Last Friday’s 140-160 word story prompt for Flash Friday included the following picture prompt:
Miranda — The Tempest. Painting by John William Waterhouse, 1916. Public domain photo.
And the following word prompt:
This was my story:
I sat on the stool looking away from the artist.
‘Don’t move!’ He barked. ‘I need to paint your profile.’
I wanted to tell him my neck and shoulders were stiff and aching, but I needed the shillings he was paying, and he was bad tempered if I complained.
‘Speak to me about your country and about your journey across the sea.’
So I told him while he painted.
‘Now tell me about the shipwreck.’
‘There was no shipwreck.’ I lied.
‘Imagine you saw one and tell me.’
So I told him.
Days and hours later, when my neck was so stiff I thought it might break, he gave me my freedom and cried, ‘Come and look, Miranda. It’s perfect!’
I thought it was a portrait, but he would never let me see until it was finished.
I was shocked.
‘You’ve never seen the sea!’ I blurted out.
‘I saw you and heard you, my love, and that was enough.’
Have a look at some of the other stories here.
Shakespeare’s The Tempest
I love this picture, and I really enjoyed writing the ‘Flash Fiction’ it inspired. The Tempest is also one of my favourite plays, especially as a result of the classes I taught on Postcolonial English Literature to undergraduates.
The Tempest is considered by most scholars as Shakespeare’s last play (1610-11?), which was written as a farewell to London and the stage he so loved. Due to his failing health, he retired to Stratford (although he returned to London occasionally), where he lived with his wife, Anne Hathaway, until his death in 1616.
The Tempest contains one of his most magnificent soliloquies, by Prospero, which is the epilogue to the play, and perhaps to Shakespeare’s artistic life:
Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint. Now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Prospero tells us he no longer has the necessary charms to continue, and must retire and he finally asks for forgiveness before he bids his audience goodbye:
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
Watch Sir John Gielgud’s rendering here (just over a minute on YouTube)
It was not until the 20th century, and the advent of postcolonial and feminist literary criticism that The Tempest came to be considered as one of Shakespeare’s most powerful plays.
Prospero, who should have been Duke of Milan, was exiled on a remote island, where he enslaves, Caliban, a deformed monster and the only human inhabitant, teaching him his religion and his language (a theme taken up by Jonathan Swift in Robinson Crusoe, a century later). Caliban repays him with the following lines which have given Postcolonial scholars much food for thought:
You taught me language, and my profit on it is I know how to curse.
The red plague rid you for learning me your language!
These words have been used to illustrate Shakespeare’s discontent with the way colonisation was occurring, enslaving, taking advantage of indigenous populations, and undermining their culture.
This play has also attracted Feminist criticism because there is only one female character physically ‘present’ in the play, Miranda, who finally succumbs to her father’s wishes and marries the son of the King of Naples, thereby restoring his honour, although she marries for love.
A play well worth reading and rereading…