The Tempest is a very strange play. It’s best to consume some quality cannabis when you set about solving the puzzle of its meaning. You must have the right mindset to understand what is going on in this play and the psychoactive effects of a fire sativa will get you on the level where you can begin to try to understand the character Caliban. The son of a witch, slave to a wizard, attempted and unrepentant rapist: he’s the Luis J. Gomez of Shakespearean characters.
If Luis J. Gomez were to play Caliban, it would only make sense for Big Jay Oakerson to be Prospero and Dave Smith would be Ferdinand. Nobody does moral ambivalence better in comedy right now than the Legion of Skanks and this play is very evenly fucked up. There is nothing about it that is unequivocally good.
Cannabis can help us to suspend our disbelief. In fact, it’s so effective at allowing us to believe in metaphysical things that the stoner has a bad reputation for being gullible. The stereotype of the stoner is that they are dumb to the world and therefore able to be duped. Find us in the woods looking for Bigfoot or watching the stars hunting for UFOs. It’s the goofier side of cannabis, but it’s good innocent fun.
Why does food taste better, why are jokes funnier, why do you get in the zone easier when you are stoned? I don’t know, but I practice what works and for me being stoned enhances my experiences across the board. There’s almost nothing that I don’t enjoy more doing stoned.
Cannabis is the comedy of drugs. It is the drug with the most positive benefits. It alters your mind in pleasurable ways and the side effects are minimal. Of all the drugs, it is the only one I want to do because it is overall uplifting and beneficial to the things I love to do. The fact that it does alter your mind, change your mood, enhance your performance, etc. makes it easy to see it as a kind of magical thing.
The Tempest is full of literal magic. Prospero creates a windstorm with his powers and uses it to cause a fleet of ships to wreck on his island. He controls the spirit Ariel and his slave Caliban with spells. He threatens Ariel to keep them confined to an oak tree and he constantly hounds Caliban with physical ailments and pains. Prospero is a jerk, but he is powerful at manipulating people with his magic that he derives from his studies, from his books.
Prospero is part nerd, part wizard, part victim, and part weirdo. If this is a self-portrait of Shakespeare as many people think, then it is a brilliantly self-deprecating one. Because Prospero is a racist, a manipulator, a power tripping bully. He’s an outcast, an outlaw but the little bit of power he acquires he uses to control everyone around him. Let’s face it: Prospero is a DICK!
He calls his daughter a wench, does some bizarre shit to set her up to fall in love with an heir to the throne of Milan. He’s a manipulative bastard. He’s a victim of his brother’s ambition but he leaves a lot of bodies in his wake. Even though he was betrayed by his family, sent to his death only to escape with his daughter by the kindness of strangers, he has no gratitude for life, only disdain for the people he interacts with. Prospero is fucked up.
It’s easier to empathize with Caliban. He was born on the island. His mother was exiled there, and she was a witch. Sycorax had enslaved the spirit Ariel prior to Prospero. She had set a precedent on the island for being banished and then taking it out on the innocent. Still, she was his mother. Caliban is the most clearly victimized by others in the play and his response to his abuse is malevolent hatred. He tries to rape Miranda, Prospero’s daughter and declares that he wishes he had succeeded.
You kind of get Prospero’s anger towards Caliban once you understand that Caliban tried to rape his daughter. It’s not clear if that is a result of rebelling against Prospero’s rule, or if that is just Caliban’s way. How is this a comedy?
Of all the plays categorized as comedies, this one lacks a strong female character. Miranda is the ultimate fantasy of the virgin. She has been raised on an island with no other people besides her father and their slave Caliban. Until she meets Ferdinand, she has only ever seen two men. Ferdinand immediately sees the freakish value of this uber virgin and is ready to marry her from the first moment.
The Tempest is a thought experiment dramatized. Even though there are weirdos power tripping everything works out in the end because the magic is overall good. Comedy is like cannabis because even though it is not going to solve the problems of a world set in motion by betrayal and narcissistic violence, it’s at least going to give us some respite.