Tempest: The Soundtrack

You can’t just read a play. It’s meant to be acted out and watched, not read off a piece of paper. That’s like reading on the dialogue of Harry Potter. It just doesn’t work.

Why else would high school teachers force us to watch movies where Kenneth Branagh is clearly showing off?

Ah, Branagh…you look ridiculous. (I’m not even getting to Ophelia’s penguin-straightjacket)

Short story long, you can’t just read plays, you need to watch them. You can’t just see the words, you have to hear them.

The Tempest is one of those plays that you really need to listen to. Half of the atmosphere is the music. The island is full of sounds, Ariel sings, Stephano sings–music is the key.

And, because I like movie soundtracks and scores so much, I thought I’d come up with one for The Tempest. All songs are hyperlinks to Youtube videos of the song.

Act 1, Scene 1

 The Escape from Cloud Atlas

I love how this song both begins and ends chaotically. If I could just cut those middle bits where it softens, I would, though it does give way for dialogue. It expresses the chaos that the ship is in, the panic emulating from everyone on board. It’s just awesome.

Act 1, Scene 2

This scene is so long I really have to give it multiple songs. I have no song for all the exposition. Well, maybe something nostalgic, but it doesn’t really work since it really is a really bland section.

I do however have something for Ariel’s Song, which isn’t Full Fathom Five, which we heard in class, but it immediately made me think of The Mermaid Song from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 

It works really well because the song is soothing and yet it carries such terrible news. It’s even the same terrible news–your loved ones are gone. Like Ariel’s song, you can’t help but be pulled in, hypnotized by the curious sound.

For Caliban’s first appearance, I’m tempted to put something like the psycho theme, but that’s not the true Caliban. He’s articulate, not crazy. He’s argumentative, not insane or stupid.

So I searched “Caliban” on Youtube. What did I get?

A screamo band. Yeah, no.

But then I realized that Caliban is sort of out of our comfort zone. He’s not human, but he’s not entirely monster. (Well, Miranda and Prospero would disagree with me, but if Caliban knows politics, he’s not entirely savage.) Adding to the discussion in class that The Tempest could be read as a play about colonization, I settled for Savages from Disney’s Pocahontas. This song emulates the conflict between Caliban and Prospero more than Caliban himself, though I think it gets into the idea about who really owns the island. Who is the usurper and who is the victim?

And do I have a song for Miranda and Ferdinand first meeting? It’s actually kind of a cop-out as it comes from West Side Story, which is broadway’s version of Romeo and Juliet. It’s Tonight.

This song is ridiculously cheesy, and discusses how Tony and Maria are in love with each other immediately. So…yeah, basically Miranda and Ferdinand. (Are all of Shakespeare’s romances like this?)

Act 2, Scene 1

Viva la Vida by Coldplay

Admittedly, this could work for Prospero’s back story, but I like to put it here because it suits Gonzalo’s mixed up commonwealth speech, as well as the struggle for power and conspiracy that Sebastian and Antonio plot. I guess it could also apply to Alonso, who is stranded and therefore is kind of lost as the King of Naples, furthermore since he believes his son is dead.

Gonzalo’s commonwealth speech always perplexed me, because of its similarities to communism, as well as its fallacies (which Antonio and Sebastian are so kind to point out). In the end i think it just reveals Gonzalo’s nature–not fit to rule, with a strange romanticized way of thinking.

Act 2, Scene 2

Ah, Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano. You idiots.

So what song to set for the commencement of the comic relief and a startling satire of the action in the play? In this scene they satirize Ferdinand and Miranda’s meeting, with the same idea that at first glance, one considers the other a god or amazement. I couldn’t think of a parody-gospel song that would be appropriate for the scene (simply because “parody-gospel” itself is inappropriate) so I’ll settle for the Rocky Road to Dublin from Sherlock Holmes, which has the same tune and swagger I picture Stephano having as he enters the scene drunkenly singing.

Act 3, Scene 1

Miranda and Ferdinand confess their love for each other. Cue cheesy romantic music, otherwise known as Everything by Michael Buble.

This works best because Miranda and Ferdinand have promised their lives to one another, initially doubting that the other reciprocates (which is only mildly ridiculous). By the end of the scene, they want to get married.

Act 3, Scene 2

Returning to the comic relief, the trio are now drunk and deceived by Ariel as they plan to usurp the island from Prospero, much like Sebastian and Antonio (which, honestly, is unnecessary as Prospero is booking his ticket out of there as they speak).

I think The Mycroft Suite from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows works best. It’s got an air of conspiracy or troublemaking while still sounding kind of goofy.

I always pictured them like a really drunk version of Sam, Frodo and Smeagol navigating their way to Mordor/Prospero’s cell…wow that could be the basis of a really interesting/perverse parody of The Lord of the Rings.

Act 3, Scene 3

The plot turns serious as Alonso and Company encounter a mysterious feast which appears and then is replaced with Ariel, who drives them mad.

So I’m tempted to use the Twilight Zone Theme, and while it does carry that air of suspicion, it doesn’t contain all the madness and chaos in the scene. Then I thought about certain Beatles songs that make it seem like you’re tripping out. I need something that shows the temptation and welcomeness of the feast, that quickly gets harsh and chaotic when the sh*t hits the fan and Ariel comes out.

In the end, I really couldn’t think of anything, so instead I picked Requiem for A Dream-Rock Version. It starts right where the table disappears and Ariel appears as a harpy and ends with his/her disappearance. It invokes terror, it invokes dread, it invokes the guilt that Ariel is charging them with. I like the electric guitar addition because it makes it that much more intense and chaotic.

Act 4, Scene 1

So this scene is really two parts: the masque, and the “conspirators” failing.

For the masque, I imagine something lighthearted and formal, like a harp. And what’s more soothing than classical music on a harp? That’s right: nothing. So for the masque, here’s Canon in D. It’s light, and airy, and I think that suits the goddesses (despite their capacity for rage and wrath). It’s very innocent, avoiding a passionate overtone that Venus would introduce if she was present for the masque. Also, this song is often played for the procession at weddings, and masque is in relation to Miranda and Ferdinand’s engagement.

For the second half with Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban, all drunken and epically failing due to distractions and dog spirits, and getting chased off stage. All I can think about is the Benny Hill Show Theme. And it’s not exactly scene appropriate, but can’t you just imagine them running around the island, drunk and afraid for their lives?

Act 5, Scene 1

For when Prospero draws the circle, and everything comes to a close I imagine something magnificent. His last show of real power and magic. Something that builds as he announces his final monologue and dissolves as the plot is finally resolved. For the final spell, Merlin Circle from Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is appropriate. As for the final resolution as they sail home, I think Grey Havens from Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It’s peaceful, contrasting the initial chaos of the play. It also connotes a little sadness for it ending, which I think works because Prospero puts it in the hands of the audience to release the “magic” that has kept them there.

So that’s my soundtrack. After all,

“The isle is full of noises, / sounds and sweet airs” -The Tempest (III.ii.133-4)


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