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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: September ::
Caliban's Father
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1504  Tuesday, 13 September 2005

[1] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Friday, 09 Sep 2005 22:00:03 +0000
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1490 Caliban's Father

[2] 	From: 	David Basch <
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	Date: 	Sunday, 11 Sep 2005 13:10:13 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1490 Caliban's Father

[3] 	From: 	David Basch <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 13 Sep 2005 08:48:58 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1490 Caliban's Father


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Friday, 09 Sep 2005 22:00:03 +0000
Subject: 16.1490 Caliban's Father
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1490 Caliban's Father

To Dennis Taylor's query whether Caliban can be Prospero's natural son 
by Sycorax, the play's spacetimeline and Prospero's denouncing the 
mooncalf whelp as "got by the devil himself/Upon thy wicked dam" suggest 
otherwise.

And yet...

[Pause while Stuart Manger and company shut their eyes and ears]

Some believed that devils were incapable of producing their own semen. 
Like Gods and angels, however, they were a "Hic Et Ubique" lot, 
unaffected by rising gas prices. And so, the witch's demon lover assumed 
the pleasing succubus shape of virtuous Madame Prospero or earlier 
lover. In a dutiful night of lovemaking with Prospero, this Unholy 
Spirit made a withdrawal from the Duke's sperm bank, only to transfer 
that seed, now as incubus, to the waiting womb of faithful Sycorax--the 
issue being Caliban, bastard son to both Prospero and the Devil.

Caliban's claim to the island through his mother Sycorax may also recall 
King James' similar claim to the Island Kingdom through his Catholic dam 
Mary Stuart. Her Protestant enemies in Scotland spread rumors of her 
infidelity to her husband Darnley, thus making James a bastard whether 
by Bothwell (an employer of the Black Arts himself) or by David Rizzio, 
Mary's longtime musician secretary (a source of Caliban's musical bent?).

Symbolically, of course, earthy Caliban represents sinful yet guilt-free 
Nature-in-the-raw, the Duke's primal child. Just as "Cain" is contained 
inside his name Caliban, he is Prospero's own inner "Thing of Darkness", 
that Old Mole again, the ineradicable Id, ready to rape and murder 
without hesitation. Prospero's staff and book are his ring of Gyges (see 
links below), the source of his power. He understands now: no 
creature--not Caliban, not Antonio, not even himself--can be trusted 
with such power (see Madison's FEDERALIST 10). He breaks and buries his 
staff, then drowns his book. Yet he does not destroy them. (Of note, the 
real life "magus" John Dee's books were stolen and burnt, not drowned, 
by a mob of Calibans in Shakespeare's day.) They can be retrieved should 
the need arise. Prospero covers all his bets!

http://falcon.tamucc.edu/~sencerz/Myth_of_Gyges.htm
http://wso.williams.edu/~rbhattac/whyarewejust.html

This is Joe Egert, returning you to the surface.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Basch <
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Date: 		Sunday, 11 Sep 2005 13:10:13 -0400
Subject: 16.1490 Caliban's Father
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1490 Caliban's Father

The question is raised on line concerning the relation of Caliban to 
Prospero. The answer is vaguely given by Prospero in his comment 
referring to Caliban:

           ...  this thing of darkness!
         Acknowledge mine.

Prospero tells the others that Caliban is his. How does this fit into 
the allegory of Prospero as God?

The answer is that Caliban is an allegorical representation of the bad 
angel, the Tempter, Satan (the latter seen as the accuser in the Hebrew 
Bible). Similarly, Ariel represents the good angel. Prospero as God has 
created these angels to serve Him and to guide mortals. These angels are 
part of the Divine plan for man who is given through these heavenly 
creatures the dignity and challenge of being able to grapple with free 
will and moral choice. We see these roles enacted in the play.

For example, the good angel, Ariel (meaning in Hebrew, "lion of God," 
and he even roars like a lion in one incident), is shown protecting the 
good people in the play against the evildoers ("The angel of the LORD 
...  delivereth them" - Psalm 34:7) and we see with what speed Ariel 
serves Prospero/God's wishes ("He sendeth forth his commandment upon 
earth: his word runneth very swiftly" (Psa 147:15). Meanwhile, Caliban, 
the Tempter, is seen busily at work stirring up the lust and the greed 
of the characters.

The play seems to take its form as the enactment of a religious hymn 
that spells out the contrast between the earthly king, subject to death 
and decay, and the Divine, everlasting King. It is Shakespeare's genius 
that enables him to craft an allegory around this idea in which the two 
roles are combined. He does this through the insight that when man sins, 
he dethrones God and exiles Him from his heart. So in this allegory, a 
mortal king (the duke) is represented as experiencing this dethronement 
and exile, the same experience that God goes through when man sins. This 
enables the dramatization of the effects of man's sins on God.

The play further enacts how sinners may repent and be pardoned, 
reconciling with God and with fellow men. This reconciliation is shown 
to be one and the same process in heaven and on earth since restoring 
the mortal Prospero to his throne in Milan is the very same process 
necessary to restore God to the hearts of the sinners and involves that 
sinners recognize the evil of their acts and repent.

Notice, the slightest gesture toward regret and repentance by the 
sinners in the play is immediately accepted by Prospero, enacting His 
nature as a merciful, forgiving God. As God, He knows full well that man 
is prone to sin and could very well do so again. Yet He forgives in His 
hope that man will come to sincerely and permanently change to follow a 
just and true course in life, keeping God ever in his heart.

This pattern is strikingly similar to that enacted in the Jewish yearly 
Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur services in which sins are acknowledged and 
repented of before the forgiving God. Here is Shakespeare's allegorical 
account of the response of the forgiving God as He explains this to Ariel:

      Though with their high wrongs I am struck to the quick,
      Yet with my nobler reason 'gaitist [against] my fury
      Do I take part: the rarer action is
      In virtue than in vengeance: they being penitent,
      The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
      Not a frown further.

I am not the first to note Prospero as an allegorical representation of 
God and I have learned from those accounts. (See for example, the 
allusions to this in the college review series, Cliff Notes.) Though 
allusions in the play to biblical elements have at times been noted, no 
earlier commentator has recognized the obvious particularist Judaic 
practices represented.  (This is not to say that other traditions don't 
enact similar exercises.) These aspects and much more are presented in 
the chapter, "Mysterious Tempest," in my 1996 book, Shakespeare's 
Judaica and Devices.

David Basch

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Basch <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 13 Sep 2005 08:48:58 -0400
Subject: 16.1490 Caliban's Father
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1490 Caliban's Father

Here is a minor correction of my discussion of The Tempest. I gave the 
wrong name of the Jewish hymn I mentioned as the possible source of the 
allegory behind The Tempest. The real name of the hymn is "Melech 
Elyon," (the Supreme King).

"The Supreme King" in numerous stanzas is described as all powerful, 
merciful, and as reigning forever. He is contrasted in a few stanzas 
with an earthly "Melech Evyon" (an "impoverished king," poor, limited in 
all earthly attributes), who is destined for the grave. This hymn is 
part of the morning service of Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year and 
yearly Day of Judgment, a part in which God is acknowledged as enthroned 
over all.

David Basch

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