Shakespeare — a name to conjure with! Yes, the immortal bard is finally appearing on my blog. That he was going to appear was pretty much inevitable, because one of the most famous references to chess in all of literature occurs near the end of his career, in the final act of The tempest. In it, young lovebirds Fernando and Miranda and playing chess in the primitive abode wherein Miranda dwells with her father. It could look a little like this:
There are many versions of The tempest, of course. There are countless movie adaptations as well as filmed theatrical productions. The screenshot above comes from the 2010 version starring Helen Mirren as Prospero. Well, Prospera in this version. The rest of the cast ain’t bad either: Oscar nominee David Strathairn, Oscar winner Chris Cooper, and Russell Brand.1 Unfortunately, the scenery is very disappointing. I want the island from The tempest to be a lush one, goddammit, with lots of trees and undergrowth and chattering monkeys and twittering birds. Instead, we get a volcanic landscape with barely a bush on it. Harrumph.
To make matters worse, our two young stars are playing with weirdly misshapen pieces, apparently cut from pumice or some such thing. This makes it well-nigh impossible to identify the position. One thing is certain, though: a1 is a white square. Rectifying that, we get to something vaguely like this:2
Black plays e6-e4 here, which explains Miranda’s famous “sweet lord, you play me false” line. Possibly, this is an insinuation that people in 16th century Naples played by a rule where a pawn could move two squares once per game, but not necessarily on its first move.
But it’s a rather academic question. Whether or not Fernando’s move is legal, he’s all kinds of busted. He’s down a queen, for example. Which, I guess, is why he’s trying to get a new one.
Realism: 0/5 The position above is illegal in view of the bishop on d3.
Probable winner: Unfortunately, this is one of these places where Shakespeare lets us down: the game is not finished in the play. Whether they played on afterwards is doubtful, so let’s call it a draw.