The multi-dimensional text of The Tempest has inspired a rich variety of critical analyses. Despite an atypically strict adherence to the unities of time and place, the play operates in an open, fluid atmosphere of the natural and supernatural that evades ready interpretation. In seeking to examine the numerous contexts which may have informed the writing of the work, recent critics have focused on the character of Prospero and the nature of his magic, as well as the drama's sources and structure.
The Tempest's ability to spark such a variety of interpretation is due in part to the fact that the play's plot and situation defy a single clearly identifiable source. Since the eighteenth century, scholars have identified William Strachey's epistle account of the 1609 shipwreck of the Sea Adventurer while en route to the Virginia colony as a primary source for the plot and setting of the play. Prior to 1960, other potential source materials cited were Montaigne's writings on primitive life in the New World, folkloric magician literature.the commedia dell'arte tradition, and Ovid's Metamorphoses and the Aeneid. Recent scholarship has expanded source studies of The Tempest in several areas. Since 1960 critics have given closer scrutiny to the relationship between the play and Latin literature, especially the writings of Vergil and Ovid. John Gillies (1986), for example, explored Ovidian themes in the play, contending that Shakespeare's presentation of "the official portrait" of the Virginia colony is in fact Ovidian in its emphasis on fruitfulness and temperancr. In addition to this expanded exploration of classical sources, scholarship has focussed on new colonial perspectives in the text. Since the turn of the century, scholars have cited the literature of New World pamphlets in circulation at the time the play was written as evidence that the adventures of the Virginia colony were a source for the setting and political views of The Tempest. This view was vehemently rejected by critics who saw the Bermuda setting of the play as a refutation of Virginian sources. In recent scholarship, Gillies has continued this discussion in his article on the Virginian influence, writing that "with its emphasis on self-discipline, its apparent endorsement of absolute power as a necessary means to general prosperity, and its no-nonsense attitude towards savagery, The Tempest can be seen to reflect not only the events of 1609, but the mood which gave them significance".
The debate over sources often frames the discussion of the play's structure. In particular, critics have viewed the masque of Ceres in Act 4 as the unifying element of the play, expressing political and philosophical concerns in a form then fashionable for court performances. Glynne Wickham (1975), for example, has commented that "The Tempest … emerges … as a single unified work of art firmly held together by the successful incorporation of a masque and anti-masque within the dramatic structure of a stage-play." Similarly, Gillies also has viewed the masque as a crucial structural feature, the means by which the Virginian motifs are translated into Ovidian forms.
For the majority of contemporary critics, the predominant unifying element of The Tempest is the character of Prospero. Perhaps no other character in Shakespeare is seen to be as crucial to the structural and thematic integrity of a play than Prospero is to The Tempest. David Sundelson (1980) has commented that "… the play belongs to Prospero in a way that seems downright un-Shakespearean.… [Prospero' s] very presence restores the world to harmony." Prospero's dominance in the action has led to a vast critical exploration of his powers and motivations. While earlier scholarship tended to concentrate on Prospero's renunciation of magic as a key element of the play, criticism after 1960 has moved towards a broader study of Prospero as a multifaceted coalescence of diverse folkloric and intellectual sources. This expanded study of Prospero's magic has resulted in a bountiful mix of critical interpretations. Regarding Prospero as an example of the neoplatonic magus, Barbara Traister (1984) has placed him within the context of European magical thought of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. For Traister, "Prospero becomes the supreme embodiment … of the paradoxical figure of the magician: a man of great power who can force or influence nature to alter her course for him, but a man … who is, finally, not a god, only human, and thus faces boundaries beyond which he must not pass." Modifying this view, Harry Berger (1969) and Barbara Mowat (1981) have characterized Prospero as a frustrated idealist whose pursuit of magic and the liberal arts serves as an escape from a mundane world. Berger has analyzed as "… an ancient and familiar psychological perplex connected with excessive idealism and the longing for the golden age; a state of mind based on unrealistic expectations." Another important trend in criticism written after 1960 has been to explore psychoanalytic readings of Prospero and his relationship with the drama's other characters. Critics such as Sundelson have anallyzed the play as a study in Prospero's paternal powers. His anxiety over Miranda's budding sexuality, emphasized by Caliban's sexual threat to Miranda, and the need to find a suitable mate for her, is seen as a motivating force behind Prospero's actions. While pointing out the weaknesses behind a psychoanalytic reading of The Tempest, Orgel has commented on the lack of mothers in the play, emphasizing Prospero's hostility towards mother figures in his quest to be both mother and father to Miranda.
Scholars have gained further insight into the character of Prospero by examining his relationship with Caliban.
Departing from older critical notions of Caliban as either the symbol of the uncivilized savage or the embodiment of human suffering, recent criticism has seen him both as a reflection of Prospero's conflicts and ambivalences and as a universal symbol of human attempts to understand reality. As Berger has noted, the parallels between Prospero and Caliban are clearly drawn, yet Prospero fails to recognize them. In an introduction to the play, Stephen Orgel (1987) has demonstrated that Prospero's attitude towards Caliban represents his conflicting identity as a ruler. Although Caliban's claim to the island through his mother is a threat to Prospero's authority, in fact "… it is Caliban who legitimizes Prospero's rule…he reminds us that authority may claim to derive from heaven, but in practice it depends on the acquiescence … of those who are governed by it." Prospero's ambivalence towards Caliban mirrors, then, his ambivalence towards his authority and power as a ruler, an ambivalence that led to his overthrow as Duke of Milan. Prospero's acceptance of Caliban at play's end, Orgel argues, represents a symbolic acceptance of Prospero's own role in his political exile. In a related view, Kott emphasizes Caliban's function as a mythical hybrid, essential in the resolution of "binary oppositions"—good and evil, mortality and immortality, male and female—that Prospero struggles to resolve in his own nature. Psychoanalytical approaches to The Tempest, such as those of Sundelson and Robert M. Adams (1989), the conflict between Prospero and Caliban over ownership of the island reflects the struggle between maternal nad paternal forces. Adams, for example, maintains that "seeing Prospero and Caliban as super-ego and id or as father and son may suggest varieties of intimate interaction between two unreconcilable elements of an unbreakable unity-interaction that controls much of the play." This "unbreakable unity" is acknowledged by Prospero's ultimate acceptance of Caliban as his own. Other scholars, however, emphasize that Prospero's inability to control Caliban through his magic is seen as one of Prospero's central limitations. Traister has noted that Caliban represents not only Prospero's limits but magic's as well, revealing that magic cannot alter a human soul. Despite Prospero's ambivalent feelings towards Caliban and the limitations he represents, the evolution of Prospero's relationship with Caliban is viewed as a symbol of Prospero's movement towards the attempted resolution of inner conflict, acceptance of responsibilities, and reentry into the world.
Harry Berger, Jr. (essay date 1969)
SOURCE: "Miraculous Harp: A Reading of Shakespeare's Tempest," in Shakespeare Studies: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism, and Reviews Vol. V, 1969, pp. 253-283.
[In the following essay, Berger argues against sentimental approaches to The Tempest and the character of Prospero, maintaining that the magician's resignation of his occult powers at the play's conclusion is in fact "a final attempt to reestablish mastery."]
