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Man Vs. Nature: Caliban’s Role in The Tempest

Note: this paper is one in a series of papers written for one of my classes. Each paper is to examine the text from a specific critical perspective.... which is why this essay begins with an in-depth explanation of both structuralism and poststructuralism.

Poststructuralism is a critical approach to literature that attempts to show that no static meaning can be discovered in a text. Instead, poststructuralists show how meaning is something that evolves and changes as word use, meaning, and social reconstruction or understanding of the world shifts over a period of time. In this way, poststructuralists show that there is really no meaning that can be discovered in a text that is universal enough to conquer the passage of time: instead there is a knowledge that can help us to better understand both literature and the world around us. However, in order to come to a better understanding of the specific claims of poststructuralism, it is necessary to first get a solid grasp on structuralism, a previous approach to literature.

Based on the study of semiology, structuralism attempts to show that meaning can be found in the interplay of signs within opposing binary structures (good vs. evil, man vs. nature and other opposing forces which are necessary for structures to exist). Specifically, structuralists claim that any sign is composed of two parts -- the signifier and the signified. A signifier is a word or phrase that calls to mind a specific thing: the signified. For example, the word heart is the signifier which means “♥” A further point of importance is that signifiers gain meaning through difference. That is to say, the only reason that we know that a word means something is because it is not a different word. For example, heart means “♥,” only because it is not the word diamond (♦) or the word club (♣). Structuralists hold that meaning can be found at the point within literary structure where, after a chain of signifier equals signifier events, a signifier eventually equals a signified (historically: God, truth, self). In this way, a study of life or of literature will eventually lead to some ultimate truth or idea whose vastness cannot be encompassed by mere words.

A reaction to the structuralist movement, poststructuralism brings new focus to these established ideas in literary analysis. Instead of the “signifier equals a signified” relationship highlighted by structuralists, poststructuralists have identified this relationship as a group of signifiers:
“Poststructuralists have demonstrated that in the grand scheme of signification, all ‘signifieds’ are also signifiers, for each word exists in a complex web of language and has such a variety of denotations and connotations that no one meaning can be said to be final, stable, and invulnerable to reconsideration and substitution” (Bedford 300).
The main point where poststructuralists differ from structuralists, is that poststructuralists believe that once a signified has been named, the name itself becomes a signifier. If you label a great idea “God,” then “God” can no longer be the signified. “God” is now a signifier for something else.

Unfortunately, in order for meaningful communication to occur, things must be labeled, must be named, and must have identifiable characteristics that differ from some other named thing. Therefore, according to post structural thought, because a signifier equals a signifier, which indicates yet another signifier (and on into an eternity of possible other signifiers), all meaning is arbitrarily placed and determined by our need to center every structure on a known transcendental signified.

Even though meaning from this perspective is arbitrary, our understanding of the world is based on a series of signifiers and signifieds, which means that meaning must be placed somewhere, arbitrary or not. In literature, this means that we must understand two things before any search for further knowledge of a text can begin. First, any structure built around a binary pair will eventually attempt to ground itself out in an appeal to a fundamental given. Second, by definition such grounding out (though necessary for meaning to occur) is arbitrary or fictive (Gilcrest). In order to find literary meaning then, poststructuralists reveal aspects of a text that can neither be contained by the “structure” of the text, nor explained by detailed comparison of known binary pairs.

In order to find meaning then, poststructuralist critics must first identify binary pairs within a text, choose one, and then identify which half of the pair is privileged. One of the pair must be privileged in order for them to be oppositional. We know this because the other is downplayed in some way. For example, one type of literary structure is plot: a structure that requires that these oppositional forces exist. In addition, these binary pairs are easy to identify, because we are often biased in favor of some of the better-known binary halves.

As a basic example, in the “good vs. evil” binary pair we are biased in favor of “good” largely because we have spent most of our lives learning that “evil” is synonymous with “bad.” When we read a text with this binary pair then, we first apply our learned knowledge, and second our knowledge of textual events. At some point, however, realization hits that this cultural knowledge is not necessarily the same as the textual knowledge that we are acquiring. Because of this, it is important to know that sooner or later the identification of binary structures is a process that breaks down. Eventually critics find themselves at a point where structures based on these binary pairs can no longer contain the number of possible interpretations. This point is where poststructuralists emerge, stretching their wings, from the literary cocoon of structuralism.

