The Tempest

Sir Maurice personally never tired of reminiscing about his love of theatre and his passion for Shakespeare, especially for the play The Tempest and its heroine.

Sir Maurice Gwyer

Sir Maurice Gwyer, founder of Miranda House the famous women’s college on DU campus, ex-member of the Garrick Club and the Oxford University Drama Society (OUDS) was a towering personality with cold blue eyes and bushy eyebrows. He was also the first vice-chancellor of DU during the years 1947-50. It was my good fortune to work as a lecturer in this college named after Sir Maurice’s daughter, Miranda who was, in turn, named after the heroine of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Some of my senior colleagues who had known Sir Maurice personally never tired of reminiscing about his love of theatre and his passion for Shakespeare, especially for the play The Tempest and its heroine.

However, when the Principal of MH herself an alumnus of Girton College, Cambridge informed Sir Maurice that she intended to produce Shakespeare’s The Tempest, he wrote to her that she should give up the foolhardy idea and produce a play which was less daunting. He further pointed out to her that she had no access to the elaborate setting and props necessary for a play like the Tempest.

How would she cope with the storm scene at the opening of the play? In short, he warned her that her experiment would end in disaster. Why not a one-act play like the Dear Departed or the Proposal? was his tongue-in-cheek query conveyed through a letter.

A flurry of letters went back and forth, Sir Maurice getting testier and testier and the lady Principal more and more adamant to go ahead with her idea of The Tempest.

Invitations were dispatched a week before the performance. Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, the then health minister and Lady Mountbatten were among the distinguished invitees. Sir Maurice was to be the chief guest. The Principal herself supervised the arrangements on the morning of D Day. She was pleased with the rich riot of colours and the greenery of the surroundings which almost gave the impression of an island. As for the storm, it was to be seen how Madam was going to manage it.

Sir Maurice skipped the performance for he had no stomach for the mayhem, as he feared, the Principal had on offer. Of course, Sir M’s no show put her out of sorts. But she wanted to show him, the V-C of the University, ex-member of the Garrick Club that she was no less a Shakespeare aficionado than he. DU in the 50s was still under the spell of the Bard and the Shakespeare Club regularly put up an annual play. Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, The Comedies had all been on the repertoire of the men’s college.

However, no one had attempted to present The Tempest so far. Madam Principal’s intended foray into the play became a joke around the campus. On the night of the performance, the audience was in for a big surprise. And here was the surprise! The Principal had shifted the performance from the auditorium to the open air and skies. After all, Shakespeare had set the play on an island amidst natural surroundings, hadn’t he?

But whatever it was, coincidence, serendipity, call it what you will, for as soon as the imaginary curtain went up, there was a sudden cloudburst accompanied by thunder and lightning, and a veritable downpour to the astonishment of everyone present, including the Principal.

A drenched audience ran for cover. The providential storm had saved the play for the Principal. Everyone had got their storm scene and it didn’t matter now if the play was shifted back to the auditorium. The play was a great success.

But Sir Maurice was not amused.

 

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