In many of the later plays, some analogue of dramatic control is imposed—and conspicuously imposed—on action which would otherwise get out of control; action which indeed, in earlier tragedies, did get out of control. The echoes of, or allusions to, earlier tragic patterns in such plays as Measure for Measure, Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest, have often been remarked. The modes of resolution seem deliberately strained, unnatural, artificial, or unrealistic in these plays, especially since they resonate with allusions to earlier tragedies where resolutions were not forthcoming. This pattern tends to emphasize a crucial difference between life and theatre: in art, life's problems are displayed and then resolved, perhaps displayed in order to be resolved, perhaps resolved so that people can get up and go home. Yet on the other hand,—and this distinguishes many of the later plays from the earlier festive comedies,—neither characters nor spectators want to go home: sometimes this is because we are surprised by the unexpected and abrupt happy ending; sometimes because the play fading into a golden past makes us yearn after it; sometimes because the action is protracted, the ending delayed, by characters who seem reluctant to leave the play world and return to actuality. The plays often present themselves as temporary and all too fragile hiding places in, or from, the worsening world.
Such qualities of the last plays have evoked criticism of the sort leveled by Madeleine Doran at the earlier problem plays [in Endeavors of Art, 1964]:
they do not seem to us to be satisfactorily resolved in the conventional happy ending of comedy.… [and this is so] because of the working out of a serious moral problem in an action built of improbable device and lucky coincidence. The result is only too often to make the solutions seem trivial or forced.
The difficulty with these plays is that the problems are realistically viewed, the endings are not.… the manipulation of intrigue and lucky chance to bring about the conventional happy ending gives the effect of an evasion of the serious moral issue the play.
The main difference between the problem plays and the last plays is that in the latter not even the problems are realistically viewed: Shakespeare would want us to distinguish the grim actuality of Vienna from the pasteboard villainies of Cymbeline's court. Though Professor Doran's remarks are helpful as guides to description and interpretation, her intention to criticize detracts from their value. The critical mood is wrong mainly because Shakespeare has anticipated her by building her criticisms into the plays themselves. And in fact, the burden of the present essay will be to suggest that Shakespeare would or could or did level Professor Doran's criticism toward her own reading of The Tempest: "The action of the play is Prospero's discovery to his enemies, their discovery of themselves, the lovers' discovery of a new world of wonder, Prospero's own discovery of an ethic of forgiveness, and the renunciation of his magical power". This is, in epitome, perhaps the most commonly accepted view of the play, and the best defense of this sentimental reading known to me has been made by Stephen Orgel [in In Defense of Reading, edited by R. Poirer and R. A. Brower, 1962], who claims that from the first long dialogue with Miranda in I.ii, "Prospero's suffering … is essentially behind him," therefore he "leads the play … through suffering to reconciliation and a new life." Orgel goes on to cite the pattern of the masque of Ceres as evidence that "the play is at this point moving away from the island and back to civilization": "The conclusion of the revels, the vision of the masque as an 'insubstantial pageant', and all that that vision implies for Prospero, provide a vital transition in the play to the renunciation of extraordinary powers and the return to the ordinary world." Orgel admits that "the transition is a painful one for Prospero", but his major emphasis is on the magician's return, and on his preparing to reassume his old job.
I find it hard to accept this reading as it stands, not because it is wrong, but because it does not hit the play where it lives. The renunciation pattern is there, but only as a general tendency against which the main thrust of the play strains. There are too many cues and clues, too many quirky details, pointing in other directions, and critics have been able to make renunciation in this simple form the central action only by ignoring those details. Some of the puzzling items may be listed here: First, Prospero's language in describing the usurpation to Miranda, encourages us to believe that he is partly responsible for what happened, yet he never seems to take this into account; throughout the course of the play, he acts the part of the good man wronged by villains, and he is not above an occasional reference to his injured merit. Second, Gonzalo, for all his goodness, was in effect Antonio's accomplice; as Alonso's counselor he mitigated the harshness of Prospero's exile, but the fact remains that he was master of the design, responsible for its execution. Furthermore Gonzalo, for all his goodness, is just a bit of fool—maybe not as much as his knavish companions make him out to be, but a fool nonetheless. And yet the affinities between Gonzalo and Prospero are curiously insisted on in a number of verbal and ideological echoes. One more detail about Gonzalo: in any good romance his final speech would be the concluding sentiment; what ancient Gower is to Pericles Gonzalo would be to The Tempest; only it is not that kind of play, and his epilogue is badly timed, preceding the end by 113 lines.
Third: a very important set of questions emerging from the exposition in I.ii have never, to my knowledge, been pursued: What are we really to do with Ariel, Sycorax, and Caliban? Why was Ariel punished by being stuck in a tree, why does he continually ask for his freedom, why the names Sycorax and Caliban, why the business about the witch's exile from Africa with its obvious echoes of Prospero's exile from Europe? What to make of a fact which many readers have noticed, the difference between Prospero's view of Caliban and ours? Why do we respond to certain qualities in Caliban which Prospero ignores, and why are we made to feel that the magician is more vindictive than he needs to be? Why the very full sense Shakespeare gives us of life on the island before the ship sailed in from Tunis, where Alonso had just married off his daughter Claribel to the Prince? In this connection, what are we to do with the odd set of references and allusions to Africa and Carthage, and especially to episodes from the first half of Virgil's Aeneid? These references prod us into remembering Aeneas' journey from Troy to Italy, from an old to a new world; they offer that journey as a shadowy resemblance to the various voyages and themes of the plot action, and they ask us to make some sense of the resemblance, or at least not to ignore it. Finally, why the twenty-line epilogue, in which Prospero asks the audience for applause, sympathy, and release?
The framework within which I shall consider these questions will be my disagreement with the sentimental reading I summarized earlier. The center of disagreement lies in the way I conceive the relation of Ariel and Caliban to Prospero. I want to begin, therefore, with something like an allegorical sketch of each of the first two characters.
To run through some preliminary and elemental distinctions, Ariel is air and fire to Caliban's earth and water. He is, in David William's words [in Jacobean Theatre, 1967], "'an airy spirit', once imprisoned in a pine, and aspiring towards total liberty." Caliban, on the other hand, "is capable of not a few human conditions … so that his appearance, however brutal, must indicate an aspiration towards human nature, whereas Ariel's is away from it." Ariel's vision of freedom is to fly merrily after summer on the bat's back, and to live in the blossom that hangs on the bough; to spend his life far from the pains and labor of humanity, pleasuring himself in a green and garden world. He is not so much a spirit of nature as a spirit for nature. He looks forward to a time when the last vestiges of man will have enriched nature's strange treasuries and traceries, bones into coral and eyes into pearls. But Ariel is also gifted with magical powers, with theatrical and rhetorical talents. And though he demands his freedom, his powers are recreative in the sense that their exercise affords him delight. His last song—"where the bee sucks there suck I"—reminds me of Plato's familiar comparison of the poet to a honey-gathering bee in the garden of the muses. Like Plato's poet, Ariel is a winged thing whose art is magically inspired, therefore brought forth without labor. He bears a light and melodious burden, a far cry from firewood. As a figure of the idyllic fancy, he is at once pleasure-seeking and detached, a cool narcissist and a spirit of play. He plans to retire in a delicate and diminutive greenworld where he may compute his thyme among flowers, securely separated from the baser elements of man. He acknowledges as his own no things of darkness but owls and bats.
Ariel, then, is a recreative and self-delighting spirit whose art and magic are forms of play; a spirit freed by a magician whose presence on the island owes not a little to his own self-delighting recreative impulse, his own playing with arts and magic. Spirit and master have much in common: each has both a histrionic and a rhetorical bent which he delights to indulge, and each savors his performances to the full. In the case of Ariel, this is perhaps unambiguously clear only in his opening speech, but it is marked enough there to set up the analogy. Notice, in the following lines, how his obvious delight in magical performance is doubled by his pleasure in describing it, how his speech builds up to its final heroic period, changes from past tense to the more vivid present, and pushes beyond descriptive report to a high-toned epic personification. "Hast thou," asks Prospero, "performed to point the tempest that I bade thee?" And Ariel answers, "to every article":
I boarded the King's ship: now on the beak,
Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
I flamed amazement: sometime I'd divide
And burn in many places; on the topmast,
The yards, and boresprit would I flame
Then meet and join. Jove's lightnings, the
O' th' dreadful thunderclaps, more momentary
And sight-outrunning were not. The fire and
Of sulphurous roaring the most mightly Neptune
Seem to besiege and make his bold waves
Yea, his dread trident shake.
