Last Updated on July 28, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 971
During the past three decades there has been a dramatic shift in critical commentary on The Tempest. Traditionally, critics have viewed the play as Shakespeare's somewhat melancholy farewell to his art. Such interpretations generally presented Prospero as a powerful but benevolent figure who brings about redemption and reconciliation. More recently, however, critics approaching The Tempest from the perspective of Marxist, feminist, or new historicist theory have seen it as a paradigm of oppression. They frequently read it as a parable of colonial expansionism in the early modern age, equating Prospero with Europeans who exploited the New World and Caliban with persecuted or enslaved Native Americans.
Throughout this change in critical reception, traditional interpretations of the play have persisted. R. A. Foakes (1971), for example, has examined the complex nature of Prospero's sovereignty of the island, proposing that his harshness toward others reflects the suffering he had earlier received at the hands of Antonio and Alonso. Although Foakes emphasizes the harmonious conclusion of the play and Prospero's restoration as Duke of Milan, he also remarks on the sense of unresolved issues that underlies the final notes of joy and restitution. Writing more than twenty years later, Philip C. McGuire (1994) has also evaluated the play's ending, particularly the significance of Antonio's silence in the final scene, and questions whether everyone who has wronged Prospero is truly repentant. Additionally, McGuire has maintained that despite the unusual degree to which the audiences' perceptions of other characters and the dramatic action is controlled by Prospero, we gradually come to realize that his representation of Caliban is not the only one we should accept.
The ambiguous nature of Caliban continues to interest commentators, all of whom regard him as a central figure in the play. In their book-length treatment of Caliban, Alden T. Vaughan and Virginia Mason Vaughan (1991) have explored the reception of Prospero's slave by actors, directors, critics, and audiences since his conception in the early seventeenth century. They conclude that he has become a cultural figure because of his vivid and enigmatic characterization, maintaining that he is particularly susceptible to variant interpretations as social currents change and different ideologies become dominant. Bryan Crockett (1991) has scrutinized Caliban in terms of the theological controversy over predestination that was current in early seventeenth-century England. He argues that while at first Caliban appears to be a model of bestial depravity, subsequently he emerges as a creature capable of seeking, and receiving, divine grace. William M. Hamlin (1994) similarly has considered the seemingly contradictory portrayal of Caliban. Arguing that Caliban's depiction owes much to Renaissance travel literature, Hamlin proposes that it reflects early ethnographers' ambivalent views of Native Americans as mysterious and alien—yet no less human than their European counterparts.
The relation between life and dreams, and reality and illusion, has also received considerable attention from critics. Marjorie B. Garber (1974) has compared the island setting itself to a dream world, remarking that all who enter its realm find it irrational and shrouded in mystery. As in dreams, she suggests, the island becomes the place where reality is transformed and truth is unveiled. John Arthos (1977) has proposed that The Tempest is deeply concerned with the relation between truth and paradox. In the critic's estimation, Prospero comprehends—as no other character in the play does—that human understanding is limited, and that there is a deep and impenetrable gulf between human reason and the unnameable powers that control existence. Richard P. Wheeler (1995) has also discussed the play's presentation of life as a dream. He contrasts Caliban's vision of opulence—unattainable and wholly divorced from reality—with Prospero's...
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decision, once he comes to recognize that he cannot control every situation, to abjure his powers and retreat to a sphere where action is meaningless.
The issue of control—more specifically the question of political dominance—is the focus of many late twentieth-century readings of The Tempest. Francis Barker and Peter Hulme (1985), for example, have contended that the play is profoundly concerned with the structure of power relations and with various characters' attempts to subvert or overturn the hierarchy of authority. These critics perceive an implicit colonialist ideology in Prospero's justification of his authority over the island and his having wrested control of it from Caliban. They maintain that although the legitimacy of Prospero's rule is frequently questioned, the play ultimately sanctions his version of events. Michael Payne (1988) has identified a variety of political aspects in the play, including the interplay of magic and politics, the historical circumstances that provided the context for its earliest performances at court, and Shakespeare's modifications of his contemporary sources. Payne describes as "subjective magic" the means by which Prospero learns self-control, and "transitive magic" as the way he manages to influence others.
The present decade has seen a continuing critical preoccupation with the question of dominance and resistance in The Tempest, particularly as this may be reflected in the master-slave relationship of Prospero and Caliban. Richard Halpern (1994) has asserted that the play anticipates the merging of New World and Western cultures, the mingling of Native American and European ideologies. In the critic's judgment, The Tempest does not favor either colonizer or colonized; instead, it examines the nature of power structures and reveals the violence that sustains utopian projects. Howard Felperin (1995) has also recently analyzed the ideological foundations of the play. Colonial discourse is only one of many historical or political dimensions in The Tempest, he argues, noting that references in the play to the New World waver in purpose and content, and pointing out that they are dismissed or denied as quickly as they are raised. Much more significant, Felperin declares, is Shakespeare's representation of history as a recurring nightmare of conquest and tyranny, and his final affirmation of a collective destiny in which differences among people will become insignificant and traditional concepts of authority will be abolished.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 20057
R. A. Foakes (essay date 1971)
SOURCE: "Shakespeare's Last Plays: The Tempest," in Shakespeare: The Dark Comedies to the Last Plays: From Satire to Celebration, The University Press of Virginia, 1971, pp. 144-72.
[In the excerpt below, Foakes traces the flow of the dramatic action in The Tempest, maintaining that Prospero's return to his rightful place in Milan is the central motivation of the play. Additionally, the critic describes the nature and limitations of Prospero's art, the corresponding visions of temporal order in the play and heavenly order in the masque, and the underlying tone of melancholy at the close.]
Although The Tempest has much in common with Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale, and has often been interpreted as a kind of 'necessary development' from them, it is also in many ways a new departure as a play. Thematic resemblances between these plays have been charted, and they have been analysed as different versions of the same basic 'myth';1 but however they may be linked in these ways, The Tempest has its own distinctive structure, sets up its own peculiar pattern of expectations, and demands to be assessed as a unique work of art in its own right. Some of the more obvious peculiarities of this play would seem at first sight to set it apart from the others. Instead of an inscrutable providence manifesting itself from time to time in oracles, miracles, or appearances of gods, this play has in Prospero a controller who exercises through his magic a power like that of heaven. Certain oppositions in it, such as those between beauty and ugliness, or nurture (education) and nature (brutishness) seem so schematically rendered, as in the contrasts between Caliban and Miranda, as to allow an allegorical interpretation.2 The extensive use of masque and spectacle has also encouraged a treatment of the whole play as based on masque.3 At the same time, The Tempest is the only one among the late plays that observes the neo-classical unities of time and place. All these features in themselves suggest that Shakespeare was moving in a new direction in this play, a view confirmed by an examination of its dramatic shaping.
