Monday, January 14, 2013

Tales from Shakespeare: The Tempest

In preparing to watch The Tempest on DVD tonight, I thought I would brush up on the story in Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. The book is a Junior Deluxe Edition (1955) I picked up at a book sale I attended over the summer. It is from the pens of Charles Lamb, the essayist, and his sister, Mary. 

The tales chosen include A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, King Lear, Hamlet, Othello, and fifteen others. It is believed that Shakespeare wrote 37 plays so this is quite a nice selection.

The intent was to give the young girl or boy an idea of the plot or story of each play so that the reader, as his or her education progressed, would come to love the plays not only for the tale but for the language.

From their preface dated 1806:
The following Tales are meant to be submitted to the young reader as an introduction to the study of Shakespeare, for which purpose his words are used whenever it seemed possible to bring them in; and in whatever has been added to give them the regular form of a connected story, diligent care has been taken to select such words as might least interrupt the effect of the beautiful English tongue in which he wrote: therefore words introduced into our language since his time have been as far as possible avoided.

There is an explanation about the histories that...

For young ladies too, it has been the intention chiefly to write; because boys being generally permitted the use of their fathers' libraries at a much earlier age than girls are, they frequently have the best scenes of Shakespeare by heart, before their sisters are permitted to look into this manly book...

Well, there you have it.  Two hundred years ago young girls and women did not normally have access to the plays of The Bard or many other books for that matter. Although, apparently Sister Mary did and how wonderful that she and her brother took on this project.

Wouldn't they be surprised today at The Tempest starring Helen Mirren as Prospera (not Prospero) which is the version I am going to watch.


  1. I didn't know there was a Helen Mirren version!

    This is one of my favorite plays. I've seen it many times, and never tire of it.

    Lamb's book sounds very useful. I've heard of it--God know where. I don't always get around to rereading plays before I see them, and this would be very helpful

    1. Glad I could introduce you to the Prospera version. Helen Mirren, of course, was fascinating. I loved the movie. I have not studied or seen much Shakespeare so having the plot laid out for me was helpful and I could concentrate on the words, the scenery (this version was filmed in Hawaii), and the acting. The guy who plays Ariel, Ben Whishaw, is delicious.

  2. Glad you liked this version Belle! Its a challenging play to stage due to the location, so the need for such a sprawling, luscious location is so necessary as this film version proves. I would also you urge you to read "The Devil Kissed Her" - the story of Mary Lamb (Kathy Wilson), wonderful insight into Mary but also into her wonderful brother Charles.

  3. Ah Tullik, you keep me on my toes. I am not familiar with the Mary Lamb book. My library has it which is good news. The Lambs were fascinating and I am glad to know about this book. I love Charles's essays. They sit on the shelf next to "Tales".