Prosp: My brave spirit!
No doubt, as we learn a moment later, Ariel's enthusiasm owes something to his eagerness to get out from under and be free. Yet at the same time we respond to his gratuituous delight in putting on a good show and describing it in brave rhetoric. That this speaks to an answering delight in Prospero is evident throughout the play, most clearly in the two masques. At the end of the masque of judgment, he commends Ariel for performing "bravely the figure of this harpy," but also for following the script: "Of my instruction hast thou nothing bated / in what thou hadst to say" (IH.iii.86). And the script contains far more than is necessary to induce fear and contrition. As the majority of onstage responses indicate, it is for the most part a bravura display of hocus-pocus and spectacular effects mixed with a certain amount of learned allusion in the imitation and adaptation of the third Aeneid. John Cranford Adams remarks that Prospero did not have to be present up top throughout the show, and this only rein-forces my feeling that he is there so that we can watch him enjoy his god's-eye view as he sees his work performed and observes the audience reaction;—a little like Tom Sawyer at his funeral. If he missed the first spectacle reported by Ariel, he is not going to miss this one.
In this connection, his way of announcing the wedding masque is a little odd:
Bestow upon the eyes of this young couple
Some vanity of mine Art: it is my promise,
And they expect it from me.
He says this to Ariel, who doesn't seem to have known about it before (and therefore answers, "Presently?"—"right away?"). He may well have promised it to Ferdinand and Miranda, but there is no previous mention of it. "Some vanity of mine Art," uttered after his previous tours de force, has about it a comic note of Chaucerian self-deprecation, stressed immediately by his sense of his own image—"I must live up to their expectations." Shortly after, when Ferdinand rises to the occasion by asking, "May I be bold / To think these spirits?," Prospero willingly explains, "Spirits, which by mine Art / I have from their confines call'd to enact / My present fancies" (IV.i.119). The masque itself reveals much about his present fancies, and more is revealed by the very fact of its having been rather suddenly and gratuitously conceived.
Ariel and Prospero thus share a common delight in art which—in Prospero's case—continually distracts him from his ethical purpose, and in one famous instance leads him to forget what goes on around him. His ingenuous pleasure tends to make him sacrifice plot to spectacle, and drama to theater. David William remarks that "in no play is the visual trap more tempting or more dangerous," but he directs this criticism toward "producers [who] offer a visual accompaniment that more often than not distracts from the action instead of illuminating it." I think we can also read this as part of Shakespeare's portrayal of Prospero, a part intimately connected with the presence and meaning of Ariel, who—like Lear's fool—reflects his master's mind.
It may be pedantic to load theological symbolism onto the tree in which Ariel was trapped, but I shall do so for heuristic purposes, viz., let Ariel trapped in the tree of fallen human nature (in medio ligni) be an emblem of Prospero's Milanese experience. From the beginning, the Duke's own airy-recreative impulse asserted claims that made him view his social and political circumstances as unduly burdensome. He neglected worldly ends for the seclusion in which he bettered his mind, made the liberal arts all his study, allowed himself to be transported and rapt in secret studies, claiming indeed that its very with-drawn exclusiveness made this study "o'erprize all popular rate." Thus he was easily deceived, betrayed, and exiled by the brother he trusted with "a confidence sans bounds," and to whom he committed his government. Prospero no less than Ariel might be deemed "a spirit too delicate / to enact … [the] earthy and abhorred commands," not of Sycorax, but of government in a world full of Antonios, Sebastians, and Alonsos. It may also be owing to Ariel that the ex-Duke of Milan has a fairly unhealthy attitude toward labor—toward good clean manual work. We hardly expect him, as an aristocrat, to wash his own dishes and light his own fires. But he seems to have an ethical as well as a practical and social aversion to labor: Caliban and Ferdinand do not simply do his chores for him; he makes it clear that they are doing it as punishment and as an ordeal of degradation. Work is the evil man's burden, and I find this cavalier attitude consonant with Prospero's general lack of interest in the active and common life, consonant also with his neoplatonic preference for the more refined labors of the contemplative life. For Prospero's secret study pretty clearly springs from and leads to a particular view of man. The curriculum consists of two courses, magic and liberal arts, a combination familiar to anyone acquainted with the optimism or meliorism of the Florentine Neoplatonists. The Duke of Milan may well have trusted his brother so much because his studies led him to envisage a brave new world peopled with noble creatures; a world purified of the baser strains of human nature, the more mundane problems of social order, which he seemed inclined to avoid. On the other hand, Prospero's boundless confidence and careless trust in Antonio suited his impulse to retirement. His ethical idealism and esthetic or hedonistic idyllism tend to reinforce each other, tend in fact to converge.
As an emblem, the freeing of Ariel suggests that Prospero's exile had for him—whether or not he was aware of it—the character of a liberation. Alonso, Antonio, and Gonzalo simply accomplished on the level of external action what he would wish—what he already wished—for himself. He had renounced the dukedom in his mind before handing it over to Antonio. His being set adrift on the ocean, committed to a course which washed away the old burdensome world of civilization and translated him magically to a new world, unpeopled and unreal—this removal and isolation fulfill the process by externalizing his self-sufficient insularity. I think Shakespeare presents in Prospero the signs of an ancient and familiar psychological perplex connected with excessive idealism and the longing for the golden age; a state of mind based on unrealistic expectations; a mind therefore hesitant to look too closely at the world as it is. Under the pressure of actual life, so unguardedly sanguine a hope dialectically produces its opposite, extreme disillusionment with things as they are. This in turn sometimes leads to the violent repressiveness of iron-age justice, vaguely hinted at in Prospero's attitude toward Caliban; and it sometimes generates the wish to escape back into a paradisaic state of nature. Wish-fulfillment and nightmare are simple contraries, twinned and mutually intensifying impulses neither of which is more realistic than the other, both of which seize the mind they possess and carry it out of the world.
Freed from the mortal coil and body politic of Milan, the Ariel within Prospero finds and releases its double in the outside world. The fact that no one else knows of Ariel's existence testifies to the peculiar inwardness and privacy of Prospero. Ariel, the picture of Nobody, the secret who embodies Prospero's detachment and isolation, is his only confidante. And Ariel's persistent thrust toward absolute freedom from humanity exerts a corresponding pressure on Prospero. I read his desire for liberty as allegorically related to the central action of the play, Prospero's reinvolvement with human beings after twelve years of magic for magic's sake. This action produces a conflict within the enchanter between his recreative and ethical, his egocentric and social, concerns—between the pleasure and power of his art on the one hand, and on the other, the claims of revenge or forgiveness, his obligations and privileges as a father, a fellow man, a ruler, and a victim. He feels the freedom of the inward Ariel jeopardized; he knows he cannot easily return while still possessing, or possessed by, a spirit which prefers coral to bones and pearls to eyes. Ariel's demands are therefore the other side of Prospero's decision to re-enter the riven wood of humanity, and this decision is confirmed in action when Prospero splits the ship which will ultimately bear him to Milan. By the time of the epilogue, the two will have all but changed the places they occupied when Prospero first came to the island: Ariel will move from the tree-trunk to his flowery Eden, Prospero from his magic hideaway to the bare platform surrounded on three sides by Englishmen—most of whom, we may imagine, might correspond to Trinculo's holiday fools who "will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar," but "will lay out ten to see a dead Indian," and probably more to see a live savage.
