GCSE REVISION NOTES
"The Tempest" - William Shakespeare
Act 1, Scene 1.
This scene presents the storm at sea or the tempest. The noblemen on board are an irritation to the crew who are keen to save their own lives. The boatswain in charge of the ship is furiously trying to issue orders over and above the terrible noise of the elements. This scene is usually very loud, fast, and full of effects. All voices are raised. The effects you could introduce are :-
1) Wind machine off stage.
2) Taped sound effects of rain, waves, thunder etc.
3) Flashes of lightning, achieved by rigging very bright lanterns, sharp flashes on and off.
4) A cloud gobo, projected onto the backcloth or cyclorama.
Your set should be relatively simple and quick to manoeuvre - in order to move on immediately to scene 2. Remember the hanging white sheets for sails (at Bristol) and the wooden walkway, with a rope in front which formed the side of the ship - this tilted up at the end of the scene and they all landed in the sea. This is fine in a sophisticated theatre with money and good technical equipment, however this scene may also be produced quite simply with the use of light and sound and just a simple wooden bar perhaps to represent the side of the ship. The atmosphere can be shown by the movement of the characters, e.g. they sway about, run about in relation to the swell of the sea, grab at each other for balance, hang on to the bar or rope etc. Don't forget they should all be leaning, running and falling in the same direction!
N.B. Remember - you should decide at the beginning of any play in which style you wish to present it. Are you going to stick to the period in which it was written? e.g. Elizabethan period style (as in Bristol) although the main set on the island wasn't true to this. Or are you going to set it in later times, 1920's, 60's, etc, or even the future? (as in Swansea, post-nuclear). If possible your costumes, set, props, etc should blend well together, so think carefully about how you wish your play to look - very often you can gain high marks by being very creative and using your imagination to produce something out of the ordinary and unusual - but be warned, think things through carefully and always have good reasons why you want to do it in this way. The examiner is going to award you marks according to how detailed, clear and comprehensive your own ideas are. So think well in advance before the exam about your ideas for style, costume, set, etc. You will always get questions on these areas! You may of course use ideas from versions of the play you have seen, if you are totally stuck, but much better to develop your own ideas!
Act 1, Scene 2. (Very long scene, we meet main characters)
Contrast in atmosphere here - from the storm on deck to the island. First we meet Miranda and Prospero - we learn that he has magical powers and that he raised the storm for his own reasons. He tells Miranda all about how they came to be on the island etc. - strange he never told her before - lack of communication? Prospero's servant Ariel appears. He has carried out his orders well with the promise of his freedom. We meet also Caliban - he is bitter and resentful of his treatment. Ariel magically leads in Ferdinand - we see Miranda's reaction to him. She is overwhelmed by him but Prospero treats Ferdinand badly, treating him like a slave.
So, how are you going to present the island? Will it be naturalistically, i.e. rocks, plants, palm trees, backcloth painted with sea, sand, etc.? Or will it be a stylised set, i.e. shapes, colours, structures, that do not resemble real life? (Remember the triangular set-up in Bristol, and Caliban's flaps). How are you going to use the space to represent Prospero's cave, Caliban's home, the scenes with the noblemen, and the scenes with the comic trio? Best to have one basic set (a composite set) and different actions can happen within different areas of the set (as in both Bristol and Swansea).
Remember you should not have big, lengthy scene changes between scenes, where large, heavy things are brought on and off. This only provides a slowing down of the action and breaks the momentum. You could indicate the next scene by a change of lighting and some music if you wanted. Think it through beforehand - what would you do? Be prepared before the exam!
And what about the five characters we have just met? They are all very important and integral to the plot - so think about how you would costume them - traditional? futuristic? to reveal their characters? Think also about any special make-up! Would Miranda be a typical beauty, with eyes outlined, red lips, rosy cheeks, etc? Any scabs or marks on Caliban? Dirt, hair, facial make-up? How can you make him appear disgusting? Prospero needs to be dressed according to his magic powers possibly! He needs something special to put on or take off to represent these powers. What about stars, moon symbols, etc? gold, silver, purple colours, etc? cape or coat? What could he wear underneath? What personal prop does he use to represent his powers also - a staff? a crook? a book?
Ariel is a creature of the air, magic and spirit-like, of another world. How would you show this by costume, make-up, and most of all, movements? Usually he/she is light, fast and airy. Do any sounds accompany Ariel's entrances - don't forget Ariel's songs and playing of an instrument - flute? recorder? reed pipe? what? Ariel charms people and casts spells on them - what movements and gestures would you incorporate here? Use of hands? Smooth flowing actions? Sometimes, Ariel could appear behind a gauze (see-through) curtain to show the magical presence, and also to indicate that other characters cannot see him/her.
