The Tempest, that odd, beautiful play, brings to finality several of Shakespeare’s common running themes, most notably that of the misfit or social reject. I think back nearly to the beginning of this blog, a year ago, and Aaron the Moor, Richard of Gloucester, and the long train of characters who for some reason or another have fallen out of the world’s regard and have driven the plot from their position as other, in their attempt to compensate for or regain their lost status, or to firm up their otherness with a general revenge. In comedy, I think of Jacques, the misanthrope who becomes a hermit, or Malvolio, who stomps away with dark, vengeful thoughts. But also the tragedies – the Macbeths, who seek social power and end up trapped by the evil means they used to obtain it. Or King Lear, imagining himself forever and irreversibly positioned at the head of the social pyramid only to find himself utterly marginalized, to the extent that he must journey through madness to relocate a coherent identity. Or Othello, working his carefully and brilliantly crafted persona in order to conquer by sheer excellence the prejudices of his society only to be defeated by the demands of intimacy for trust and transparency.
How fitting for Shakespeare to bring his work to a conclusion by creating a character who fully embraces his otherness and finds within the very things that set him apart from the world the path toward re-integration. Prospero’s studies drove him into his own head and created a vacuum exploited by his enemies, who cast him and his daughter adrift in the open sea. But his mastery of the world’s knowledge was such that he not only survived, but prevailed on his enemies as they fell into his path. Thus is the Other finally transcendent and the plays of Shakespeare come to a conclusion with a surreal meditation on the power of harmony and order.
The Argo recording boasts a fine Prospero in Michael Hordern, many years before his BBC TV performance. I think the audio recording is better – Hordern is younger and his merge back into the world more seamless. His performance is particularly notable for its balance of the various demands for displaying power over the forces of nature – a wizard-like unworldliness – and his more human tenderness for his daughter Miranda and his serene assumption of mortality at the end.
The supporting cast boasts not one, but two distinguished sopranos – Margaret Field-Hyde as Ariel and Ena Mitchell as Juno who sing beautifully. Indeed, this recording arguably has more music than any other in the series except possibly Twelfth Night. And Field-Hyde’s Ariel is very appealing and spirit-like, as well.
Patrick Wymark seems now to have been working his way toward Caliban throughout the series. He is well-suited to the part, providing the character with a poetic sensibility – a goblin with soul. And Miles Malleson is a very funny, ancient Trinculo. Oh, should also mention that Miranda is none other than Natasha Parry, wife of the celebrated director Peter Brook.
Can’t help but ponder that Malleson was born in the 19th century, fought (almost) in WWI and had a play produced on Broadway in 1918. Nearly 100 years later, his co-performer on the recording, Derek Jacobi (Adrian), is still acting in films and has at least one still to be released. Things that are interesting to me…
The Tempest with Michael Hordern, Natasha Parry, Patrick Wymark, Margaret Field-Hyde and Miles Malleson.