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One of Shakespeare's most famous but also enigmatic plays, for many years the story of Prospero's exile from his native Milan, and life with his daughter Miranda on an unnamed island in the Mediterranean, was seen as an autobiographical dramatisation of Shakespeare's departure from the London stage. The Epilogue, spoken by Prospero, claims that "now my charms are all o'erthrown", appeared to reflect Shakespeare's own renunciation of his magical dramatic powers as he retired to Stratford. But The Tempest is far more than this, as recent commentators have pointed out. The dramatic action observes the classical unities of time, place and action, as Prospero uses his "rough magic" to lure his wicked usurping brother, Antonio, and King Alonso of Naples to his island retreat to torment them before engineering his return to Milan.
However, the play is full of extraordinary anomalies and fantastic interludes, including Gonzalo's fantasy of a utopian commonwealth, Prospero's magical servant Ariel, and the "poisonous slave" Caliban. The creation of Caliban has particularly fascinated critics, who have noticed in his creation a colonial dimension to the play. In this respect Caliban can be seen as an American Indian or African slave, who articulates a particularly powerful strain of anti-colonial sentiment, telling Prospero that "this island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,/ Which thou tak'st from me". This has led to an intense reassessment of the play from a post-colonial perspective, as critics and historians have debated the extent to which the play endorses or criticises early English colonial expansion. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, on England’s Avon River. When he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. The couple had three children—an older daughter Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died in childhood. The bulk of Shakespeare’s working life was spent in the theater world of London, where he established himself professionally by the early 1590s. He enjoyed success not only as a playwright and poet, but also as an actor and shareholder in an acting company. Although some think that sometime between 1610 and 1613 Shakespeare retired from the theater and returned home to Stratford, where he died in 1616, others believe that he may have continued to work in London until close to his death.
Barbara A. Mowat is Director of Research emerita at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Consulting Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly, and author of The Dramaturgy of Shakespeare’s Romances and of essays on Shakespeare’s plays and their editing.
Paul Werstine is Professor of English at the Graduate School and at King’s University College at Western University. He is a general editor of the New Variorum Shakespeare and author of Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts and the Editing of Shakespeare and of many papers and articles on the printing and editing of Shakespeare’s plays. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.