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The Tempest, Shakespeare, floating islands


In localizing The Tempest on “an uninhabited island,” the 1623 Shakespeare Folio associates the setting with the floating island that some masque machines represented. Such machines acted as movable stages to transport masquers from within the set to the spot from which their dances would begin; other masques allege that their immobile sets were also floating islands. Though the stages, permanent or temporary, on which The Tempest was performed were not mobile, they nonetheless were a kind of island surrounded by spectators, on which the magician Prospero, aided by Ariel, writes, casts, and directs a play whose roles are unwittingly performed by the Neapolitans who think themselves wrecked on an island that itself may be considered to be floating as the islands of masque were alleged to be.