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Shakespeare Quarterly 52.1 (2001) 133-134

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Book Review

The Tempest

The Arden Shakespeare The Tempest. Edited by Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan. Walton-on-Thames, Surrey: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1999. Pp. xx + 366. Illus. $45.00 cloth, $12.95 paper.

With the advent of postcolonial studies, The Tempest has come to occupy a central place in the pedagogical canon. The play is now taught widely not only in Shakespeare and early modern literature courses but also in broader historical surveys, courses on literature and colonialism, and introductions to literary theory. Recent editions have faced the challenge of navigating the sea changes in critical interpretations without forgoing the more established critical apparatus and rich stage history of what is perhaps Shakespeare's most spectacular play.

The new Arden Tempest, edited by Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan, meets this challenge with an extensive, up-to-date critical introduction that incorporates recent and even forthcoming scholarship. While it may prove too detailed for some students, the introduction provides a formidable range of materials for teachers, performers, and directors. The section on "The afterlife" of the text is especially strong, with a comprehensive survey of both stage and film productions, adaptations, and appropriations ranging from Davenant and Dryden's The Enchanted Island to the 1956 cult classic Forbidden Planet. Particularly valuable is this section's geographical breadth: the Vaughans pursue The Tempest's afterlife far beyond the usual Anglo-American context, tracing its transformations in African, Caribbean, and Latin American literatures (the Spanish, however, is error-prone). This section in itself would make an excellent tool for teaching Shakespeare in a transhistorical or "world literature" context. The editors also provide a rich account of the varying portrayals of Caliban throughout the play's history, drawing heavily on their own Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History (1991). Lavish illustrations further enhance the production history.

On the question of genre, the Vaughans first consider Beaumont and Fletcher's "tragi-comedie," but soon reintroduce the notion of the Shakespearean romance, even though they admit that "the dramatic category was unknown in Shakespeare's era" (11). Their reliance on romance unfortunately perpetuates a kind of exceptionalism that occludes the connections between Shakespeare and his contemporaries and between the playwright's late plays and his earlier works.

In reconstructing the play's context, the editors balance domestic politics and the New World material with the less-familiar imperial arenas of Ireland and Africa. Yet [End Page 133] their account of Africa emphasizes the slave trade in sub-Saharan regions and English captives in North Africa without any explicit consideration of the expansionist pressure that Islam exerted on Europe itself. One of the most striking aspects of The Tempest is in fact its pretext: the Italian noblemen come within Prospero's reach on their return from placating a presumably threatening North African ruler with a marital alliance.

Despite their efforts to broaden the contexts for The Tempest, moreover, the editors reinscribe an unfortunate bifurcation in the play's criticism, between New World/postcolonial readings and Old World readings that do not consider colonial dynamics:

Though the colonial theme is far less prominent than it was during the 1980s, it nevertheless underlies most theatrical productions and appropriations. Critical commentary has not generally followed suit, with the New Historicist insistence on The Tempest's colonialist inspiration and controlling energy coming increasingly under question for underestimating the play's classical roots and European contexts.


Yet as recent work by Emily Bartels, Margo Hendricks, Michael Neill, and others has demonstrated, there is no contradiction between focusing on the "classical roots and European contexts" of early modern literature and exploring its colonialist dimension. As this edition's rich contextualization itself shows, there is much left to explore in The Tempest's enduring and complex relation to colonialism.

Like other recent editions, this one provides a useful appendix that reprints two important sources for the play: Strachey's "A True Reportory" and Montaigne's "Of the Caniballes." The editors supply a second appendix, on appropriations. Although presented as an illustrative sample, the...


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