So. Now that my English Literature exam was over a week ago, I feel safe with another review of one of my set texts. After this, we’ll only have one left, I promise, and then I can get back into a more positive frame of mind. Well, as positive as this current exam-and-popcorn-fueled-being can get.
And for my next trick, I present the Tempest, considered to be one of the final true Shakespeare plays. Now, I’m not really sure if this is normal, but I will be basing this review on the actual text itself, for while I have observed (I am not going to credit it with the word ‘seen’) two film adaptations and one onstage carcrash I feel that that is truly where my grudge lies. I do, at this point and time, feel more than a little bad, for writing so vindictively can’t but help me feel I am insulting Britain’s best known bard without even giving him the opportunity to fight back. However eloquently I’m sure he would present his argument. In bloody iambic pentameter no doubt.
Right. As you can probably tell so far, I am not on great terms with this here play. I know you aren’t meant to say things like this, but I know I wouldn’t complain if all of the copies of this very play were to spontaneously combust and never be replaced. Ever, ever again. Especially now I’ve sat the exam. But truly, there is a reason why it is known as Shakespeare’s longest play. And that is not only due to having so many lines. It is dull. Incredibly so, and I’m not sure I will ever want to hear of it again. For a start, while I usually believe Shakespearean language to be a genuine thing of beauty – not only is it intelligent but emotive – I can’t help but feel that something went a little wrong here. I know it is the pastime of any English student to search through their Shakespeare for at least one joke I can genuinely say that there is not one single moment of comedy in the entire piece. And the scary thing is that there should be. Ahem.
Shakespeare included certain scenes (we look to the drunkenness of Trinculo and Stephano etc) with the genuine hope that people would be rolling in their seats. But, while we were told many times over that they are funny, and even after having their actual comic elements prescribed and explained to us, I just couldn’t see it. Perhaps it is just simply that I had to read the thing so many times, but if I’m honest, I am quite easily pleased and did actively try and enjoy it. To absolutely no avail.
While Shakespearean language is usually tough to follow, I feel that something went particularly wrong here as well. I’m not asking to have it simplified, because there may be a few moments when the text lived up to its reputed elegance and intelligence, but these merely punctuate the endless, repetitive nonsense in between. Honestly, can’t help but feel that it was written and left completely unedited. And feel completely stupid for saying that considering its historical relevance and resonant message, but it simply is too long! Half could be removed by attempting to write succinctly – something I’ve always been told to do… Truly, if Shakespeare encountered many of my literacy teachers over the years he would have received similar complaints to me. If I had a pound for every time somebody said ‘quality over quantity’… And yet I just want to shout it to the annoying bard! It really makes for depressing reading – it feels like it’s trying to make up for something, and what that is I really can’t be sure.
To be honest, it has great potential, I feel the story, while a little bland, holds up and given the right characters and personality could have been fantastic. I do quite possibly feel a little hypocritical saying that because it is very true that I could not produce anything better. Or no way near as good, no matter how terrible I feel it to be. But really, it’s just overdone. Scholars can go on and on about the inherent confusion of Prospero’s vengeance compared with his manipulative but fatherly nature. They can expound about the underlying allegory surrounding the beastly but intelligent nature of the captive slave Caliban. They can even discuss the importance of the marriage masque of Act 4, Scene 1 as a metaplay and representation of the significance of fertility and marriage. But that just leaves me reeling incredulously – yes, there is a chance that they are significant to the play, but I would only consider them truly important if I had or could have enjoyed the play in the first place.
Yet, every time I read it as part of revision or in the blooming exam itself, I was drawn into a neverending and painful stupor – I couldn’t put it better than to simply say I just wanted it to go away. Far far away. It was even worse when our little English troupe went all the way down to London to view it live at the Globe. Not only did my posterior ache but in the end I found myself distinctly glad that I did not actually have to watch most of the play due to the large architectural feature pillar in front of me. That was more interesting. And it wasn’t even made out of the marble it was pretending to be.
My complaints surrounding the Tempest also run through into the two films I have been subjected to. First off there was the recent, poorly CGIed delight (I use the term both loosely and sarcastically) that contained a complete overload of the ironic Helen Mirren as ‘Prospera’ and a thoroughly irritating cast of Russel Brand and the unfortunate, however beautiful he may be, inclusion of Ben Whishaw. It was hideous, full of irritating and overly full-of-themselves modern actors. That said, it had nothing on the second version I was forced to observe, Derek Jarman’s ‘homoerotic’ (thank you wikipedia) version of this much over-rated and under-loved text. It features prancing sailors, Toyah Willcox and rather too many raw eggs. And is just horrible.
So, finally, as you may have guessed, I find that there is little that saves this particular set text from making me want to rock backwards and forwards by myself in a quiet room until the three hour play is over. I find it to be a particularly grim form of mental torture and would be more than happy to leave it alone forever as soon as I hand it back to school. I feel the day I say goodbye to the idiosyncratic Caliban, the irritatingly naive and lovelost Miranda and of course the hideous figure of Prospero, I may be happy. But of course, that may only happen after many long hours of expensive therapy which of course Shakespeare in his passing will be unable to fund. Damn.
Just make it go away and it’ll all be fine!