Five Fascinating Facts about Shakespeare’s The Tempest
Fun facts about Shakespeare’s play
1. Shakespeare is thought to have based his play The Tempest on a real-life shipwreck. William Strachey’s A True Reportory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight, an account of his experience during the wreck of the ship Sea Venture on the island of Bermuda, was written in 1609, and many scholars believe that the Bard read this account and used it as inspiration for The Tempest.
2. Contrary to popular belief, The Tempest wasn’t Shakespeare’s final play. The popular myth that after The Tempest the Bard packed up shop, and moved back to Stratford-upon-Avon to live out his last few years in retirement, overlooks the fact that Shakespeare collaborated on several plays after The Tempest in 1611, including Henry VIII, Cardenio (now sadly lost), and The Two Noble Kinsmen, based on Chaucer’s ‘Knight’s Tale’. However, it does appear that The Tempest was Shakespeare’s final solo work for the stage.
3. A number of now common phrases originated in The Tempest. It’s easy to exaggerate the number of words and phrases Shakespeare coined, but he popularised – and perhaps even originated – the phrases ‘into thin air’ (to describe someone or something vanishing from view), ‘brave new world’ (which Aldous Huxley gratefully took up as the ironic title of his 1932 dystopian novel), ‘in a pickle’, and perhaps even ‘sea change’.
4. Several moons of Uranus – although curiously, not the moon named Ariel – are named after characters from Shakespeare’s play. Of the 27 known moons of the planet Uranus, 24 are named after characters from Shakespeare’s plays, and The Tempest provided the inspiration for the names of several of the moons – more than any other play, in fact. Miranda, Caliban, Sycorax, Prospero, Setebos, Stephano, Trinculo, Francisco, and Ferdinand from the play all provide Uranian moons with their names. The other three moons of Uranus are named for characters in Alexander Pope’s poem The Rape of the Lock – which also features a character called Ariel. It is this Ariel, rather than the one from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, who was apparently the one after whom the satellite was named.
5. Shakespeare’s The Tempest has inspired countless artistic responses in theatre, music, poetry, and fiction. There have been nearly 50 operas based on The Tempest, while composers including Henry Purcell, Arthur Bliss, Hector Berlioz, Malcolm Arnold, and Engelbert Humperdinck (not that one) have all written incidental music to accompany performances of Shakespeare’s play. W. H. Auden wrote a long poem, The Sea and the Mirror, in response to The Tempest. In 1968, the Franco-Caribbean writer and theorist Aimé Césaire wrote a play titled Une Tempête, which portrays Caliban sympathetically as a native of the island who has been forced into subjugation by the island’s white European coloniser, Prospero. There have also been some extremely radical and memorable stage and screen adaptations of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, including Peter Greenaway’s 1991 film Prospero’s Books, which fuses animation with live-action performances.
If you enjoyed these facts about The Tempest, we have more fascinating Shakespeare facts here; we’ve compiled some curious trivia about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and written about the interesting legacy and influence of Twelfth Night.
For more fascinating literary trivia, we recommend our book crammed full of 3,000 years of interesting bookish facts, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, available now from Michael O’Mara Books.
Image: William Hogarth’s painting of a scene from The Tempest (c. 1736), via Wikimedia Commons.