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Helen Schlueter as Ariel singing during the enchanted circle scene. Courtesy | Shanna Cote

Under the tutelage of Hillsdale Academy Director of Dra­matic Theater Kathryn Wales, stu­dents from the Hillsdale Academy per­formed a slightly mod­ernized ren­dition of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” for their spring show on Friday April 12 and Sat­urday April 13.

In 2017, the Academy per­formed “Mid­summer Night’s Dream,” which was the first time the school had per­formed a Shake­speare pro­duction in 27 years. This year, Wales believed that the seniors could perform a play that was a little more chal­lenging.  

“The senior stu­dents could manage the play because of their expe­rience with poetry mem­o­rization and their appre­ci­ation for Shake­speare — because of their clas­sical edu­cation,” Wales said. “I think they really pulled it off.”

The first act of the romantic comedy opens in the middle of a tempest, with the King of Naples ship des­perate to stay afloat. The second scene takes place on the mainland, and the audience is intro­duced to the sor­ceress, Prospera, and her daughter Miranda, both of whom were mutinied on the island because Prospera’s brother Antonio betrayed her and stole her claim to be Duchess of Milan.  

Throughout the play, Prospera enlists the help of a sprite named Ariel to perform magical feats to bring the King and his men –– Antonio included –– to her lair. One of her ear­liest feats was luring the King’s son Fer­dinand to Prospera’s home. The sor­ceress coerced a ghastly slave creature named Caliban to make her island life easier. Her harsh treatment of both beings reflected her inner struggle to treat others with com­passion, after being so wronged by her brother. The tension to treat others humanely was a theme that man­i­fested itself throughout the play, and was resolved at its com­pletion.   

The only major change which the Academy made to the play was to make the orig­i­nally male main char­acter, Prospero, a female, Prospera.

In the original “Tempest,” the audience is told how Prospero is deeply steeped in the liberal arts tra­dition, and well read. To rep­resent Prospera’s edu­cation, a copy of Boethius’ “Con­so­lation of Phi­losophy” lays upon Prospera’s podium in her study over­looking the stage.

The book, which pop­u­larized the philo­sophical concept of an ever-moving “wheel of fortune,” with hap­piness and sorrow always tem­porary, pairs well with the various move­ments from “Carmina Burana,” the cantata that plays throughout the pro­duction, Wales explained.  The cantata begins with the song “O Fortuna,” and has ele­ments of the song in other songs. By linking these ideas, she said when Prospera is seduced by Fortuna, she is therefore trapped on the wheel of vice, which is demon­strated by her cruel treatment of other char­acters and her desire for vengeance against those who wronged her.  

The music dras­ti­cally influ­enced other char­acters besides Prospera. Nearly every movement from “Carmina Burana” was used, and according to Wales, this pairing has never been done before.  Academy music teacher Ross Bon­jernoor helped with the music for both Shake­speare pro­duc­tions.

“Mr. Bon­jernoor bor­rowed the melody that underlies the lyrics of number three ‘Veris Leta Facies’ and fit it to the text of Ariel’s song,” Wales said. “It was perfect.”

Bon­jernoor added to the depth of Ariel’s ethereal nature, simply by making her sing rather speak.  

Imme­di­ately before Prospera’s epi­logue, the penul­timate song from “Carmina Burana,” “Ave For­mo­sissima,” plays.  

“Those who know the music expect a reprise of ‘O Fortuna’ which is a bleak, despairing res­o­lution since it goes right back where it all started like any vicious cycle,” Wales said, “But instead, our Prospera hangs on the final note of ‘gen­erosa’ and then launches into her epi­logue.”

The nine months of prepa­ration that went into the unabridged 2423-line pro­duction, really showed in the high school cast’s clear delivery and emotion.  

In the final scene, Prospera makes amends with King Alonso by returning the prince. She for­gives Antonio for his treachery, and has her title of Duchess restored.  In the epi­logue, she reveals that without the audience’s help, she cannot be per­mitted to leave the enchanted island.

“There she implores the audience to set her free: from the wheel, from the island, and from her sins. Our applause does so, not returning to ‘O Fortuna’ but instead embracing Philosophia and her fruits –– for­giveness, friendship, love,” she said.

Wales said she hopes student actors will remember the play’s lines in their bones, and fall back on its ideas when they expe­rience tem­pests in their own life — espe­cially when tempted to hold a grudge — to recall that the only remedy is for­giveness.