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The Tempest

On opening night, with a mist sprinkling the patrons, actors, and stage (a desolate island strewn with parts of a shipwreck), we find the old magician, Prospero (Peter Simon Hilton), explaining to his daughter, Miranda (Kyra Lindsey), how they came to be marooned.

Peter Simon Hilton as Prospero
Peter Simon Hilton as Prospero
Photo: Zachary Andrews/
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
While his performance is solid, with all due respect for the exigencies of casting in repertory, Hilton appears too young compared to his daughter, not to mention that Prospero represents the playwright at the end of his career. Additionally, his performance seems less impassioned than one might expect, given the stakes. As the great dramatist and poet consciously approached the end of his days, it required quite an effort on his part to summon his still substantive dramatic powers to paint one last great metaphor. Yet, he is far from omnipotent—i.e., he can produce certain events and rule over Ariel (Vanessa Morosco), an air spirit, yet his control over Caliban (Joshua Archer) is only partial, and, at the opening of the story, his powers have not delivered him from exile—so, we are perplexed by the nonchalant nature of Prospero's importuning in conjuring various magical effects throughout.

Vanessa Morosco as Ariel
Vanessa Morosco as Ariel
Photo: Zachary Andrews/
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
Other supernatural aspects of the story, though valiant in intent and conception, also fall short in execution. For example, Ariel conducts much of her business off the ground, via a white drapery suspended from the set, much in the manner that Cirque du Soleil and other aerial acrobatics troupes have popularized; yet, Morosco's movements never seem in synch with her message; instead, the conceit distracts more than it enhances her behavior and actions, with the drapery often catching on various surfaces of the set.

Benjamin Bonenfant as Ferdinand and Kyra Lindsay as Miranda
Benjamin Bonenfant as Ferdinand
and Kyra Lindsay as Miranda
Photo: Zachary Andrews/
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
Without a special effects budget to speak of, the manifestations of Iris, Ceres, and Juno—spirits that Prospero has Ariel summon to entertain and guide Ferdinand (Benjamin Bonenfant) and Miranda—are nondescript. The power of these visions needs to leave a more lasting impression. Regardless, Bonenfant and Lindsey's scenes are funny and touching, a wonderful testament to the chemistry of young love.

Director Geoff Kent's novel staging of the "Flout 'em and scout 'em" sing-along brought by Trinculo (Rodney Lizcano) and Stephano (Sammie Joe Kinnett)—Act III, Scene ii, following intermission—is hilarious.

As always, for Oxfordians, the litany provided by the dramaturge before the production and in the playbill are shocking in their willingness to murder Elizabethan context to preserve the tunnel vision of certain academics, more interested in buttressing their careers than in the truth, and in festival administrators, who find the commoditization of a myth more important than revelatory and insightful theatre. One would think, after the many advances in scholarship on the authorship subject—including the recent PBS documentary (Last Will. & Testament) with Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance, and Vanessa Redgrave—that Stratforian "scholars" would address the evidence put forth.

The Tempest ensemble
The Tempest ensemble
Photo: Zachary Andrews/
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
Like Hamlet, much of the playwright's inherited estates were usurped; like Jacques, he sold his lands to visit other men's lands; and like Lear, he divided up his estate between his three daughters. As he faced the final curtain, the author, de Vere, (the details of whose life fill the canon), with the help of his second wife, Elizabeth Trentham, and King James himself, desperately sought to restore his family's name and noble position.

Before he died in 1604, de Vere attempted in vain to have his second daughter, Bridget, married into the Herbert family, the premier aristocratic literary clan of the early 17th century; but shortly after his death, it was his third daughter, Susan, the most literary of his children, who tied the knot with Sir Philip Herbert (the future earl of Montgomery), who—together with, his brother, the earl of Pembroke, and his wife, Susan—published the first folio "according to the true original copies."

That the 17th earl of Oxford was a teller of tall tales, both on the stage and of his own life, is well known; so, in his mid-twenties, upon returning from extended travels on the continent, de Vere had many yarns to spin, including one in which bragged that he "would have been made duke of Milan for his valiance on the battlefield if it were not for one of Queen Elizabeth's agents in Italy who had interceded."[1]

Instead, it was by way of the stage that de Vere would have his dukedom, and with it, presumably, the lands returned that were taken from him and those that he sold. In the bargain, his daughter(s) would have noble marriages. Perhaps it was the supernatural forces that de Vere called upon in this, his final work, that did the trick. He seems to have a knack for such things, as we've witnessed in his Scottish play and other works.