William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is a play alive with binary structures that beg for interpretation. One such pair, which I am going to call “Man vs. Nature,” presents itself at the beginning of “The Tempest” and remains active for the length of the play. Indeed, it is this one binary pair that specifically establishes not only what “reality” is within the text, but whose realities are important. In historic terms, man has almost always been considered superior to nature, especially since the introduction of the scala natura, which places man under God, but before animals, plants and other elements of the natural world. Prospero then is a great example of this, because in addition to being a man, he is a King: a position that places him above all other men (except perhaps other kings). Prospero’s apparent manipulation of nature in Act One, Scene Two of “The Tempest” seems to draw attention to this attitude of superiority because it places him above and in control of nature.

In addition, Prospero’s actions and experiences within the play serve to establish his reality as the reality of the text, as well as the reality in which readers are most inclined to believe. This is possible largely because despite his role as king, Prospero is first and foremost a man who has fallen on misfortune, a position that readers can identify with. Because of the empathetic relationship that readers feel they have with Prospero, readers feel like they have been given something every time Prospero gives them a piece of knowledge which helps to move the plot of “The Tempest” along. However, the realities of “The Tempest” are somewhat misleading on a first reading. Even though Prospero’s position in the play is in some ways the easiest to understand, his role is actually that of a diversion. Readers sympathize with him for the loss of his kingdom, but even from Prospero’s own story telling we find that he wasn’t very good at ruling. In addition, although nearly every indication in “The Tempest” directs readers to believe that Prospero is a hugely magical person, it is clear that the only talent he is overly gifted with is the manipulation of other characters. Miranda believes that her father is responsible for causing the storm that destroys the ship of king Alonso, and she is correct. But rather than the direct intervention that Miranda suspects, it is Prospero’s control over the mystical being Ariel that allows him to create the storm:

Prospero: Hast thou, spirit performed to point the tempest that I bade thee?
Ariel: To every article. I boarded the King’s ship: now on the beak, Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin, I flamed amazement: sometime I’ld divide And burn in many places (Tempest, I, ii, 194-199).

This excerpt indicates that it was not Prospero, but Ariel who actually created the storm, and that this creation was done at Prospero’s request. Ariel, as a spirit, has a stronger connection with nature than humanity. In addition, because this knowledge (though subtly represented in the play) somewhat lessens Prospero’s power to manipulate the audience, it shows that Prospero, perhaps, is not the character whom readers should focus on.

Reading “The Tempest” from Prospero’s perspective, it is easy to get caught up in an elementary school style argument of “he said/ she said.” Prospero’s justification for the manipulation of the other characters and events is based in a need for revenge against the people who stole his throne and exiled himself and his daughter. This is where nature again flares up as an active binary half. The creature Caliban, who is half man, and half sea witch, is despised by (and despises) Prospero. The main problem with reading “The Tempest” from Prospero’s point of view is that Caliban, who embodies aspects from both man and nature, is largely ignored.

However, because of his nature, in which the “Man vs. Nature” binary pair combines, Caliban is perhaps the most interesting character in the play, and is probably where readers’ attentions should focus if investigating this binary sequence. It is my suspicion that this does not happen with more frequency because it is Prospero’s reality that readers tend to be enamored with, and because readers have Prospero’s word that Caliban is not a creature of quality. In fact, Caliban’s reactions to Prospero seem to agree with Prospero’s ideas:

Prospero: Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself Upon thy wicked dam, come forth!
Caliban: As wicked dew as e’er my mother brushed With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen Drop on you both! A south-west wind blow on ye And blister you al o’er (I, ii 320-324)!

Caliban’s angry response to Prospero does not at first seem logical, until we find that much as Prospero’s throne was taken from him, Prospero took Caliban’s throne. In addition to this insult, Prospero then kept Caliban on as a slave.

In many ways, Prospero shares aspects of his life with Caliban: both are displaced Kings in their own ways, and both are trapped on an island. However, where Prospero ultimately gains freedom for himself and his daughter, Caliban is forced to serve as a slave whose story is largely forgotten when placed in close proximity to Prospero’s.