Do you associate any particular colour or fabric with any character, e.g. floating diaphanous chiffon, or heavy, rich brocade, or crisp white cotton, or dark dull colours/fabric for "baddies", i.e. Sebastian, Antonio? How would you show Ferdinand as a King's son or Prince? Velvet breeches, white loose shirt with lace edging, an ornate doublet/jacket with sleeves containing slashed pockets of a different colour, if period costume i.e. Elizabethan ? Or if you are updating it - a smart white Armani suit with silk shirt etc? What?
You should realise by now that there really is a great deal that needs to be thought about.
PLEASE, IF YOU CAN, THINK OUT THESE THINGS BEFORE THE EXAM. YOU WILL THEN HAVE MUCH MORE TIME DURING THE EXAM TO WRITE IT ALL OUT.
Act 2, Scene 1.
We meet the noblemen now. Sebastian and Antonio are troublemakers, but Gonzalo and Adrian etc are quite optimistic - their clothes are still fresh! Alonso the King is very quiet, he fears he has lost his son at sea. Ariel "magics" them to sleep with music and song, all except the two "baddies". Sebastian and Antonio plot to murder Alonso and Gonzalo, so that Sebastian will be King instead of his brother. Ariel awakens the others by music and song. Caught in the act, they say that they heard wild animals and drew their swords to protect the King. They all move off when the King instructs Sebastian and Antonio to lead the way.
So, think about the grouping in this scene! Who stands away with whom upstage? Where does the King sit on his own? Does Gonzalo move about a bit? Where? What about Adrian? Francisco? etc? Read the scene carefully, and their positions in relation to each other will be made clear.
And decide on their costumes now! Don't wait until the exam - plan ahead!
Act 2, Scene 2.
The first comic scene involving the trio - quite a likely choice for exam questions, but then again it may be too obvious - who can say! Don't bank on it!
Caliban is carrying logs, hears the thunder, and thinks it is spirits sent by Prospero to plague him. Caliban spots Trinculo the jester, and thinking he's another spirit, he hides himself under some kind of sheet, blanket, or tarpaulin. Trinculo enters. He is a jester - how does he walk, talk? Does he have an accent? Does he "mince" (hand on hip, walks like a woman, swaying hips) ? Does he walk with a swing and is he limp-wristed, i.e. is he camp? How would you dress him? Remember the red and yellow outfit in Bristol, with bells on it. Interesting! Think about his reaction to the "thing" under the tarpaulin. Would he pull faces, if so what? Would he hold his nose, waft the air with his hands, widen his eyes, scratch his head, etc, etc? He too gets under the tarpaulin to escape the storm.
Stephano enters. He sings the song that Shakespeare wrote, as in the book - not just any song that you decide upon. Remember, you should NOT change the script at all! Accept it as it was written!
How can the comedy of this character be enhanced? Think about movements, gestures, facial expressions, funny actions - remember he is also drunk. Think in detail about HIS response to the "thing" under the tarpaulin.
Stephano's character is quite movement orientated, but Trinculo is more controlled and precise in his actions. You should clearly differentiate between these two and make them characters separate from each other. They should compliment and/or contrast with each other , and not blend together as one. Clearly define them as separate, different people by costumes, actions, accents, etc. However, they are BOTH stupid and simple!
* You may get a question on how the comic element could be presented in this scene. Think about the points already raised and concentrate on the relationships and reactions of the three characters, involving voices, movements, actions, and even perhaps exaggerated gestures. On the other hand, you may NOT get a question on this scene at all!
Act 3, Scene 1.
Here Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love while Prospero watches. They both agree to marry. A "neat" scene, but not very "meaty" from the point of view of questions on how it may be performed. Don't blame me if it DOES turn up on the paper!
So read the scene thoroughly and develop your own ideas.
Act 3, Scene 2.
Another possible question scene involving comedy again!
Stephano has become Caliban's master, and they have all been drinking. Invisible Ariel plays tricks on them and Stephano and Trinculo come to blows. Caliban tells them about Prospero and Miranda, and the three hatch a plot to take over the island. Ariel leads them off playing a small drum and a pipe.
