The Tempest; or, The Enchanted Island

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Dryden, John, William D’Avenant, and William Shakespeare. The Tempest; or, The Enchanted Island. London: 1670.

Image Source: The Huntington Library          

The English Civil War and related Puritan reforms closed all public theaters from 1642-­­1660. Though plays were frequently published during this period, Shakespeare’s were not in demand. Once the theaters reopened, theater companies altered Shakespeare’s work to appeal to new audiences. In 1667, John Dryden and William Davenant, highly regarded poets and dramatists, jointly revised The Tempest. As would be common in Shakespearean revisions, Dryden and Davenant added additional characters and romantic plots and revised Shakespeare’s language to make it current with the spoken language of the day. In particular, they added a second daughter for Prospero and a sister for Caliban, as well as a young man raised by Prospero on the island.  These new characters allowed them to add female actors, to multiply romantic plots and rivalry, and to amplify Shakespeare’s interest in the play in children raised away from society. In 1674, Thomas Shadwell adapted their play into an opera, which became the most frequently performed version of The Tempest until Shakespeare’s original text was revived in 1838.

The Tempest

In Dryden’s Prologue, praise of Shakespeare vies with a sense that his “honour’d dust” must be brought up to date. Dryden suggests that his own inclusion of a female actor playing a man will be an exciting new addition.

In Dryden's Prologue, we see conflicting attitudes toward Shakespeare in play in 1670. Shakespeare is described as a writer whose “pow'r is sacred as a King's” (near bottom) and as influencing all other contemporary writers. At the same time, Shakespeare seems not just dead, but dated: the original text of The Tempest is described unflatteringly as “old Shakespear's honour'd dust” (near top). Dryden praises Shakespeare but also describes his and Davenant's innovations as even more compelling – particularly their use of a female actor playing a male role, a device “exceeding all the Magick in the Play.”

Click on images below to read the entrance of Dorinda, Prospero’s new daughter, and some of the comic and titillating uses to which she was put.

The play focuses on the comic and exciting possibilities of the many new young characters and their love affairs and rivalry. Shakespeare's emphasis on revenge and/or forgiveness is, as a result, muted. Here Dryden and Davenant's villains express unprompted guilt over their actions against Prospero. Their repentance likewise lightens the tone of the play. 

Dryden and Davenant dwell on the comedy in the love between two innocents, Dorinda and Hippolito. Dryden’s Prospero remains manipulative, but the play is lighter and more focused on romantic confusion and discovery.