At the beginning of I.ii, Miranda confirms our impression of what we have witnessed in the opening scene, a shipwreck in which all, boat and crew alike, were lost; she suffered with those she saw suffer, watched the ship 'Dash'd all to pieces' (1. 8), and is convinced the people on it died, 'Poor souls, they perish'd!' (1. 9). She is amazed (1. 14), but accepts what has happened, supposing her father may have raised the storm by his art, but not that he has caused the wreck. In fact she and we quickly learn that he has ordered the shipwreck, but:
I have with such provision in mine Art So safely ordered, that there is no soul— No, not so much perdition as an hair Betid to any creature in the vessel Which thou heard'st cry, which thou saw'st sink.
What we saw happened, and yet did not happen; Prospero's art is so powerful that with his 'provision' or foresight (supposing this word to be a correct emendation of the Folio reading 'compassion'), he can destroy and save simultaneously.4 He has, through the agency of Ariel, dispersed the crew in groups about the island, and the ship, as we learn when the boatswain returns in V.i. is undamaged. If what he has done on one level is to deceive by a trick or illusion, some vanity of his art, on another level what he has done is real, as it controls the actions of people, and shapes the course of events.
At the same time Prospero's art is limited, and in narrating to Miranda the history of Antonio's usurpation of Milan, and of the way in which she and her father were left to drift at sea in a 'rotten carcass of a butt' (1. 146), Prospero also indicates something of what the nature and limits of his art are. For one thing, his magic powers seem to have been acquired since he and Miranda arrived on Setebos, for he was unable to foresee or prevent Antonio and Sebastian depriving him of his dukedom, and counter their treachery. Moreover, these powers are in some sense a function of the island, and only operate in its vicinity. Their development has to do with the books which Gonzalo provided for Prospero, 'volumes that I prize above my dukedom' (1. 167), and with the latter's 'secret studies' (1. 77) when he was in Milan; their nature perhaps is connected with that neglect of wordly ends for the bettering of his mind Prospero speaks of, with the sense we have of his goodness. Human treachery drove him from Milan, and he was saved, he tells Miranda, 'By Providence, divine' (1. 159); now a strange chance has brought his enemies to the island:
By accident most strange, bountiful Fortune, (Now my dear lady) hath mine enemies Brought to this shore; and by my prescience I find my zenith doth depend upon A most auspicious star, whose influence If now I court not, but omit, my fortunes Will ever after droop.
Fortune, once hostile to him, brought about his fall, but is now his 'dear lady', and he must seize the opportunity she offers. So Prospero's powers are circumscribed, dependent geographically on the island, and operating in relation to providence on the one hand, and fortune on the other.
The zenith or highest point of Prospero's fortunes will in any case be to recover what he has lost, and reinstate himself as:
the Duke of Milan, and A prince of power.
His magical art or power subserves another end, that of regaining his temporal or princely power; and it is with this in mind that he has educated Miranda carefully as a princess (1. 172). Indeed, he has made himself ruler of the strange island, and by his magic art has made Ariel and Caliban his servants, or rather, to use his own word, his slaves. Ariel had been imprisoned within a cloven pine by the witch Sycorax until Prospero released him; he had been 'her servant' and has now become Prospero's, earning his eventual liberty through service. Prospero requires absolute obedience, and no complaint:
If thou more murmur'st, I will rend an oak And peg thee in his knotty entrails, till Thou hast howl'd away twelve winters.
The threatened punishment coincides exactly in nature and length of time with that inflicted on Ariel by Sycorax, which was, as Prospero describes it, 'a torment To lay upon the damn'd' (1. 289). So although Ariel and Prospero respect each other as 'great master' (1. 189), and 'Fine apparition! My quaint Ariel' (1. 317), their relationship is basically that of slave and master. Prospero's other slave, Caliban, serves him and Miranda in the most menial offices, and is despised by Miranda as a 'villain', and by Prospero as a 'poisonous slave' (11. 309, 319); he is imprisoned in a 'hard rock' (1. 343) by his own and Miranda's account, hates his service and his master and mistress, and for the slightest sign of unwillingness in carrying out commands, he is racked with horrible pains and tortures. Miranda tried to educate him, and taught him language as Prospero had taught her, but the purposes of his brutish nature could only seem vile to her, as he would not take 'any print of goodness' (1. 352); his imprisonment and slavery are apparently punishments for his 'wickedness' in seeking to rape Miranda. The standards Prospero applies are those of Milan, of his own civilization, and Caliban's version of what has happened raises some questions about the validity of those standards on the isle. For Prospero is himself in some sense a usurper, as he has taken the island from Caliban, who in the first place 'educated' him by showing him 'all the qualities o'th'isle' (1. 337), and who now can lament with some reason;
I am all the subjects that you have, Which first was mine own king,
After the shipwreck of the opening scene, Prospero's first exercise of his art is to use Ariel to lure Ferdinand to the presence of Miranda. At the first glance they see one another as 'thing divine' (1. 418) and 'goddess' (1. 421), but know themselves for man and woman too, and duly fall in love, as Prospero desires; how far his art has effected this is not clear, but for them to be in love is to put them 'both in either's powers' (1. 450). Ferdinand has entered half in grief, and weeping the King his father's death, and half in self-congratulation, as now he can say, 'myself am Naples' (1. 434); but here he is in Prospero's kingdom, and in his power, as, like Jupiter 'crossing' Posthumus in Cymbeline, Prospero makes Ferdinand suffer:
thou dost here usurp The name thou ow'st not; and hast put thyself Upon this island as a spy, to win it From me, the lord on't.
Ferdinand No, as I am a man.
Miranda There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple: If the ill spirit have so fair a house, Good things will strive to dwell with't.
