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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0477  Tuesday, 19 February 2002

[1]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Monday, 18 Feb 2002 16:12:29 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0452 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest

[2]     From:   Adrian Kiernander <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Feb 2002 16:01:58 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0376 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest

[3]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Feb 2002 08:05:17 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0452 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Monday, 18 Feb 2002 16:12:29 -0000
Subject: 13.0452 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0452 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest

> I have to remind Mr
> Bloom that since 1066 there has been a struggle between Catholic
> southern Europe and the northern Scandinavian countries, which,
> historically, included England.
<SNIP>
> However, from William the Conqueror onwards the
> Catholics have tried to bring England back into the Catholic fold.

If it comes to reminders, isn't this just a +little+ early for the
Reformation?

Robin Hamilton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Adrian Kiernander <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Feb 2002 16:01:58 +1100
Subject: 13.0376 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0376 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest

A couple of small and I hope friendly brickbats for Don, since I think
nobody else has thrown these ones so far. They seem to me obvious from
the text, but for some reason have become counter-intuitive in some
traditions of reading and performing the play. Stephen Orgel's edition
makes many of these points, and others.

>  It's a comedy, because it ends happily -- with a marrying rather
>than a burying. It uses magic. It depicts romantic love. It shows us
>repentance (Alonso) and forgiveness (Prospero).

But it fails to show us any repentance on the part of the two characters
who perhaps have most reason to repent, Sebastian and Antonio. Even
Prospero's forgiveness is grudging, full of barely veiled threats to
Sebastian ("at this time/ I will tell no tales") and revulsion and
compulsion to Antonio:

         For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother
         Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive
         Thy rankest fault; all of them; and require
         My dukedom of thee, which perforce, I know,
         Thou must restore.

There is room for a lot more happiness than the play is prepared to give
us. I'm interested in its reluctance to give us a really happy
conclusion.  To focus exclusively on the happiness is to ignore a great
deal of what is distinctive, fascinating and disturbing in the text, and
especially its ending.

>Ariel is not a human being but an "aerial" spirit, has been rescued by
>Prospero from terrible torture, and has been promised his freedom for
>his magical help in this last effort. The promise is honored.

Ariel has certainly been rescued by Prospero, but Prospero has then
forced him into servitude against his will (i.e. Ariel too is a slave,
pleading for his freedom), abuses him verbally ("Thou liest, malignant
thing!") and threatens to put him back under an almost identical torture
to that of Sycorax if he so much as complains:

         If thou more murmur'st, I will rend an oak
         And peg thee in his knotty entrails till
         Thou hast howl'd away twelve winters.

Prospero promises Ariel his freedom, but continually postpones the act,
as he postpones many things during the play. The "promise" (sorry to
point this out) is not "honored". The last thing we hear of Ariel is
that on the day after the play finishes he will have to begin driving
Alonso's ship back to join the rest of the "royal fleet far off" ("My
Ariel, chick, That is thy charge") and only then will he be free. So
Ariel is still an unwilling servant to Prospero when the play ends and
for some indeterminate time after that, and Prospero has broken yet
another deadline.  Incidentally, Prospero also promises to renounce his
"art", drown his book and break his staff, but doesn't do this on stage,
and he apparently hasn't done it by the end of the play, because he is
still controlling Ariel and practising meteorological magic. ( "[I]
promise you calm seas, auspicious gales...")

>Caliban, of course, is another kettle of fish (pun intended). He is,
>however, a sub-human monster who has tried to rape Miranda.

As far as the question of rape is concerned, let's not forget that
Caliban is not a real human being either, but a character in a play. The
character is certainly represented in the text as a would-be rapist, but
the decision to represent him thus is more interesting to me than the
fictitious character in itself. And who says Caliban is sub-human? What
does this term mean in practice? Who calls him a monster? Only Stephano
and Trinculo (about 50 times), but even Trinculo allows that Caliban has
legs and arms like a man's, and that he is not a fish but an islander.
Prospero calls him "mis-shapen" but what does that mean? It's the kind
of superior judgmental comment that was made from time to time by early
proto-anthropologists when describing the physiology of
unfamiliar-looking people up to the late eighteenth century.

>Nevertheless, Caliban is likewise freed and left in possession of his
>island.

Prospero's last words to Caliban are:

         Go, sirrah, to my cell;
         Take with you your companions; as you look
         To have my pardon, trim it handsomely.
         [...]
         Go to; away!

He is still being given orders, has not yet been pardoned, and I can
find no evidence in the text that Caliban is ever "freed and left in
possession of his island".

All things considered, it looks as if the production in question must
have coated the play in a fair sprinkling of extraneous sugar, and
imposed its own (late-20th-century?) values on the text, if it lived up
to its blurb.

Adrian Kiernander

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Feb 2002 08:05:17 -0600
Subject: 13.0452 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0452 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest

Sam Small rather takes me to task:

> Don Bloom asserts his interpretation of social historical phenomena as
> if they were assured facts stated by God.  With remarks like "the sins
> of our fathers" and "God knows the English treated the Irish as badly as
> they could" I am reminded of the crass anti English films of the shallow
> Mel Gibson.

But he leaves me a trifle puzzled. Heaven knows I am as inclined as
others to state opinions as if they were gospel truths, but in this case
I am prepared to stand by them. I consider racism and the systems of
slavery, segregation, and general injustice perpetrated on black people
in America to be one of the great crimes of human history. And it was my
cultural ancestors who perpetrated it. Just because I didn't contribute
to it, nor my parents, nor even perhaps their parents, doesn't mean that
it didn't happen or that we didn't benefit indirectly from it or that,
from simply living in a society imbued with such monstrous injustice and
cruelty we didn't partake of it. I regard this as a fact, not an
opinion. Sam may disagree.

As to the English policy in Ireland, in Shakespeare's own day it was
harsh, brutal and murderous (see Spenser on the subject), as it was
again in Cromwell's, and in Swift's, and in the time of the Potato
Famine, when my mother's people escaped starvation by coming to this
country. Sam seems to justify this early policy of attempted genocide by
asserting that Irish rebels allied themselves with enemies of England.
If he truly thinks this justifies mass murder -- well, never mind.

By and large, I'm inclined to let this matter pass -- except where it
may have direct reference to WS's works. But in this case I did feel a
need to clarify what I meant.

don

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