Shakespeare’s ingenious is exemplified in The Tempest, for his use of diegetic sound, and for utilizing the indoor theatre. Noise, or sound, is one of the most important elements of this play. It aids in providing the right atmosphere for key moments of action in the play, and it often creates a lasting impact on the audience, as opposed to words or dialogue. Even music can be a predictable element in the portrayal of the scene depending on the tone and volume. All of these facts pose the question, how does Shakespeare use the elements of sound/noise, to put the audience into a state of wonder or confusion? Is this intentional?
We open the play with a scene that suggests the reason for its appropriate name. A storm of strong winds, heavy rain, and traitorous waves, send the ships flailing in every direction. Thunder and lightening create a sense of danger, and power from up above. It definitely comes off some kind of warning. The sea is threatening to kill off the actors, before the play has even begun. Besides the chaos of the storm, there is a panic on the ship as well. What is significant about the dialogue on the ship is that the crew is given orders from the ship master in order to keep the boat from going under. The boatswain says, “Heigh, my hearts! Cheerly, cheerly, my hearts! Yare! Yare!
Take in the topsail.—Tend to th’ master’s whistle.—Blow, till thou burst thy wind, if room enough!” (Act I Scene I Line 5-8). Listening to all of these orders, makes me wonder how difficult it must have been to hear these lines at the same time the director of the film is giving them stage directions. There is a lot going on in this particular scene, and for the audience, it is a lot to take in. They never know what will happen next. This is especially true because this is a natural event, and there are forces outside of their control.
Aside from sounds of the natural environment, there is also a lot of music involved in the plot, that I feel is important to discuss. Caliban speaks highly of the sound created on the island. He states, “Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices that, if I then had waked after long sleep, will make me sleep again. And then, in dreaming, the clouds methought would open and show riches ready to drop upon me, that when I waked I cried to dream again.” Caliban is telling Stephano not to be afraid because the noises are sweet and harmless. He says he also hears instruments and voices at his ears that send him to sleep, almost like a lullaby. This is important because he is in a constant dreamlike state and his mind doesn’t know the difference between dreams and reality.
I believe Shakespeare’s use of natural noise, and location were expertly used and by beginning the play with sounds and not voices, we cross into a “brave new world.” He utilized the indoor theatre, which allowed him to create dark nighttime scenes without the interference of natural light from outside, and he could not be bothered by the government in a church owned theatre. I believe his use of natural noises and sounds were intentional in order to throw off the audience, and make the following scene of explanation, more clear.