Prospero Follow me. Speak not you for him: he's a traitor. Come; I'll manacle thy neck and feet together. . . .
Prospero imposes on Ferdinand tasks fit for a slave, and, in the same sense that it applied earlier to Caliban, 'imprisons' him; this is designed as a kind of test, or rather, education in self-rule, and the presence of Miranda makes confinement easy; so Ferdinand cries:
all corners else o'th'earth Let liberty make use of; space enough Have I in such a prison.
At the same time, we witness a display of power by Ferdinand's 'enemy' (1. 466), Prospero, who speaks as if he were King indeed, twice using the word 'traitor', which rings somewhat oddly on the island; it is also in its way an exercise of tyranny, and the 'punishment' Ferdinand has to endure corresponds exactly to that inflicted upon Caliban, who had attempted to violate Miranda. In II.ii Caliban enters carrying wood, and meets Trinculo and Stephano, whose wine makes him drunk, frees him from Prospero's impositions, and enables him to escape to the forbidden parts of the island. Ferdinand in effect takes the place of Caliban, and the following scene (III.i) opens with him 'bearing a log'.
Prospero rules as King, and uses his magic arts to order his kingdom somewhat as if it were still Milan, as when he uses a term like 'traitor'. He has in some sense usurped upon Caliban's island, and imprisoned him; but in another perspective, Prospero himself has seen his own kingdom usurped, and is himself 'imprisoned' on an uncivilized island. Here what Prospero has learned by the necessary exercise of patience and self-rule will emerge in the course of the play, as will the way the harshness he imposes matches the harshness he has suffered. He is also a father carefully arranging an appropriate marriage for his daughter, but delighted, too, to find that she and Ferdinand at once fall in love—delighted and at the same time angry:
Miranda Sir, have pity; I'll be his surety.
Prospero Silence! one word more Shall make me chide thee, if not hate thee.
An advocate for an impostor!
Prospero says he must make their courtship difficult, 'lest too light winning Make the prize light' (1. 451), but they do not know this, and to them he is simply cross-grained and harsh. He becomes temporarily, and in a minor perspective, a father-figure out of conventional romantic comedy, opposing his daughter's wishes, because the fulfilment of her desires will end parental control over her. The lovers are now in the power of each other, and through this gain a kind of freedom, just as Caliban gains a different kind of freedom when drunk. So in III.i, Miranda, watching Ferdinand bearing logs, promises to be his 'servant' (1. 85), even as he accepts the 'bondage' of love to become her 'slave':
The very instant that I saw you, did My heart fly to your service; there resides, To make me slave to it; and for your sake Am I this patient log-man.
Prospero may impose bodily labour on Ferdinand, but the power of love is greater than Prospero's in the sense that it transmutes menial slavery into service to Miranda, and makes Ferdinand's labours into pleasures.
Meanwhile, Alonso, cast up on the island with his little 'court' remains inconsolable in the conviction that his son and heir, Ferdinand, has drowned. The good Gonzalo likewise wrongly assumes that Ferdinand is dead, and, in his attempts to comfort the King, gets his facts wrong about the location of Tunis, and proposes such a self-contradictory idea of a commonwealth that he lays himself open to the mockery of Sebastian and Antonio. In all this he 'talks nothing' (II.i.164) to Alonso to encourage 'merry fooling' (1. 168) and relieve the mood of the King. Gonzalo's image of the ideal commonwealth he would establish if he could colonize the isle and 'were the King on't' (1. 139) may in some sense be a critique of the primitivism of the essay of Montaigne on which it is largely based, but in any case it has an immediate and potent relevance to the action of the play. His ideal commonwealth would have no laws, no magistrates, no contracts, no inheritance, no letters, no labour and no treason or crime:
No occupation; all men idle, all; And women too, but innocent and pure: No sovereignty. . . .
It would be a return to a prelapsarian Eden, with Nature bringing forth of itself all necessities, but an Eden filled with his 'innocent people' (1. 158); and yet Gonzalo would be king:
I would with such perfection govern, sir, T'excel the Golden Age.
A people of such innocence would not need to be governed, but a king might well wish to have a state such as Gonzalo imagines. Gonzalo talked 'nothing', but something at the same time, for the idea of a perfect commonwealth underlies all rule, and the idea of paradisial innocence and the golden age provides a point of reference by which civilization demands to be measured.5
Sebastian and Antonio mock Gonzalo, and have no conception of innocence, but can think of his 'subjects' only as idle 'whores and knaves' (1. 160), and when Ariel enters playing the solemn music which, though not heard by them, puts Alonso, Gonzalo and the rest to sleep, at once Antonio's 'strong imagination' (1. 199) works to propose another image of rule. It is just that as Antonio has driven out Prospero and made himself Duke of Milan, so may Sebastian get rid of his brother Alonso and seize the kingdom of Naples. Sebastian sees himself as King for a moment before Ariel comes to wake Gonzalo and prevent murder:
as thou got'st Milan, I'll come by Naples. Draw thy sword: one stroke Shall free thee from the tribute which thou payest; And I the King shall love thee.
Rule for them lies in the mere possession of power, not in the quality of the man who rules, and in their barbarity they are worse than Stephano and Caliban, whose plot against Prospero is conceived in drink rather than in cold blood. The next scene shows us these characters. Caliban enters with a load of wood and cursing his master and tormentor who sets his spirits on him to plague him 'for every trifle' (1. 8). He has seen no other human beings besides Prospero and Miranda, and it is natural for him to take Trinculo and Stephano for spirits, just as it is natural for them to regard Caliban as 'some monster of the isle' (1. 62). When Trinculo creeps under Caliban's gaberdine to hide from the storm, they make together a four-legged monster with two mouths which becomes very funny as Stephano converses with both voices at once. The re-appearance of Trinculo, pulled forth by Stephano, serves to emphasize how much less of a 'monster' Caliban himself is. Caliban is described in the list of actors given in the Folio text as 'a salvage and deformed slave', and he has links with Indian savages and cannibals, and with the wild man of European folklore, embodied in drama in such a figure as Bremo of Mucedorus; he has been well described in terms developing these basic dimensions:6
His origins and character are natural in the sense that they do not partake of grace, civility and art; he is ugly in body, associated with an evil natural magic, and unqualified for rule or nurture. He exists at the simplest level of sensual pain and pleasure, fit for lechery because love is beyond his nature, and a natural slave of demons. He hears music with pleasure, as music can appeal to the beast who lacks reason; and indeed he resembles Aristotle's bestial man.
