This is the 400th anniversary of one of William Shakespeare’s most celebrated and influential plays “The Tempest.” It was first performed in November, 1611, and is the only play by the Bard (arguably the world’s greatest playwright) which has connections to the New World. It has provoked more adaptions, music, poetry and other artistic and critical inspirations than perhaps any of Shakespeare’s other works, which is no small matter when it is considered that Shakespeare also wrote “Hamlet,” “MacBeth,” “Othello,” A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream,” “All’s Well That Ends Well,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Julius Caesar,” “King Lear,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “Twelfth Night,” “Taming of the Shrew,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” “Coriolanus,” “As You Like It,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” and twenty-one other plays known the world over.
With Hurricane Irene now raging through the U.S. East Coast from its Caribbean origins (supposedly “The Tempest” was set in the Caribbean), I could not help but think of Shakespeare’s play with its iconic storm created magically by the play’s main character Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan. Although it remains to be seen how “historic” and great a storm Irene will be, it has certainly gripped in advance of its path the justifiable concern of millions of Americans who are likely to be affected by it, and the entire rest of nation watching from “a safe distance.”
One of the most famous visual images of this play was the painting “The Shipwreck” by the most celebrated 18th century portraitist George Romney. Yes, current frontrunner for the Republican nomination Mitt Romney is a descendant/kinsman of George Romney the painter, and that got me to thinking about a second tempest now going through the United States, a fellow named Rick Perry who is also the current governor of Texas. In only a few weeks, Mr. Perry has announced his late entry into the presidential contest, and has already emerged as Mr. Romney’s main challenger. Liberal Democrats seem not to regard Mr. Perry as a storm, but rather as Caliban, the disfigured and scary character who is another principal figure in the play. (Mr. Romney’s supporters, no doubt, hope that Mr. Perry is only a “tempest in a teapot.”)
The reader might think I am depending too much on coincidences here in drawing Mitt Romney and Rick Perry into this (how about Michele Bachmann as Ariel?), but of course, Shakesepeare’s 17th century plays are is so full of coincidences and references to other sources that I feel no compunction to hold back my devious way to bring up the current state of the 2012 presidential election and the contest for the GOP nomination.
While everyone hopes that the damage from Hurricane Irene will be minimal, there are many who wish that Tempest Perry will cause maximum damage. Some conservatives, unhappy with the bona fides of Mitt Romney as a true out-and-out man of the right are hoping that Mr. Perry will derail the Romney candidacy. Some liberals, fearful of a terrible defeat in November, 2012, hope that a man perceived as too far to the right, i.e., Mr. Perry, will be nominated, thus giving President Obama a better chance to win re-election.
Just as we do not know Hurricane Irene’s full course (as I write this), the impact of Tempest Perry is also unclear. He will now be subject to extraordinary scrutiny, and as he has already discovered, every word he utters will be examined under a political electron microscope. (Some of Mr. Perry’s recent utterances would indicate he is perhaps more like Caliban than his supporters would wish.) Mr. Perry will now have to stand on the stage with his rivals, and answer questions from the media and debate moderators that will contrast him to Mr. Romney, Mrs. Bachmann, and that most formidable GOP debater of all, Newt Gingrich.
I don’t know if it will be a tragedy, a comedy or a history, but it almost certainly will be quite a play to listen to and watch.