The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1481 Monday, 3 June 2002
From: Clifford Stetner <
Date: Saturday, 1 Jun 2002 15:43:44 -0400
Subject: Re: Hermetic and Prospero's Books
In belated response to the query by Linvydas Krivickas and for anyone
who read the Steven Marx piece on Prospero's Books, I find another
resonance with this scene other than Genesis. The Hermetic text Pimander
consists of a dialogue between Hermes Trismegistus and the supposed
Egyptian god of Mind Pimander who describes for the priest the origin of
the world and which similar to Prospero's lecture to Miranda is
punctuated both by the student's excited questions and the teacher's
injunctions to pay attention. Although the roles would be reversed,
given the similarities in the dialogues, the echo of Pimander in the
name Miranda in a play about Renaissance Magic is striking. Granted that
the anonymous author only imitates Plato in naturalizing a Socratic
dialogue, but in Shakespeare's day the text was believed to be much
older than Plato. The following excerpts are taken from the English
translation which was rejected by Frances Yates as taking "too many
liberties" in order to emphasize its prefiguration of biblical theology
(largely Genesis and some John).
1. My Thoughts being once seriously busied about the things that are,
and my Understanding lifted up, all my bodily Senses being exceedingly
holden back, as it is with them that are very heavy of sleep, by reason
either of fullness of meat, or of bodily labour. Me thought I saw one of
an exceeding great stature, and an infinite greatness call me by my
name, and say unto me, "What wouldest thou Hear and See? or what
wouldest thou Understand, to Learn, and Know!"
5. But after a little while, there was a darkness made in part, coming
down obliquely, fearful and hideous, which seemed unto me to be changed
into a Certain Moist Nature, unspeakably troubled, which yielded a smoke
as from fire; and from whence proceeded a voice unutterable, and very
mournful, but inarticulate, insomuch that it seemed to have come from
If by your art, my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch,
But that the sea, mounting to the welkin's cheek,
Dashes the fire out.
6. Then from that Light, a certain Holy Word joined itself unto Nature,
and out flew the pure and unmixed Fire from the moist Nature upward on
high; it is exceeding Light, and Sharp, and Operative withal. And the
Air which was also light, followed the Spirit and mounted up to Fire
(from the Earth and the Water) insomuch that it seemed to hang and
depend upon it.
I flamed amazement: sometime I'ld divide,
And burn in many places; on the topmast,
The yards and bowsprit, would I flame distinctly,
Then meet and join. Jove's lightnings, the precursors
O' the dreadful thunder-claps, more momentary
And sight-outrunning were not; the fire and cracks
Of sulphurous roaring the most mighty Neptune
Seem to besiege and make his bold waves tremble,
Yea, his dread trident shake.
8. ... Then said Poemander unto me, "Dost thou understand this Vision,
and what it meaneth?"
9. ... "I thank thee." Pimander. "But first conceive well the Light in
thy mind and know it."
Prospero: The direful spectacle of the wreck, which touch'd
The very virtue of compassion in thee,
I have with such provision in mine art
So safely ordered that there is no soul--
No, not so much perdition as an hair
Betid to any creature in the vessel
Which thou heard'st cry, which thou saw'st sink. Sit down;
For thou must now know farther.
12. ... "Hast thou seen in thy mind that Archetypal Form, which was
before the Interminated and Infinite Beginning?" Thus Pimander to me.
"But whence," quoth I, "or whereof are the Elements of Nature made?" ...
Prospero: Canst thou remember
A time before we came unto this cell?
But how is it
That this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else
In the dark backward and abysm of time?
If thou remember'st aught ere thou camest here,
How thou camest here thou mayst.
29. Then said Pimander, "This is the Mystery that to this day is hidden,
and kept secret; ...
You have often
Begun to tell me what I am, but stopp'd
And left me to a bootless inquisition,
Concluding 'Stay: not yet.'
The hour's now come;
30. "And after these things, O Pimander," quoth I, "I am now come into a
great desire, and longing to hear, do not digress, or run out."
More to know
Did never meddle with my thoughts.
O, my heart bleeds
To think o' the teen that I have turn'd you to,
Which is from my remembrance! Please you, farther.
31. But he said, "Keep silence, for I have not yet finished the first
Prospero: Dost thou attend me?
32. Trismegistus. "Behold, I am silent."
Miranda: Sir, most heedfully.
35. And so all the Members of the Sensible World, continued unto the
period of the end, bearing rule, and generating.
PROSPERO The government I cast upon my brother
And to my state grew stranger
36. Hear now the rest of that speech, thou so much desirest to hear.
I pray thee, mark me.
39. When he had thus said, Providence by Fate and Harmony, made the
mixtures, and established the Generations, and all things were
multiplied according to their kind, and he that knew himself, came at
length to the Superstantial of every way substantial good.
By Providence divine.
42. Pimander. "Thou seemest not to have understood what thou hast
Prospero: Thou attend'st not.
43. Trismegistus. "Peradventure I seem so to thee, but I both understand
and remember them."
O, good sir, I do.
44. Pimander. "I am glad for thy sake, if thou understoodest them."
Well demanded, wench:
My tale provokes that question.
51. Trismegistus. "But yet tell me more, O my Mind, how I shall go into
How came we ashore?
58. Trismegistus. "Thou hast, O Mind, most excellently taught me all
things, as I desired; but tell me moreover, after the return is made,
Miranda: I pray you, sir,
For still 'tis beating in my mind, your reason
For raising this sea-storm?
60. "And Anger and Concupiscence go into the brutish or unreasonable
Nature; and the rest striveth upward by Harmony.
A pox o' your throat, you bawling, blasphemous,
61. "And to the first Zone it giveth the power it had of increasing and
Prospero: Being once perfected how to grant suits,
How to deny them, who to advance and who
To trash for over-topping
62. "To the second, the machination or plotting of evils, and one
effectual deceit or craft.
A treacherous army levied, one midnight
Fated to the purpose did Antonio open
The gates of Milan, and, i' the dead of darkness,
The ministers for the purpose hurried thence
Me and thy crying self.
63. "To the third, the idle deceit of Concupiscence.
Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,
Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.
64. "To the fourth, the desire of Rule, and unsatiable Ambition.
To have no screen between this part he play'd
And him he play'd it for, he needs will be
65. "To the fifth, profane Boldness, and headlong rashness of
Hang, cur! hang, you whoreson, insolent noisemaker!
We are less afraid to be drowned than thou art.
66. "To the sixth, Evil and ineffectual occasions of Riches.
O king Stephano! O peer! O worthy Stephano! look
what a wardrobe here is for thee!
Let it alone, thou fool; it is but trash.
67. "And to the seventh Zone, subtle Falsehood always lying in wait.
Thy case, dear friend,
Shall be my precedent; as thou got'st Milan,
I'll come by Naples. Draw thy sword: one stroke
Shall free thee from the tribute which thou payest;
And I the king shall love thee.
83. For the sleep of the Body was the sober watchfulness of the mind;
and the shutting of my eyes the true Sight, and my silence great with
child and full of good;
Here cease more questions:
Thou art inclined to sleep; 'tis a good dulness,
And give it way: I know thou canst not choose.
>I have always felt that
>part of the point of <The Tempest>, with its interminable exposition
>during which Miranda keeps nodding off, is that it is Shakespeare's
>rejoinder to Jonson's nagging: "OK", he seems to be saying, "if I follow
>these silly unities this is the kind of absurdity I am forced into".
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