However, there is more to Caliban as we see him in the action of the play. He not only hears music, but makes it, and his natural medium, it seems, is verse of some distinction, as against the prose of Trinculo and Stephano; also, like the others, he has a sense of the role he might play in the body politic. Prospero is a 'tyrant' (1. 152) to him, and he is glad to change his master, when the new spirits or men he now meets offer him liquor that is not earthly, and through that a vision of freedom. Stephano and Trinculo assume the King is dead, and determine to be rulers of the island, 'we will inherit here' (1. 163), even as Caliban swears allegiance, 'I'll kiss thy foot; I'll swear myself thy subject' (1. 142).
In this posture of humility before the drunken butler Stephano, Caliban appears ridiculous to Trinculo, who cries, 'I shall laugh myself to death at this puppy-headed monster' (1. 144); but however absurd and comic he may be here, Caliban retains a kind of superiority over his companions. He knows the qualities of the isle, and without him they would be lost; he has a poetic response to it, and where Trinculo sees a 'most ridiculous monster' (1. 155), we see Caliban vividly and imaginatively reacting to his natural environment as Trinculo never could, and promising to
Show thee a jay's nest, and instruct thee how To snare the nimble marmoset; I'll bring thee To clustering filberts, and sometimes I'll get thee Young scamels from the rock.
The adjectives 'nimble' and 'clustering' reveal his appreciation of what he has seen. There is something visionary too about Caliban's feeling for freedom, even if he is mistaken in supposing that it will lie in serving Stephano. To him Prospero is the tyrant who robbed him of the island, made use of him, sought to impose his own values and morality on him, and when he rebelled, made him a prisoner and a slave, and any escape from this would be freedom. Prospero taught him language, but Caliban's use of it is his own, and the surprising thing about this is the extent to which Caliban's language matches that of Prospero; Caliban's curses against Prospero are as rich and inventive as Prospero's invective and threats against him in I.ii, and his poetry is every bit as good as that of his master. While, then, we may think of Caliban as in some sense inhuman, and find evidence to support a view of him as almost a beast, as representing the irreducible element of bestiality in human nature,7 the son of a witch, and, in Prospero's words:
Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself Upon thy wicked dam,
it is not merely this Caliban we are involved with in the action. On the stage we see in the one figure both a brute and a human being (played by an actor like other actors, however disguised), who speaks fine and sophisticated verse, itself a product of both nurture, in his command of language, and nature, in the sensibility he reveals. At first when Prospero made much of him, Caliban 'lov'd' the newcomer to the island, and served Prospero by educating him in 'all the qualities o'th'isle' (I.ii.337); so now in offering to do the same for Stephano, Caliban, kissing the foot of the new master, is expressing, in his kind, his 'love', and this new service seems at first to be perfect freedom.
So the presentation of Caliban here has links with the treatment of Ferdinand in the next scene, who gains a freedom in yielding to the bondage of love, and kneels or makes obeisance of some kind in sign of his service to Miranda ('And I thus humble ever', III.i.87). The analogy continues, however, into the next scene (III.ii), where we find Stephano's 'kingdom' in a state of discord, as he quarrels with Trinculo over Caliban:
Trinculo, keep a good tongue in your head: if you prove a mutineer,—the next tree! The poor monster's my subject, and he shall not suffer indignity.
Here, too, we learn that 'freedom' means to Caliban 'revenge' (1. 51) on Prospero for getting the isle by 'sorcery' from him, as he kneels again to Stephano to present his suit, and begs him to kill the 'tyrant'. Caliban's service to his new master is to offer him the opportunity of braining Prospero, and also to 'give' him that nonpareil of beauty Miranda, whom Caliban had wished to possess for himself; and the vision is irresistible for Stephano, 'I will kill this man: his daughter and I will be king and queen—save our graces!—and Trinculo and thyself shall be viceroys' (1. 102). The mood of this scene is different from that of II.ii, as the brutishness of the plot to kill Prospero emerges, and especially in Caliban's images of the deed;
with a log Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake, Or cut his wezand with thy knife.
Yet Caliban retains a kind of superiority over his companions, even in the fuddle of drink which besets them; he makes the scene comic, and takes a good deal of the sting out of their scheming; for his aim is freedom, theirs merely to seize power and rule, and he speaks verse which expresses his sense of beauty and of harmony, while their apprehension is bound by prose.
By this point in the play the drift of the action is settled. Prospero himself has happily witnessed the interchange of vows of love between Ferdinand and Miranda. His spirit Ariel has intervened at Prospero's behest as Sebastian and Antonio were about to murder Alonso and Gonzalo, so that we know these are under supervision. Now Ariel intervenes again, but apparently of his own accord, to promote the quarrel between Stephano and Trinculo, and to lead them astray as they follow his music offstage; here he may, in his capacity as fairy, be 'thwarting the unchaste', as fairies were supposed to 'abhor unchastity',8 and again he is thwarting a plot of murder. Before the final unravelling and reconciliations of Act V, there now follow two scenes (III.iii and IV.i) in which the focus is on elements corresponding to anti-masque and masque. The play has already provided a sense of spectacle, notably in the opening shipwreck scene, in the way Prospero charms Ferdinand, and as Ariel, 'invisible' to other characters, may control or guide their actions. The island, too, is full of music, the sweet and strange airs of Ariel, whose songs and 'solemn music' suggest order in their power to put men to sleep or wake them, to charm or compel them to follow where the music leads; there are also the drunken songs of Stephano and Caliban, whose 'howling' (II.ii.167) sets up by contrast a discord, and yet, as it is music, both mitigates our sense of their brutishness, and represents the contribution they can make to that quality of the island best appreciated by Caliban:
the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices, That, if I then had wak'd after long sleep, Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming, The clouds methought would open, and show riches Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak'd, I cried to dream again.
These harmonious sounds of music and voices seem to bring him pleasant dreams and visions, to raise him out of his ordinary existence, even if the scope of his visions is limited to the display of riches about to drop on him.
