Some sixty years after The Tempest’s first performance, after the tumultuous events of the Civil Wars and the Interregnum, after the theatres had been reopened and public performances revived by royal command, the London stage welcomed back on its planks Prospero, Miranda, and Caliban. In 1667, William Davenant and John Dryden collaborated in the revision of Shakespeare’s play and gave it to the Duke’s Men at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Later on, in 1674, Thomas Shadwell made it into an opera for the company’s new house at Dorset Garden. The new aesthetics of the Restoration theatre and its visual apparatus of ‘scenes and machines’ relished on the lavishness of the mise en scène and appealed to the audience’s intellect as well as to their senses. And indeed Shakespeare’s original, already adorned with songs, dance, and “majestic vision[s]”, must have appeared the perfect prototype of spectacularity. The new play, now renamed The Tempest, or the Enchanted Island, maintains more or less a third of the Shakespearean cues and is basically constructed on a sort of ‘pattern of reduplication’ according to which each character finds its double. The sole Prospero remains unmatched, but his mastery over stage events appears to be greatly depressed if compared to his 1611 predecessor. His role is now one of an oppressive father who appears rather foolish and small-minded in his conduct towards both his daughters and Hippolito, the young man he keeps secluded on the island. In spite of his seemingly domineering attitude, Prospero loses grip over the events and his “Art” repeatedly proves frail and ineffectual. His ancient enemies have repented long before landing on the island, his daughters (especially Dorinda) grow rebellious and explicitly violate their father’s will, and a happy ending is brought about by Ariel’s “unbid” initiative, independent from Prospero’s command and even in spite of it. Prospero himself rarely refers to his “Art”, and when he does name it, he never calls it “mine” nor “potent” as his Shakespearean counterpart used to, but “feeble” and “false”. Even the metatheatrical quality of the ‘new’ Tempest, which takes advantage from the use of elaborate stage machinery, also evades Prospero’s management and control. The ‘staging’ of the storm, whose visually sumptuous performance is recorded in the 1674 script, is hinted at from the start. The mariners themselves announce its coming and obliquely ‘call to’ the machines that will ‘create’ the tempest, whose scenic origin is much in advance exhibited and revealed, once more stripping the magician of his magic, and magic of its mystery.
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