BRAVE NEW BRAIN
Confronting the Burden
of Mental Illness
O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't! —William Shakespeare The Tempest, v, i, 182–186
H uman beings are wondrous, goodly, and beautiful creatures, as Miranda observed in Shakespeare's magical final play, The Tempest.This play was his farewell to London theater. Shakespeare wrote it in his late forties and then walked away forever, retiring to a quiet life in Stratford-on-Avon.We do not know why. In this last play that he would ever write, he must have wanted to give the world a message that he considered very important. Just as Romeo and Juliet is a great play for teenagers, The Tempest is a great play for grown-ups. It is about lofty and fundamental themes, such as conquering evil with goodness and ignorance with wisdom. It is about love and hope. Because it is both wise and affirmative, it is my favorite play.
Miranda speaks these lines when she sees other human beings for the first time, after a tempest wrecks a ship and the survivors struggle ashore. She has grown up on an isolated island, surrounded only by nonhuman creatures such as the ethereal spirit Ariel and the primal Caliban. Her father, Prospero, is the only human being she has ever seen. By a twist of fate, the survivors include Prospero's brother, Antonio, who betrayed him and banished him from Milan many years ago. Also among them is a handsome young man, Ferdinand, with whom Miranda falls in love. (Even at almost fifty, Shakespeare still understood the nature of being in love.) Miranda suddenly envisions a brave new world, filled with beautiful and goodly people.The play is about the reconciliation between the estranged brothers and the love that develops between Miranda and Ferdinand.
Despite the fundamental optimism of his final play, Shakespeare also knew that human beings can be very troubled creatures. The Tempest rec-