Get ready for a magical evening of Shakespeare on the Common as the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company stages The Tempest, this year's annual family-friendly "Shakespeare in the Park" production of free Boston theater during July and August.

Watch the actors on stage above a grassy slope as this classic Shakespearean story about magic, betrayal, revenge, and family loyalties plays out before you. 

There's nothing more perfect than enjoying one of these wonderful Shakespeare on the Common performances under the stars on a balmy Boston summer evening.

Performances take place in July and August on a temporary stage near the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common. 

Bring a blanket or low folding chair to sit on, and get ready to be entertained, to have your thinking challenged in new ways, and to listen to the thrilling language of Shakespeare, as meaningful today as when he wrote this play four centuries ago.

Bonus:  Shakespeare knew the power of laughter - so even in his most tragic plays, you can always expect some comic relief.

Check exact dates/times on the Boston Event Calendar for July (or August)

"Cheat Sheet" for Shakespeare's The Tempest:  Can't Quite Recall this Play?  Here Are Highlights

Shakespeare is believed to have based The Tempest on a real-life travel story that he read about a fleet of nine ships belonging to the Virginia Company that became caught in a hurricane (ie, tempest) while on a supply run from England to Bermuda in 1609.   Just as they approached the islands, one of the ships crashed as it hit the shore, but rather miraculously according to eye witnesses on other ships, everyone on the ship survived unscathed.

Eye witnesses also reported seeing a "little round light" that seemingly flitted around the crashed ship all night.  This is now believed to be the phenomenon called "St Elmo's Fire," the luminous spots sometimes produced after a hurricane but 400+ years ago, it probably seemed other-worldly.  The reports of these little flashing lights may have been Shakespeare's inspiration for the fairy-like sprite Ariel, one of his most charming magical characters.

Setting for The Tempest

A (mythical) Mediterranean island - although the shipwreck may have inspired Shakespeare occurred in England's then-new colony of the Bermuda islands.

Plot of The Tempest

As is so often true with Shakespeare's places, get ready for a plot with many twists, turns, and subplots. In The Tempest, a heavy dose of magic adds to the action.

Here is a bullet-point summary of the major initial developments in The Tempest's plot:

  • Prospero, once the Duke of Milan before his brother Antonio and Alonso, the King of Naples steal it away from him, and his young daughter Miranda are set adrift at sea and wash up on an island where they enslave a local inhabitant named Caliban.
  • Twelve years later, Prospero and the spirit Ariel perform some magic and create a storm that causes a vessel to shipwreck on the island - part of a plot concocted by Prospero to regain his power.  On board is Alonso's brother Sebastian, son Ferdinand, trusted advisor Gonzalo, plus a few attendants. 
  • Prospero and Ariel perform more magic and divide the shipwreck survivors into three groups.
  • Prospero successfully plots a romance between Miranda and Ferdinand - no magic required.

At this point, a series of subplots develop:  a couple of attempted murders, a masque ball featuring appearances by the goddesses Juno, Ceres, and Iris, a lecture on chastity, and a chase involving some dog-shaped goblins from a swamp.  Will revenge or supernatural powers win?  Well, this is a comedy - so you can probably guess the outcome.

Commonwealth Shakespeare's productions are always fast-paced, entertaining, and thought-provoking.  The Tempest promises to be an evening to remember.

What is the Meaning of The Tempest

On the surface, this play seems like pure entertainment - a riff on the "all's well that ends well" theme that Shakespeare entertains in many of his romantic mix-up comedies.   

But some critics looking for a broader meaning suggest that Shakespeare may have been a couple of themes:  the nature of illusion (ie, magic and theater itself), and the role of England, the colonizer, in demonizing the natives (such as Caliban) of lands they colonized in order to justify their enslavement.  Other themes that emerge center around guilt and lack of penance among the colonizers, and the tension between negotiation and rebellion among those who are colonized. 

What, if anything, will Commonwealth Shakespeare do with these themes?  The answer will unfold during July and August - and, as always with this particular theater troupe, it is sure to be interesting and thought-provoking.

Why Does this Play Seem Familiar?

In addition to being one of Shakespeare's most frequently performed plays on the stage, The Tempest has inspired numerous movies and even TV shows.  Most recently and notably: 

  • The 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (Robby the Robot in the role of Ariel is a must-see)
  • A 1960 Hallmark Hall of Fame performance with Richard Burton as Caliban, Lee Remick as Miranda, and Roddy McDowell as Ariel
  • A 1969 Star Trek episode: Requiem for Methuselah
  • A 1982 modern-language version which mostly feels dated and definitely not modern but is worth a look on Netflix because of the cast: John Cassavetes, Raul Julia, Gena Rowlands, Molly Ringwald, Susan Saradon
  • A rather interesting 2010 version with Helen Mirren playing Prospero

Finally, you can even detect echoes of the shipwreck and other aspects of The Tempest in the 1998 rom-com Shakespeare in Love, a sort of mash-up of a number of the master playwright's works starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck, and Judi Dench.

Bottom Line: Will You Enjoy The Tempest?

Yes, absolutely.  Commonwealth Shakespeare Company excels at making even the most difficult plays accessible, so a light-hearted romantic comedy such as The Tempest is easy to love.  You can be sure they'll deliver an absorbing, compelling, contemporary performance to leave you entertained ... and perhaps even thoughtful.  And who can resist magic?

Where to Stay Nearby

Watch Shakespeare on the Common, and then stroll back to your hotel in five minutes or less when you stay at one of these popular hotels overlooking the Common, or just a block away.