The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0392  Monday, 11 February 2002

From:           Martin Steward <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 8 Feb 2002 17:15:12 -0000
Subject: 13.0376 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0376 Re: Shakespeare's The Tempest

My tuppence worth on The Tempest.

Don Bloom writes, "KP objects to "attendants" and suggests they should
be called "slaves"

-- and I grant her point. I don't agree with it, but I recognize that
you could use the negative term rather the positive. But to what end? To
impose some late 20th Century political agenda on an early 17th Century

I sympathise (a bit) with Don. I mean, Prof. Lindley will be telling us
that the tooth fairy doesn't exist next. But the play is a lot sharper
than the "blurb" made out, and this is not just so from the perspective
of a "late 20th Century political agenda". Specifically - it is not only
Karen thinking that Caliban should be called a slave - both Prospero and
Miranda refer to him by that very epithet. And, in 1611, the word
"slave" was a loaded one, especially in the House of Commons, and
especially with regard to the rights of private property and the state.
So here are a few ideas about how serious the play can be read as a
response to 17th C political issues. I claim nothing new or
earth-shattering - dare I say that it all seems like common sense to
me...? It mainly concerns the political, legal, moral and economic
status of Caliban vis-a-vis Prospero.

As Constance Jordan argues, an important theme of Shakespearean Romance
is that of "the ruler's status as a mortal rather than a god or godlike
creature", which is expressed by linking "the ruler's fate to the
conditions in which he or his kin return home or to a place of origin,
actions that signify both a restoration of status and an admission of
generation and hence also of mortality". The marriage that is
"solemnized" at the end of The Tempest "not only secures the future of
his dukedom as a part of Naples, it marks his own rule and generation as
one that is passing". This transformation is informed by the play's
approach to the ethical concerns of sovereignty: Prospero faces "a
challenge typically political" in that his acceptance of mortality
forces him "to refuse to practise deceptions that mask his human
condition"; but this also involves the question of empathy between ruler
and subject, ruler and subversive, the powerful righteous man and his
enemies [Constance Jordan, Shakespeare's Monarchies: Ruler and Subject
in the Romances, pp.12-13, 207, 147]. If fellow-feeling, our
identification with one another, guarantees a stable polity, it is
necessary for members of the polity to enjoy some freedom of conscience
to make moral decisions about empathy and antipathy. It is at the point
when Prospero's "charm so strongly works 'em" that Ariel is able to
convince him "That if you now beheld them, your affections / Would
become tender"; he does so by suggesting, "Mine would, sir, were I
human". It is Prospero's yearning to feel that he is "human" that causes
him to abandon his "art", hitherto his only weapon against the "high
wrongs" of his enemies:

   The rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance. They being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further. Go release them, Ariel.
My charms I'll break, their senses I'll restore,
And they shall be themselves.
(V.i.17-32, all refs. To The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd, Edition)

"Prospero's art will become truly constructive when he, like Paulina
educating Leontes, allows his audience to become sentient, to feel and
to know who they are and what they are doing", writes Constance Jordan.
"In making this move, Prospero obviously unifies what have been two
distinct impulses sustaining the continuous manifestations of his art:
the first is to regain his dukedom; the second is to rule well. The
first impulse derives from self-interest, the second reflects a
commitment to the interests of subjects. Prospero's spirit has paralyzed
resistance to his rule; Prospero's grace will allow his (and
prospectively Miranda's) subjects both freedom and a conscious (hence
also conscientious) life" [Shakespeare's Monarchies: Ruler and Subject
in the Romances, pp.176-177]. Prospero's enemies are "penitent" only in
the face of the God Who they believe is exacting this "vengeance" (the
sovereign jurisdiction of God - Rom 12:19) upon them: though penitent
sub specie  

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