Today, I’d like to share a supremely beautiful speech from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It almost seems as if Will Shakespeare himself is speaking through Prospero, ruminating on the power of his magic (Prospero the magician; Shakespeare the playwright) and thereby forgetting the mundane concerns of ordinary life:
…Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex’d;
Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled:
Be not disturb’d with my infirmity:
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I’ll walk,
To still my beating mind.
—The Tempest, Act 4, Scene i
The Tempest, we’re pretty certain, is the last play Shakespeare wrote entirely himself. After this play, he went into semi-retirement, only to do a few collaborations with his protégé, John Fletcher. And so in many ways this play seems to be a farewell to the magic of playwrights and theatre.
The insubstantial pageant fades, the great globe (a references to The Globe Theatre) shall dissolve.
Of course, it’s these very words–this very play and the whole rest of Shakespeare’s canon–that outlived all of Mr. Shakespeare’s daily concerns, and will outlive all of ours. That’s the magic of Art.
The image is of Patrick Stewart as Prospero from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2006 production of The Tempest.