All this prepares for what in this play is equivalent to a crisis in the action, namely the masque of III.iii to IV.i. In the first of these scenes, Alonso and his companions, with Sebastian and Antonio, weary and frustrated in their search for Ferdinand, and still supposing him drowned, pause to rest; and Antonio and Sebastian think they have a chance to carry out their plot to murder the King and Gonzalo. At this point they see a vision and we see a masque, as, with Prospero placed 'on the top' as a regal spectator, and ultimate creator of what follows, various 'strange shapes' bring in a banquet to 'solemn and strange music'. Gonzalo thinks of these as 'people of the island', and in their 'monstrous shape' (1. 31) they perhaps look like cousins of Caliban, but gentle servants, made in the image of what Prospero would have liked Caliban to be. As Alonso plucks up his courage and makes as if to eat, Ariel, as presenter of the masque, enters 'like a Harpy' in thunder and lightning to clap his monstrous bird's wings upon the table and make it vanish. A harpy as a wind-spirit, and as servant of the Erinyes or avenging Furies is a very appropriate figure for Ariel to take at this point; in his speech addressed to Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio, the 'three men of sin' (1. 53), he speaks to them from within the masque, claiming that he and his fellows are 'ministers of Fate' (1. 61), servants of Destiny, agents of 'The powers' (1. 73). At the same time he speaks to us both as harpy and as Ariel, Prospero's agent, skilfully carrying out his master's instructions, and receiving his congratulations as the business is completed. As the 'shapes' first entered in a dance, so now they return in a dance to carry out the table, and Ariel 'vanishes in thunder'. The men of sin, afflicted with a sense of guilt by the strange vision that demanded of them
nothing but heart-sorrow And a clear life ensuing,
show their affliction in 'desperate' behaviour (1. 104); they had drawn their swords when Ariel appeared as a harpy, but were charmed from using them; now, after the vision ends, they run into strange antics, and rush offstage, Alonso in thoughts of drowning, and Sebastian and Antonio fighting imaginary fiends. So the scene ends in disorder and grotesque actions. The whole may be seen as a kind of elaborate anti-masque, in which the monstrous shapes that vanish with grimaces and mocking actions, the harpy, and the disordered rushing about of the men of sin at the end, constitute a driving out of evil, which is to be followed in IV.i by the masque proper.
The punishment Prospero inflicted on Ferdinand turns out to have been but a trial of his love, a kind of symbolic task; by completing it successfully he proves himself fit to marry Miranda, and 'earns' her. As Prospero showed earlier that he had never relinquished his place as ruler of his state by treating Ferdinand as a 'traitor', so now he gives him his daughter within the framework of full social and religious ceremonies:
If thou dost break her virgin-knot before All sanctimonious ceremonies may With full and holy rite be minister'd, No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall . . .
The emphasis on virginity here is often noted, and it is of course important as relating to the moral discipline of the individual, and to the opposition between Miranda's chastity and Caliban's unrestrained lechery; but what is equally important is Prospero's insistence on 'sanctimonious ceremonies', for where is the priest to perform these rites? The normal social, political and religious order of society is assumed in the way Prospero talks. In this context, he bestows on the lovers a vanity of his art in the form of a masque, which, in terms of what a court-masque signifies, has the effect of giving the betrothal a full social sanction, and announcing it publicly.
In fact the masque does more than this. I do not know of any extant masque of this period that is a betrothal masque, though several wedding masques survive, like those for the marriage of Princess Elizabeth in 1613, or Ben Jonson's masque for Lord Harrington's marriage in 1608, or the masque in Beaumont and Fletcher's The Maid's Tragedy for the marriage of Amintor and Evadne. The masque in these instances provided a public ceremonious congratulation on the occasion of the union, and although it could, in The Maid's Tragedy, be skilfully distorted to foreshadow the darkness and disaster that were to follow in the action of that play, it could also, and especially in the lofty vein of Ben Jonson's conceptions, go far beyond compliment and decorative splendour. In his most sophisticated masques, the expulsion of evil or darkness is followed by a blaze of virtue and light suggesting something beyond happiness or pleasure, and becoming an emblem of order and harmony passing into a hint of universal order and harmony. The dances which formed a central feature of the masque could be very important in this, as is shown by the commentary of the presenter Daedalus, the legendary artist and inventor of the labyrinth of Minos, in Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue (1618):
Then as all actions of mankind Are but a labyrinth or maze, So let your dances be entwined, Yet not perplex men unto gaze; But measured, and so numerous too, As men may read each act you do, And when they see the graces meet, Admire the wisdom of your feet; For dancing is an exercise Not only shows the mover's wit, But maketh the beholder wise, As he hath power to rise to it.
The dance exhibits through the 'wisdom' of the dancers' feet a pattern in what appears to be a maze, and the beholder who can understand this may be made wise, as he sees an image of order in the intricacies of movement, suggesting that all human actions, though inexplicable and bewildering to us, make a pattern in a larger scheme of order, the cosmic dance, the order of providence. In making Daedalus interpret the dance here in this way, Jonson was exploiting in a sophisticated and complex way a familiar Renaissance analogy, as exemplified in Orchestra (?1596), addressed by Sir John Davies to Queen Elizabeth:
Dancing, bright lady, then began to be, When the first seeds whereof the world did spring, The fire, air, earth, and water did agree By love's persuasion, nature's mighty king, To leave their first discorded combating, And in a dance such measure to observe, As all the world their motion should preserve.
Since when they still are carried in a round, And changing come one in another's place; Yet do they neither mingle nor confound, But every one doth keep the bounded space Wherein the dance doth bid it turn or trace. This wondrous miracle did Love devise, For dancing is love's proper exercise.
Dancing as the exercise of love signifies the divine harmony controlling the spheres, the planets in their movements, and all nature. Dancing as 'measure' or order, signifying matrimony, as at the end of so many of Shakespeare's comedies, carries in it hints of a greater harmony or order, that of the heavens.