Caliban and Sycorax throw another kind of light on Prospero. The name Sycorax means, among other things, hooped together: "with age and envy grown into a hoop," as Prospero says. Turned in upon herself with envy, raven-black with malice, exiled for "mischiefs manifold and sorceries terrible," she appears to be Prospero's antithesis—the nightmare which complements his wish-fulfullment—and this contrast is emphasized by their parallel situations. Both owe their banishment to motives which lead them to the study or practice of magic. Though Sycorax is motivated by pure evil, and Prospero's motives by contrast seem very good, both are equally anti-social, both have withdrawn into themselves, have proved unfit for, or inadequate to, social and political existence. If Prospero withdrew for traditional reasons—extreme idealism and idyllism, contemplation and recreation—Sycorax embodies some of the features of a contrary though equally traditional form of withdrawal: the plaintive withdrawal of the have-not, those figures of envy and malice whose dissatisfaction with their lot produces hatred of self and others; who long for the beauty they lack and hate it in others; who spend their time trying to violate others either to possess their beauty and otherness, or simply for the temporary relief and communion gained by seeing them suffer.
Something of this disposition has been transmitted to Caliban. To the familiar etymological interpretations of his name—cannibal and blackness (Romany, cauliban, E. K. Chambers)—I would add Kali (beauty) + ban or bane, and I would translate it in two ways: first, and most simply, "the bane of beauty," which is the way Prospero comes to see him. The second translation is a little more complicated, and it refers to what we—as opposed to Prospero—see in Caliban: "banned from beauty, beauty is his bane." Many critics have observed that he has areas of feeling and sensitivity of which Prospero is unaware. Stephen Orgel remarks on his rich fantasy and his concrete sense of the island's natural resources. Clifford Leech notes [in Shakespeare's Tragedies, 1950] that although there is "no moral good in him," "Caliban speaks throughout the play in blank verse: he is aware of beauty, whether in Miranda or in the fair features of the island or in music or his dreams." But these awarenesses lead only to frustration. And since he is only, so to speak, a first-generation human being, his desire apprehends limited forms of beauty—money, wine, woman, and song; his impulses to love and worship are moved by brave and fine appearances when they are not moved by mere alcohol and lust.
The important point to be made about Caliban is that he can by no means be reduced to a figure of pure evil, the antithesis of Miranda or Ariel, the counterpart of Antonio. His baseness is shot through with gleams of aspiration, though the mixture is unstable and the diverse motives often undifferentiated. He displays the most transcendent, the most poignant, and the most natural urges of man as well as the most foolish and murderous and disloyal. Critics have noted the persistent parallels between Caliban and Miranda in regard to the nature-nurture theme, but there is no reason why they stopped there. Situational parallels exist to Ferdinand (the logbearing), to Antonio (the plot), and to Prospero (who supplanted him on the island). His longings appear modulated into ideal civilized form in Miranda's capacity for wonder and Ferdinand's for worshipful service; his visions of riches are sublimed in Prospero's insubstantial pageant and cloud-capped towers. Prospero's original openness and subsequent antipathy to Antonio are reflected by both himself and Caliban in their island relationship. Finally, though it may seem odd, Caliban is not unlike Gonzalo in his attitude toward the island, and in the way his simpleminded good will is abused by Stephano and Trinculo (as Gonzalo's by Sebastian and Antonio). Childlike in his fears and passions, ingenuous in the immediacy of his responses to nature and man, open in the expression of feeling, Caliban at his most evil and traitorous shows up as a mere puppy, a comic Vice, a crude conspirator in the pointed contrast to Antonio established by their plots.
He is thus a moonlight distortion not not only of the villains but of all the figures who have come to the island from the daylight world of civilization. In this sense he stands for the world; a handy and compact symbol of human nature, not as we know it, but as we might have found it at the beginning of time, in the pre-history of civilization, when Carthage, Tunis and Troy were no more advanced than the Bermudas or Americas. We see in him all man's possibilities in their undeveloped form, and this means that we see the longing for brightness and beauty as no less real, no less rooted and persistent, than the tendency to darkness and evil. This is not what Prospero sees. Caliban is his epitome of human degradation: he is Milan without Prospero and Miranda; the cloven tree without Ariel; man as he really is and has become, rather than man as he could or should be—man, in short, as Antonio, spreading his poison from the top of civilized Italy down to its boot and root.
But Caliban in fact differs radically from his European counterpart. The difference is intimately bound up with the new world Prospero has created on the island, and to understand this we have to take very seriously Shakespeare's many efforts in the play to direct our glance back-ward to the history of the island before the play begins. This early history discloses an edifying transition from evil to good, and the emergence of a mythic or romance order. In his best of all impossible worlds, Prospero sees himself as the new god who has displaced the old, therefore the hero and savior as well as the king of his island universe. The only ripple of disorder is caused by a difference between the old and new generations of evil. Sycorax, who died before Prospero reached the island, belongs to the archetypal past and is therefore an absolute or pure figure of evil. She may also be Prospero's archetype, his figment of evil, a relief from the various shades of human gray in Europe. She was, or would have been, easy to identify as the enemy. There would have been no such complicating factors as love, or trust, or kinship, or hypocrisy. She could have been dealt with by force alone, and Caliban comforts us on this point by suggesting that Prospero's magic is stronger than his mother's. Thus no problem about Prospero's dealings with Caliban could develop were Caliban identical in these respects with Sycorax. What initially confused Prospero was the ambivalence and instability, the mixture of human motives we have already seen in Caliban. Unlike his mother, he offered Prospero a chance to exercise his more humane gifts in the liberal arts. When this failed, Prospero consigned him to the category of pure evil, alongside Sycorax and Antonio. The interesting thing about this whole episode is its resemblance to the Milanese experience, of which it is a modified repetition. Caliban claims that the island was taken from him by Prospero, and Prospero complains in return that he tried to be kind to Caliban, that he lodged him in his cell and gave him lessons. Like Hamlet's "Mousetrap," the situation admits of a certain amount of role-switching: either character in the island drama can be seen as playing both parts, loser and winner, in the Milanese coup. Caliban is "all the subjects that he (Prospero) has," and in kicking him about, Prospero may continually, and securely, re-enact his failure in Milan. The analogy also points in the other direction: Prospero's ethical and symbolic reduction of Caliban to a figure of pure evil may suggest his share of guilt in encouraging Antonio to his crime; for unwittingly he did everything he could to cultivate whatever dram of evil his brother may have been heir to; in that sense, he—no less than Antonio—new-created the creatures that were his and gave them the occasion to say, with Caliban, "have a new master; get a new man."
The magic circle is a pastoral kingdom, a simplified and more controllable analogue of Prospero's former situation. To introduce some needless jargon, it is a version of what Erik Erikson [Childhood and Society, 1963] calls the microsphere, "the small world of manageable toys" which the child establishes as a haven "to return to when he needs to overhaul his ego." There he constructs a model of his past painful experiences which will allow him to "play at doing something that was in reality done to him." In this way he "redeems his failures and strengthens his hopes." The actual demands of Caliban's role in the microsphere differentiate him from the civilized force of evil he symbolizes to Prospero. His value as a scapegoat exceeds his usefulness as a handyman. Continued in his helplessness, he stands as a token of his master's victory and power; continued in his boorish ingratitude, he is a constant reminder of Prospero's beneficence and patience. And to attenuate the tedium of the island's perfect bliss, his surliness no doubt gives Prospero a legitimate excuse for periodically venting his spleen and clearing his complexion. As a scapegoat and member of Prospero's micro-sphere, Caliban is bound by two basic conditions: First, he can always be controlled; this is of course guaranteed by the pleasant coupling of his general inefficiency with Prospero's magic. Second, so clearcut a case of villainy sets Prospero's mind permanently at ease; there will be no deception, no misunderstanding of motives, no need to worry about Caliban's soul or conscience; he can be counted on to behave in a manner deserving only of righteous anger, discipline, and punishment. Poor Caliban is a platonist's black dream: Prospero feels he has only to lay eyes on his dark and disproportioned shape to know what Evil truly Is, and where.
