific child cannot be isolated or recreated to be scientifically studied.

Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, introduces two characters, Miranda and Caliban, who have been almost completely isolated on an island for all or nearly all of their lives. This set up allows us to compare and examine how two children differ though nurtured in nearly identical ways. Shakespeare offers us a scientific control case of the theory of nature vs. nurture. But ultimately we are still left wondering, as many philosophers and scientists do today, are there any obvious conclusions to be made about the roles of nature and nurture? Continue reading

“The birds and the bees” is a sexual euphemism that underlines the connection between sex and pregnancy, and the pollination and fertilization of plants. Indeed, there is something erotic about plants and their growth.

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(Post) Colonized Caliban

Recent scholarship has begun examining the relationship of Caliban and Prospero through the lens of postcolonialism, leading to a discourse that explores this relationship as analogous with that of the colonized and colonizers. This argument  aligns Shakespeare’s work in the context of history, applying it directly to actual events. This allegorical reading explores the nuances of Caliban being abused by Prospero after introducing him to the island and the way that aspects of physical abuse and use of language work in ways to oppress Caliban as parallel to that of European powers colonizing Africa and the “New World”. Continue reading

Compositional Analysis of Romney’s “Tempest”

engraving copy

The shipwreck in Act I, Scene 1, after George Romney. Engraved by Benjamin Smith

In 1790, George Romney received a commission to paint the first act of The Tempest. Although the finished painting has apparently not survived, a 1797 engraved copy of the work by Benjamin Smith as well as multiple preparatory studies of the work are readily available on the Internet. Continue reading

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Well, it’s not exactly an angel…

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, after being shipwrecked on an island, Antonio, Sebastian, and Alonso seek food and shelter. Unbeknownst to Alonso, his two followers seek to murder him in his sleep, eager to increase their own political power. Stumbling across a banquet full of food placed by invisible spirits , the travelers sit down and begin to feast. Out of the blue, a harpy (a female monster with a human head and a bird body), crashes their treat-laden party by landing on the table and castigates the villains for their terrible deeds. Continue reading

No Patriarchy, Please

Film Comment calls it Julie Taymor’s “own yonic paradise” – yonic, if you didn’t know, being the female version of the word ‘phallic’. Powerful and feminised, Taymor’s The Tempest is revolutionary if only for its female version of Prospero—or rather, Prospera, played by none other than Dame Helen Mirren.  Continue reading