What Prospero introduces as 'Some vanity of mine Art' (1. 41) would have meant much more than this to audiences at the Globe or Blackfriars. After the grotesque shows and dances of III.iii, ending in the confused rushing about of Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio, there follows now the harmonious masque proper, with Ariel again as presenter, playing, as I take it, the part of Iris. This seems the best interpretation of his phrase at 1. 167, 'when I presented Ceres'; and even without this comment, a link between the Harpy of III.iii and Iris might have been suspected. For, according to Hesiod, Iris was the sister of the Harpies, and as Ariel appeared in III.iii with a woman's face and a bird's wings and talons, or, as Shakespeare phrased a simile in Pericles:9
like the harpy, Which, to betray, dost with thine angel's face Seize with thine eagle's talons,
so now in Iris the same angelic face is seen, but Ariel is dressed to suggest the goddess of the rainbow. Iris, messenger of the gods, and, as rainbow, a link between heaven and earth, summons Ceres, presented here as goddess of harvest and of earth, to attend on Juno, queen of heaven, and like Ceres, a mother-goddess. Their business is first to make sure that Venus and Cupid are at a safe distance, so that no wantonness or lust may attend on the proceedings, and then to 'celebrate A contract of true love' (1. 133). The two goddesses, who are shown as sisters (1. 103), join in song to bless Ferdinand and Miranda, and their song is, in effect, a marriage song:
Juno Honour, riches, marriage-blessing, Long continuance, and increasing, Hourly joys be still upon you! Juno sings her blessings on you.Ceres Earth's increase, foison plenty, Barns and garners never empty; Vines with clust'ring bunches growing; Plants with goodly burthen bowing. . . . Ceres' blessing so is on you.
This blessing seems to be the 'donation' (1. 85) they bestow on the lovers, a promise of honour, riches, and fruitfulness. So although the young couple have vowed
that no bed-right shall be paid Till Hymen's torch be lighted,
the masque becomes implicitly a marriage-masque, and as such is indeed, as Ferdinand calls it, a 'most majestic vision' (1. 118).
Juno and Ceres then call on Iris to summon a group of 'temperate nymphs' (1. 132) to join with a group of reapers or 'sunburn'd sicklemen' (1. 134) in a graceful dance linking the Naiads of the water, cool and fresh, with the hot harvesters, weary with August; the union of these perhaps symbolizes the state of marriage, and certainly as a harvest dance their performance is more appropriate to a wedding than a betrothal. At this point Prospero interrupts the masque, and the spirits vanish in a 'strange, hollow, and confused noise'; the stage direction calls for him to intervene 'towards the end' of the dance, and 'interrupts' is perhaps the wrong word to describe his action, for the masque is in fact complete. The 'anti-masque' of the monstrous shapes and men of sin in III.iii gives way to a harmonious vision looking forward to prosperity, honour and a blessed life for Ferdinand and Miranda; it offers them congratulation, compliment, and closes with a dance of reapers and nymphs, symbolizing the union of ripeness with temperance in marriage. It is so compelling as a vision that Prospero loses himself in it, and forgets the 'foul conspiracy' of Caliban and his companions, so that the 'confused noise' and discords heard at the end of the masque represent the troubled mind of Prospero, and do not reflect on the masque except to show again that it is in one sense a projection of Prospero's mind or 'art'. On another level we share the lovers' acceptance of it as a splendid vision, harmonious and wise; and we see it also as a real masque enacted by performers on a stage.
It is true that one element of the conventional masque, that final stage in which the masquers 'take out' spectators into the dance and make them participants, is lacking here. Ferdinand and Miranda are kept at a distance from it as onlookers, so that they will see it as a vision acted out by spirits raised by Prospero's art. This is how Prospero himself speaks of it too, notably in his famous speech to Ferdinand:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.
There has been much discussion of this speech as a comment in particular on masques, and in general on human life and the mutability of all things; but if in one perspective life itself appears no more than an 'insubstantial pageant' like the masque, a fleeting vision or dream, in another perspective the pageant is most substantial, and reflects a view of life as rich and significant. For this vision or masque is itself an imaginative achievement of a high order, combining visual spectacle, poetry, music and dance in an art-form which emerges out of centuries of civilization and concern for the flowering of the human spirit. Moreover, the descent of Juno as queen of heaven constitutes a theophany in the play corresponding in some measure with the theophanies in Cymbeline (the descent of Jupiter), and in The Winter's Tale (the coming to life of the statue-goddess in the figure of Hermione). In this sense, the masque relates to an order outside Prospero, and beyond his control, a heavenly order. The masque belongs in a scheme of social and cosmic order to which Prospero himself subscribes, as is shown by his determination that the wedding of the lovers shall be celebrated with 'full and holy rite', in his ratifying his gift of Miranda to Ferdinand 'afore Heaven' (1. 7), and in his concern throughout to restore himself to his rightful place as Duke of Milan. As vision and performance the masque passes and melts into air, but as theophany and as a masque full of substance seen by the audience, it contradicts the notion of human insignificance in Prospero's phrase, 'our little life Is rounded with a sleep'.
In his admiration of the vision Prospero has his spirits enact, and of his prospective father-in-law as magician, artist, poet, choreographer and producer, Ferdinand cries:
Let me live here ever; So rare a wonder'd father and a wise Makes this place Paradise.
