Since the 17th century, The Tempest has been staged in versions very different from Shakespeare’s, with some drastic alterations made to suit the changing tastes of its different audiences. This is a vicious ‘burlesque’ or mocking parody of The Tempest set in a seedy brothel.
What is the context of the play, and who wrote it?
The development of English theatre was stalled after Shakespeare’s lifetime by closures related to the Civil War and Commonwealth. After the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy, innovations such as female actors and spectacular stage effects were becoming popular. The 1664 version of Macbeth by William Davenant, for example, had the stage instructions ‘enter three witches flying’. Similar stage effects abounded in the 1667 version of The Tempest which Davenant made in collaboration with the poet John Dryden. An operatic version followed by Thomas Shadwell. This did little to tone things down, and ended with Ariel suspended above the stage and singing.
Thomas Duffett’s The Mock-Tempest, or, The Enchanted Castle burlesques the Shadwell/Davenant/Dryden version. First performed in 1674 by the King’s Company at the Drury Lane Theatre, it describes itself as The New Tempest in the version printed in 1675.
We know little about Duffett other than that, after a career as a milliner – a seller of women’s hats and fashions – he was writing plays between 1673 and 1676.
What happens in this version of the play?
Burlesque works by lowering the tone and Duffett makes the play ridiculous. Shakespeare’s Prospero is a Duke of Milan, a learned magician exiled to an enchanted island. Duffett’s Prospero, however, tells his daughter that he used to be ‘Duke of my Lord Mayors Dogg-kennel’, and is now reduced to running Bridewell, London’s prison for prostitutes. Instead of an atmospheric sea-storm, Duffet’s play opens with a raid in a brothel; instead of a magical reconciliation, the play closes with a chorus of pimps and bawds. Accordingly, Duffett mockingly adjusts the lyrics of the operatic songs inserted by Shadwell. So for ‘Arise, ye Subterranean winds’, we have ‘Arise, ye Subterranean fiends’.
Yet despite the savagery of this treatment, Duffett’s Mock-Tempest merely served as further publicity for the Dryden, Davenant and Shadwell version it was burlesquing. There is a skilful inventiveness to Duffett’s use of obscenity, but even contemporary audiences outside London found it shocking.