The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0571 Monday, 12 March 2001
Date: Friday, 9 Mar 2001 12:48:24 EST
Subject: 12.0562 Re: Tempest Reference
Comment: Re: SHK 12.0562 Re: Tempest Reference
I wanted to say that I agree with Karen Peterson's ironic view of
Kermode's "radical" stance. Kermode's "radicalism" as he explains it in
his lecture was that the left in his day, in their form of rebellion,
felt that "royalty feared the playwrights" and that "'Richard II incited
the Essex rebellion"--a view which he critiques later in his lecture. In
looking over my notes from the lecture, I can offer the following points
gleaned from his critique of "modern" radicals:
1) He feels that a "new horizon of interpretation" is needed for the
"fashion culture" of modern graduate school where students "acquire
method rather than work with language."
2) He mentions David Scott Kastan by name noting that the "thread
connecting the play to the New World is tenuous," since, "all the
characters shipwrecked there are not colonizing it."
3) He brings up another older critic, Francis Yates, whose work linking
dynastic politics to the play has "disappeared" and contrasts her work
with Kastan's approach which is "wrong" in his making much of Antonio's
son who drowns and is never mentioned again (my notes are sketchy here
and I may be missing the thread). However, this point is a "sample of
the irresponsibility of new critics" whose linking of "arbitrary
European court politics with the meaning of 'The Tempest' " is "not
true" for the following reasons"
a)Text and context are no longer indistinguishable. The new dogma
is to "get history right" and "forget the words."
b) In this way, "plays become exempt from the aesthetic world" and
"scholars become historians." In Kermode's view, "aesthetic and
political" worlds "should not be split."
4) Kermode then gives a detailed account of the events surrounding the
events of the playing of "Richard II" during the Essex rebellion and
notes that on the evening before the Earl was executed, Shakespeare's
company put on the play at court. In this way, "players were not the
enemy of the
establishment." The Puritans were a "greater threat to the players than
the royalty" (referring to the closing of the playhouses in 1642), and
Kermode notes that the "players would have been vagabonds without royal
For these reasons, Shakespeare's plays do not "offer a critique of the
proletariat" and Jonathan Dollimore's "Radical Tragedy" is wrong on the
5) His final point is that the "political significance" of "The
Tempest" is "even more obscure." The island is located between Tunis
and Naples, and the reference to the Bermudas is to a "cold climate"
(again my notes are sketchy) when the Caribbean is not. Since I am not
familiar with the "climate" in modern graduate schools, his point is not
entirely clear in my notes, but Kermode seems to feel that Caliban is a
model of "soft primitivism" on the order of Montaigne's noble savages
whereas in fact indigenous populations in the New World reflect "hard
primitivism" where the people were savages "outside the law" (if I got
this wrong, I would appreciate a correction as I am not sure this is
indeed Kermode's point. I think his point is a reference to an earlier
point made about Pochontas being taught as a "discourse of sexuality"
and the play being an "instrument of the expansion of royal hegemony."
In the history of England at the time, the Irish rebels were "like an
American Trinculo, a "conspiracy against the upper classes" so that
"Prospero's island and Ireland become analogous." Since I am unfamiliar
with this reading the thread may not be a clear as it was in the
lecture). At any rate, a "condemnation of colonialism is fashionable"
and has created and kind of "colonial oppression" in graduate schools
based not on facts but on "material remote from the play."
These sketchy notes may be wrong in places, and I would appreciate a
correction as much time has passed since the lecture in December.
However, I agree with Kermode's essential point that poets are not
historians and that too much emphasis on "getting the history right" can
leave the play bereft of its aesthetic dimensions.