I never thought about the Harpy…

Sarah Gann

During one of the scenes in The Tempest by William Shakespeare,  the three villains, Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian, attempt to eat a feast that has been delivered by magic. However, this is really a set up by  Ariel, the spirit who serves Prospero, in order to torment the men. For Ariel’s entrance, the stage directions state:

“Thunder and lightning. Enter Ariel,  like  a Harpy, claps his wings upon the table, and with a quaint device the banquet vanishes” (3.3.70).

While reading this play, my mind didn’t give any special attention to the word harpy. While I knew that this was a bird-like creature, I wasn’t terrified at the imagery. Having read this line, I should have been prepared for this scene while watching The Tempest, but unfortunately, this was not the case.

On June 29, my class and I arrived at the Festival Theatre in Stratford for the 2:00pm showing of The Tempest. As the first show we saw on this trip, I was awestruck at the intricate set pieces, such as a beautiful, barren tree forming the home of protagonists Prospero and Miranda. The first act was amazing and had me wanting for more. By the second act, I was on the edge of my seat as I was so thoroughly engrossed in the events of the island. The spirit servants were delivering the food and the men were deciding to eat it. The next events all happened within a few seconds:

BOOM!! There was a clap of thunder.

The food vanished.

The Harpy unfurled onto the top balcony.

I jumped approximately 1 foot (or .3 meters) out of my seat.

All of these things happened so quickly that I am not sure what the actual sequence of events was. All I know is that my heart was beating so fast in my chest that I was worried I was going to have a heart attack, my jaw dropped and could not be put back into place, and my eyes were so wide they could have easily popped out of their sockets. I was quaking in my tennis shoes, not even able to comprehend the next few actions of the play due to the distraction of the giant, metal harpy. This bird was made of black metal, with a sharp beak and glowing red eyes. As I cannot describe this creature of nightmares in an adequate manner, please watch this video to get a glimpse of the terror palpable within the audience.

This video is not as terrifying as it was in person, but it should give you an idea of the horror I had not been expecting to face. After the conclusion of the play, my classmates and I were all sharing descriptions of the terror we felt in that moment, even though we had all read the play. My advice if you are going to see The Tempest in Stratford this season: Beware the Harpy.