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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: July ::
Re: Tempest and Faust
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0706  Thursday, 30 July 1998.

[1]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Jul 1998 10:59:46 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0700  Tempest and Faust

[2]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Jul 1998 21:34:47 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 9.0700 Tempest and Faust

[3]     From:   Marilyn E. Bonomi <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Jul 1998 23:17:32 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0700  Tempest and Faust


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Jul 1998 10:59:46 -0700
Subject: 9.0700  Tempest and Faust
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0700  Tempest and Faust

The parallels between Faust stories and The Tempest have been noted for
some time.  I seem to recall this being mentioned in the introduction to
the Arden 2.  By the way, in some of the German tales, the magician's
familiar is named "Ariel."

I think this rather destroys the schematic division between neo-Platonic
'white' magic and 'black' magic that various early historicists liked to
hark on.  Prospero's work is dangerous.  It represents power over his
adversaries, a power he has great difficulty in giving up, and which,
except for the intervention of Ariel, would have been unleashed in the
most vengeful way.

Cheers,
Sean

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Jul 1998 21:34:47 +0100
Subject: Tempest and Faust
Comment:        SHK 9.0700 Tempest and Faust

It has long been my own contention that at one end of the spectrum lies
Marlowe's 'Faustus' and at the other Shakespeare's 'Tempest'.  Both
contain species of megalomaniacs -'over-reachers'- but there is of
course a major difference: Faustus is allowed the privilege of
exercising the staggering power he is offered and simply fritters it
away, not matching early rhetoric of mastery with action. Instead,
conjuring tricks, illusionist stuff, cheap and sometimes cruel jokes,
rabble-rousing anti-papist knockabout - all very meretricious stuff.
Until he sees Helen: the saddest moment in the play. For the first time,
he is confronted by beauty. BUT it is an illusion, for this is NOT
actually Helen of Troy at all that he has fallen in love with. It is
closer to a typical man-fantasy renaissance bimbo, supremely beautiful
maybe, but a devil merely impersonating Helen as a trick on Faustus
himself to keep him form repenting. Faust allows himself to be deceived
into accepting her reality. The big speech is fine, but is there not an
exquisite irony that at one of the truly memorable moments in the play's
poetry, Faustus is making love to an illusion?  But then he drives on to
self-destruction, warned, prayed for, begged and tugged towards a
salvation he will not bend his will to accept.  He goes to Hell, because
he does not know where the brakes are, or if he does, he simply will not
activate them to arrest his headlong progress. The power he wills at the
start of the play rules him, and finally sweeps him away. Nietzschean
will to power to destruction perhaps? Maybe that's OTT. Lots more to
say, but this is an e-mail posting, not a seminar paper!

And Prospero?

He really has the kind of power that even Faustus would dream about:
total power over the proximate elements, power over even life and death
(God's privetee?), he makes beauty, he makes torture, he has servants
who obey his every whim, a daughter who worships him and who is only
just second to his books, AND he is unchallenged - maybe even
unchallengeable within his sphere. BUT then he does have challenges,
ironically of his own invitation: the Milanese / Neapolitan Wedding
party are made to crash, made to come on shore, preserved and then drawn
to a final showdown with the man they have collectively and individually
wronged years before - a grudge that has gone on hurting and festering.
But Prospero has awesome power, and is manifestly seen in the play to
exercise it spectacularly - at the very edge of what the current stage
machinery could encompass, one speculates. The wonderfully innocent
stage direction - he claps his wings upon the table and the banquet
disappears. Crumbs!! The theatre is littered with the corpses of stage
managers hanging gibbering and screaming from the flies in their
desperation in interpreting THAT! And that is only one such of a series
of stipulated stage procedures indicating just how far the play required
demonstrations of astonishment, beauty and power. But it is no hassle
for Ariel. Indeed, nor is it difficult for Propsero to imagine them: he
utters salvoes of such commands in the total confidence that all will be
executed - even to opening graves and letting forth the spirits of the
dead?

BUT what does Prospero do then? He stops. Can I say that again - he
STOPS. How many in history accoutered with such devastating power have
ever simply put it down and walked away, satisfying himself with stern
words, secret whisperings, and the gift of love and humble
reconciliation? And is that not the point? Prospero demonstrates that
man has the potential for limitless devastation, moral duplicity,
cruelty, beauty, tyranny, fatherhood, friendship and moral virtue, and
that in the end, he at least can simply see the path to destruction when
Ariel has those amazing words at the start of Act 5: 'mine would, sir,
were I human' So simple, but they stop Prospero in his tracks along
their primrose path, turns form the Faustian way with the antidote to
all the tragedies - particularly Lear - with 'The rarer action is in
virtue than in vengeance' - easy words, no great surprise in them, we
think in the darkened theatre. BUT then the man actually turns the pious
platitude into action before our eyes: he simply drops plans for a
stored vengeance. He breaks his staff, buries his books certain fathoms,
deeper than did ever plummet sound. Why? so no one else can ever get
them. It is always said that whether we ban nuclear weapons or not, the
stark truth is that we can never un-learn how to make them, we cannot
disinvent them. Prospero does: he releases Ariel, he ensures that no one
who follows him will ever have access to that truly universal sovereign
sway and masterdom that most tragic heroes crave / boast / abuse. He
apparently had the power of life and death in some form or other, but he
renounces it. I cannot think of anyone in history who has done that, and
been totally and indivisibly human? Certainly not in literature.  So at
one end, a man who destroyed himself through greed for power, and at the
other, a man who finds himself by renouncing what is more than a dream,
but a reality for him. He discovers that to be truly human is to
renounce, not to possess. Uncomfortable lesson for the mighty? For
anyone? And for kings who may have watched the play in London? Very
uncheery stuff indeed, I'd say.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marilyn E. Bonomi <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Jul 1998 23:17:32 -0400
Subject: 9.0700  Tempest and Faust
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0700  Tempest and Faust

Re Shattuck's
> reading Shakespeare's<<The Tempest>> as a modified Faust play

Modified in that unlike Faustus, who cannot bring himself to repent,
Prospero throws away his book?  Is this text offering the suggestion
that Shakespeare has Prospero reject rationalism, humanism, etc. to
realign himself with the medieval logocentric view of the universe?

Marlowe seems to me to be deconstructing the traditional Christian view
by presenting a protagonist who is trying to construct himself, having
discovered what James Rhodes has called the "awful presence of God's
absence" to be reason enough for the choices he makes.  (And I'd argue
that Faust does not repent b/c he cannot ever accept that there is a god
to forgive him.  Part of him never believes either in Hell OR in
Heaven.)

Prospero on the other hand does "repent" of his necromancy, if we are to
maintain the parallel between the two plays.  He abjures magic, he frees
those spirits over whom he had maintained control.  He takes up again
the temporal roles he had rejected.  Are we to read the last scene of
this play as a reconciliation with the Christian divinity?  As an
abjuration of the hell awaiting those who seek knowledge not outlined
(or ordained) in church-sanctioned texts?

I'd like to see additional discussion of this topic, from the many
SHAKSPERians who are far more knowledgeable than I on both Marlowe and
Shakespeare (Stevie Simpkin, where are you?)

Marilyn B.
 

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