In conclusion, I would like to say that this by no means brings us to a solid interpretation of meaning in the text. There are still several unsolved subjects to cover in “The Tempest.” For example: if, as I have argued, Caliban is the point of interest in the play, why is it that his perhaps dangerous role in “The Tempest” is never taken to it’s logical conclusion? This play seems to suggest that because he does not, and in fact seems unable to repulse Prospero’s will at the end of the last act, nature is once again de-privileged. As for why that is the case . . . another question to be clarified by some other critic.

Works Cited:

Keesey, Donald, comp. Contexts for Criticism. 4th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
McDonald, Russ. “Reading The Tempest.” Keesey 99-111.
Murfin, Ross. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston: Bedford 1998.
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Such noise, such stink, such smoke there was, you’d swear
The Tempest surely had been acted there.
--anonymous poem, 1679.

Restoration and Eighteenth Century Adaptations of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest

The Tempest, generally held to be Shakespeare’s last play, is also perhaps his most optimistic: virtue triumphs and forgives evil, which lacks the competence to be really dangerous. The play became, arguably, the most popular of his works in the Restoration and eighteenth century English theatre. These productions often dramatically altered the original script.

At a Glance

Title: the Tempest, or, the Inchanted Island

Adapters: John Dryden and William Davenant
First performed: Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 1667
Significant changes: Dryden and Davenant lengthened the opening scene, probably to take advantage of the spectacular storm effects. The cast now included Hippolyto, the "man who had never seen woman" and heir to the Dukedom of Mantua. Prospero has managed to keep him on the same island as his daughters for approximately twelve years without their ever having met. Prospero has a second daughter, Dorinda, who eventually becomes Hipoolyto’s wife. Also new to the cast are Caliban’s lustful sister, Syrocax, and Ariel’s lover, Milcha. Several changes, including a duel and a great deal of innuendo give the play a definite Restoration flavour.
Comment: Samuel Pepys saw this version eight times.

Title: The Tempest, or, the Enchanted Island

Adapters: Thomas Shadwell
First performed: Dorset Gardens, 1674
Significant changes: Shadwell took the Dryden/Davenant version and expanded the spectacle and musical elements, in part because of the greater resources available. Milcha, who appears only in the final act of the Dryden/Davenant adaptation, appears throughout this production. An elaborate "Neptune and Amphitrite" masque became a centerpiece of the play.
Comment: This production set box office records which were not broken until 1728, by John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (noted in J. Milhous and R.D. Hume’s edition of Downes’ Roscius Anglicanus)

Title: The Mock Tempest, or, the Enchanted Castle

Writer: Thomas Duffet
First performed: Drury Lane, 1674
Significant changes: Prospero is the Keeper of Bridgewell Prison and his daughters are prostitutes. The rest of the play is in a similar vein.
Comment: This farce successfully capitalized on the popularity of the play.

Title: The Tempest, an Opera

Adapters: H. Parcell, J.C. Smith, T.A Arne, J.A. Fisher.
First performed: Drury Lane, 1756
Significant changes: The first act is replaced by a staged storm over which Ariel sings a song, delivers a few lines adapted from Shakespeare, and then disappears. The remainder of the play is essentially Shakespeare’s, but it has been shortened considerably, and has only three acts. Many songs have been added.
Comment: This version had a brief stage life; I can find no record of productions after 1756.

Title: The Tempest

Adapters: David Garrick
First performed: The alterations by Garrick may have been added in 1773 for a Drury Lane production.
Significant changes:Some original songs, some songs from the 1756 opera, and (in some performances) Shadwell’s "Neptune a Amphitrite" masque have been added to Shakespeare’s version of the play.
Comment: Shakespeare’s original script was first revived in 1746.

Title: The Tempest, a Ballet

Adapters: I can find no reference.
First performed: Covenant Gardens, 1774
Comment: This piece, which had a brief stage life, was advertised as an "Italian ballet."

