Internet Shakespeare Editions


Tricks of the trade: issues of staging

The Swan.

The Tempest makes use of some complex stagecraft, some of which use early versions of "special effects." The opening scene requires "A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning" (stage direction) and requires the actors to give the impression of an apparently floundering ship . The maniplutation of the appearing and disappearing banquet* is also elaborate, as is the Masque scene, where Juno is required to "descend," presumably from the "heavens" of the stage, in a chariot.

The "discovery space," probably in the centre of the stage, is also used in the discovery of Miranda and Ferdinand at the play's end (5.1.173) where they are playing chess, and are revealed by Prospero.

Few of Shakespeare's plays require such sophisticated stage machinery. It seems likely that he was influenced by the growing popularity of the court masque and its elaborate stagings. The Tempest may also have been produced in an indoor stage as well as (or instead of) the Globe.


  1. Disappearing act

    The first stage direction shows clearly the power given to Prospero as he enters on the upper level:

    Solemn and strage music; and Prospero on the top, invisible.

    The banquet is then brought in:

    Enter several strange shapes, bringing in a banquet, and dance about it with gentle actions of salutations; and, inviting the King, etc., to eat, they depart.

    Finally the banquet disappears just as the lords are about to eat:

    Thunder and lightning. Enter Ariel, like a harpy, claps his wings upon the table, and with a quaint [ingenious] device the banquet vanishes.