In William Strachey's letter describing and commenting on the 1609 Bermuda shipwreck and the expedition's subsequent fortunes in Virginia, there is a passage which supplies a close analogue to Prospero's experience with Caliban. Sir Thomas Gates, one of the leaders of the expedition, and Lieutenant Governor of the colony, had sent a man out on a mission, and the man was killed by Indians. Strachey reports that "it did not a little trouble the Lieutenant Governour, who since first landing in the Countrey … would not by any meanes be wrought to a violent proceeding against them, for all the practises of villany, with which they daily indangered our men; thinking it possible, by a more tractable course, to winne them to a better condition: but now being startled by this, he well perceived, how little a faire and noble intreatie workes upon a barbarous disposition, and therefore in some measure purposed to be revenged".… Strachey's letter is dated 1610, and Shakespeare could have seen it in its unpublished form, but my interest is in something he could not have seen, a marginal comment in Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625), in which the letter was first published: "Can a Leopard change his spots? Can a Savage remayning a Savage be civili? Were not wee our selves made and not borne civili in our Progenitors dayes? and were not Caesars Britaines as brutish as Virginians? The Romane swords were best teachers of civilitie to this & other Countries neere us."
To this hard-headed historical perspective we may contrast another view of the—or a—New World, and a very different idea of the acquisition of civility. Imagine Prospero's delight were he to find himself translated to the island of Utopia where "the people are in general easygoing, good-tempered, ingenious, and leisure-loving. They patiently do their share of manual labor when occasion demands, though otherwise they are by no means fond of it. In their devotion to mental study they are unwearied.… after a little progress, their diligence made us at once feel sure that our own diligence would not be bestowed in vain. They began so easily to imitate the shapes of the letters, so readily to pronounce the words, so quickly to learn by heart, and so faithfully to reproduce what they had learned that it was a perfect wonder to us." [(Sir Thomas More, Utopia).] Here all things have been set in good order from the beginning. Within the scope of a single regime and lifetime, the first king "brought the rude and rustic people to such a perfection of culture and humanity as makes them now superior to all other mortals".… In that island, which is Nowhere, Truth is not the daughter of Time. Time has no utility there, history no meaning. The hard-won accomplishments of western civilization have been handed to the Utopians in the Aldine edition, so that they can quickly and painlessly riffle through two thousand years of culture during study hour.…
Shakespeare's image of unspoiled man lies somewhere between Prospero's view of him as a bora devil and the vision Thomas More assigned to the professional traveller Raphael Hythloday (which means "well trained in nonsense"). But I think it is Hythloday's vision, rather than the more hard-headed attitude recorded by Purchas, which lurks behind Prospero's rejection. Prospero's phrase, "the dark backward and abysm of time," has a rich and profoundly resonant ring to us, but to him it signifies the space of twelve years, not the incredible vast of time which separates us from our progenitors. Shakespeare would have us remember that we cannot new-create Caliban from savagery to civility in twelve years, any more than we can new-create unregenerate Europeans in three hours, except in the world of romance.
The dark backward and abysm of time: Purchas gives us a better clue to its resonance than Hythloday or Prospero, and this clue is to be found in the dominant atmospheric effect of the play. Let me repeat David William's remark that Caliban's appearance "must indicate an aspiration towards human nature, whereas Ariel's is away from it." The two figures are separated by the whole of human history, civilization, and development. In Ariel alone, all calibanic urges except the desire of freedom have been transcended, sublimed away, become pure esthetic play. Compressed into the insistently noted limits of an afternoon and a small island, are not only twelve years of experience, but the beginning and the end of civilized man, the new world and the old, Africa and Europe, the travels of Aeneas and those of Sir Thomas Gates, the golden age and an earnest of apocalypse. Similarly, our sense of spatial scale varies from the mini-world of elves and mushrooms through oceans and continents to the great globe itself; from unplummeted depths of earth and ocean through the green sea and cloud-capped towers toward the moon and the azure vault of heaven. The archaic world of folklore and superstition, the world of the mythy mind, is set beside the ultimate refinements of literary artifice, and the marvels of theatrical and hermetic thaumaturgy.
These spatial and temporal coordinates are significantly distinguished by the fact that Prospero is aware of the first but not of the second. Unitl he has bad dreams in the fourth act, his magic allows him to command infinite space while bounded in the nutshell of his microsphere. Yet his view into the distant past extends only half a generation. Milan seems long ago because he has spend his time in so different a world, and because there are no clocks on the island; in the romance milieu, it would make little difference whether Ariel howled away in his tree for one, twelve, or twelve hundred years. But there is another measure in the play which magnifies the dark backward and downward of time, a scale of which neither Prospero nor the other characters are seriously cognizant: We, however, may remember that Amphion's miraculous harp raised the Theban wall in the fabled age of gods and heroes; that in what seems like the dawn of history Dido came to Carthage from Phoenicia, and Aeneas relinquishing his first wife with his first civilization passed through Carthage on his way to Italy; that his settlement was to become the high and palmy state of Rome; that he abandoned his former home at the behest of the gods and for reasons of state; that the Trojans did not bring forth islands by sowing kernels in the sea—they ploughed the ocean to plant a difficult harvest they would not live to enjoy.
These echoes vibrate with the sense of history; they stretch out the expanse of time separating Caliban from the play's modern characters. And they provide us with a vantage point from which we may view with detachment as well as sympathy the turning point of the play—the moment during which Prospero suddenly recalls Caliban's conspiracy, interrupts the masque of Ceres, and delivers his elegy on the end of the revels and the end of the world.
The action beginning with the tempest and culminating in this moment saves Prospero from becoming, or rather remaining, another Raphael Hythloday. Until his disenchantment, he too fits the image of the colonizer as frustrated idealist, wishing for and therefore finding himself in a new world, unhampered by decadent fellow Europeans; eager to start over from the beginning and project a golden age of towers, palaces, temples, and theaters; a culture brought forth not through centuries of "sweat or endeavor," but like nature's foison, perhaps by "sowing kernels of it in the sea."
