Discovery and Enriched Awareness in ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Bridge to Terabithia’

Intrinsic to the human experience is our innate desire to uncover and discover aspects about the world. Inevitably, this also means we understand ourselves and the others around us even more greatly. This notion is reflected to a great extent in William Shakespeare’s 1611 Late Romance, The Tempest, and Gabor Csupo’s 2007 coming-of-age film, Bridge to Terabithia (Terabithia). in both texts, the protagonists undergo a tumultuous experience that ultimately results in their discovery, as well as the audience’s, of a renewed perspective about themselves end of the wider world. Thus, discoveries are an extremely significant aspect of the human experience that, without it, would not allow us to mature or grow.

Indeed, discoveries do not come easily–after all, it would be impossible for us to understand our capabilities without a trial to first challenge our tenacity. In The Tempest, this is true of Prospero’s journey to self-discovery, though in a subverted and unexpected way. That is, it is he that actually incites the eponymous storm, as seen by the active voice in his question to Ariel, “Hast thou performed to point the tempest // which I bade thee?” Shakespeare alludes to the metatheatricality of the play–that is, the notion of Prospero being a “playwright” in the narrative of the text– more directly connect to his audience about the surprising discovery that is to come. It is, in itself, a small discovery for the audience as they grasp a new understanding of how the form of theatre can be manipulated and subverted. However, the true discovery that arises from Prospero’s tempest is not simply his plan to force Antonio and Sebastian to realise their immorality, that he himself has been just as “immoral” and “inhumane” as his traitors have been, confronting notion that alters almost completely his perception of himself and his kingdom. After all, he does ultimately conclude that “the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance,” the alliterative antithesis revealing Shakespeare’s purpose to subvert audiences’ preconceived beliefs that the play is a tragedy and instead hearing to the optimistic conventions of Late Romances, as well as to emphasise that, as a result of his own storm bred to catalyse discoveries for others, Prospero has actually gained a new found understanding that he must be a benevolent character. Therefore, the composer deeply reflects the notion that, by subverting our perceptions of certain discoveries and challenging trials, one inevitably emerges with a more impactful understanding of their humanity.

This notion is also seen in Terabithia, which focuses on a young, isolated and alienated boy, Jesse, and his journey of discovering not only the magical land of Terabithia, but how he copes with the death of his friend, Leslie, and emerges with a more mature understanding of reality. Initially a place of great wonder that, with the help of Leslie, allows him to see the magic and curiosity in himself and the world, Terabithia becomes a regretful discovery for Jesse after he learns that Leslie drowned trying to cross the bridge. He is initially distraught, as seen by the mid-shot of him angrily throwing away the wind chime–a recurring motif and symbol of the magic of Terabithia–and his hyperbolic, childish words, “I’m going to hell because it’s all my fault Leslie died.” Jesse soon realises that he must grow from this extremely traumatic experience in order to “keep Leslie alive” and, in the process, learn that he is capable of resilience and of capturing his once-lost sense of curiosity, wonder and optimism. Following a long montage of Jesse rebuilding the bridge–as he emotionally rebuilds his character–a low-angle shot reveals his triumphant facial expression. Csupo asserts that this moment is truly the most significant one of self-discovery that, adhering to the coming-of-age genre conventions, Jesse undergoes, ultimately revealing to himself that, while death is an extremely difficult thing to process, particularly for the pre-adolescent child that Jesse is, it can offer us a new insight just how resilient humanity is. Thus, it is to a significant extent that the statement is reflective in this text.

Moreover, discoveries can also offer profound and new understandings about others in the world–it has a “ripple effect” that shows how the process of discovery is complex and ongoing, as it affects a wide range of people. This is, to a significant extent, reflected in The Tempest, we’re Shakespeare shows how Prospero’s journey of self-discovery reveals new aspects about himself, but how it can affect others in the world (within and beyond the universe of the text). His relationship with Caliban is ultimately re-evaluated by Prospero who, now realising his immature and naive beliefs that he was completely innocent, is also offered a new understanding about the natives of the Island. He even states that, “This thing of darkness // I acknowledge mine,” the metonymy and pun for Caliban’s perceived malice finally understood by Prospero as a product of his colonisation of the island. In fact, using the extremely direct and personal form of theatre (emphasised greater by its aforementioned metatheatricality) Shakespeare is actually offering to his audience a new understanding about their world and others in it. Being produced and initially received in a contextual period known appropriately as the “Age of Discovery,” Shakespeare confronts and challenges the paternalistic and condescending attitudes of colonisers at the time. After all, Caliban is neither a “credulous monster” or a completely flawless character–he did, after all, have plans for usurpation and alleged rape–but by presenting him as such a complex person, he offers a new perspective on the “savage” indigenous peoples that his audience initially believed were not as “civilised” as they were.

In Terabithia, Csupo also offers profound understandings of the world and others in it by revealing how Jesse’s newfound perspective impact those around him. Initially strained from his little sister, May Belle, Jesse realises the need to open himself to accept love from his estranged and chaotic family, as seen at the conclusion of the film, when he takes May Belle to finally discover Terabithia for herself. “Open your mind but keep your eyes closed,” he states, echoing Leslie’s words. The metaphorical antithesis is Csupo’s way of not only showing that May Belle is about to embark on a journey of discovery of the magical land herself, but that, for the audience, the sequence offers her a new perspective of the world. After all, Csupo employs very little special effects throughout the film, despite it being in the fantasy genre, to ultimately reveal that the true “magic” of Terabithia is not magic at all–it is simply a renewed perspective about the seemingly mundane reality of human existence that he uses the film as a medium to reveal this profound truth through. Thus, not only do composers show how discoveries can affect the understandings of those around the individuals of the text, but how it can also Insight change in the wider world.

Discovery is an integral part of the human condition–without it, we would never be challenged to seek new ideas or understandings about ourselves and others. In both The Tempest and Bridge to Terabithia, this is true. Shakespeare and Csupo assert to audiences the significance of discovery in allowing us to grow and “prosper” as individuals, as well as understand, with greater empathy, the world around us and others in it. Ultimately, the texts are journeys of discovery themselves, and by understanding the complex issues offered within them, we, as responders, understand the complexity of ourselves and others.