The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1347 Saturday, 18 May 2002
Date: Thursday, 16 May 2002 02:43:51 -0400
Subject: 13.1329 Re: Deeper Than Plummet Did Ever Plummet Sound
Comment: Re: SHK 13.1329 Re: Deeper Than Plummet Did Ever Plummet Sound
The plummet images in The Tempest seem to point toward a secular image
of ultimate mystery. If our lives are rounded with a sleep, like the
ocean that surrounds the island, how deep can you go into that
surrounding oblivion? The answer is down into the very ooze, deeper than
e'er plummet sounded. There's no heaven here, only cloud capp'd towers,
and no hell, only ooze, where bones turn to coral and eyes to pearls.
The Tempest does not entirely exclude religious imagery; unlike the
other romances it is set in a recognizably Renaissance world, presumably
Christian--and yet this island world is not quite Christian. To put the
virtue of forgiveness before vengeance is Christian, but here not
treated religiously. The virtue seems simply a virtue, not a heavenly
command. It's more like a Socratic virtue: a discovery of pure reason.
Classical imagery comes into it too, and mingles with Christian. But
"the powers" and such seem barely mythological--more rhetorical. People
may be afflicted because of their guilt. They may repent and choose
virtue. But Shakespeare seems to want to give these movements of the
spirit a non-religious, only human meaning. Until the closing plea for
prayer, the classical and Christian images seem perfunctory,
imaginatively cancelling each other out and leaving the merely human,
marooned on this bare island of time, for a moment, before we join our
predecessors in the ooze.
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