The vision renews the image of Ferdinand and Miranda as first man and first woman, or Adam and Eve figures, recalling her first thought of him as a 'thing divine', and his sense of her as 'goddess' (I.ii.418, 421). Human beings cannot remain for ever in paradise, or in what the masque of Juno and Ceres hints at, the golden world of pastoral; these belong to visions, dreams, poetical 'fancies', to use Prospero's word (1. 122). Ferdinand has already had to endure a temporary loss of 'paradise' in the hard labour of log-bearing, and must return again to the workaday world. So Caliban's vision of Stephano as a 'brave god' (II.ii.109), and Gonzalo's fancy of an ideal commonwealth, dissolve and leave not a rack behind. Yet the visions and dreams are real, if transitory, and work, as by analogy the whole play, Shakespeare's 'vision', does, to open vistas on higher possibilities and orderings of human life. At the same time, they link with the masque-like elements in the play and come to a focus in the great masque of IV.i to insist on the artifice of the incredible fiction which composes the play's action. But paradoxically, this masque, as theophany, in the substance of what it says, and by its social function, both affirms an order in the heavens beyond Prospero's art, and firmly returns us to the social order, as it looks to a future of riches and honour for the young couple, and to the formal celebration of the marriage-rites it, so to speak, assumes in advance. It thus reinforces what is the primary drive in the play, the return of Prospero to his proper place in Milan, as he has been waiting for the day when it would be possible for this most civilized of Shakespeare's characters to recover his role in the civilization to which he belongs.10
The confused noise at the end of the masque marks Prospero's recollection of his role as 'king' of the island, and the need to take action against the 'foul conspiracy' of Caliban and his companions; the harmony of the vision or masque gives way to a display of passion by Prospero, whom Miranda has never seen so 'touch'd with anger' (1. 145). The large perspective from which 'our little life' appears no more than a dream is replaced by the immediate view of practical life, with its urgencies, passions, and its important moral and social meanings. Prospero becomes again 'compos'd of harshness', as Ferdinand saw him in III.i, when he puts down the rebellion of Stephano. Caliban discovers what fools his companions are, to be diverted from their plot by the 'trumpery' hung up on show by Ariel; a wardrobe fit for a king becomes more important to them than the kingdom itself, and Caliban's remonstrance is turned aside by Stephano with the threat, 'help to bear this away . . . or I'll turn you out of my kingdom' (1. 249). At this point Prospero and Ariel enter like hunters to set a pack of 'Spirits, in shape of dogs and hounds' upon them, two of them bearing the names 'Fury' and 'Tyrant'. The hounds embody the wrath of Prospero, and something like vindictiveness, as he congratulates himself on having all his 'enemies' at his mercy, and summons goblins to torture Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban, and 'grind their joints With dry convulsions' (1. 257).
Now, at the beginning of Act V, Ariel reports on the King, Alonso, and his followers, and by a nice touch prompts Prospero to mercy:
Your charm so strongly works 'em That if you now beheld them, your affections Would become tender.
Prospero accepts the hint, and, while admitting to 'fury', the word echoing the name of the hound in the previous scene, he renounces his anger:
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th'quick, Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury Do I take part: the rarer action is In virtue than in vengeance.
Here 'pardon' would be the obvious word, rather than 'virtue',11 which, however, is much stronger, as implying his desire to make his conduct conform to moral laws, and indirectly invoking a Christian sanction for his action. The climax has arrived, the moment when Prospero can renounce too his magic, and reclaim his place in society. He has another great speech here, matching in poignancy and resonance his dismissal of the masque, with the lines beginning 'Our revels now are ended'; both speeches express a kind of farewell, and both are moving, with their mood of regret and resignation, nostalgia for pleasures that have passed, and acceptance of what must be. They are, however, very different in kind; the first speech marks the end of a majestic vision which embodies the highest imaginative working of Prospero's magic art, even if it is in one aspect a mere show or 'vanity'; the second speech follows on from the display of another sort of magic, in which Prospero hunts his enemies with spirits in the shape of hounds. It is based on the incantation of the witch Medea in Ovid's Metamorphoses, and although it has been argued that 'only those elements which are consistent with "white" magic are taken over for Prospero',12 this is to make a dubious, and from the point of view of an audience watching the play, oversubtle distinction. For the speech shows Prospero excited by, and almost boasting about, feats of 'rough magic' such as we have not seen him perform:
I have bedimm'd The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds, And 'twixt the green sea and the azur'd vault Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder Have I given fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak With his own bolt; the strong-bas'd promontory Have I made shake, and by the spurs pluck'd up The pine and cedar: graves at my command Have wak'd their sleepers, op'd, and let 'em forth By my so potent Art. But this rough magic I here abjure. . . .
We have seen him create a storm and shipwreck, but only for the special purpose of distributing the boat's crew and passengers about the isle, and we have seen Prospero use his powers to confine, hunt, and torment his 'slaves' and 'enemies'; but here, for the first time, we learn of his delight in using his magic for its own sake, to disturb the natural order, and make discord and destruction in ways traditionally associated with witchcraft. So, for example, his power over the 'mutinous winds', to make them serve him, was commonly attributed to witches, and is made much of in Macbeth, where the First Witch proposes to punish a sailor by using winds to toss his boat with tempests, and where Macbeth later tries to compel the Witches to answer him, crying:
Though you untie the winds, and let them fight Against the churches; though the yesty waves Confound and swallow navigation up. . . .
His words sufficiently anticipate Prospero's lines to indicate how far the latter moves towards traditional claims for witchcraft in a speech which ends with the most sinister statement of all, that he has brought back the dead from the grave, a feat for which Dr Faustus was well known.
At this point in the play Shakespeare seems to emphasize Prospero's connection with black magic deliberately, as indeed there can have been no graves on the isle for him to open. Prospero has the mantle and staff proper to the magician; he has forced Ariel, in return for a promise of his freedom, to bind himself as his servant for a specific length of time (I.ii.245); and we have seen him in anger use his magic to cruel effect. At the same time, we have the overriding sense of Prospero as a practiser of white magic, and of his major effort to restore order and harmony. This seeming contradiction is resolved in the distinction between magic and the magician; in other words, The Tempest does not offer a sharp clash between black magic and white magic, but offers rather a sense of magic as an art at best neutral, and perhaps dubious in its common use, but available to good or bad ends, depending on the user. Prospero is sometimes seen as a neo-Platonic mage, 'whose Art is to achieve supremacy over the natural world by holy magic', and who renounces his 'rough magic' as a stage in his enlightenment and ascension to the 'First Cause', in the phrase of Cornelius Agrippa.13 In fact, Agrippa, whose book on Occult Philosophy provides an apologia for white magic, was popularly known as a black magician, and probably gave his name to Cornelius, one of the advisers of Doctor Faustus in Marlowe's play, in which the hero looks forward to becoming:
as cunning as Agrippa was, Whose shadows made all Europe honour him.
The allusion is to Agrippa's supposed ability to summon up the dead, a power which Prospero also claims to possess. All magic tends to look like black magic, and The Tempest shows Prospero's passionate and difficult endeavour to control his art by controlling himself. The art itself is the same in kind as that practised by the witch Sycorax, a point made effectively early in the play, when Prospero, having told us how he released Ariel from the twelve years' imprisonment in a cloven pine inflicted on him by Sycorax, goes on almost immediately to threaten his 'brave spirit' with a corresponding punishment:
If thou more murmur'st, I will rend an oak, And peg thee in his knotty entrails, till Thou hast howl'd away twelve winters.