The source of his disenchantment is the same as the cause of his original abdication, and here again we find a close analogy in More's Utopia. Hythloday had also "devoted himself unreservedly to philosophy" (Utopia); he had left his patrimony to his brothers and voyaged to the New World where, like Jaques in As You Like It, he begged to remain rather than return to the worldly stage. He considered service to king or commonwealth a futile disturbance of his own peace and quiet. More had lectured him on his disinterest and disillusion, saying, "If you cannot pluck up wrongheaded opinions by the root, if you cannot cure according to your heart's desire vices of long standing, yet you must not on that account desert the commonwealth. You must not abandon the ship in a storm because you cannot control the winds." … This reproof follows the famous passage in which More criticizes Hythloday's Platonic disdain of the real world. Hythloday wants to free himself of that world because it neither listens nor lives up to his Utopian philosophy: There is no room, More says, for this scholastic philosophy which would impose itself absolutely and rigidly on life's situations without regard to the needs, differences and limits of particular contexts: "But there is another philosophy, more practical for statesmen, which knows its stage, adapts itself to the play in hand, and performs its role neatly and appropriately. This is the philosophy you must employ.… Would it not … [be] preferable to take a part without words than by reciting something inappropriate to make a hodgepodge of comedy and tragedy? You would have spoiled and upset the actual play by bringing in irrelevant matter—even if your contribution would have been superior in itself. Whatever play is being performed, perform it as best you can, and do not upset it all simply because you think of another which has more interest." …
Prospero thought of another play. In this, he and Hythloday differ from the old counsellor Gonzalo. Gonzalo performs the play in hand as well as he can, but not quite well enough. He is very much the man Hythloday refuses to be, the well-intentioned advisor who remains haplessly in the world. He believes in, or at least clings to, the happy solutions wherever they may be found; he tries to ease matters when it is possible to do so without causing trouble. Shakespeare places in his mouth the famous if muddled speech about the golden age (some of it borrowed from Montaigne's essay on the cannibals), and even though Gonzalo claims he uttered it merely to make the king feel better, it accords with the sentiments he expresses elsewhere in the play. "Had I plantation of this isle … and were [I] the King on it" I would admit "no kind of traffic",
no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure:
Seb. Yet he would be King on 't.
Ant. The latter end of his commonwealth forgets
Gon. All things in common Nature should
Without sweat or endeavor: treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any
Would I not have; but Nature should bring
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people.…
I would with such perfection govern …
T' excel the Golden Age.
This kind of pastoral wish-fulfillment was a cliché in Shakespeare's time—getting rid of all problems by getting rid of civilization, throwing the baby out with the bath, letting Nature and the gods do with greater ease and certainty what men try to do and always bungle. The interesting thing is that the speech is echoed in some of the significant details and themes of Prospero's masque of Ceres, put on in Act IV as a betrothal celebration for the benefit of Ferdinand and Miranda. Gonzalo's speech is simple and simple-minded, direct and unreflective, inconsistent but well-intentioned. Prospero's masque is a very artful, sophisticated and refined—not to mention magically induced—expression of the same pastoral escapism. The affiniities between counsellor and magician are stressed in a number of ways: First, Prospero is obviously fond of Gonzalo. Second, both assume that the masque of judgment has produced the desired feelings of contrition in Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio, though we see nothing in the sinners' behavior to justify this assumption. Third, both seem to have suppressed or ignored the question of their own contribution to the Milanese coup. Both characters thus share equally in a refusal to look too closely at the actual state of affairs, and more generally, at the world they live in.
But here the resemblance stops. The same attitude which is high-strung, sharply pitched, in Prospero, is loose and jangly in Gonzalo, who is marked by a certain intellectual and moral slackness. What Gonzalo naively accepts, Prospero tries to re-create by his art; he has come during the course of the action to suspect that this is the only way in which things can be made to happen as he would like them to happen. Gonzalo expresses and embodies the attitude Prospero left behind him the other side of romance from disenchantment. As he favors Gonzalo, so he clings to the sentimental attitude he no longer believes, and tries briefly to evoke it by the techniques of magic and theater. Gonzalo's closing speech is in fact a statement of the usual sentimental reading of The Tempest:
Beyond a common joy, and set it down
With gold on lasting pillars: in one voyage
Did Claribel her husband find at Tunis,
And Ferdinand her brother found a wife
Where he himself was lost; Prospero his
In a poor isle; and all of us ourselves
When no man was his own.
To which we may imagine Prospero's unheard reply: "'Tis so to thee."
In one respect, the two characters are diametrically opposed: In my ideal kingdom, Gonzalo affirms, "letters should not be known," and this bears out our own suspicion about his literacy. His knowledge of the classics is a little shaky, and Antonio justifiably refers to him as "a lord of weak remembrance." He confuses Carthage with Tunis, and tries to console Alonso by comparing Claribel to the notable Carthaginian widow and suicide. "His word," Antonio jeers, "is more than the miraculous harp" of Amphion, who raised the walls of Thebes by music. And then he and Sebastian finish poor Gonzalo off:
Seb. He hath rais'd the wall, and houses too.
Ant. What impossible matter will he make easy
Seb. I think he will carry this island home in his
pocket, and give it his son for an apple.
Ant. And sowing the kernels of it in the sea,
bring forth more islands.
More than the miraculous harp: in a way, the last laugh is on Antonio, since his own plans are about to be foiled by something like a miraculous harp. But the phrase ripples outward beyond its context. It is the harp of convenient forgetfulness and the sweet air of fantasy rearranging history, fact, and life, to accord with one's wish. And it is also the miraculous harp of romance and magic, theater and art, raising Gonzalo's untutored hopes and evasions to the level of man's highest accomplishments; raising within the brief compass of island and stage, the brief space between afternoon storm and dinner, the wall, the houses, the towers, palaces and temples, of the great globe new-created.
The opposing music, the resonance which makes The Tempest more (that is, less) than the miraculous harp, is heard most clearly in the Virgilian echoes which are thrown away by the flippancy of the ignorant villains no less than by the happy vagueness of Gonzalo. The way of Virgil and of Thomas More is felt in the specter of Aeneas who played the part handed him by the gods, from the chaos of his first tempest through the threats and temptations of Celaeno and Dido to the final victory, if one can call it that, over Turaus. The endurance of Aeneas suggests something also about the endurance of civilization, especially when we place his encounter with the Italic New World beside the play's image of the American New World. The presence in The Tempest of Troy, Italy, and Bermuda, provides a sense of rhythmic recurrence, a ground bass to the elegiac burden of the revels speech. There will always be new worlds both behind us and ahead of us, and it is not likely that the work of twelve years or three hours will finally jeopardize the good, or uproot the evil of the ancient globe we inherit and transmit.
Yet on the other hand, the Virgilian echoes do establish a measure of the condition of present-day Naples, once part of Aeneas' new world. Alonso left Naples to marry his apparently unwilling daughter Claribel to the Prince of Tunis. For reasons which strike me as worth looking into, but which I have not yet been able to puzzle out, Africa has lost a Sycorax and gained a Claribel. Claribel's pale romance name pushes her toward the status of a personification, and if we put this together with the questionable nature of the marriage, the oddly inappropriate analogy to the widow Dido, and the confusion of Tunis with Carthage, we may be willing to entertain one more allegorical fantasy, in which Alonso's voyage is a reflection of his state: the civilized European soul compromising with darkness, surrendering its clear-beautiful ideals for the sake of expediency, and thereby reversing the forward direction of western man's arduous Virgilian journey. The voyage does not begin but ends, at least temporarily, with a Virgilian storm, and the angry divinity is not Juno but Prospero.
Prospero's twelve years of romance, following Ariel's release from the cloven tree, seem to have consisted mainly of shadow boxing. Perhaps by the time he releases the Italians from the cloven ship, he is ready for a real enemy. During the early scenes he is clearly intent on, and excited by his project. He has already made and confirmed his decision in raising the tempest; and in his speeches to Miranda, Ariel, and Caliban, he seems on the verge of packing. In all three interchanges he has the air at once of summarizing the past and looking toward the future. And one of his chief concerns is to impress his image on his auditors. "Look what they have done to us," he says to Miranda. "Beware of my power and remember what you owe me," he says to Ariel and Caliban. Staging himself in roles designed to evoke sympathy, fear, or guilt; working on them by rhetoric rather than by magic; reviewing the past to place it in clear perspective: these aspects of his behavior reveal Prospero going through a test run, a dress rehearsal, preparatory to his confrontation with Alonso and Antonio.