Title: The Tempest

Adapters: John Kemble
First performed: Drury Lane, 1789
Significant changes: This version features a bit of every previous Tempest, including the Dorinda/Hippolyto plot, the "Neptune and Amphitrite" masque, and songs from the 1756 opera and the Garrick adaptation. It opens with what in other versions is the second scene of Act I. The second scene consists of an elaborately staged storm, a model ship, and a musical performance by an airborne Ariel and other flying spirits. The model ship reappears in the final act.
Comment: Kemble revised this version several times. It survived well into the nineteenth century, and was successfully revived in 1959.

If you want to know more, read on. Node your homework-- twenty years later.


The Tempest, in various altered forms, was probably the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays during the Restoration and eighteenth century. The Restoration version, adapted by John Dryden and William Davenant and later revised by Thomas Shadwell, was for the audiences of the period the known version of the play. Pepys saw the Restoration version eight times (75-6), and Langbaine described it as "admirable" (177). The research of Milhous and Hume revals that The Tempest held a box office record until the appearance of The Beggar’s Opera in 1728 (74). Theatrical Tempests produced in the 1700s often stayed closer to Shakespeare’s text, but even these were not free of alterations, and the influence of the Restoration revisions survived into the mid-nineteenth century.

These adapted and altered plays have fared less well with later critics. Odell calls the version by Dryden and Davenant "the worst perversion of Shakespeare in the two century history of such atrocities" (31), while Thomas Lounsbury calls this same play "the most offensive" of Shakespearean alterations (303).

Christopher Spencer takes a different approach. He writes that "to belabor them [the Restoration Shakespearean adaptations] as bad Shakespeare is like kicking a carcass.... We can best understand the adaptations if we regard them as new plays" 98). Obviously, one cannot avoid considering each play’s relationship to the original, but the purpose should not be to assault the Restoration and eighteenth-century audiences for some perceived lack of taste. Many critics compare Shakespeare’s scripts to the various adaptations to show why they fall short of the bard’s work. This strategy serves little purpose, except to further glorify Shakespeare—- in case the reader is unaware of his reputation as a dramatist--, and to permit the critic to display his impeccable taste and rapier wit by assaulting these plays—- as though some grave danger exists of people preferring them to the originals. More can be gained by examining why Shakespeare’s plays fell short of the expectations of later audiences. Certain changes were made to The Tempest and, in this changed form, it succeeded. The adapters perhaps did not understand Shakespeare’s work, but they understood their own times.

Before examining any of the altered Tempests, it is appropriate to give some account of its tortuous stage history during the period under consideration.

Production History

Dryden and Davenant’s first appeared at Linconln’s Inn Field on November 7, 1667. Shadwell revised it into an opera in 1674 for Dorset Gardens, and it is these versions which the Restoration theatre-goers knew. Several sources attest to its popularity, including a 1674 production, Thomas Duffet’s the Mock Tempest, in which Prospero appears as the Keeper of Bridgewell Prison and his daughters (for Miranda has a sister in the revised version), as prostitutes. The Shadwell opera itself appeared at Durry Lane during 1701, at Lincoln’s Inn Fields from 1702-4, and at Drury Lane again from 1706-8, in 1710, and from 1712-17. In 1706, it was advertised as having a "new masque by Mr. Purcel" (London Stage, Vol. II) who is not to be confused with the Mr. Parcell who would contribute to the 1756 operatic version. Drury Lane revived this piece again more than twenty times between 1729 and 1747.

In April of 1747, Drury Lane gave what would be the last performance for nearly thirty years of the Shadwell/Dryden/Davanant opera. The Tempest, however, did not disappear. One year earlier, Drury Lane had resurrected Shakespeare’s play for one performance, although they added Shadwell’s "Neptune and Amphitrite" masque. Obviously, the public’s taste for spectacle had not waned. Under Garrick, some songs were also added to the play, probably in 1773 (Child 8). This version would be the one performed for the next thirty years, both at Drury Lane and, in 1776, Covenant Gardens.

The mid-1740s began a period which preferred more clearly Shakespearean versions of the play. In February of 1756, a new Tempest opera appeared at Drury Lane. It featured music by H. Parcell, J.C. Smith, T.A. Arne, and J.A Fisher. This version more closely follows Shakespeare’s text, although many lines are altered and the play runs only three acts. While the authors of the songs are known, the editor/adaptor’s name has not been recorded.

