For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Shakespeare's The Tempest
A Modern English Translation
  • Morgan D. Rosenberg
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Shakespeare's <i>The Tempest</i>. A Modern English Translation
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The Tempest, a short and juicy play, encapsulates many of the dramatic elements that delight admirers of the Shakespearean oeuvre: betrayal, good spirits, evil relations, loyal friends, dramatic plot twists, terrible weather and, of course, love.

Yet Shakespeare may perplex modern readers. Students in English classes across the country are asked to read plays which are, in essence, written in a foreign language. This modern English interpretation is not only accurate but is also fluid and natural, allowing it to easily be read on its own or performed on stage.

About the Author

Morgan D. Rosenberg lives in Alexandria, VA. Although his academic background is in physics, he has authored numerous books on a wide variety of topics, including three academic books decoding the intricacies and perplexities of patent law published by Oxford University Press.

Morgan now turns his talent in deciphering cryptic material to that old puzzler, Shakespeare, producing a "Tempest" that everyone can understand.

About the Book
The book is, quite simply, a line-by-line translation of Shakespeare’s play,The Tempest, translated into modern English. The original play’s five act structure has been preserved, with a one-to-one correspondence between each original...
The book is, quite simply, a line-by-line translation of Shakespeare’s play,The Tempest, translated into modern English. The original play’s five act structure has been preserved, with a one-to-one correspondence between each original line and each translated line.

As opposed to word-by-word translations or annotated versions of the original script, the present book provides a natural language translation for each line, one which could easily be performed on stage.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest often serves as an introduction to Shakespeare for modern students, although it is typically not given the same weight as, for example, Hamlet or Macbeth. The reasons for choosing The Tempest include the fact that the play is both entertaining and includes timeless themes such as...
Shakespeare’s The Tempest often serves as an introduction to Shakespeare for modern students, although it is typically not given the same weight as, for example, Hamlet or Macbeth. The reasons for choosing The Tempest include the fact that the play is both entertaining and includes timeless themes such as redemption, the nature of the soul, magic and the supernatural, and art’s imitation of life (and vice versa).

The story itself is clearly drawn from the traditional Italian commedia dell'arte. Although the basic plot is not unique, Shakespeare adds a depth to the story that elevates the play to classic status. The traditional commedia dell'arte often included a sorcerer and his daughter as primary characters, along with their supernatural attendants and a number of rustic locals who supplied much of the humor. In The Tempest, these roles are taken by Prospero, the sorcerer, his daughter Miranda, the spirit Ariel (and fellow, lower-level spirits), and Stephano and Trinculo who drunkenly wander on the island.

The traditional commedia dell'arte generally followed certain themes, with prototypical characters. Pantalone, for example, is the wealthy and manipulative father of Isabella, and their relationship is largely based around Pantalone’s quest to find an appropriate suitor for Isabella. Shakespeare builds on this basic structure and weaves a complex backstory for Prospero, based on his fall from power, and how, as you will soon read, he and Miranda ended up stranded on a magical island. Rather than simply finding a mate for Miranda, Prospero’s path throughout the play is about his redemption, both in terms of his former position and power, and also his redemption as a father.

Stephano and Trinculo’s precursors, known as Arlecchino and Brighella, were merely clowns (in the literal sense), provided for simple physical humor. Although Stephano and Trinculo do provide much of the humor in The Tempest, getting drunker and drunker as they wander around the island, they are written as real people, each with pasts and definite opinions and character traits.

Prospero’s personal story further builds on the relatively simple character of Pantalone by exploring the Renaissance concept of the tripartite soul, which was seen as being divided into the vegetative, sensitive and rational spheres. The primordial monster, Caliban (based on the commedia’s Pulcinella, a lecherous Neapolitan hunchback), represents Prospero being forced to interact with, and get in touch with, the base and primitive “vegetative” part of his soul. In more modern psychological terms, Caliban represents the id of his consciousness. Ariel, his magical spirit, capable of seemingly any task and written with a sense of morality, is the higher, “sensitive” part of his soul—his superego. Miranda, who is both Prospero’s anchor and clearly the most pragmatic of all of the characters, is his rational soul, his consciousness and his conscience.

