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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0436  Friday, 15 February 2002

[1]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Thursday, 14 Feb 2002 10:04:54 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0424 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest

[2]     From:   Paul Swanson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 14 Feb 2002 18:35:24 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0424 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest

[3]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Feb 2002 11:45:48 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0415 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest

[4]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Feb 2002 11:45:28 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0424 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Thursday, 14 Feb 2002 10:04:54 -0600
Subject: 13.0424 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0424 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest

Many thanks to those (DL and others) who responded, both positively and
negatively, to my earlier posting . Not a brickbat thrown. (And I was
imagining myself in the role of Krazy Kat, clasping my paws and saying,
"Little Darlink," as yet another brick from Ignatz crashed into my
cranium.)

The point about slaves and slavery is, of course, quite correct in one
sense: it is Shakespeare's term for the relationship of Ariel and
Caliban to Prospero. But our contemporary reaction to the word "slave"
will be rather different from that of his audience. To us, still
struggling to undo the sins of our fathers, the word has an array of
powerful connotations that we don't want to lose (lest we deny the past)
but that distort the sense of it in context.

(Possible parallel: I have heard that Navajo and other Native American
craftmakers have had to leave their version of the swastika out of any
materials they might want to market -- even though it is quite
innocent.  Thoughtful Americans and Europeans can't abide it, even
knowing that it was a sacred decoration a thousand years before Hitler.)

It is another, but related, matter whether Shakespeare was making either
a pro or anti-racist (or colonialist) point in the enslavement of the
sub-human Caliban. Sub-humanity and the benefits of enslavement by a
superior culture were certainly among the primary justifications of
slavery in the US -- but two centuries after his death.

The ideas were already in circulation in Spain and Portugal (I believe),
where the African slave trade to their American colonies was already
burgeoning. But England had nothing of the sort -- except Ireland. God
knows the English treated the Irish as badly as they could, but I
somehow doubt that Caliban is an ironical portrait of a bog-trotter or
tory (original meaning) abused by an interloping landlord.

That being the case, then I continue to feel that productions or
critical interpretations that do make such racial-colonial points are
forced and misleading.

On the other hand, as I said before, I am not at all enamored of the
ending of the play and find it difficult to understand by any theory.

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Swanson <
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Date:           Thursday, 14 Feb 2002 18:35:24 -0600
Subject: 13.0424 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0424 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest

>Robin Hamilton writes, "KP objects to "attendants"
>and suggests they should be called "slaves"-- and I
>grant her point. I don't agree with it, but I
>recognize that you could use the negative term rather
>the positive.  But to what end? To impose some late
>20th Century political agenda on an early 17th
>Century work? ...Curious that all three slaves get
>the same reward -- freedom.  Perhaps Shakespeare is
>trying to tell us something?"

I think he is, but to me, the interesting thing is how that "freedom" is
achieved in the play.

Contrast this to Sebastian and Antonio. The only time either of them
mentions the word "free" is in their plot to kill Alonso: "Draw thy
sword! One stroke / Shall free thee from the tribute which thou payest /
And I the king shall love thee." Unlike Prospero, their freedom is
TAKEN, contigent upon the violent murder of one who inhibits their
ambition. In this, of course, Shakespeare parallels their violent nature
with Caliban's. Prospero gives freedom to others through "the rarer
action" of "vir

The freedom of the "slaves" at the end of the play is only one aspect of
the "freedom" the play treats on. Antonio and Sebastian have lost their
emotional freedom to their evil natures, but others in the play, such as
Prospero and Alonso, are freed from their "human" griefs and pains.

Paul Swanson

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Feb 2002 11:45:48 -0000
Subject: 13.0415 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0415 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest

Larry Weiss takes exception to Constance Jordan's "unmitigated pap":
"Does Jordan really suggest that Caliban could not recognize the
different magnitudes of the sun and moon before Prospero came?  All
Caliban says is that Prospero taught him the names of the celestial
objects". Yes, precisely - that is all Caliban says. He does not say
"You taught me to name the sun and the moon". So, Caliban (for all we
know) has been taught that the names of the sun and moon are "the bigger
light" and the "less". It is significant that the "language" Prospero
teaches Caliban is the language of quantity and of economy, just as it
is significant that Prospero's "profit" on it is that he learns how to
curse.

To miss the economic undercurrents of The Tempest is not to be
"Un-Marxist", but tone-deaf.

Regarding the quip about entrepreneurs and janitors, as I argued in my
previous posting, it is the job of log-fetcher that enables Caliban to
reposition himself within the new political economy of the Isle, to his
own advantage (it makes him more than a slave). His strength comes from
the necessity of his role, not from its "relative" value - that, surely,
is the point, and it gives the lie to Larry Weiss's impatience with what
he regards as "politically-correct pseudo-scholarship".

Martin

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Feb 2002 11:45:28 -0000
Subject: 13.0424 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0424 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest

Bill Arnold writes, "I find in Shakespeare the expression of a belief in
the Ultimate Good, that is, Shakespeare's concept of human ethics as
exemplified by the Ultimate Good Prince in contradistinction to
Machiavelli's _The Prince_, and thereby still read Hamlet in _Hamlet_ as
the Good Prince, recognizing his role as rightful heir to the throne,
and still believe after all the thoughtful analysis of scholars, et al.,
that his external actions and his profound words reveal his inner
motivations".  Perhaps, after taking a breath, Bill could explain what
all this means? And how he reads King Lear? And indeed, how he reads
Machiavelli? What's particularly bad about Machiavelli's ideal Prince
(especially the one delineated in the Discourses on Livy?

Bill continues, "Here, in America, without a monarchy, and without a
_need_ to know and understand the subtleties of _divine right_ to the
throne for a first-born male heir, modern politically-correct American
readers of Shakespeare tend to incorrectly judge his plays with a
politically-correct paintbrush based on American standards of the past
three decades.  In that same light, inasmuch as _The Tempest_ is
recognized as Shakespeare's last play, or one of his last plays, might
it not hold the clue to _his_ politically-correct statement of human
ethics?" Again, what on earth does all this mean? How can one judge a
play with a paintbrush? And who really thinks that European readers of
Shakespeare "understand the subtleties of divine right"?

I ask, because I really cannot work out whether Bill thinks that his
"American" reading of Shakespeare is a good one or not... or whether the
"politically correct" reading, which is, at least, a "political" one,
better meets the requirements of plays which demand the understanding of
"monarchy" and "divine right"... I would imagine, for example, that a
feminist reader would be fairly knowledgeable about how patriarchalism
works - whereas a liberal reader might not even recognize a patriarchy
when faced with one.

Confusedly,
m

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