Leave not a rack behind.
The Tempest has a special connection to place. There is more to the sense of place than the isolation of the action on an island and the subsequent notions of colonization that result from that setting. The play itself is intrinsically united with the theatrical space. It is tradition to open a Shakespearian theater with A Midsummer Nights Dream and close with The Tempest. The Reason for opening with Midsummer is the fact that Titania and Oberon bless the house. The reason for closing a theater with The Tempest is because of Prospero’s speech in Act IV scene I.
You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismayed; be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into the air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, 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. [IV.i.146-158]
This speech appears to be Shakespeare’s goodbye to the theater. The Tempest was one of the last plays Shakespeare wrote, so it makes sense that it would appear in this play. His reference to the great globe references both the earth and the globe theater (the theater where his works were staged.) This speech, tough contained in the world of the play, stands on its own as a wonderful tribute to the nature of theater as ephemeral art.
This speech raises questions about the theatrical space both in and out of the play itself. Literary place is a unique thing. It is both completely imagined and permanently present; it can be recreated any number of times from the text and yet it exists for only a few hours at a time. What if we think of the other texts we’ve read this semester in a similar way? What if we imagine the court of Kublai Khan as a scene in a play? It is a moment in time that can be relived through the reading of Marco Polo. What if we imagine the Troy of Odysseus or the gold digging ants of Heroditus? These places and things can be as real as a beach in Haiti or as imaginary as the deck of a ship in Shakespeare’s play. But, what I have come to realize by reading about a fictional place is that they represent a moment, a feeling and a place that, regardless of truth or fact or social correctness, existed for the men (yes all men) writing about them. They are a place preserved in time and maybe it is our job as the inheritors of the literature to simply enjoy the journey. Shakespeare is correct and as his speech proclaims all life is ‘rounded with sleep’ and everything dissolves. But literature seems to have preserved that which time decays.