The ‘Tempest’ and its travels by Peter Hulme

It’s a contentious matter as to which of Shakespeare’s plays is the greatest. Some say ‘King Lear’, others say ‘Hamlet’. For my money ‘Measure for Measure’ is right up there, but ‘The Tempest’ is the greatest play. It was the last to be written and seems to encapsulate the Bard’s best wisdom. Here, for example, is a speech by Prospero in Act IV, Scene I.

‘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 tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, 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’.

This book, edited by Peter Hulme and William H. Sherman (2000), brings out the universal power of the play. It shows how the play’s invocation of peoples, places, images and phrases from both the Old World and the New has seen it appropriated and transformed by writers and performers from far outside the English literary tradition. It is set on an uncharted island, and this book offers a new map of the island, consisting of an innovative collection of historical, critical and creative readings, juxtaposing texts and images from different periods and a variety of geographical and disciplinary spheres. Published in the Critical Views series.

Enquire at your local library or available at

Definitely get round to listening to the BBC Radio 4 ‘In Our Time’ episode (43 minutes) on The Tempest. Available from the link  With Jonathan Bate – Provost of Worcester College, Oxford; Erin Sullivan – Lecturer and Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham; and Katherine Duncan-Jones Emeritus Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford. Chaired by Melvyn Bragg. First broadcast Thursday 14 Nov 2013.

320 pages in Reaktion Books

ISBN 978-1861890665

Peter Hulme and William H. Sherman

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