Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: June ::
Re: Prospero, Miranda, *Tmp.*, and Character & Dogma
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0546.  Monday, 20 June 1994.
 
(1)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH>
        Date:   Sunday, 19 Jun 1994 20:50:25 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0543  Re: Prospero and Miranda
 
(2)     From:   Piers Lewis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Sunday, 19 Jun 1994 21:10:42 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0543  Re: Prospero and Miranda
 
(3)     From:   Steven Marx <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 20 Jun 1994 08:53:56 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   "kiss the book" Tempest 2.2
 
(4)     From:   David Schalkwyk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 20 Jun 94 11:35:01 SAST-2
        Subj:   Character and Dogma
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH>
Date:           Sunday, 19 Jun 1994 20:50:25 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0543  Re: Prospero and Miranda
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0543  Re: Prospero and Miranda
 
Topic: Morality on the Island
 
Lonnie Durham has started an interesting debate over THE TEMPEST, and he
himself has made some perceptive comments about the play. Caliban's alleged
attempt on Miranda's virginity and "honor," as Phyllis Rackin points out, is
especialy problematic.
 
Prospero asserts: "thou didst seek to violate/The honor of my child" (Bevington
1.2. 350-51), and Caliban does not deny the charge: "Would 't had been
done!/Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else/This isle with Calibans"
(352-54). I'd hate to be Caliban's lawyer, and Miranda (354-365) issues a
strong indictment. But the problem is that we, the audience, do not see what
happened. (And Terence Hawkes will be quick to tell us that nothing happened.
There is no pre-play action.) We either accept or do not accept these
statements.
 
I, of course, am not defending rapists. But what are we, the audience, to think
of Caliban's attempted rape? Was it a violent attempt? Or would ANY sexual
advance made by a non-European male be interpreted as "rape"? We all know the
offensive nouns used for the non-English. (Dagoland begins on the French
coast!) In Caliban's case, we may assume that any sexual overture would be
direct, crude, and pointed. But was it attempted rape, or ethnocentric
prejudice against the sexualized alien? (Compare Brabantio's comments on
Othello.)
 
I think Prospero's usurpation of the Caliban's island is similarly questionable
(1.2.333-347).
 
Yours,
Bill Godshalk
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Piers Lewis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Sunday, 19 Jun 1994 21:10:42 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 5.0543  Re: Prospero and Miranda
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0543  Re: Prospero and Miranda
 
My apologies to Lonnie Durham and the list for failing to get my question
pointed in the right direction.  I was not asking about Caliban but Prospero:
what is there in the words he, Prospero, uses that might lead us to suppose
that he is really lusting after his own daughter, appearances to the contrary?
 
Piers Lewis
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steven Marx <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 20 Jun 1994 08:53:56 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        "kiss the book" Tempest 2.2
 
In Tempest 2.2, Stephano's bottle of celestial liquor is the source of
enlightenment, medicine and power.  When he says _kiss the book_ in offering
drinks to caliban, I hear a Falstaffian mockery not only of Prospero's magic
scriptures but also of the colonial practise of bringing the natives the
miraculous technology of print (in the Bible) and of fermentation (in the
communion wine). It's the experience of drinking this unearthly liquor,
preserved in a _bottle of bark_ made _with mine own hands_ by Stephano that
leads Caliban to worship him as a god. My question is whether there is any
evidence of this kind of reception and exploitation of communion wine --an
ecclesiastical variant of trading whiskey for pelts--in the historical records?
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 20 Jun 94 11:35:01 SAST-2
Subject:        Character and Dogma
 
John Cox's quest for a non-dogmatic discussion of the question of literary
character is to be welcomed.  I would like to suggest that the issue is not
theoretical, but rather what Wittgenstein would call "grammatical".  In other
words, no matter what *theory* one may hold about whether Prospero can or
cannot have a character, if one wishes to talk about the significance of
literature for our lives one cannot help invoking the *grammar* of human
action, psychology, ethics, politics and sexuality.
 
There are of course ways of talking about literary texts that do not involve
reference to human action (and all the conceptual paraphernalia that that
involves): one can plot the distribution of finite verbs in a Shakespeare
sonnet, trace the purely formal relationships between novels, or look at the
changes that were made to Shakespeare's texts in the 18th century.  But perhaps
certain concepts are *inescapable* if we wish to see any relationship between
the words on the page and human life. In one sense this endorses Stanley Fish's
claim that theory makes no difference, although I would treat this claim much
more circumspectly and carefully than he himself does.
 
My point may be illustrated by Thomas Cartelli's essay, "Prospero in Africa"
(in _Shakespeare Reproduced_).  Cartelli laudibly attempts to foreground
African readings of _The Tempest_, notably those of Ngugi wa Thiongo, in order
to address Shakespeare's possible complicity in the play's appropriation by
colonizing powers. Throughout his discussion of _The Tempest_ he carefully
maintains a terminology that strictly complies with the theoretical conception
of the "death of the author".  Cartelli ascribes all agency or activity not to
Shakespeare the man, but to the disembodied "text".  Notions of the liberal
humanist subject are carefully avoided.  When he turns to a discussion Ngugi's
readings of Shakespeare, however, Ngugi appears again and again by name, imbued
with a powerful moral and political agency.  Not once is *his* equally textual
intervention ascribed to the "text".
 
Now I do not wish to accuse Cartelli of theoretical incompetence. On the
contrary, given the project of his essay, which is to allow the colonized to
speak, to recognize their suppressed and ignored moral and political agency, he
has no choice but to resort to the grammar of what we might call the "liberal
humanist subject", in spite of the anti-humanist theoretical credentials of his
discussion of Shakespeare.  (We could also note that the conceptual framework
of agency and morality is not eradicated by speaking simply of "the text": it
is shifted on to the text, now imbuing it with the grammar of all that has been
withdrawn from the human subject.  This, I take it, is one of Richard Levin's
major points in his notorious _PMLA_ critique of theoretical readings of
Shakespeare.)
 
Theory can do many important things.  There are, however, certain things that
seem to escape the reach of its tendency towards the dogmatic, and which even
theorists invoke unless they manage to delimit their mode of talking about
texts strictly from what we call the "human".  "Character" (like the "real
world") is possibly one of these.
 
David Schalkwyk
 
PS.  The position I am suggesting may be accused of promoting a dubious
conservatism: we can't change our "grammar", so best just go along with it.  I
am not at all opposed to changing what is oppressive: it is one of the reasons
I like Cartelli's essay.  I'm interested in trying to trace the limits of the
theoretical, and remain enough of a materialism to doubt that theoretical ways
of writing about texts can change what is after all the outcome of material
practice.  The "grammar" to which Wittgenstein alerts us certainly changes when
practices change, and that is because it is the product of such practices.
(Nor should we maintain too hasty and dogmatic a distinction between theory and
practice.  (There, covered, ... I think ...)
 
English Department
University of Cape Town
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.