This card explores some of the unusual stage directions in The Tempest.
The Tempest was first performed in 1610-11, but was not printed until the 1623 Collected Works of Shakespeare (known as the First Folio). Shakespeare died in 1616 so he was not involved in preparing his play for publication. The Tempest is a short text in the First Folio, but it has vivid and memorable stage directions. Shakespeare scholar John Jowett demonstrated (in Shakespeare Survey 36 (1983), 107-20) that the wording of the stage directions is in many cases uncharacteristic of Shakespeare. Jowett showed that the scrivener (clerk or scribe) Ralph Crane worded many of the stage directions as he prepared the script for publication in the First Folio. The result is that some of the directions use vocabulary and phrases uncharacteristic of Shakespeare and convey a descriptive, literary feel rather than the usual briefer style of stage direction one finds in other plays by Shakespeare. It is possible that Crane based his wording of the stage directions on performances he’d seen of The Tempest after Shakespeare’s death and that he built on Shakespeare’s own briefer stage directions in a now-lost, original manuscript source.
Here are stage directions relating to three events in the play: the mysterious banquet and Ariel as harpy; Prospero’s charmed circle; and Ferdinand and Miranda revealed playing chess. Read these stage directions and answer these two questions for each:
1. How would you stage the action according to these directions? Be very specific.
2. If you could change the stage directions (because after all Shakespeare may not have written them) what directions might you put in their place and why? Be as creative as you like, but your new directions must make sense in the context of the storyline.
The Mysterious Banquet and Ariel as Harpy
3.3.17 Stage direction
Solemn and strange music, and Prospero on the top (invisible). Enter several strange shapes, bringing in a banquet, and dance about it with gentle actions of salutations, and inviting the King etc. to eat, they depart.
3.3.52 Stage direction
Thunder and lightning. Enter Ariel, like a harpy, claps his wings upon the table, and with a quaint device the banquet vanishes.
Prospero’s Charmed Circle
5.1.57 Stage direction
Here enters Ariel before; then Alonso with a frantic gesture, attended by Gonzalo, Sebastian and Antonio in like manner, attended by Adrian and Francisco. They all enter the circle which Prospero had made and there stand charmed, which Prospero observing, speaks.
Ferdinand and Miranda revealed playing Chess
5.1.171 Stage direction
Here Prospero discovers Ferdinand and Miranda, playing at Chess.