There is knock-about humour in the first half of this scene. Think about the positions of the characters plus Ariel, and how Ariel could be invisible to them, but they react to his voice and become confused and angry. What gestures and movements would enhance this section? Think it through BEFORE going into the exam!
Act 3, Scene 3.
We meet the noblemen again. They witness the "magic" of the island. Prospero, invisible, watches as the spirits prepare a banquet, accompanied by strange music. This is the first of two "masques" that appear in the play (see additional notes on "masques"). The inclusion of two masques, the banquet, and later the marriage celebration, could give you the opportunity to really show how creative and inspired you can be. They should be full of spectacle and atmosphere, conveyed by the use of movement and dance, music and song, light, colour, and special effects. Think about the dramatic impact of the spirits' costumes, and how colour and texture will enhance the visual effect.
The noblemen are amazed and filled with wonder. Think about how their reactions may be portrayed. What could they do by way of movements and actions to illustrate their wonder? How would they stand or move, and use the space? What facial expressions might they have? They are all tempted to eat, but Ariel suddenly "magics" it all away. Ariel speaks to them. They react in a very frightened way, drawing their swords. Ariel "freezes" them, saying "Your swords are now too massy for your strengths, And will not be uplifted". Ariel confronts them with the tale of Prospero's banishment. Prospero commends Ariel for his good work, saying that the noblemen are now in his hands. There is further music and dancing by the spirits.
You can let your imagination run quite freely in this scene. In a way, you could "choreograph" the movements around the noblemen. Think about use of levels, positions in the space, and in relation to each other. The noblemen are still rather scared and move off .
Act 4, Scene 1.
Prospero willingly allows Ferdinand and Miranda to make wedding plans, but insists that there is no physical contact before the ceremony. Prospero instructs Ariel to bring in the comic trio ("the rabble") as he knows of their plans. He intends to play tricks on them. Prospero also decides to put on another masque - as a betrothal celebration (again, see notes on masques). We see three gods - Iris, Ceres, and Juno in what may be presented as a spectacular appearance. Nymphs and spirits enter and dance around them. How could you create the magical atmosphere here? Remember the bubble in Swansea, and the trapeze in Bristol - both quite spectacular - how do you see this masque? Try to be creative and unusual when discussing these visual aspects. Think it out before the exam.
Ariel announces that the comic trio are nearby. This is now the scene where they find the fabulous clothes. How would you have them appear? From up in the air? On a washing line? Hanging in a tree? etc. How do they all react to the appearance of the clothes? What actions and expressions could they incorporate? We hear the noises of a hunt - spirits enter shaped as dogs and hounds, "magic'd" up by Ariel and Prospero. Any special ideas for this? Remember the evil spirits in the film "Ghost" with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. How would you describe these spirits? Could this idea be transferred to the stage? How? Describe in detail!
This second half of the scene gives good scope for an exam question as it incorporates comedy, magic, spirits, movement, and sound. Construct your ideas NOW before the exam. How would you present it?
Act 5, Scene 1.
Prospero asks Ariel about the progress of the noblemen. Ariel replies that they are still imprisoned in a kind of trance and cannot move from the grove. Ariel is sent to lead them in and they enter, still in a kind of trance. Prospero tells them all about the past and who he is. He forgives Sebastian, his brother, for taking away his dukedom, which he now wants restored to him.
Alonso laments the loss of his son Ferdinand, but Prospero "magics" a picture of him and Miranda happily playing chess. Miranda sees all these men and is delighted. Alonso and Ferdinand greet each other and Alonso agrees to their union. The boatswain from the ship appears and says the ship is in excellent condition. Ariel, who has done his magic jobs well, now reminds Prospero about giving him his freedom. It is granted. Ariel leads in the comic trio. Prospero makes fun of them and their plans. Prospero invites Alonso the King to stay at "his place" for the night before setting sail in the morning for Naples. Prospero promises to tell him the full details of his life on the island.
Prospero's epilogue finally asks for applause from the audience to help release him from the story, so he can return to Naples and normality, after ridding himself of his magical powers.
This scene is a "tying up of ends" scene, and as such is rather "bitty" - you probably wouldn't get this scene in the exam as there isn't really that much to "get your teeth into". BUT you never know! Be prepared by working out how you see it being presented!
So, good thinking and planning folks, BEFORE the exam.
If you have sorted out all your thoughts, ideas, suggestions and opinions before the exam, then you will have much more time to write out detailed and structured answers.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Do not run out of time because you only start thinking about all these things mentioned when you are actually sitting down to the exam!
For other notes which may be of use to you, see my Home Page.