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Eduardo De Filippo & The Tempest CONTAINS AUDIO (AT THE BOTTOM)
In 1982 the great Neapolitan playwright, Eduardo De Filippo (1900-84) (pictured) was approached by Einaudi publishers of Torino to contribute a translation to a series to be entitled Scrittori tradotti da scrittori [Authors translated by Authors]. Einaudi suggested a work by Shakespeare, and Eduardo settled on The Tempest for various reasons, among which was, in Eduardo's words, “the benevolence and tolerance that pervades the entire story.” Eduardo's translation of The Tempest into the Neapolitan dialect appeared in 1984, the year of his death. (There is an Italian translation by Cesare Vico Ludovici from 1953, also published by Einaudi.) The choice of Neapolitan was a natural since that is the language that Eduardo wrote in; he is the best-known and most popular Italian dialect* playwright in the world. In keeping with the times in which The Tempest is set, Eduardo chose an archaic form of Neapolitan (from the 1600s), not at all easy to understand for modern Neapolitans, any more than Shakespearean English is to the speakers of modern English. The choice of Neapolitan was a natural also because the plot of The Tempest takes place on an imaginary island in the Mediterranean and the “King of Naples” and “Prince of Naples” are characters in this story of a shipwreck and an island. If you need a location, there are few dozen tiny islands surrounding Sicily. Imagine another one. That's close enough.
*note to 'dialect' - I am using 'dialect' in the linguistically precise sense of "variation of a standard language" with no sense of 'dialect' being less than or in any way inferior to the standard, regardless of what sociological perceptions may be. That is, "Oh, that's just a dialect" is, linguistically speaking, nonsense. Readers should bear in mind that "dialects" can become "languages" (Catalonian) and "languages" can become "dialects" (Neapolitan) through political processes and that the choice of "national language" is usually the result of such processes.
Prospero and Miranda
from a painting by William Maw Egley c.1850
This is not any sort of an essay on The Tempest, but I remind readers of a few essentials. First, it is the last complete play the Bard ever wrote (although he did contribute later to John Fletcher's (1579–1625) Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen). Shakespeare completed The Tempest in 1611, he died in 1616. Second, as Eduardo says, the play is totally tolerant and benevolent. It is a sunny comedy, but, in the medieval style of the Italian Commedia dell'Arte, the characters are exaggerated character types rather than real persons: that is, just as in Neapolitan Commedia dell'Arte, where Pulcinella is the dark and enigmatic jester, in The Tempest, Prospero, the main character, is the highest wisdom, a great and benevolent magician (back in the days when “magic” was “magick” and really meant the study of all phenomena—see entry on Giovanni della Porta); Miranda (Prospero's daughter) is the elemental compassionate young woman totally unaware of the world; Gonzalo is the figure of humor and common-sense; Ariel is a benevolent free spirit; Sycorax an evil witch; Caliban a villainous native, and so forth. There are also some villainous noblemen.
The whole plot is said to take only three hours. Prospero (the rightful Duke of Milan) and Miranda live on an enchanted island. Prospero plans to regain his dukedom and restore his daughter to her rightful station. He conjures up a tempest and the shipwreck of a vessel aboard which are the evil-doers who had marooned him and Miranda years earlier, and the show is on. At the end—talk about benevolence and tolerance—no one dies, the bad guys are not even punished, the ship was not really wrecked, the storm was an illusion. They all get what they want or are forgiven and you can bet that most of them live happily ever after. Miranda, so totally amazed at all the wonderful men around her, is given what has become one of the most lasting phrases in our language: “O brave new world that has such people in't!"
A marionette puppet version of La Tempesta inThe Tempest is totally fictitious, even though the idea of the shipwreck may be based on the real-life shipwreck of the Sea Venture in 1609 on the islands of Bermuda, an event that was much in the news of the day. The rest is total fantasy, although mentions of Naples and Milan make it sound 1550-ish. (For example, there was no "king of Naples" from 1503-1700; Naples was a Spanish vice-realm. There was a string of viceroys. But that's a quibble.) The play has inspired an enormous number of tributes and variations over the centuries—including poetry by Shelley and Auden, countless paintings, incidental music, operas, ballet, film and TV productions and even the 1956 science-fiction film, Forbidden Planet. As well, it has been mined for sociological and psychological insights on colonialism, the subconscious and feminism. The Tempest has been translated into many languages, including Japanese.
Neapolitan staged in Naples in 2014
And third, it is now at least a plausible part of Shakespearean scholarship that in The Tempest, Shakespeare was writing about himself; he is Prospero, the grand magician, and the play is his farewell to writing and to life. (One can imagine that that was another reason for Eduardo's choice to do this work; it was his last work, as well.) Those who want to believe that can point to one of the most famous passages in our literature, spoken by Prospero in Act 4 Scene 1:
That is a strangely melancholy passage for a light-hearted work, almost like an epitaph. The final passage, the epilog, is also in the same vein. He (Prospero, Shakespeare, Eduardo) is giving it up (magic, writing, life), but he knows why he has lived: “With the help of your good hands. Gentle breath of yours my sails must fill, or else my project fails, which was to please.” That is to say, “The gentle wind you blow with your applause will fill my ship’s sails. Without applause, my plan to please you has failed.” He has lived that his work might please....Our revels now are ended. These our actors,/ As I foretold you, were all spirits and/
Now my charms are all o'erthrown, / And what strength I have’s mine own, /
Below, you find the Neapolitan text as it appears in the 1984 edition of La Tempesta, pub. Giulio Einaudi, Torino, ISBN-88-06-05701-4. According to Eduardo, his translation is 16th-century Neapolitan "as written down by someone in modern times," thus avoiding archaicisms "not used for centuries". He praises Neapolitan from that period—the musicality, the way in which final syllables are not truncated, and the ability of the language "to bring magic and mysterious creatures to life." Click on 'Epilog' (below) to hear Eduardo De Filippo reciting the passage in his Neapolitan translation. The original is in rhymed iambic tetrameter. Eduardo's translation is a monologue written as a single paragraph, as you see here.