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From Classic to Contemporary: The Tempest into Tempestuous

Classics — whether they are novels, plays, or epics — offer us great characters, interesting plots, and lots of things for discussion … but sometimes they can be a little tough to tackle. Sometimes we adore them, but sometimes we can’t get past page 3, let alone the requisite 50. That doesn’t mean that we should give up what they have to offer, though, does it? Many of today’s authors try to use these classic works as a starting-off point to write a more modern version. If done well, these contemporary versions can have a huge impact and impart the same wisdom that made the earlier story gain its classic status. Jessica Pryde and I decided to find and examine some great pairs of classics and their contemporary rewrites to see if they are successful … or maybe not.

The Classic: Shakespeare’s The Tempest

The Tempest is thought by many scholars to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone. Written with a slightly different, more carefully worded Neoclassical style, this play relied heavily on the actors’ stage performances to bring the tale fully to life. Now considered one of Shakespeare’s greatest works, it has been adapted frequently, largely in musical forms, including over forty different versions set as operas.

The Tempest tells the tale of Prospero, a man who was once a great Duke. Through his brother’s machinations, he was deposed and banished with his young daughter. In order to bring his now grown daughter, Miranda, back to the life where she properly belongs, Prospero uses a great storm to bring the King of Naples and many courtiers, including his brother, Antonio, to their remote island. With the assistance of his air spirit, Ariel, Prospero manipulates those who have wronged him, finally bringing them before him for judgement, and ultimately forgiveness. He also introduces his daughter to the King’s son, Ferdinand, causing them to fall instantly in love, and secures their future marriage. The play concludes with Prospero leaving the island and his magic behind.

Though The Tempest is hailed in classical literature, it is not always easy to navigate. With characters whose connection to the story is not always immediately evident, long and ponderous monologues from Prospero, and some archaic language, it is no wonder that many find the story much more palatable in non-written form. It is for this reason that so many of the story’s reinventions have been done in a musical format that allows the audience to experience the story through a performance.

The Contemporary: Kim Askew and Amy Helmes’s Tempestuous

This first book in the new Twisted Lit series takes Shakespeare’s tale and moves it to a modern day setting.  After losing her status as “It Girl,” Miranda Prospero is forced to work at one of the awful food stands in her local mall’s food court. When one evening, Miranda, her coworkers, and some teen shopaholics get snowed in at the mall, things quickly get ugly. While Miranda is trying to get revenge on her slimy ex-boyfriend and her former frenemies, she accidentally gets handcuffed to Caleb, a loner who works at the video game store. As the two must work together to pull off a birthday party for Miranda’s new best friend, Ariel; keep the prep school kids from harassing the “lowly” mall employees; and ferret out a dangerous thief who is ripping off the mall’s high end stores, Miranda finds herself. Each scheme, each experience, each potentially romantic moment helps her to learn more about herself then she ever knew as she was reigning as the local Queen Bee.

Based loosely on The Tempest, Askew and Helmes use several of the most well known elements from the original, but they also take liberties in creating their own spin on the story. Miranda takes on both the role of magical father and innocent daughter in Tempestuous, becoming the dethroned schemer that falls into a new love and brings together the “courtiers” and peasants in her world. The King’s courtiers change genders and become Miranda’s ex-best friend and her clique. Ariel is still an ethereal being, though not technically an air spirit. Miranda’s prince, Caleb, works at the video game store … and is not always the most affable guy, though he does still teach her to play chess. Tempestuous is much lighter and the twists and turns of the subplots are easily relatable to today’s teens readers. At times, some of the Shakespearan language creeps in, causing the dialogue to sound a little stilted, but the overall intrigue of the plot keeps readers salivating. In fact, this modern version, though bearing the bones of the original story, can absolutely be read and enjoyed with no prior knowledge of its predecessor.

Have more classics and their contemporary updates that you’d like us to compare and contrast? Let us know in the comments!

— Jessica Miller, currently reading The Humming Room by Ellen Potter and The Heretic by Joseph Nassise.

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Jessica Miller