I’m putting Patrick Stewart’s picture at the head of this post because I will be seeing him play Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest on Monday March 12th in London. I’m not going to London only to see him, but seeing a Royal Shakespeare Company production for the first time is pretty exciting and certainly one of the highlights of the trip. I’ve seen alot of bad Shakespeare in recent years, and I’m very tempted to name the city companies responsible for doing mediocre or atrocious plays in their summer programs. But that would be mean– local Shakespeare should be supported as much as possible, and celebrated. However, lately my support has only been moral, from afar, because I cannot sit through any more grade B productions of the bard.
Today I was speaking to a colleague from Colorado who told me how great Shakespeare can move you to your core, instilling a mindful joy in human existence itself. One of the great summer Shakespeare programs in the U.S. is Shakespeare Santa Cruz, on the campus of my alma mater UC Santa Cruz, where I remember seeing great productions of Othello, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, The Tempest and King Lear, as well as Amadeus, which is not by Shakespeare, but is a barrel of theatrical fun nonetheless. Curiously, Daniel Stewart, Patrick’s son, played the part of the Austrian Emperor in the production of Amadeus that I saw.
The Tempest is such a seminal play for literature professors. It contains the following lovely, lovely words, spoken by Prospero:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Few are the works of literature that have more beautifully evoked the creative act as the very basis of human experience than these famous words. The other reason that The Tempest stands out for scholars of my generation is its exploration of the colonial condition. Through the figure of Caliban, Shakespeare immortalized an archetype of resistance to colonial power.
The last time I was in London, I was seven or eight, and I did not like the “runny butter on the burnt toast,” to quote an old audio recording I have of myself discussing that trip and explaining why I love Star Wars (Stah-Wahs as I called it back then). Hopefully there won’t be any burnt toast, too much rain or runny butter in this trip. We’ll see.