Shakespeare’s version-- with or without the Shadwell masque—- received 21 performances and left the stage in 1786. The 1770s seem to have been the decade of The Tempest. In addition to Shakespeare’s play, Drury Lane revived the Shadwell/Dryden/Davenant version in 1776, while in 1774, Covenant Gardens ran an Italian ballet based on the play.

In 1789, John Kemble, a manager and actor with Drury Lane, brought together pieces from all preceding Tempests, producing what might be called the Shakespeare/Dryden/Davenant/Shadwell/Purcell/Arne/Fisher/Smith/Garrick/Kemble version, but which for simplicity’s sake will be referred to as Kemble’s version. It received several performances at Drury Lane over the next decade, and would be taken over by Covenant Gardens in the early years of the nineteenth century. The altered play continued at the Gardens until 1837, and received its last recorded nineteenth century performance at the Old Vic in 1844. The Old Vic revived the piece over a century later, in 1959; Christopher Spencer records that it received a positive response from the audience (16).

Dryden and Davenant

Davenant and his associates at Covenant Gardens, backed by their license to "reform and make fitt" plays, originated the vogue for Shakespeare adaptations; Davenant’s Hamlet was the first recorded production of this sort (H. Spencer 275). Perhaps their most intriguing work in this area, prior to The Tempest is The Law Against Lovers, an adapted Measure for Measure which excludes Marianna and includes Beatrice and Benedict from Much Ado About Nothing. This piece illustrates better than anything a point which must be considered when examining the Dryden/Davenant Tempest; faithfulness to the original text was not a prime concern. The adapters regarded the plays as raw material which could be altered and edited in any manner which might appeal to the audience. Dryden expressed the belief that Shakespeare writes "often better than any other poet in any language," but "in many places below the dullest writers of ours, or any precedent age" (quoted in Langbaine 134-5).

Davenant "found that something could be added to the design of Shakespear" and "so design’d the Counterpart to Shakespear’s Plot, namely that of a Man who had never seen a Woman" (ii). Prospero keeps this character, Hippolyto, on the same island as his daughters for nearly twelve years, but the young man has never seen them, and they have never met him. It is this feat of magic which prompts Odell to call Hippolyto "perhaps the silliest [character] in theatrical history (31). Hippolyto necessitates a second daughter for Prospero: the slow-witted Dorinda. Caliban has a sister, and Ariel, a lover named Milcha. In addition to creating these new characters, Dryden and Davenant increased the play’s spectacular elements. The influential changes made by Dryden and Davenant may be placed into four categories:

1) the addition of features which make the play more like the typical drama of the day,
2) the simplification of scenes and language
3) the balancing of various features of the play
4) spectacle

Restoration Drama

Dryden’s original prologue for the play, overlooked by many critics, encapsulates the spirit of the altered play. Dryden plays a great deal of homage to "Shakespear," referring to his "magick" (19, 23) and his "pow’r," "sacred as a King’s" (24). The same passage which begin by reverentially paying homage ends by quite incongruously joking about the fact that the cabin-boy was played by a woman. Dryden writes:

What e’er she was before the play began
All you shall see of her is perfect man.
Or if your fancy will be further led,
To find her woman, it must be abed.

The divided mind of the prologue reflects the play itself. Shakespeare’s material is fine theatre, and the new material can also be entertaining. The marriage of the two does not always seem an easy one. If it proved popular with Restoration audiences, it is because the changes turn The Tempest into something familiar.

Ferdinand even fights a duel with Hippolyto who, discovering that Dorinda is not the only woman in the world, decides that he wants all women, decides that he wants all women for himself. This innocent "man who has never seen woman" becomes something akin to the familiar rake of Restoration comedy.

Though virgins and terribly naïve, Miranda and Dorinda behave like th coquettes so familiar to Restoration audiences. Their speculation on the nature of men provides opportunity for the innuendo typical of the era:

PROSPERO: ...all the danger lies in wild young men.
DORINDA: Do they run wild about the woods?
PROSPERO: No, they are wild within Doors, in Chambers, and in Closets.
DORINDA: But Father, I would stroak’em and make’em gentle, and sure they would not hurt me.