Prospero (one of de Vere's colleagues, during the run up to the Italian civil war that never happened, was Prospero Fattimanti) uses his powers not only to bring those responsible for his deposed state to his doorstep, but to set past abuses aright and reconcile with the perpetrators.

Indeed, as Kent said in an interview a few weeks prior to opening, "Shakespeare's latter plays are filled with forgiveness. In The Tempest, it cuts it's own path towards a surprising conclusion."

Dramatic concepts aside, the scansion and elocution are excellent, and with amplification (and a few tweaks regarding audio levels), this Tempest helps us appreciate the Bard's final wishes for his family, his country, and his works.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's The Tempest runs in repertory with The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry IV: Parts 1 & 2, and I Hate Hamlet through August 10th. For tickets: 303-492-8008 or http://www.coloradoshakes.org/tickets.

Bob Bows


Footnotes:

[1] Mark Anderson, Shakespeare by Another Name, Gotham Books, New York, 2005, p. 92.



Additional Oxfordian biographical notes:

This storm and the subsequent shipwreck is one of the so-called 1604 issues raised by Stratfordians in their attempt to "prove" that the event referenced in the play occured after de Vere died, since they have no facts to prove that their grain dealer, part-time actor, and script thief was the author. In the CSF program guide, the dramaturge's comments on this play mention a story of a shipwreck circulating in England around 1609. Stratfordians, who love to stretch Prospero's remark to Ariel—that he had once traveled "at midnight to fetch dew from the still vex'd Bermoothes" into this latter-day shipwreck—are apparently ignorant that "The Bermudas" was also the nickname of a neighborhood in Westminster near Charing Cross; so, this line referencing "Bermoothes" is de Vere joking about a part of town where he would go to buy alcohol.

Additionally, literary scholar Kenneth Muir comments that the influence on the author of accounts of a 1609 shipwreck in the Bermudas is an exaggeration, pointing out that there are "thirteen thematic and verbal parallels between The Tempest and St. Paul's account of his shipwreck at Malta in just two pages of the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 27-28." And then there are the storms that de Vere experienced at sea, during defensive preparations for the invasion of the Spanish Armada in the summer of 1588. But, most importantly, Stratfordian scholars have missed the point of the play because they have no biographical context: There are also at least two shipwrecks known to have occurred much earlier than 1609 off the coast of Bermuda, one of which involved a ship (the Edward Bonaventure) in which de Vere had investments and may have owned. As with all the so-called 1604 issues, closer examination proves the opposite of the Stratfordian suppositions.

Joshua Archer as Caliban
Joshua Archer as Caliban
Photo: Zachary Andrews/
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
The bottom line is that the island upon which Prospero and Miranda and Caliban are stranded is England itself and that while the story appears to be a romance (along the lines of what was popular in Lisbon at the time), it is, instead, considering the political climate when it was written, a risqué satire that recounts the Essex Rebellion—an explosive topic considered a crime to dramatize by the Privy Council—as well as a metaphorical recounting of tales involving de Vere (Prospero), his former father-in-law and guardian, William Cecil, Lord Burghley (Gonzalo), his third daughter, Susan (Miranda), and her husband, the earl of Derby (Ferdinand).

A few examples of the biographical details involving these characters:

  • When Prospero tells Miranda of his paternity by saying her mother "was a piece of virtue and she said thou was my daughter," this represents de Vere's eventual position on the cuckolding issue between his first wife, Anne Cecil, and himself, explored in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing, Cymbaline, Othello, and The Winter's Tale, and the bed-trick explanation (offered to de Vere by Lord Burghley) employed in Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well.
  • When Prospero gives his approval to Ferdinand—"... I have given you here a third of mine own life, / Or that for which I live ..."—he (de Vere) is indicating that Miranda is one of his three daughters, in this case, the youngest, Susan. In real life, Ferdinando, Lord Strange, was Susan's brother-in-law, and thus the various puns on "strange" in the play's dialogue.
  • When Prospero says of Gonzalo, "... Knowing I lov'd my books, he furnish'd me / From mine own library with volumes that / I prize above my dukedom," de Vere is noting (the now-deceased) Lord Burghley's great gift to his encyclopedic knowledge—one of the greatest libraries in all of England, which included the only known copy of Beowolf, the source for the ending of Hamlet.
  • The rebellion itself has been turned into a grotesque, with Caliban, who is said to have almost "violated" Miranda, as Essex, who was rumored to have had a tryst with Elizabeth de Vere (the earl's oldest daughter). Accompanying Caliban are two clownish drunkards, Stephano and Trinculo, all determined to overthrow the island's order, just as Essex tried to incite a rebellion against Elizabeth.
  • For Oxfordians, the obvious source for The Tempest is a series of translations by Anthony Munday, who, along with John Lyly, served de Vere as secretary, researcher, and collaborator. One of Munday's projects (under the pen name Lazarus Piot) was to translate the Primaleon and Palmerin series of chivalric romances, where the framework for the story can be found.

