The Tempest by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is universally acknowledged as the creator of theatrical performance. His plays written for the Globe Theatre expand the limits of literature by turning the written word into an art of theatrical performance. The play “The Tempest” written in the very beginning of the seventeenth century influences the canons of dramatic arts and their role in the modern performing culture. “The Tempest” performed during the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival in 2010 is one of the interpretations going far beyond the limits of the written page by raising the problem of the colonization policy of the seventeenth-century Britain and romantic contradictions between man and nature.

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The initial setting for the play is an island. In the course of the narration, we see only this background with different lighting. Shakespeare described two major settings. The first one is the ship and the second is the island divided into two parts. In the modern interpretation, the viewer is welcomed into the Shakespearian world with a dim stage, obscure sounds, total darkness serving as a background for the magician Prospero, the main character. The stage atmosphere is supported by ethnic music welcoming the characters in savage costumes entangled in a dance under deeming sun turning into the thundery sky. The modern interpretation contradicts the classical one by showing the characters experiencing the storm on an island. But the whole idea utterly corresponds with the romantic atmosphere of the play based on the contradiction of nature and human. According to the cannons of Romanism nature is always hostile and threatening the man. In this essential idea, the play corresponds with Shakespeare’s ideas.

With the help of heavy, pounding music, intense rhythm and high voices the atmosphere of suspense and tone of gloomy omens is created. The general tone of the narration creates the unwelcoming and intense attitude of a place and the action. The similar quality of narration is achieved in the written form by using short sentences and numerous exclamations.

In the original version the setting shifts from the ship to one part of the island and then to another, but in the staged performance under analysis, the settings are substituted by the only one which is separated into two parts with the lighting. The shifts from one part of the island to another make the parts of the play connected with Caliban and the wilderness associated with his spirit easily distinguished from the part of the island correlated with Prospero. Here again, we see the sharp contradiction between nature and the man.

In the age of informational technology, computer graphics, and special effects it is difficult to perceive the seventeenth-century play relying on the aesthetic effect of the narration alone. The art of theatrical performance is the only means capable of making classical works of literature comprehensible for a modern viewer. Through addressing hearing and eyesight with the simplest irritants such as darkness and loud sounds the performance makes the fundamental ideas of human existence vivid and easily approachable for modern theatergoers.

Generally speaking, “The Tempest” performed during the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is a vivid example of a modern view of the Shakespearian problem of colonization and attitude to people who are considered savages. The type of staging based on light and sound effects creates peculiar tone and mood of the narration helping to distinguish the parts of the play and peculiar details testifying to the role of theatre in the modern culture.


The Tempest: St. Louis Shakespeare Festival (2010). [Video file]. Web.

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The Tempest Savage Rose Theater Company (2014). [Video file]. Web.

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