By William Shakespeare
Probably written about 1616, his last play

Comments by Bob Corbett
March 2009

General Note: In January 2009 I decided that I’d like to go back and read all the plays of William Shakespeare, perhaps one a month if that works out. I hadn’t read a Shakespeare play since 1959, 50 years ago! But I had read nearly all of them in college. I wanted to go back, start with something not too serious or challenging, and work my way through the whole corpus. Thus I began with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. At this time I have no idea how the project will go, nor if it will actually lead me through the entire corpus of Shakespeare’s plays. However, I will keep a separate page listing each play I’ve read with links to any comments I would make of that particular play. See: List of Shakespeare’s play’s I’ve read and commented on


Prospero, the rightful duke of Milan has been deposed and set adrift with his young daughter Miranda. Their disabled boat came to an island and for some 12 years the two of them have lived on the island in safety, and even in magic.

The people who deposed him, his brother Antonio, Alonso, the King of Naples and others, had gone to a wedding in northern African, and on the way home Prospero magically brings their ship to his island where they are seemingly marooned.

Prospero is an interesting fellow and had actually turned over much of the running of the state to his brother in the past while he pursued his studies, particularly of magic and the occult. With the powers he learned he has somehow “captured” the services of a powerful spirit, Ariel, and enslaved a near-monster critter, Caliban. He now uses those two to “deal” in his way with his brother and the other usurpers. Ah, but we must have romance in a Shakespearean comedy, so Miranda meets and falls madly in love with Ferdinand, the innocent and decent son of Alonso, Naples’ king.

As it goes with comedies, all ends well, Prospero is to be reinstalled as the duke of Milan, the brothers reconcile, Miranda and Ferdinand will marry, the spirit Ariel is “freed” from Prospero’s control, and Caliban is also freed to be his nasty self. As in Measure for Measure, there was at least one decent and loyal man in the government, the older counselor of Naples, Gonzalo, who is reunited with Prospero. Having just re-read Measure for Measure and The Two Gentlemen of Verona in the past couple months, I am reminded in many ways of the list of musicals Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney made. Somehow things go wrong in the kids’ world and they need money. At some point Mickey says: “Let’s stage a play.” They do, it is a success and the day is saved.

Similarly, I am fascinated by the role of the “good” ruler in Shakespeare. He seems to find ruling well not satisfying, and thus turns over power to a relative, and goes off to read and study. The relative turns out to be a bummer, and eventually the “good” ruler is returned, and everyone loves everyone one else. But why this fascination with:

Along the way in The Tempest were some great lines and interesting thoughts: I loved it early on when we are being told about how Antonio and Alonso set Prospero and Miranda afloat on this ship that was sure to sink and drown them. The conspirators confess “… the very rats instinctively had quit it…”

Shakespeare seems to be able to assume that his audience will not be much bothered by the fact that Prospero can do magic (just have this ship marooned at his will, that he even knows they are on the ship passing his island in the first place, that he has captured a powerful spirit and that a creature like Caliban exists and is in his control, and finally, that the ship which foundered, bringing the conspirators to Prospero’s island wasn’t actually damaged at all, so they have a way back to Naples. (Maybe not even Shakespeare would have the ship take them directly back to Milan!)

However, when the famous lines came up about dreams and reality, I wondered if that was the ploy: the play is all a dream of revenge and restoration, not an event, then it would seem to me to work and Shakespeare would be letting us, the audience know that with the lines:

“We are such stuff
As dreams are made of and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

And Shakespeare does seem to preach popular morality a lot. I did have a hard time thinking of any possibly deposed politician I know coming to this merciful conclusion in relation to his deposers:

“Though with their high wrongs I am struck to the quick,
Yet, with my nobler reason, ‘gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in revenge.”

There also seems to be a sense in much of Shakespeare that the better side of us will be displayed in reason and our troubles are generally rooted in emotion.

Finally, as they are preparing to leave the island and return to mundane Italy, Prospero not only frees Ariel and Caliban, but breaks his magic staff, and buries his book of the occult. He is returning to “reality” I take it, and while fun and fascinating, all this magic hocus pocus is no more than the stuff dreams are made of.

Bob Corbett



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Bob Corbett