As he moves from Miranda to Ariel to Caliban, his tone and bearing undergo significant changes. He is least easy and assured with Miranda, most with Caliban. It seems harder for him to deal, or know how to deal, with the daughter he loves than with his pet monster. He chooses his words very carefully; his sentences are at first disordered, his thoughts rambling, his narrative hesitant and digressive. Only gradually and with effort does he find the didactic handle, and gain confidence that he is producing the desired effect. To evoke the proper moral feelings in Miranda, he presents the past as a didactic romance, a parable of good and evil brothers. The interjections with which he punctuates his story—his "attend's" and "mark me's"—serve in every case to underline Antonio's perfidy. At the same time, they betray a certain rhetorical nervousness: he wants to make sure he is getting his message across. This is apparently not the sort of thing he has had much practice in during the last twelve years.
The homiletic impulse gains force with Ariel, to whom he speaks in terms of hellfire, purgatory, and redemption, using—or rather creating—the pretense that Ariel has forgotten the causes and nature of his debt to Prospero. Critics have mistakenly assumed that Prospero is angry in this scene. No doubt he feels some impatience at first, since Ariel's demand for freedom delays his project. But he immediately warms to the chance to stage himself in a moralizing vein, and I think he relishes the display of righteous anger through which he dramatizes for Ariel the latter's ingratitude and his own Powerful Goodness. This is characteristic of Prospero as of other Shakespearian figures: his delight in the present moment of playing, speaking, or performing, distracts him from his larger purpose, leads him momentarily to digress and indulge the immediate impulse. The pleasure of his little scene with Ariel gives him the idea of trying a repeat performance on wretched Caliban. Clifford Leech, who is not overly fond of Prospero, amusingly points up this motive: "After he has told Miranda his story and given Ariel his instructions and his morning lesson in obedience, he awakens Miranda … and oddly suggests: 'We'll visit Caliban my slave, who never / Yields us kind answer.' Miranda is reluctant to join in this kind of sport, but she is easily overridden".… Prospero has already settled Caliban's ethical hash, and knows that he is a much better prospect for the role of ingrate than Ariel, whom he had to interrupt in order to keep him from yielding a number of kind answers not in the script. In contrast to his arduous effort with Miranda, the dialogue or flyting match with Caliban is released like a coiled spring.
These very different styles of behavior evoked by Miranda and Caliban establish the problem of the play. Even as he begins to set his plot machinery in motion, he is confronted by two alternatives: In consoling Miranda over the shipwreck, he says, "I have done nothing but in care of thee." The implications of this care reach beyond Ferdinand to Naples and Alonso. If he is going to do right by Miranda as well as himself, it will not be enough to discipline Ferdinand, to save the younger generation while their elders sink in the slough. The more difficult and humane course entails reconciliation with Alonso, but this would in itself be hollow unless preceded by "heart's sorrow / And a clear life ensuing" on the king's part. And since Antonio now infects Alonso's presence, Prospero perhaps hopes that he may influence even him to repent. In this way he might make all of them find themselves "when no man was his own," and he might restore the world to that brave and new condition he seems to have implanted as a prospect in Miranda's mind. This, I think, is one alternative, the favored one, entertained by Prospero. It is involved with his concern for Miranda and her future, it demands a delicacy and tact he he has not had to exercise for years (if ever), and its various issues are by no means easily predictable. The other and much simpler alternative, suggested by Caliban, is vengeance, discipline, servitude, and liberal doses of magic. The choice is complicated by Prospero's interest in putting on impromptu amateur theatricals. He is obviously more at home in roles allowing him to cleave the ear with horrid speech, make mad the guilty and appall the free. All these pressures are at work in the last part of I.ii, the scene with Ferdinand. His eagerness to unite Alonso's son with Miranda is balanced by his natural desire to try Ferdinand and assess his quality (to make the swift business uneasy). But the balance is upset by the carryover of the theatrical anger generated in the previous scenes with Ariel and Caliban. The situation is at once funny and a little unpleasant: Miranda puzzled and upset, Ferdinand confounded, Prospero carried away by the chance to play at being the local constabulary, all the while chortling happy asides to Ariel and to himself. The scene reveals the extent to which his reliance on his various arts allies itself with his tendency to swerve toward the easier alternative. His use of theatrical indirections—eavesdropping, role-playing, hiding his true feelings from others—is intimately connected with his habitual isolation, his aversion to social intercourse and consequent inexperience in dealing with others. He seems reluctant to confront people directly, to trust his spontaneous reflexes or commit himself to the normal channels of communication.
And yet I think that at the outset he would prefer the more difficult alternative, Miranda's way not Caliban's. He would like to undo Antonio's evil and new-create the others by making them feel the inward pinches of conscience, rather than—as with Caliban—the merely physical pinches inflected by his spirits. He would like to awaken and quicken them to their stagnancy, their ebbing reason mudded in spiritual ooze, so that the cleansing tide will return and purge them of their foul weather. This, rather than dunk them by magic force in some filthy mantled horse-pond, and send them off punished, impressed by his power, but otherwise unchanged—like Caliban, who leaves the stage muttering a travesty of the sentiment Prospero would like to hear: "I'll be wise hereafter, / And sue for grace."
What happens to Prospero's intentions during the play is a modified repetition of what happened when he swerved from Miranda through Ariel to Caliban in I.ii; and of what happened after he tried to deal humanely with Caliban; and of what happened after he entrusted Milan to Antonio. Only this time the effect cuts much deeper. For of all Shakespeare's human characters he is the only one to have become a god of power, to have attained to Hamlet's kingdom of infinite space in the nutshell of his microsphere, to have entered and passed through pure romance, to have achieved the dearest wish of hermetic sage or mage. His must therefore be the greatest disenchantment. He finds that magic cannot save souls, cannot even pinch the will. More than this, he finds that magic is the only effective policeman, and perhaps he comes to feel that there is very little to look forward to in a world without magic, the world to which he has committed himself to return. This mood has been well described in a recent study by Robert Hunter [Shakespeare and the Comedy of Forgiveness, 1965], who discussed the play's insistence on the inveteracy, the indestructibility of evil. "Only a rigid and unceasing control of the sort that Prospero had exercised over Caliban and … Antonio, can keep good in its … ascendancy." Prospero's pardoning of Antonio lacks any feeling, Hunter observes, because he knows that "to forgive unregenerate evil is safe only when … the good are in firm and undeceived control." But control here should be understood in a more restrictive sense than Hunter intends it; it is a control exerted nowhere but in the never-never land of magic and romance. This is why Prospero connects despair to his lack of "spirits to enforce, art to enchant," in the epilogue.
Caliban's role and function in this process are peculiar. As a model and scapegoat, everything that rendered him psychologically useful in the microsphere contributes to Prospero's disenchantment during the course of the play. The reduction of Caliban or man to a devil was the easier way out when Prospero wanted to resolve his mind, protect himself from humane attachments, maintain his psychic distance and mastery in his withdrawn world; but it is no help when he is preparing himself to return. Caliban's ineffectiveness now sets him apart from evil man and links him more closely to those ideal conditions of the microsphere which Prospero is about to renounce—there are, after all, no mooncalves in Milan. I can see no evidence for the view that Caliban is a real threat who keeps Prospero on edge, nor for the pietistic reading of the subplot as moral parody—e.g., the idea that Caliban's plot to murder Prospero as a comic analogue to the crimes of Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian reduces the pretensions of the latter by comparing their behavior "to the deformed and drunken idiocies of the clowns" (Hunter). On the contrary, the analogy stresses the difference between the unreal symbol and what it represents—between the comic helplessness to which Prospero has reduced his symbol, and the insidious craft which would have succeeded anywhere but on the island. It is only in respect of the rootedness of evil that symbol and referent, Caliban and Antonio, coincide. And it is the awareness of this coincidence, intensifying through the play since the murder attempt in the second act, which is surely on Prospero's mind when Ariel tells him that the three drunkards are "bending toward their project." "A devil," he exclaims, "a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick: on whom my pains, / Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost!" He is deeply troubled, as Ferdinand and Miranda had noticed, but this has nothing to do with the external plot, the threat on his life, such as it is.
