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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: September ::
Caliban's Father
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1560  Monday, 19 September 2005

[1] 	From: 	David Basch <
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	Date: 	Sunday, 18 Sep 2005 13:21:03 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1529 Caliban's Father

[2] 	From: 	David Evett <
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	Date: 	Sunday, 18 Sep 2005 20:35:39 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1546 Caliban's Father


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Basch <
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Date: 		Sunday, 18 Sep 2005 13:21:03 -0400
Subject: 16.1529 Caliban's Father
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1529 Caliban's Father

Joe Egert wrote:

 >David Basch casts Ariel and Caliban as "good angel" and
 >"bad angel" respectively, willing servants of their
 >Creator.
 >
 >But are they willing? Or do they both chafe under His
 >command(ments)? After insisting that Prospero's books be
 >burnt (not drowned), Caliban contends that without these
 >books Prospero is "but a sot...nor hath not one spirit
 >to command: they all do hate him..." A revered Father?
 >Or just another tyrant?

If the text of the Tempest is studied carefully, we learn that the two 
angels, Calaban and Ariel, are willing and even zealous servants of 
their Creator. But first a little background.

Satan in the Hebrew Bible has the role of serving the Lord as "the 
accusing angel." (Satan in Hebrew means "accusor.") In legend and in 
Kabbalistic thought, so zealous was Satan that he rebelled at God's wish 
to create man, warning that man will sully God's universe by bringing in 
corruption and evil. So strident was Satan, that God had to evict him 
from the heavenly assembly in order to go through with His plan to 
create man. Ever since that time, Satan tries to vindicate his advice, 
serving as a temptor to man to prove he was right after all, thereby 
doing good service for the Lord.

The lines spoken by Caliban that Joe Egert presents above is thus 
vintage Satan, slandering God, and exorting humans to trespass God's 
laws and rebel against Him. Caliban uses every persuasive argument he 
can muster to get the men to commit evil. Here are Caliban's lines to 
Stephano and Trinculo:

         Why, as I told thee, 'tis a custom with him,
         I' th' afternoon to sleep: there thou mayst brain him,
         Having first seized his books, or with a log
         Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake,
         Or cut his wezand with thy knife. Remember
         First to possess his books; for without them
         He's but a sot, as I am, nor hath not
         One spirit to command: they all do hate him
         As rootedly as I. Burn but his books.

What is interesting is some of the details of Caliban's advice. This 
reveals the importance of Prospero's books, which are actually the books 
of the Bible. Kabbalistic thought regards God's Torah as the blueprint 
that God used to create the universe and which God uses to guide His 
actions on earth, hence Caliban wants the books separated from God.

The idea of the Bible as the blueprint for earthly events is enacted in 
many of the episodes of the Tempest. One striking example is the scene 
on shore in which Antonio and Sebastian enact the intended massacre by 
the Egyptians of the Israelites described in Exodus:

   The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide
   the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw
   my sword, my hand shall destroy them." (Exodus 15:9)

In a similar pattern, Antonio and Sebastian prepare to draw their swords 
to kill the good Alonso and Gonzolo and to share the spoils gained from 
the crime and, similar to the rescue of the Israelites, this intention 
is foiled by God through his rescuing angel, Ariel ("The angel of the 
LORD ... delivereth them" - Psalm 34:7).

We can recognize another Judaic theme in the play in the episode in 
which Prospero disciplines Ariel. To audiences that take this event at 
face value, Prospero seems a cantankerous, tyrannical employer. However, 
esoterically, the episode is an enactment of the situation of the Rosh 
Hashonah Judgment Day, which is what is happening in the play. On the 
solemn day of Rosh Hashonah, a solemn prayer ("Nesaneh Tokef") is 
intoned that describes the awesomeness of the day, telling that this is 
"a day when even the angels are brought into judgment and that even they 
are not fully clean of faults," so perfect is the Lord's standard. 
Ariel's faults disclosed in the episode beautifully enact this Judgment 
Day concept.

Is Ariel rebellious in wanting to be freed? The Rosh Hashonah prayers of 
the Day of Judgment envision heavenly angels singing praises to God and, 
having finished their mission, "are heard from no more." The implication 
is that, having performed their mission, these angels are forever freed. 
In the case of Ariel, his fault is jumping the gun and wishing his 
freedom before he has fulfilled the purpose for which his Master, God, 
created him.  This very episode that is so confusing and troubling to 
commentators and audiences turns out to be revelatory of who Prospero is 
and of the context of his acts.

Some on the list have raised the question as to whom would Shakespeare 
have been communicating with through this arcane content. Clearly, the 
ordinary Elizabethan audience would not have known the meaning of these 
details. But would this fact be proof that such content does not exist?

Consider that it is an observable a stylistic characteristic of 
Shakespeare's work that it is chock full of arcane material reflecting 
the poet's uncommon depth and breadth of knowledge. This is illustrated 
in such things as the reported specialized information on falconry, law, 
and many other crafts that enrich his lines, indicating the poet's 
encyclopedic reach that only later has been discovered, brought to the 
surface by scholarly experts.

In The Tempest, irrespective of whether such an arcane content is 
understood or not, these contribute to a sense of the inscrutableness of 
Prospero and his actions, creating the impression that he is beyond 
ordinary understanding, which is a way of giving audiences a glimpse of 
the fact that Prospero is an allegorization of the Divinity. Hence, 
knowing the meaning of all the arcana that appears is not absolutely 
indispensable to enjoying the play since this functions to create 
mystery surrounding Prospero and his works, impelling audiences to 
deeper reflection about what is happening in the play.

On the other hand, when an aficionado nobleman finds direct evidence 
that Shakespeare knew the finer points of falconry or the care of prize 
hounds, that nobleman could not have failed to be impressed by the 
playwright that knew the details of this privileged life and would have 
perhaps seen the writer as one of his own. Similarly it is plausible 
that the arcane elements of The Tempest could have served the same 
function for secret Jews known to have lived in London and elsewhere in 
England. Perhaps this content of the play was beamed to Christian 
Kabbalists, a presence at the time, though more frequent in Europe. And 
then perhaps it was meant for scholars to fathom, as aspects of it has 
indeed been fathomed by some scholars. Whatever the truth about the 
identity of the targeted special audience, the play becomes richer and 
its episodes more coherent as the play's message of sin and repentance 
unfold, a message not of insignificance to a wide world.

David Basch

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Evett <
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Date: 		Sunday, 18 Sep 2005 20:35:39 -0400
Subject: 16.1546 Caliban's Father
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1546 Caliban's Father

Stuart Manger takes the materialist line that has dominated critical 
treatment of *Tem* for three decades when he focuses a comment on 
Ariel's grudging service at the opening of the play. He might look at my 
treatment of the master-servant relationship in *Tem* in my book, 
*Discourses of Service in Shakespeare's England*, recently published by 
Palgrave-Macmillan. Both Ariel's initial show of resistance and 
Prospero's insistence on his magisterial privileges modulate into 
something more dynamically mutual by the end of the play.

David Evett

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