Shakespeare's farewell to the stage is a play of enduring enchantment and one of the richest treasures to be found in drama. Marooned on an isle somewhere in the New World, a great but embittered magician prepares to take vengeance on those who have wronged him, only to learn the nature of compassion and forgiveness. Inhabited by a host of memorable characters - the wise Prospero, his daughter, the innocent Miranda, and her first love, Ferdinand; Ariel, the spirit of the air, and the gross earth monster, Caliban; the drunkard vaudeville clowns, Stephano and Trinculo, among others - The Tempest is clearly the culmination of Shakespeare's unequalled creative powers.
The themes of isolation and re-integration, central to The Tempest, seem so contemporary in their resonance that it is astonishing to remember that this play was written 386 years ago. But isolation, alternating as it does periods of reflection, loss, anger, fear, and despair, is crucial for the incubation of the impulse for healing, the longing for companionship, and the beginning of forward movement in lives stuck in the past. .
Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, has lived a solitary life of study for 12 years on an unnamed island with his daughter, Miranda, his "subjects" Caliban and Ariel, and the world of white magic at his beck and call. Prospero is now "Absolute Milan," but his "kingdom" is one of the mind, not of other men. Is it possible that this isolation is necessary to allow the wounds of betrayal by a duplicitous, self-serving and ambitious brother to fester until they reach the point of no return? Or that Prospero's healing can only begin once blame is forsaken and responsibility is assumed for culpability in the events in the past? .
Part of the greatness of this play is that nothing is easy; as in life, events in The Tempest do not resolve themselves readily with a "happily ever after." Prospero is imperfect and therefore incapable of complete transformation, just as Caliban and Antonio are incapable of transforming their essential natures.