I have often wondered why The Tempest is not a play set more often by exam boards for younger students.
Perhaps it’s seen as too complex or perhaps A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth have been perennial favourites for so long that no-one can contemplate that young people might engage with anything else.
But the pace of the current RSC production of The Tempest would capture the attention of the most video game-addicted child.
By Shakespeare’s standards, it is quite short and contains few of the dense lengthy passages that can be deal breakers for young people.
It also has a lot to say about exactly the issues that are part of growing up. It is about education, power, authority and love.
Conquest over the “savage”, Caliban, had a particular interest for the early seventeenth century adventurers and while it now resonates with agonising contemporary guilt about imperialism, perhaps it speaks most to us about the nature of education.
Prospero has “educated” Caliban. He has educated his daughter, Miranda, too.
Yet the contrast between the two could not be greater. In modern educational terms, the teaching method, highly effective though it has been in producing two articulate people who can use language to great effect, is nothing like enough.
In the end the play appears to support the view that it is nature that is responsible for the difference, not nurture.
Caliban’s mother is the foul witch, Miranda’s a piece of virtue. Clearly, an educational theory not currently acceptable, it is balanced even within the play by a strong sense that Caliban’s teaching has been technically sound but not based in any moral value system or rather the values have been corrupt ones.
Though we are told Prospero’s and Miranda’s intentions towards Caliban were initially kind, all we see in the play is a cruel abuse of power and authority and the ultimate failure of punishment based on that.
We see Prospero’s zero tolerance approach to Caliban’s rebellions leading no where.
So a play for young people, very definitely, but also a play for all educators to contemplate.
* Sarah Evans, Principal, King Edward VI High School for Girls.