Trevor Nunn on The Tempest

3 thoughts on “Trevor Nunn on The Tempest”

  1. Following this post, I was moved to view the original BBC4 programme on I-Player. Alas, I found it completely unwatchable and turned off after five minutes. The problem lies in the utterly annoying contemporary style of presenting TV documentaries.

    First, there is the cod portentousness, clunking dialogue with dramatic breathless pauses. The Tempest. A drama. From the Mind. Of the Greatest Playwright. The World has Ever Seen. His Final Words. Of Wonder and. Imagination.

    Then there is the truly dreadful musical accompaniment, a piano tapping out background muszak as the dialogue progresses. And moody interlude music as scenes shift from one talking head to the next. Ghastly.

    And finally, playing fast and loose with the facts in order to make the script meet its agenda. So ‘The Tempest’ (1610) becomes Shakespeare’s ‘final’ play, conveniently encouraging us to believe we hear his final words. And the claims of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ (1611) to be the last play are airily brushed aside.

    1. Although I agree with your criticisms of much TV documentary these days, I didn’t note those features being particularly marked in this one. Rather, a great authority on Shakespeare presented an intelligent commentary on the play, illustrated with clips from celebrated productions. Most Shakespeare experts agree that The Tempest is his last solo-authored play, though, as Jonathan Bate (who contributed to this film) observes in his The Soul of the Age, Prospero’s words in the epilogue to The Tempest were probably not the final words that Shakespeare wrote for the stage: they come at the end of the co-authored The Two Noble Kinsmen, written and first performed in 1613 or 1614. As for The Winters Tale, the best that can be said is that it is contemporaneous with The Tempest, possibly being written at the same time as The Winter’s Tale. As noted in the post, Nunn refers to the real-life shipwreck of the Sea Venture in 1609 on the island of Bermuda while sailing towards Virginia – an account of which was published in October 1610, considered by most critics to be the likely primary source for The Tempest. The consensus among Shakespeare historians at present seems to be that The Tempest was his last solo play, so I don’t see Nunn as having ‘an agenda’ or playing fast and loose with facts.

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