Other changes simplify the sprawling nature of even Shakespeare’s most tightly-organized play. This version introduces Stephano and Trincalo [sic], who have been promoted to Master and Mate, in the first scene. The script eliminates the somewhat superfluous characters of Sebastian and Francisco. Their lengthy dialogue which opens the second act is not essential to the original plot, and must have seemed like a waste of time in Dryden and Davenant’s expanded version of the play. This particular bit of dialogue is, in fact, missing from virtually all of the adaptations under consideration, even when the characters have been restored.

The new characters derive in part from a desire to achieve a harmonious balance. Davenant would expand the role of the virtuous Lady Macduff in his alteration of Macbeth to provide a balance against the evil Lady Macbeth. The notion of balance is neo-classical, and Dryden’s admiration of neo-classical notions of decorum and structure can be seen in the Shakespeare-derived All for Love.


Spectacle plays an important role in all of the revised Tempests. The extended storm which begins the play, as Hazelton Spencer notes, resembles a well-written tragedy: it has "a beginning, a middle, and an end" (193). This provides a striking contrast with Shakespeare’s effective, confused opening. The new play’s emphasis on spectacle is likely another significant reason for the change: the longer opening allows for a more extensive use of the storm effects, particularly the spirits flying in the storm, which impressed Pepys (75-6).

Davenant certainly had a background working with spectacle. He gained fame in the pre-Commonwealth era for the elaborate masques which he wrote for Charles I. His final work in this area was the Salmacida Spolia (1639-40), co-created with the celebrated seventeenth-century theatrical designer, Inigo Jones. According to Odell, this work’s spectacle and expense surpassed anything known in England at the time (91). Devanant’s experience with the masques unquestionably influenced his later career in theatre, and he often introduced techniques form the masques to the public houses. The Tempest-- which had always called for stage effects—makes elaborate use of stage machinery.

The Salmacida was, in some respects, a testing ground for devices which would later contribute to his Tempest’s success. The beginning of the masque is described:

A curtain flying up, a horrid scene of storm and tempest; no glimpse of the sun was seen, as if darkness, confusion, and deformity, had possest the world, and driven light to heaven, the trees bending, as forced by a gust of wind… Afar off was a dark wrought sea, with billows, breaking against the rocks, with rain, with lightning, and thunder…

The connection between this stormy opening and The Tempest needs no comment. The Salmacida Spolia also makes extensive use of flying characters and objects. The aerial tricks of Ariel and Milcha must have been familiar territory for Davenant.

Thomas Shadwell’s Tempest: Opera and Spectacle

Thomas Shadwell’s Tempest deviates little from Dryden and Davenant’s script, and because the published version did not feature his name, the two works are often confused. Langbaine records Shadwell’s authorship, and research undertaken in the early twentieth century has confirmed this detail. Shadwell was a close friend of the Dorset Garden’s management, and had written The Libertine by request when that house needed a play for an upcoming season (Borgman 26). Given the similarity between the two Tempests, it is possible that the few alterations were also made by request. The play had proved successful in its altered form—-Dryden and Davenant had corrected all of the bard’s errors--; Shadwell only expanded upon the operatic and spectacular elements which were a part of its success.

Shadwell took advantage of the greater resources of Dorset Gardens. The opera, to quote Hazelton Spencer, too advantage of "aerial wires for Ariel and Milcha to frisk about on, a tricksome table that whisked up and down through tan eminently practical trapdoor, bottles that disappeared undrained by human gullet, a rising sun, and various other mechanical excellencies, not to mention a chorus of devils, ballets of winds and Tritons and a band of twenty-four violins assisted by harpsicals and theorbos" (204).

The script expands Milcha’s role. In Dryden and Davenant’s version, she appeared in the final act to sing and dance with Ariel. Shadwell introduces her in the second act and she accompanies Ariel throughout, transforming all of his solos into duets. The crossing of flying figures in the air—an effect which Davenant had used in the Salmacida-- is used virtually every time this couple of spirits appear on stage.