Although The Tempest is far from being Shakespeare’s only play to feature magic, it was certainly somewhat controversial in Shakespeare’s England to go one step farther and make Prospero an actual practitioner of magic. It is believed that The Tempest was written in 1610–1611, a time when accused occultists were still being burned at the stake. Perhaps it is out of sheer necessity that Shakespeare further develops the character of Prospero (beyond the simple mage Pantalone) by making the distinction that Prospero was a rational—or, at least, abstract—magician, not an occultist. He does this by clearly contrasting Prospero with Caliban’s witch mother, Sycorax, who is described as a devil worshipper. Similarly, Ariel’s supernatural nature and powers are contrasted to the evil Sycorax, with Ariel being described as being “too delicate” to carry out Sycorax’s evil commands; i.e., although a supernatural creature, Ariel, has a basic morality that a demon or other occult creature would lack.

With regard to the theater itself, The Tempest is a play full of grand illusion, direct references to the theater and art, and it uses Ariel to summon numerous characters from Greek mythology and theater, including nymphs, harpies and the goddess Ceres. It is interesting to note that numerous later critics, such as Thomas Campbell in 1838, viewed the allusions to the theater as an indication that Prospero was meant to represent Shakespeare himself. When Prospero renounces his magic at the end of the play, this may have represented Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage.

One prominent example of Prospero’s meta-reference to actors and the theater itself (and, in fact, to Shakespeare’s own Globe Theater), is in Act IV, Scene 1 of the play. Here, Prospero is explaining the revels the characters have witnessed, and the associated spirit actors who melt into thin air. Note that this speech ends with one of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes:

“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.”

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on” is just one of the famous quotes in The Tempest. As with many of Shakespeare’s works, certain lines have become part of our language, remaining in use continuously from the 17th century onward. For example, in Act V, Scene 1, Miranda famously declares,

“How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!”

Aldous Huxley named his novel Brave New World after this line.

In Act II, Scene 1, Shakespeare writes, “What’s past is prologue,” a line which is often repeated in modern literature and is even engraved on the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. And, of course, speaking of politics, we are all familiar with the quote, “Politics makes for strange bedfellows.” This saying evolved from a line in Act II, Scene 2, in which Trinculo states (in reference to Caliban), “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”

The Tempest did not attract much attention before the closing of the theaters in 1642 ; it only gained popularity after the Restoration, and then only in adapted versions. In the mid-19th century, theater productions began to reinstate the original Shakespearean text, and in the 20th century, critics and scholars undertook a significant re-appraisal of the play’s value, leading to the current view that it is one of Shakespeare’s greatest works. As a result, The Tempest has inspired at least 46 operas, countless songs, poetry such as Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “With a Guitar, To Jane” and W. H. Auden’s “The Sea and the Mirror,” numerous novels and paintings, and even the classic 1956 science fiction movie Forbidden Planet.

The present modern translation of The Tempest is based on the 1993 edition of The Tempest from the World Library’s Complete Works of William Shakespeare. This version was selected due to its wide availability, particularly in education. Unlike many of Shakespeare’s other plays, The Tempest has changed very little since its first printing. The text, in its current form, was first published in Shakespeare’s First Folio in December of 1623. This printing includes more stage directions than any of Shakespeare's other plays, leading scholars, over the years, to suggest that the editors of the First Folio, John Heminges and Henry Condell, added the directions to the folio to aid the reader, and that they were not necessarily what Shakespeare originally intended for a stage play. Scholars have also wondered about the masque in Act 4, which seems to have been added as an afterthought, possibly in honor of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick V in 1613. However, other scholars see this as unlikely, arguing that to take the masque out of the play creates more problems than it solves. Other than this particular issue, The Tempest, in most modern editions and printings, differs very little from the original 1610–1611 version penned by Shakespeare himself.

It is hoped that this modern translation will bring a new audience to The Tempest and continue to inspire interest and future work on this masterpiece.


Pages 132
Year: 2013
BISAC: DRA010000
Soft Cover
ISBN: 978-1-62894-024-4
Price: USD 9.95
Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-1-62894-025-1
Price: USD 19.95
ISBN: 978-1-62894-026-8
Price: USD 9.95
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