Later this summer, Actors Summer Theatre is performing The Tempest, and so I re-read it in preparation. I also watched the Julie Taymor/Helen Mirren 2010 movie of the play, as well as Christopher Plummer’s version performed at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival also in 2010. Mirren/Taymor is beautiful and compelling, but I was so emotionally moved by Christopher Plummer’s movie/play that I found myself in tears and applauding along with the audience at its end.

The Tempest’s big problem I wrote about before is still there – how are we to understand Prospero’s relationship with Caliban? But what I want to write about this time is Prospero’s emotional surrender of his power – his magic – at the end of the play. I agree with so many readers that Shakespeare was creating in Prospero’s magic a metaphor for his own magic, his ability to create plays.

None of us are Shakespeare, but we all are, in some sense, magicians, creators in our own lives. My magic, my creation, is teaching. I love to craft a lesson, to practice it, to consider how to use my tools – group discovery, inductive reasoning, storytelling, physical demonstration, discrepant events – to build the edifice of the lesson, to weave the pieces together into a coherent whole. Four years ago, when I left my position at COSI, I lost that outlet for my art, and I realize now that this was a kind of ending for me. Now that I have awoken from that sleep, now that I am teaching again, I realize how important my art is to me.

In Act I, Scene II, Prospero calls his magic cloak “my art.” After creating a magical show for Miranda and her new fiance Ferdinand, Prospero compares his creation to actors on a stage. Later, just before he abandons his magic, he calls it his “so potent art.” And yet he gives up his art, his magic, at the play’s end. Why?

Prospero thinks a great deal about death. He says that when he returns to Naples, “every third thought shall be my grave.” And of course his most famous speech, which I referenced above, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” Shakespeare died soon after writing The Tempest, but I don’t think he was foreshadowing his own death here. Instead, I think surrendering his magic, his art, for Shakespeare seemed like a kind of rest, a “sleep.” The death was not of Shakespeare, but of his drive to create.

For my own part, I know now that I want no such rest. I’m late to the classroom, and don’t have that many years to spend there. But I will never stop teaching. Even now, in writing these blogs, I’m trying, hoping, to teach, maybe to awaken in someone out there a love of Shakespeare, or a love of science, or even a love of teaching. When my classroom days are over, I’ll still be teaching, somehow, somewhere. Teaching isnot what I do; it’s who I am.

I hope Prospero finds happiness – freedom, as he says in the final words of the play – in his retirement in Milan. But Shakespeare, I suspect, could not escape his muse – neither master nor slave, but finally, like a sea turtle’s shell, like the shore of the sea, like (let’s say it) his own soul, a part of himself.

 

TEMPEST - PLUMMER

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