The Memory of a Tempest

When I was in my sophomore year of high school, my English class read The Tempest. Initially, I had never heard of the play, and I told my father about it one night, to which he responded with great praise for the play, especially the final relinquishment of power by Prospero at the play’s conclusion. Having heard this about the play, I then went back into the class with renewed vigor, and found myself definitely enjoying the play, but not to the extent that my father seemed to. As the years went by, I found myself growing fonder of the play, and when I saw we would be reading the play for this class, I was excited. I wanted to see how my views on the play had evolved over the past six years, and I was intent on doing a blog post about those changes. But then, as i was thinking more about the play, I had a different idea: talk to my father, and find out what he recalls about the play and how it exists within the confines of his own memories, both remembered and forgotten.

My father was also an English Literature Major, as were his father and brother, and he has read through each of Shakespeare’s works at least once. I consider him a great authority on the topic, and I always ask his advice about Shakespeare recommendations and opinions on characters. He is actually rereading Julius Caesar now. However,  because of this intense saturation in the Shakespearean works, his memory of the specifics of each play is sporadic, or, as he prefers to call it, “atmospheric.” I find this to be a very appropriate starting point, as Roach qualifies performances as “living proofs of [a culture’s] impermanence and unforgettability” (66). In having an inconstant memory of a performance, my father is able to carry for the tradition of its cultural origin.

For my father, the point of greatest recollection for him is the final scene of the play, when Prospero releases his powers and returns to the mortal, non-magical realm of existence, and my father has always remembered how humane and compassionate the act was for Prospero to do. Yet, more so than the humanity of the act, my father remembers the growth that is shown by the act. He is able to remember so viscerally the maturation that Prospero underwent in that moment, as he, in my father’s words, “matured into repose,” how he was able to walk away from the games, manipulations, toys, and everything else, to become a real man. My father is a sucker for humanity and character evolution in stories, so it only seems fitting that he recall a moment of such unbridled growth.

He also recalls the scene in which Miranda falls in love with Ferdinand, and how Prospero attempts to dissuade the newfound affections that Miranda holds for Ferdinand; but here, my father’s memories are not so poetic in origin. Here, he simply recalls the laughter of when Prospero speaks of Ferdinand as ugly in the rest of civilization as Caliban is to them on their island, and he said that it reminds him of a romantic comedy which sees the romantic leads loath each other at first glance.

The final point which he distinctly recalled from the play was Caliban’s diatribe towards Prospero, during which he rightly calls out the betrayal Prospero showed to Caliban after he had shown the two new arrivals the lay of the land. To my father, the justified nature of Caliban’s tirade was what made the scene so memorable for him, and when I asked him why, he said he believes it is because he would have reacted in a way very similar to that. After I heard this comment, it proved to be the pivot point which allowed me to understand why each of these scenes proved so memorable for my father, from his first reading decades ago to his modern day recollections of the play: they spoke to him on a personal level.

Roach talks about how performances, both those of memory and those of action, can carry on the fundamentals or the ideas of a culture, and that ideological momentum is predicated upon an investment on the part of the performer. For my father, that investment is the way that the plays of Shakespeare relate to his soul, and, in that sense, they are what allow him to continue to find enjoyment in the plays to this day and to then pass on that love of Shakespeare to me, his only son. In finding connection to the plays, my father is able to keep the memory of The Tempest alive, and keep the storm of memory in motion as it spirals outwards towards whatever the future may hold for it.

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