Shakespeare's farewell to the stage?
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!
The Tempest was Shakespeare's last play. After 1611, other than contributing occasionally to Fletcher's plays for the King's Men, Shakespeare appears to have retired from the stage. For many readers, it has been tempting to identify Prospero, the ageing magician who resigns his powers, with Shakespeare, the playwright who is also leaving 'the great globe itself' and all 'this unsubstantial pageant'. Prospero is a kind of playwright, putting on a 'masque' and manipulating all the characters to play their parts in his dramatic plan.
The moment when Prospero offers to break his staff is one of great ambivalence. Do we rejoice at his return to political power or mourn the loss of his magical powers? Shakespeare too, retiring to the comfortable wealth of his property and business interests in Stratford, might well have missed the applause he alludes to so feelingly in the epilogue: 'And my ending is despair/ Unless I be relieved by prayer'.Conquest and usurpation - a play whose themes have never dated
Shakespeare's age was one of exploration. The New World, as described in the books we know Shakespeare read, seemed at once a paradise and a savage wilderness. The inhabitants had equally contradictory reputations. Many commentators have perceived in Miranda and Prospero's attitude to Caliban a reflection of European views on slavery and colonisation. Yet Shakespeare gives Caliban some of the most powerful lines in the play - his articulate defence of Prospero is almost heroic, while his speech 'Be not afeared. The isle is full of noises' displays a far from 'monstrous' lyricism and sensitivity. Usurpation and betrayal run throughout the play: First Antonio takes Prospero's dukedom, then Prospero rejects Caliban's claim to the island and lastly Stefano attempts to make himself 'king o'th'isle'. Shakespeare surely invites us to make comparisons - and judgements - between them.