Shadwell also added a short but spectacular masque, “Neptune and Amphitrite,” to the end of the play. This appears to have been popular, as it became a fairly regular part of the various Tempest productions well into the nineteenth century.

The popularity of the operatic features is suggested by a 1745 production which, The London Stage notes, was advertised as having "all of the Dances Proper to the Play" and the "Grand Masque of Neptune and Amphitrite" (1200).


The Parcell/Smith/Arne?Fisher opera appeared at Drury Lane in February of 1756. This version generally follows Shakespeare’s text, and its production may have been influenced by the successful revival of the original Tempest at Drury lane in 1746. New songs turn the piece into an "opera," and the original script is shortened into three acts.

One of the interesting changes occurs in the first scene. The opening had been expanded by Dryden and Davenant, in part to make use of available stagecraft. This version shortens the scene for precisely the same reason. The painted scene, according to the script, "represents a cloudy sky, a very rocky coast, and a ship on a tempestuous sea"(1). Ariel sings a song about the storm, delivers a short soliloquy based on his description of the storm from Act I, scene ii of Shakespeare’s play, and then exits amidst "repeated flashes of lightning, and claps of thunder"(2). A similar, though more elaborate, opening would be used by Kemble some years later.

This production attempts to produce Shakespeare’s original play while retaining some of the operatic elements, the spectacle and song which had proved so popular. Why the original supplanted the Dryden/Davenant/Shadwell opera at this time cannot be ascertained. John Holt’s Attempte to Rescue Shakespeare from the many Errours...(1749) takes specific issue with the way The Tempest had been misrepresented in printed editions, and one might speculate that a belief in the integrity of the original text was growing. But Holt says nothing about the Shadwell opera, even though it was only recently staged, and neither Kemble nor his public would exhibit qualms about altering this play again in the 1780s. The fact that Holt criticizes faulty editions of Shakespeare’s script does indicate that it was familiar to many people at this time, and the more faithful stage versions would have met the expectations of that audience. More significant may be the length of the play’s run: with brief interruptions, since the previous century. The Shakespearian revival may have been an attempt to draw audiences already familiar with the altered versions of the play.

Garrick’s Tempest: Closer to the Source

The original proved a success in productions at both Drury Lane and Covenant Gardens thoughout the second half of the eighteenth century. David Garrick added some songs, probably in 1773 (Child 8). Garrick also retains Sebastian and Francisco, although he removes most of their lines from Act I, scene i. The "Neptune and Amphitrite" masque was also part of some of these productions.

Garrick made alterations to twelve of Shakespeare’s plays and fifteen plays by other authors. His changes are usually minor, although we do not know if this is because he held some notion of remaining faithful to the text. His alteration of The Tempest, like the opera of 1756, appears to be an attempt to use Shakespeare’s script but also retain the operatic elements which had become associated with the play.

Kemble’s Version

John Kemble’s play first appeared in 1789 at Drury Lane, moved to Covenant Gardens early in the nineteenth century, and appeared for the last time at the Old Vic in 1844. This Tempest brought together pieces of all preceding versions, and proved popular. Kemble retains Dorinda and Hippolyto but, in keeping with the standards of the time, eliminated much of the potentially offensive innuendo.

The popuarlity of spectacle also influenced Kemble’s revision. The play elminates the opening scene altogether and begins with Prospero’s conversation. Toward the end of Act I, he gives the following instructions to Ariel:

Go with the spirits under thy command,
Let loose the Tempest, as I bade thee: then,
Disperse the stranded crew about the isle
And bring the king’s son Ferdinand to my cell.

These lines help to clarify the plot, left rather disjointed by Kemble’s alterations (Gonzolo, Alonzo, et al, for example, do not come onstage until Act III, scene iv). They also set the stage for the spectacular tempest which opens Act II.

Like the 1756 opera, this Tempest presents a storm of pure spectacle. Perhaps nothing in the various adaptations better illustrates the fact that post-Restoration theatre had replaced much of the traditional rhetoric with pictures. Kemble’s scene brings a large model ship onstage, amidst a storm. Stagehands bring down the lamps and create thunder, wind, and rain. Ariel enters with several other spirits and sings a song while flying above the storm-tossed ship.

