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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: June ::
Re: Hermeticism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1488  Tuesday, 4 June 2002

From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 4 Jun 2002 00:59:53 +0100
Subject: 13.1481 Re: Hermetic and Prospero's Books
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1481 Re: Hermetic and Prospero's Books

Clifford Stetner, in the context of Hermeticism, raises the possibility
of a link between _The Tempest_ and the Pimander.  Another possible link
might be with Marsilio Ficino's _Theologia Platonica_.

In Prospero, there may be a reflection of that ideal man, the mental
magus, which is found in Ficino.  In this sense, Prospero through his
magic activities throughout the play acts as just such a magus as is put
forward in general by Ficino for admiration and more specifically
Prospero is one who demonstrates the Ficinian ideal as presented in the
_Platonic Theology_:

        "Let us therefore consider ... the liberal arts ... the subtle
reckoning of numbers, the curious drawing of figures, the obscure
movements of lines and the awe-inspiring consonance of music, the
long-continued observation of the stars, the inquiry into natural
causes, the investigations of things long past ..." (Ficino)

It is someone with just these interests who is represented by Prospero,
who is "for the liberal arts / Without a parallel, those being all my
study" (I,ii,73-74), and who describes himself as "being transported /
And rapt in secret studies" (I,ii,76-77); who:

            . . . thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated
        To closeness and the bettering of my mind
        With that which, but by being so retir'd,
        O'er-priz'd all popular rate ...
                                (I,ii,89-92)

thus lost his power to his brother.  Prospero is again like Ficino's
ideal man in that he, in the words of the _Platonic Theology_:

       " ... uses not only the elements, but also all the animals which
belong to the elements, the animals of the earth, of the water, and of
the air, for food, convenience and pleasure, and the higher, celestial
beings for knowledge and the miracles of magic." (Ficino)

Prospero uses the elements, the storm and the rain, for his purposes;
he uses the representative of, if not the animals, then at least the
sub-human, Caliban, for his convenience and pleasure; and finally, of
course, he uses the celestial creature, Ariel, for the miracles of
magic.  Prospero is in general very close to the figure of the ideal man
which Ficino presents, in that he is shown as exercising a god-like
authority over beast and spirit, acting as a god to other men, and
raising himself to an almost divine plane, and more particularly, we can
see Prospero, in his studies and activities as described and
demonstrated in the second scene of the play, as perhaps reflecting even
more specific aspects of Ficino's _Platonic Theology_.

Robin Hamilton

[Re the Pimander.  Ficino gave the title "Pimander" to the _Corpus
Hermeticum_ as a whole, which he translated into Latin.  I think the
first translation into English was by Thomas (General) Fairfax, about
the middle of the seventeenth century.  Curiously enough (but I may
simply have missed it), Thomas Stanley doesn't seem to touch on the
CH/Pimander and Hermes Trismegistus in his seventeenth century _History
of Philosophy_, though the other Usual Suspects -- Zoroaster, the
Chaldean Oracles, Psellus, Patrizzi, etc. -- are included.  RH.]

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