My First Introduction to Shakespeare’s The Tempest

We always hear stories from people – usually those who have achieved some great success and are being interviewed or otherwise lauded for their success – and they often seem to include a specific teacher or two who had a great influence on the person doing the “achieving.”

I of course had a few teachers/professors like this too (it’s just that I haven’t achieved anything yet!). Among them was an English Literature professor at Wabash College, one Thomas Campbell. At the time I was in college, he was one of the younger, “cooler” profs, and I took a class of his – damned if I can remember the exact title of it – on Medieval (& beyond) English Literature, dealing a lot with the Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, and Shakespeare, among others. Campbell was one of those professors who students could tell was genuinely excited about his subject. Professors like this always carried a little more authority with me, almost as if to say, “well here’s a grownup who clearly thinks this stuff is cool, so there must be SOMETHING to it, even if I don’t get it yet.”

Wabash College was a great school that often made non-standard forms of entertainment available (for free) to it’s students, including contemporary and sometimes classic movies in the huge campus theatre. (this building still makes me cringe in horror as I am reminded of sitting through a semester of 8am chemistry lectures in its amphitheater – staying awake through that entire period was a miracle rarely achieved; thank God handouts were provided!) Anyway, I think it was my senior year when they showed the classic 1956 sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet.

Professor Campbell was the faculty member who introduced the film to those in attendance (I was already familiar with it from seeing it on tv – possibly on WTTV’s “Science Fiction Theater” on Saturday night, which was a staple of the entertainment of my youth). He enthusiastically pointed out that the film was essentially a sci-fi version of The Tempest, matching the film characters to those in the play one by one. I remember that he also took time to point out some of the “campier” elements, e.g. that the crew of the spaceship – with their neat little uniforms and their caps resembled a professional sports club (“They’re a BASEBALL team!” I distinctly remember him proclaiming)

Anyway, once the intro was done we settled into our seats and enjoyed this classic movie. In fact, I seem to remember that – since these were the days of the old-fashioned films on reels (yes, I’m THAT old) – Campbell would take advantage of the reel-changing pauses to comment further on the film which again would often include it’s similarities to The Tempest. If you’ve never seen this movie, I’d recommend giving it a view. If you’re a sci-fi fan, you’re undoubtedly already familiar with it, BUT if you’re also a fan of literature and never made the connection noticing that it could be seen as a remake of The Tempest, it may be time to watch it again…

-Jay

Above: a movie poster for forbidden planet, and the house (since demolished to make room for a new one) where I lived most of my college days.