Ariel Stays On The Island, And I Just Can’t Even

I’ve admitted on plenty of occasions that I still have a lot to learn about Shakespeare. In fact, it is when I learn something new that I am again thrown back into my love for the subject as I run to the text and visit with my old friends again.

I have always, always read the end of The Tempest as:

  1. Ariel, now freed, disappears. Where does he go? Don’t know. Not sure we can even fathom the possibility. Ariel being an “aerie spirit,” could be pan-dimensional for all I know. Prospero says go, and he’s gone. I loved Mr. Teller’s interpretation where Ariel does a vanishing act, literally disappearing before our eyes.
  2. Caliban is left alone to be king of his island, a civilization of one, as he always wanted.

So it came as quite a shock last week when I was shown a line I’d never really noticed before.  As he prepares for his upcoming freedom, Ariel says:

Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

And my world changed. After all their time together, Prospero frees Ariel and Ariel basically just heads off to the other side of the island?  I imagine him sitting in a hammock sipping a drink out of a coconut like something from Gilligan’s Island. He might as well have said, “I miss my cloven pine, it was a little snug but really quite comfortable once you got used to it.”

I hate that so much. That means that, for starters, Caliban is not left alone on the island as he wanted. Worse, he doesn’t even have a kingdom, because Ariel’s not about to listen to him. Ariel and Caliban hate each other. So now I envision the ending of my favorite play with Caliban trying to be left alone and Ariel, now bored silly, forever tormenting him because there’s nothing else to do.

Somebody tell me I read that wrong, and the play isn’t completely ruined for me. I really hate that ending.  My way, everybody – even Caliban – gets a happy ending.  As it should be. This way doesn’t even make any sense. Wouldn’t Ariel want to escape the island as soon as he is able? He’s been a slave here for all those years, so he’ll celebrate his freedom by hanging around? I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.





That’s Just, Like, Your Point of View, Man

Here’s a simple game. Pick a play.  Now pretend you’re doing a production where the gimmick is that it’s told from a different character’s point of view than normal. Which play do you pick, which character and how does the play change?

In most cases, this is going to create a much shorter play, because the character you pick will often have less stage time than the stars.

Maybe we do The Tempest told from the perspective of King Alonso?  Coming home from a wedding he’s caught in a storm, shipwrecked on an island, his son drowned. Suddenly he’s standing face to face with Prospero, who he’s thought dead for the past fifteen years.

Or how about King Lear from Fool’s point of view? That could be interesting.  Lot of different ways to interpret just how much Fool knows.

Twelfth Night from Malvolio’s POV?

Romeo and Juliet as seen by Lord Capulet? That could be interesting. There’s an almost fight scene, there’s him getting fined by the Prince, there’s a wedding to plan, a big dance party, an argument with his daughter, the death of Tybalt, the death of Juliet…

Winter’s Tale from Hermione’s point of view would make a funny comic short. Gets accused of adultery by her husband, goes to live with her friend who promises to fix everything. Cut to twelve years later when she says, “ok, he’s coming. Pretend you’re a statue.”

Who else?


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A Most Mellifluous Monster

Every day I comb through Shakespeare references from social media, reddit, google… and throw out 99% of them because I’ve either seen them a thousand times before, they’re irrelevant (like Shakespeare fishing rods), or they’re just plain dumb (Shakespeare memes are on the rise, and you can thank me later for saving you from most of them).

I do this because sometimes you find a gem, like this 1960 made-for-tv Tempest starring Maurice Evans, Roddy McDowell, Lee Remick and, are you ready for this?  Richard Burton.   I start the movie wondering, “Is he playing Prospero?” Nope, too early, Maurice Evans is Prospero.  Oh, then maybe Richard Burton is Ferdinand.

Nope.  He’s *Caliban*.

This production’s just crazy.  The costumes are amazing (especially Gonzalo and the boys). I have no idea yet if any of the acting is any good, but it’s entertaining to be sure.  Look at the costumes on Gonzalo and the boys! The rocks, the rocks!  Now I want this as a video game.

Love seeing Maurice Evans, too.  For someone my age he’s probably most famous as a Batman villain, and other random supporting bit parts. Nice to see him in the lead.

I should also point out that Bardfilm was there first, back in 2009!

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Stupid Questions : From Forth The Fatal Loins Edition

I hate when people think I know everything about Shakespeare.  I don’t, not even close. In fact, some of the best posts I’ve made have been when I just put it out there and say, “I just noticed this, let’s talk about it.”  But there are also times when I feel like there’s stuff I should know, and don’t, and it bugs me.  Normally I bother Bardfilm with these questions. So I thought for a change I’d start posting them here, and see if we can’t get some interesting conversation going.

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

The Prologue to Romeo and Juliet. We all know it. One of the most famous openings in literature. We all know what it means, right? There’s these two families, each family has a kid, the kids kill themselves.

*record scratch* Let’s just stop right there.

For years I’ve said, “Romeo and Juliet kill themselves. Shakespeare literally says it right in the prologue. It’s the great spoiler alert of all time. You know they’re going to die, and yet you keep watching because you have to see how it comes to that, and in a good production you’ll still be on the edge of your seat, still hoping Juliet wakes up in time, even though you know she won’t.”

And then somebody told me, “That’s not how to parse that sentence.  Take their life goes with from forth the fatal loins.  It means that a pair of star-crossed lovers are both.  They take their life forth from the fatal loins of the families.” So yeah we still get foreshadowing on “star-crossed” and “fatal”, but the actual “take their life” line does not mean that the lovers kill themselves.


I will adjust my understanding and subsequent teaching of this passage immediately if some folks smarter than I can confirm that reading. But I’m not taking just one person’s word for it.


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Wherefore 18?

Today I was watching a poetry reading and thinking, “If I ever got in front of a microphone to recite a sonnet, which one would I pick?”

17 is my goto answer because I read it to my wife at our wedding.  Which makes a nice romantic story but it’s not necessarily great for a big crowd.

130 is probably best for a laugh. But I don’t think I could play it for a laugh. I’d end up delivering a lesson on the bigger point.

The thing is, if you had to pick a sonnet that you assume everybody would recognize you’d pick … 18. Right? “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” is right up there with “Wherefore art thou Romeo” and “To be or not to be” in the Recognizable Shakespeare Canon.

What I got to wondering is … why? What’s so special about this one, anybody know? I googled around a bit and everybody says the same thing – “It’s beautiful. It’s an example of the form.” and a whole bunch of other stuff that could just as easily refer to #1 or #29 or pick your favorite.

Since the first 17 are generally regarded as the “procreation sonnets”, I wonder if there was a period in teaching this material that the powers that be said, “You know, we really don’t want to talk about that. So let’s skip those.”  Thus making 18 the first one. It’s not that hard to imagine. Once upon a time I learned that Julius Caesar is commonly taught in school not because it coincides with an ancient history curriculum, but because it’s got no sex in it.

Anybody know the actual answer?  I’m often downright hipster when it comes to 18 (“Oh, you know sonnet 18?  That’s so over. Sonnet 153 is where it’s really at.  You probably haven’t heard of it…”) so if there’s a story to go along with why people generally tend to know it, I’d love to spread the word.


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