How did they (make a banquet vanish) in The Tempest

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Those of you familiar with Shakespeare’s late play The Tempest may recall that it includes a scene in which a banquet offered to the no doubt hungry men is made to disappear just as they reach for it. Here is that moment in the text

ALONSO

I will stand to and feed,
Although my last: no matter, since I feel
The best is past. Brother, my lord the duke,
Stand to and do as we.

Thunder and lightning. Enter ARIEL, like a harpy; claps his wings upon the table; and, with a quaint device, the banquet vanishes

With a ‘quaint device’? what could that be? To us the word quaint implies something a little old fashioned but for Shakespeare the word meant clever. So what is being said is something like ‘with a neat trick the banquet vanishes’. You may think that without a resident magician in the company such a feat would be hard to bring off on an open stage with the audience on three sides.

Illustration by Ian Dickinson

In fact the ‘trickery’ is quite simple. A flip top table. All that is required here is for the actor playing Ariel to activate a leaver of some kind whilst obscuring the act with his Harpy wings, the lid flips and the banquet disappears. Whilst this trick might seem a little old fashioned to us now, I was interested a see a version of it used – with the addition of some nice lighting effects – at the most recent RSC production (Spring 2012). So sometimes an old trick still works very well.

If you are enjoying this series may I recommend “Enter The Whole Army” by C.  Walter Hodges which is a very readable account of Shakespearean staging possibilities. 

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT
  • timothy nielsen

    You have a number of lovely illustrations by Ian Dickinson on your blog. I’m curious if he made these specifically for you, or is his work available and published anywhere? I did some searching online to see if I could find more of his work, but to no avail.

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