The final scene in Shakespeare’s final play is one of the most personal across his canon. Prospero’s epilogue is Shakespeare speaking to us through his protagonist. He thanks the audience and bids them farewell. It’s an incredible way to say goodbye, to sign off as one of the greatest playwrights to have lived.
However, for me, that final scene contains a small detail that’s budding with potential for a great story.
In Act V, Scene 1, the cast are gathered and are on levels of reconcilement. All is restored and all soon to be explained before the curtains fall. We’re gifted with a little surprise, too – the Master and the boatswain are alive and well! They survived the shipwreck! Gonzalo asks what happened to them. The boatswain replies:
If I did think, sir, I were well awake,
I’ld strive to tell you. We were dead of sleep,
And– how we know not — all clapp’d under hatches;
Where but even now with strange and several noises
Of roaring, shrieking, howling, jingling chains,
And more diversity of sounds, all horrible,
We were awaked; straightway, at liberty;
Where we, in all her trim, freshly beheld
Our royal, good and gallant ship, our master
Capering to eye her: on a trice, so please you,
Even in a dream, were we divided from them
And were brought moping hither.
And the scene continues, of course, now onto the important matters and with it, our attention focuses back to the main cast and the story continues.
I can’t help but think something seems fishy in the isle of The Tempest. No one really seems to react to this story. I understand, there’s nothing to react to. It’s pretty basic: they were asleep, they woke up, everything is okay, everything has been restored. Simple.
But that’s what’s odd. Their story – it’s too simple. It’s the equivalent of ‘I woke up and it was all a dream.’ Whilst the other members of the ship wandered the isle, fell in love, confessed their crimes, got hysterically drunk and had life changing, life altering experiences, they slept through it all?!
What I find even more interesting is that the Master doesn’t speak. He’s nothing more than a silent participant. Now, he only has a total of 16 words in this piece, all which are said in the first 10 seconds of the play, so it’s not exactly out of place that he’s a quiet one.
What if – What if he doesn’t say anything because he can’t say anything?
What if there’s a whole other story we don’t know about? What if this whole time they were fighting to protect the rest of the ship, tackling hoards of ravenous cannibals that swarmed the beach they landed on with their blunt blades? And afterwards, they raided the mines with the natives to restore peace to the island once ruled by these rabid monsters? What if they got captured and the Master had his tongue removed? Or perhaps, he’s under a spell?
The play is packed with magic, fantasy, spells, illusions – would it be so hard to believe the Master is silenced? Spell locked? And why would the boatswain lie? What horrors did they see that they cannot bare to express to the group? There’s something there, there’s a story to be told.
Now, the Shakespeare ‘spin-off’ isn’t a new thing. Tom Stoppard did it brilliantly with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, an existentialist insight of the two ‘friends’ of Hamlet.
Their fate was detailed in Hamlet only by the First Ambassador in a single line, which became the title of Stoppard’s masterpiece – perhaps he felt they deserved more of a voice. Nevertheless, he was inspired and told a story from a story.
To assume there’s an actual secret hidden in Shakespeare’s final scene that has yet to be discovered is highly unlikely. They’re widely researched, analysed and this idea that there’s something more to this silence is nothing more than an itch scratched to the core. But with enough thought, a ‘what if’ can breed a modern tale from a classic piece.
There’s always a story within a story. Par the copyright claim, writing produces more writing, writing that has won Nobel prizes in literature, writing that is studied at schools and Universities.
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre spawned Jean Rhys’ The Wide Sargasso Sea.
Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe led to J. M. Coetzee’s Foe.
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet provoked Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
William Shakespeare’s The Tempest could lead to…?
We’ll see. If a writer claims to be thirsty for ideas but has nothing to drink, shove a book in their face. There can be an original leaf on a tree already flourishing with life.
What really happened in The Tempest? It’s up to you.