David Lindley. Shakespeare at Stratford: The Tempest. London: Thomson Learning, 2003. 192pp. ISBN 1 9034 3673 7.

Katherine Wilkinson
Sheffield Hallam University

Wilkinson, Katherine."Review of David Lindley, Shakespeare at Stratford: The Tempest." Early Modern Literary Studies 11.3 (January, 2006):12.1-6<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-3/revlind.htm>.

  1. The Tempest by David Lindley is one in a series of critical books that detail and discuss productions of Shakespeare by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon in the post-World War II era.[1]  Although a relatively short work, it is a full volume with a long list of illustrations (some previously unpublished), a list of review sources for each production discussed, and full cast and creative lists for each.  Each production of The Tempest is discussed in some detail, drawing on sources including video, audio, photographs, promptbooks and set designs and, as a result, this is a very thorough work.  The book is divided logically with chapters on the main characters, beginning with Prospero and Ariel and then moving more generally, grouping characters together with single chapters on Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo, and also Miranda and Ferdinand. [2]   Lindley ends the book with a discussion of the stagecraft elements, looking at the music and also the staging of the spectacular.  Although the book is split in this way, Lindley is quite systematic with each production, beginning with a description of the productions as a whole in the ‘Introduction’; he discusses each largely in chronological order.  This has its uses as it provides a structure for each chapter and aids in helping the reader to see the development of a social-historical context, and the technological advancement within the theatre industry.  This is made clear in Lindley’s discussion of the spectacular in productions of The Tempest:
    The earliest productions, oddly enough, perhaps had the easiest task, in that their audience was happy to accept spectacle for what it was. (206)
    This highlights practice and belief during the first years after The Tempest was written, but also draws attention to how, increasingly, as technology advances, the audience’s expectations increase; in this way Lindley uses production issues to put the play in an historical context.

  2. However, although this approach is useful for creating an overall image of the production history, the book can seem to read like a list, with readers feeling that they have revisited the same thing many times over.  What is also perhaps a failing of the series is that, as a result of simply being about the Stratford productions, the book lacks a central critical argument: Lindley’s aim is to describe to the reader what the productions looked like and how they interpreted the text.  This is apparent as Lindley discusses portrayals of Prospero in the first chapter:
    in different renditions the qualities will be very differently balanced.  There is, therefore, no simple way of categorizing Stratford performances since 1945, and it has seemed best to begin with an outline account of the successive Prospero’s, rather than imposing a schematic frame upon them. (49)
    That each production is, by nature, a different interpretation of the directors and actors means that the book does not lend itself to a coherent critical argument.  This aids that feeling of the book being largely descriptive.  Lindley does seem to address this problem though in his ‘Introduction’, as he states that “[Shakespeare’s] text is anything but clear even about the simplest details of how [The Tempest] might look, leaving a wide range of options for the director”(2).  In discussing this aspect, Lindley justifies his approach to describing the different ways in which directors interpret the text.

    The book, in being descriptive, relies on audience accounts.  Lindley draws on his own experience for some of the productions; for example, when discussing the use of music in the 1982 production Lindley makes references that come from his own, subjective, experience of being present at the performance (230-1).  Although one has to be careful when dealing with an account such as this that is coloured by the writer’s interpretation, in terms of performance it is useful because of the personal nature of theatre performance, and the experience of atmosphere that cannot be reproduced even by viewing a recording.  However, it becomes problematic in this book as Lindley was not present at many of the productions, and it seems that some miss out because of this: for example, the 1982 production receives extensive coverage where some of the earlier ones do not.  Therefore, the discussions of some rely far more heavily on review sources.

  3. The use of newspaper and academic review sources is extensive, and come from a wide range of publications covering the national daily broadsheets, tabloids, local, and academic publications.  Again, this lends itself to the bias of the spectator and writer, but it is also worth bearing in mind the audience for which the reviews are intended: for example, newspaper reviewers are far more interested than academic reviewers in how good a production or actor is.  Perhaps as a result of this, Lindley uses many academic sources, not least Christine Dymkowski’s 2000 edition of the text from the Shakespeare in Production series.  Lindley acknowledges his own debt to Dymkowski’s work:
    Anyone who now approaches the study of the performance of The Tempest is indebted to Christine Dymkowski’s Shakespeare in Production…her work has very significantly affected and assisted me at every turn. (xiii)
    It is useful for Lindley to make this point, as Dymkowski’s work is a good tool for critiquing his own: where, as noted, Lindley’s work is constrained by the limited scope of the series, Dymkowski’s is a far more general study, covering a longer period of time and a larger geographical area.  At times, the tight focus of the Shakespeare at Stratford series makes Lindley’s work seem misleading; there is a sense that the book is representative, but it is not: in total, it only covers 16 productions over a 56-year period by a single company.  This perhaps provides an understanding of the RSC approach, but not a full understanding of The Tempest in performance, or even of the RSC productions in performance context.

  4. As a result of the descriptive nature of the book Lindley seems to cover all angles in his approach; he therefore makes it very difficult to take issue with him.  This is evident, for example, in his discussion of Ariel and gender on pages 87 – 88.  Lindley draws on a selection of critics including Dymkowski, Michael Billington, Peter Holland, and Joy Parker, as well as his own observations, in order to discuss whether gender should have an impact on performance and reception of the character.  After a discussion of critics’ responses to Bonnie Engstrom’s 1995 performance, Lindley debates that “to imply that Ariel ‘should’ resent his service is not a necessary, even if it has become the dominant, reading of the role” (87).  The use of many viewpoints beside his own adds weight to his conclusion.  Lindley goes on to say that
    Ariel might, after all function not as a parallel to Caliban, but as his antithesis…And, indeed, if Ariel is played by a woman, then,…the potential exists for some kind of correlation to be set up between the spirit and Miranda. (87)
    By presenting the critics’ viewpoints just previous to this quotation, and then putting forward his own view, Lindley successfully presents and suggests myriad approaches, and therefore not any single one as the right approach.

  5.  Essentially, David Lindley has produced an in-depth account of RSC post-war productions of The Tempest that is successful in fulfilling the title’s aim.  However, it is one that, despite its thoroughness, can only be fully appreciated with further reading to put those productions in the context of the play’s history.  That said, Lindley has provided detailed, useful and accessible material for other scholars to draw on.


[1] Other titles in the series include King Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, and The Winter’s Tale.

[2] Lindley argues that “The fortunes of The Tempest on stage depend…on the actor playing Prospero”; thus the largest portion of the book is given over to the character of Prospero.

Work Cited


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk

© 2006-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).