I saw Ralph Fiennes in Trevor Nunn’s production of Shakespeare’s Tempest at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London last night. The whole cast was fantastic, and even the comic turns made me laugh, which is rare for Shakespeare. The reviews were generally unenthusiastic, but it was my first ‘Tempest’, and I thought the production was great and the cast even better.
I’m struck, again, that Shakespeare, as much as anything, was a commercial playwright. He understood that his audience decided whether he was rich or poor in the instant, that if he left them waiting to be intrigued for too long, they’d leave the theatre and ask for their money back. I’ve talked before about the importance of starting well, and Shakespeare uses the prologue to tremendous effect in most of his plays.
But the epilogue in The Tempest is an amazing example of a ‘presenter’ sending the audience away with ‘the point’ ringing in their ears… Here it is and ask yourself at what point does the message stop being about Prospero and the play, and start being about Shakespeare?
Now my charms are all o’erthrown,And what strength I have’s mine own,Which is most faint. Now, ’tis true,I must be here confined by you,Or sent to Naples. Let me not,Since I have my dukedom gotAnd pardoned the deceiver, dwellIn this bare island by your spell,But release me from my bandsWith the help of your good hands.Gentle breath of yours my sailsMust fill, or else my project fails,Which was to please. Now I wantSpirits to enforce, art to enchant,And my ending is despair,Unless I be relieved by prayer,Which pierces so that it assaultsMercy itself and frees all faults.As you from crimes would pardoned be,Let your indulgence set me free.