An impressive, even poetic piece of stagecraft, also involving the model ship, appears at the end of Kemble’s play. In Act IV, when Prospero states "I’ll drown my book," the flats representing his cave are moved, "revealing the calm sea, and the King’s ship, riding at anchor" (Shattock iv).

The inclusion of songs from the various other adaptations indicates the public’s inclination to view this play as opera. The addition of a new masque—adapted from Dryden and Davanant—attests to the importance of spectacle and masques to the staging of this play, even in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.


Holt seems to have been an exception in his desire for closer adherence to Shakespeare’s text. The notion of fidelity to the original work does not become a norm—at least where the bard is concerned—until the later nineteenth century. Even those critics who most fiercely criticize the adaptations often allow alterations. Harold Child, for example, writing in the 1930s, expresses no qualms about "pruning away coarse words and bawdy or now incomprehensible jokes" (7) and he is, of course, not alone in these sentiments. While editing of potentially offensive lines changes the play less than do the dramatic alterations of Dryden and Davenant, it still represents change, no less influenced by historical context. If asked to identify Shakespeare’s faults, many critics of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would undoubtedly cite his frequently obscene wit.

The theatre is a living, ever-changing medium, and Shakespeare’s work is a good tool for examining that medium. Shakespeare survives, but in forms which reflect—whether through incidental alteration or significant rewriting—and develop from, the dynamic nature of the theatre.

Works Cited or Consulted

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Borgman, Albert S. Thomas Shadwell: His Life and Comedies. New York: New York UP, 1928.

Child, Harold. The Shakespeare Productions of John Philip Kemble. London: Oxford UP, 1935.

Davenant, William and John Dryden. The Tempest, or the Inchanted Island (1670). London: Cornmarket P, 1969.

Davenant, William. Salmacida Spolia (1639). The Dramatic Works of Sir William D’Avenant (1872). New York: Russel and Russel, 1964.

Davies, Robertson. “Changing Fashions in Shakespeare Productions.” Stratford Papers on Shakespeare, 1962. Ed. B.W. Jackson. Toronto: W. J. Gage Ltd., 1962.

Downes, John. Roscius Anglicanus, or an Historical Review of the London Stage (1708). Ed. Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume. London: The Society for Theatre Research, 1987.

Duffet, Thomas. The Mock-Tempest, or The Enchanted Castle (1675). Shakespeare Adaptations. Ed. Montague Summers.

Garrick, David. The Tempest: A Comedy. The Plays of David Garrick Vol. IV. Ed. Harry William Pedicard and Frederick Louis Bergman. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 1981.

Genest, John. Some Account of the English Stage from the Restoration in 1660 to 1830, vols iv-vi. (1832). Ed, Burt Franklin. New York.

Holt, John. An Attempte to Rescue that Aunciente, English Poete, and Playwrighte, maister William Shakespeare…. (1749). United States: AMS Press, 1972.

Hoston, Leslie. The Commonwealth and Restoration Stage. New York: Russel and Russel, 1962.

Kemble, John Philip. The Tempest. John Kemble’s Promptbook, vol. viii. Ed. Charles H. Shuttuck. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1974.

Langbaine, Gerard. An Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691). New York: Garland Publishing, 1973.

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Nicoll, Allardyce. Dryden as and Adapter of Shakespeare. London: Oxford UP, 1922.

Odell, George C.D. Shakespeare from Betterton to Irving, Vol. 1. (1920). London: Dover Publications, 1966.

Pepys, John. Pepys on the Restoration Stage. Ed. Helen McAffee. New York: Yale UP, 1916.

Schneider, Ben Ross Jr. Index to the London Stage, 1660-1800. Southern Illinois UP, 1979.

Shadwell, Thomas. The Tempest, or the Enchanted Isle. London: H. Herringman, 1690.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Globe Illustrated Shakespeare. Ed. Howard Stauton and John Gilbert. New York: Crown Publishers, 1983.

Smith et al. The Tempest: An Opera (1756). London: Cornmarket P, 1969.

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Spencer, Hazelton. Shakespeare Improved: The Restoration Versions in Quarto and on the Stage (1927). New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1963.

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