He is troubled because at this moment the meaning he has read into Caliban, and the way represented by Caliban, become for him the meaning and the way of reality. The series of reenactments of the same pattern of betrayal persuades him to generalize and validate his disillusion as the one abiding truth of life. The radical persistence of evil which he validates for himself at this moment is only the objective consequence of another persistence—his idealistic separation of Ariel from Caliban; of Ariel from the cloven tree; of liberal arts from servile labor; of the vanished age of gold which must be restored, from the present age of iron which must be either repressively disciplined or willfully ignored. The implied validation of Caliban as the real model of man is matched by the equally hasty act of generalization which connects the dissolving masque, first to a dissolving culture, then to a dissolving world. I think we are meant to note the suddenness, the violence and facility, with which this reversal of his divided values takes place. What he feels this time, and for the first time, is that everything golden, noble, beautiful and good—the works of man, the liberal arts, the aspirations variously incarnated in towers, palaces, temples, and theaters—that all these are insubstantial and unreal compared to the baseness of man's old stock. And not merely as vanities; but as deceptions, fantasies which lure the mind to escape from its true knowledge of darkness and which, dissolving, leave it more exposed, more susceptible, more disenchanted than before.
Here and now, Caliban becomes most truly Prospero's bane of beauty, the catalyst leading him, in his revels speech, to criticize as groundless the arts and projects, the beliefs and hopes by which he had ordered his life. The crux of his self-criticism lies in the phrase, "the baseless fabric of this vision," and especially in the word baseless. Baseless means two things: insubstantial, not firmly based, without proper grounds; but also, not base, not evil, too purely beautiful, excluding the dark substance of man; therefore, once again, without grounds. "We are such stuff / As dreams are made on"—on as well as of: the evil matter or basis, the Calibanic foundation on which our nobler works are built, which they deceptively cover over, or from which they rise as in escape. Prospero would say, as Spenser said of the golden House of Pride, "full great pittie, that so faire a mould / Did on so weake foundation ever sit" (The Faerie Queene, I.iv.5). And man's works are dreams not only in being vanities, fragile illusions, but also in being—as Freud called them—the guardians of sleep protecting the mind in its denial of or flight from reality. Feeling this, Prospero might well envy his actors for being spirits who can melt into thin air after their performance. The best the vexed and aging mortal creature can hope for is to have his little life rounded—crowned—with sleep.
The perspective of the revels speech is itself a form of escape from mortality. It is the god's-eye view and therefore identical to that which dominated the masque of Ceres, even though the content of the masque was pastoral and that of the revels speech heroic. Pastoral and heroic perspectives may be used indifferently, as here, to distance or diminish the immediate problems of real life. The masque is in every respect an exorcism of evil. It was arbitrarily introduced as a distraction, a vanity of Prospero's art. "Some vanity of mine art" (IV.i.41) is meant to sound self-deprecating: "Just a little something extra, and I'm only doing it because they expect it of me." But it also sounds apologetic, for he is asking Ariel to bear with him while he puts on one more show, and the revels speech shows him to have become aware of his self-indulgence. At any rate, his spirits enact his "present fancies," and thus reveal the state and tendency of his mind: by incantation and evocation they dispel not only the foul plot but also the thoughts of lust, intemperance, and disloyalty which had occupied him in his previous conversation with Ferdinand and Miranda.
Stephen Orgel speaks of the masque as a boundary leading the play from nature back to society … but this is almost certainly inaccurate: The masque pictures an idyllic nature, winterless, moving directly from harvest to spring. It begins when Iris calls Ceres away from a less ideal and very English nature whose character—"thy seamarge, sterile and rocky-hard"—communicates itself to the conventional woes imposed on lasslorn bachelors by cold nymphs crowned for chastity (IV.i.64-69)—as if Prospero sees only untempered chastity or intemperate lust, one or another kind of nunnery, possible in the actual world; the extremes may be tempered nowhere but on the magic island and in the masque where love is guided by gods. Married fertility is praised on the model of the securely determined round of nature. The imagery of this improved cycle seems to me a deliberately simplified and purged image of the human contract it celebrates, for it avoids those very problems of trust and self-discipline which Prospero himself had earlier raised with Ferdinand. At the same time the more unpleasant themes on Prospero's mind resonate even in their exclusion: The possibilities fulfilled in the fourth Aeneid are carefully exo
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A. D. Nuttall (essay date 1967)
SOURCE: "The Tempest," in Two Concepts of Allegory: A Study of Shakespeare's The Tempest and the Logic of Allegorical Expression, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967, pp. 136-60.
[In the following essay, Nuttall provides an analysis of allegorical elements in The Tempest, arguing that the suggestiveness of the play is "metaphysical in tendency," since it conceives of love as a supernatural force.]
One of the reasons why The Tempest is hard to classify lies in its parentage. It has two sets of sources, first a body of romantic, fairy-tale literature and second a collection of travellers'...
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John Pitcher (essay date 1984)
SOURCE: "A Theatre of the Future: The Aeneid and The Tempest, " in Essays in Criticism, Vol. XXXIV, No. 3, July, 1984, pp. 193-215.
[In the following essay, Pitcher examines Shakespeare's reconstitution of episodes from Vergil's Aeneid in The Tempest, maintaining that in this drama the playwright displays the fruits of his encounter with both the vital and negative aspects of Roman culture.]
Twenty five years ago, when H. A. Mason [in Humanism and Poetry in the Early Tudor Period, 1959] sought to characterise the achievement of Ben Jonson—in his estimate, the first Englishman...
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Jan Kott (essay date 1976-77)
SOURCE: "The Tempest, or Repetition," in Mosaic: A Journal for the Comparative Study of Literature and Ideas, Vol. X, No. 3, Spring, 1976-1977, pp. 9-21.
[In the following excerpt, originally the first part of a two-part essay, Kott argues that Shakespeare's reworking of classical mythology and Renaissance concepts of the New World, Utopia, and the Golden Age serves as a bitter commentary on "the lost hopes of the Renaissance."]
Not only did explorers and colonizers give old world names to the lands they discovered and to their newly established colonies—New England, New Amsterdam, Jamestown,...
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David Sundelson (essay date 1980)
SOURCE: "So Rare a Wonder'd Father: Prospero's Tempest," in Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, edited by Murray M. Schwartz and Coppélia Kahn, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980, pp. 33-53.
[In the following essay, Sundelson provides a psychoanalytic reading of the relationships between fathers and children in The Tempest, focusing in particular on what he terms Prospero 's "paternal narcissism: the prevailing sense that there is no worthiness like a father's, no accomplishment or power, and that Prospero is the father par excellence."]
Dramatic conflict is strikingly...
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Bamber, Linda. "After Tragedy: The Tempest." In her Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare, pp. 169-91. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1982.
Examination of the ways in which The Tempest diverges from Shakespeare's other romances in its handling of the feminine.
Berger, Karol. "Prospero's Art." Shakespeare Studies X (1977): 211-39.
Influential analysis of Prospero's magic.
Bergeron, David M. "The Tempest." In his Shakespeare's Romances and the Royal Family, pp. 178-203. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1985.
Discusses the depiction of family politics in The...
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