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Shakespeare & Beyond

Teller and The Tempest: Magic in Shakespeare's time

CST The Tempest
CST The Tempest
CST The Tempest

Prospero (Larry Yando) suspends his daughter Miranda (Eva Louise Balistreiri) in midair as the ever-watchful Ariel (Nate Dendy) assists his master in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of The Tempest, directed by Aaron Posner and Teller, in the Courtyard Theater, 2015. Photo by Liz Lauren.

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the magician Prospero conjures up a storm, charms his daughter to sleep, and uses his power to control Ariel and other spirits. Is this magic for real, or is Prospero pulling off elaborate illusions?

Fascinated by this question and by Prospero’s relinquishing of magic at the play’s end, Teller (of the magic/comedy team Penn & Teller) co-directed a production of The Tempest  with Aaron Posner at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2015. (Teller and Posner had previously worked together on the 2008 Folger Theatre production of Macbeth.)

In this episode of Shakespeare Unlimited, Teller joins Barbara Mowat, co-editor of the Folger Editions, to talk about magic in The Tempest and other Shakespeare plays, as well as the attitudes about magic that Shakespeare would have encountered in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England.


It would be so much more convenient if there were a transcript.

Margaret Secara — March 12, 2016

I hope I can see this someday.

I like the take on this. I wish they had also discussed that what we know as illusions are how stage effects were created in Shakespeare’s day.

It got to the point that audiences became jaded and some theatres would post notices that said “no jugglers tricks used”.

Still a great podcast.

Joe — March 13, 2016

When I read The Tempest, I came to see it as a commentary on the religious events of the day. Prospero, might signify the Pope who was losing some authority as the Reformation took hold. Towards the end of the play, he buries the book and wand, which might be a metaphor for the Bible and cross. There are other allusions but these stand out to me.

David Calhoun — February 10, 2020