    Finally, it's important to note that Stratfordians make the assumption that any mention of "Shake-speare" or "Shakespeare" is a reference to the Stratford man, a line of reasoning that qualifies as a tautology, or logical fallacy, that is, defining their thesis as true, without proof. For Oxfordians, it is relatively simple to cite various sources that indicate de Vere was using a pen name:

  • As one literary critic (in The Art of English Poesie) put it in 1589, De Vere was a courtly poet and playwright who would be recognized as perhaps the finest of his age "if [his] doing could be found out and made public with the rest."
  • In 1589, George Puttenham writes, "... I know many notable gentlemen in the Court that have written commendably, and suppressed it again, or else suffered it to be published without their own names to it: as if it were a discredit for a gentleman, to seem learned."
  • In 1598, Francis Meres writes in Palladis Tamia: "Noblemen and Gentlemen of Her Majesty's own servants, who have written excellently well as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest, of which number is first that noble gentleman Edward Earl of Oxford." Meres also notes, "the best for Comedy among us be Edward Earl of Oxford."
  • Thomas Nashe (1592) says "Pierce Penniless" (the bankrupt "speare") is the author of Venus and Adonis.
  • Also in 1592, Nashe says of his acquaintance, "Will Monox" (Will, mon [my] ox): "... has thou never heard of him and his great dagger?" The Lord Great Chamberlain of England (de Vere's hereditary title) bears the sword of state. This is the first known association of de Vere with Will.
  • In 1615, the "emblem" book, Minerva Britanna was published. The emblem book genre—very popular among the Elizabethan literati—was allegorical engravings accompanied by explanatory poems. Minerva is the Roman equivalent of Athena, the spear-shaker. The Latin inscriptions on the title page tells de Vere's real story. Two candles burn at the top of the page, surrounded by the words, "I consume myself for others in a similar way." Winding scrolls surrounding the central image read, "One lives by means of his genius. The rest will belong to death."

    Title page, Minerva Britanna
    Title page, Minerva Britanna
    The central engraving features a hidden man's hand writing from behind a theatrical curtain. The hand behind the curtain writes on the scroll: "By the mind, I will be seen." In Latin, Mente videbor. The hidden hand appears to be add the letter "i" to videbor; however there is no Latin word "videbori." Yet "videbori" makes a perfect anagram of the sentence and makes sense of the stray period between the words. Unscramble "MENTE VIDEBORI" and one Latin phrase makes all the pieces of the puzzle fit together: TIBI NOM. DE VERE; in English "Thy name is de Vere."

    Peacham knew de Vere's secret. Years later, in his book on courtly etiquette, The Compleat Gentleman, the puzzle master presented an exhaustive list of the great Elizabethan poets. At the top of the list is Edward, earle of Oxford. Nowhere in the 1622 book is Shakspere—who died in obscurity and was buried anonymously six years earlier—mentioned.

  • In 1615, Richard Brathwait writes in Strappado for the Devil:

    Yea, this I know I may be bold to say,
    Thames ne'er had swans that sung more sweet than they.
    It's true I may avow it, that ne'er was sung.
    Chanted in any age by swains so young,
    With more delight than was perform'd by them,
    Prettily shadow'd in a borrowed name.
    And long may England's thespian springs be known.

    In other words, Let me tell you: London never saw writers more gifted than the ones I saw during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. And never were there more delightful plays than the ones performed by youth whose author wrote under a borrowed name.

  • Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (with performer's painted face)
    Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
    (with performer's painted face)
    Similarly, Stratfordian scholars assume, when they find a reference to the first PUBLIC performance of a play, that such a performance is the premiere; however, the records of plays performed at court, where most of the canon premiered, are sketchy. There are, of course, a couple of plays that de Vere would have naturally embargoed, much like Eugene O'Neill with Long Day's Journey into Night: The Winter's Tale, regarding his first wife's death, and Macbeth, a scalding condemnation of Elizabeth's execution of her half sister, Mary, Queen of Scots.



    Plea to the Festival:

    This year, alcohol sales are permitted in the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre, University Theatre, and in the adjacent Shakespeare Garden for picnicking. This needs to be monitored. On opening night, perhaps due to the pre-production party, a number of audience members were far into their cups before the show began, turning Shakespeare into sporting event, with on-going conversations and the Stanley Cup hockey game playing on cellphones throughout the performance. This is unacceptable.

     

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