The difference lies in the way the art is used, and Prospero's is higher and more potent than that of Sycorax because the orders he gives to his ministers are proper for a spirit
too delicate To act her earthy and abhorr'd commands.
The harmonious vision of the masque, the finest product of Prospero's magic art, ends in a blaze of intense emotion for him, as he recalls Caliban, and is reminded that the ideal, the dream, is no more than a dream, denied by the very existence of brute forces exemplified in this 'born devil' and his murderous plot. Prospero's farewell now to his 'rough magic' ends, by contrast, with the sound of 'heavenly music', as Ariel brings Alonso and his companions into a magic circle. As one ends with a reminder of the need to control Caliban, so the other ends with the return of Ariel, and Prospero recalling his obligation to set free his 'dainty' spirit. Even as Ariel helps Prospero to put on his ducal clothes, and show himself as he 'was sometime Milan' (V.i.85), in the full acceptance of his social role and its obligations, Ariel sings his song of freedom, 'Where the bee sucks, there suck I', and Prospero cries:
Why, that's my dainty Ariel! I shall miss thee; But yet thou shalt have freedom.
Here Ariel seems to be associated with those fancies Prospero could give rein to on the island, as in the vision of the masque, but which, as ruler of Milan, he must henceforth curb; so Ariel is liberated to live merrily in a world of flowers. Ariel is, of course, more than this, as he is a 'familiar', bound by a pact to serve Prospero in a relationship that has in it elements of black magic. Ariel in this aspect is essentially independent of Prospero and of human beings, as a spirit or fairy, a 'tricksy spirit', at times mischievous, and able to work for good or evil. In bidding farewell to his 'rough magic', Prospero is renouncing a power which has given him pleasure, and which could serve black ends. It is appropriate that this speech, with its mood of regret combined with a sense of willing abjuration, should lead directly into the final resolution of the action, and the recovery for Prospero of his full role in society.
Ariel carries out his last tasks, to bring Alonso and the courtiers into the presence of Prospero, then the crew of the ship, and finally Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo. As Alonso and his companions 'stand charm'd' in a magic circle, Prospero changes his costume, removing his magician's robe:
I will discase me, and myself present As I was sometime Milan
At this point Prospero assumes royal authority again, as the group on stage suggests a tableau of his court, an image he realizes in dialogue a little later, as the courtiers emerge from their initial 'wonder and amazement', and he welcomes Alonso:
Welcome, sir; This cell's my court: here have I few attendants, And subjects none abroad.
Wonder is to be renewed and strengthened, as more is revealed; first, Alonso experiences another 'vision of the island' (1. 176), his first thought being that he is seeing another illusion, like the 'shapes' of III.iii, when Prospero 'discovers' Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess. It is the more wonderful that this really is his son Alonso sees, and a girl he cannot but think for a moment is a 'goddess' (1. 187), just as Miranda, seeing the group of courtiers for the first time, exclaims 'O wonder!' There is more to come, as the Boatswain and crew enter 'amazedly following' Ariel, and Alonso cries:
These are not natural events; they strengthen From strange to stranger.
Finally, Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo are driven in, to modify the image of a brave new world seen by Miranda, and perhaps by Alonso, as both Stephano and Trinculo are reeling in drink, and more bestial than Caliban, who realizes now what a fool he has been 'to take this drunkard for a god, And worship this dull fool!' (1. 296).
It is tempting to take Gonzalo's words as a general comment on this scene, and indeed, as some would have it, on the play:
O, rejoice 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 dukedom In a poor isle, and all of us ourselves Where no man was his own.
Earlier, in II.i, his sense of the island as 'lush and lusty' (II.i.49) had led him to develop his vision of the ideal commonwealth, a new golden age, on it, even as Sebastian and Antonio mocked him, seeing the island as uninhabitable desert and rotten fen; and now, as then, Gonzalo's sentiments are noble, but his vision a partial one. Not only does Antonio remain silent throughout this scene, as if aloof and unchanged, not sharing in repentance or wonder, but also there is little sign that Sebastian has found himself, while the last episode brings on Stephano and Trinculo lost in drink, and Caliban. Alonso must 'know and own' his drunken servants, even as Prospero accepts responsibility for Caliban:
Two of these fellows you Must know and own; this thing of darkness I Acknowledge mine.
Caliban becomes, momentarily, part of Prospero, an emblem of the evil subdued in himself, but also, in a larger sense, is seen, with his drunken companions, to be part of the body politic, and presumably is to return with Prospero to Milan; and however Caliban may hope to 'be wise hereafter, And seek for grace' (1. 294), there seems to be no expectation of a change in him by Prospero, whose last words about him are to call him 'demi-devil' and 'thing of darkness'.
Gonzalo describes well enough what one might call the nominal resolution of the action in accordance with the experience of many of the characters, as they have moved from shipwreck, loss and disharmony, to recovery, joy, and harmony. The drive of Prospero to recover rule in himself and in his dukedom has shaped the play, and is now fulfilled. On a deeper level the ending is less simple and comfortable than Gonzalo's image of it, and underneath the joy and restoration of the last scene, the force of the paradoxes established by the play remains held in suspension. Only by exile from Milan, from civilization, does Prospero learn how to rule, by being somehow refreshed and restored by the new world of a primitive island, on which he may be seen as regaining 'access to sources of vitality and truth'.14 There, in what may be seen as a desert wilderness or a kind of Arcadia, if one accepts the view of either Sebastian or Gonzalo in II.i, and which in fact contains both, Prospero tames nature by his art, establishes what civilization he can, and learns the uses of power. His contact with Arcadia and the possibility of an ideal commonwealth as envisaged by Gonzalo, his return to nature, only serves to teach him the necessity of rule. The innocent native of the desert Arcadia proves to be the brutish Caliban, in whom man's sensual impulses have free range; and if a return to Arcadia can restore the image of the golden age to the good, but somewhat naïve, old Gonzalo, and growing up there can give Miranda a fresh and golden image of the first men she sees:
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't!
At the same time it serves to remind Prospero of the beast in man too, that the thing of darkness is his, and only through the struggles to achieve inward rule has he succeeded in establishing outward order. As Caliban discovers that service to Prospero ('I'll be wise hereafter, And seek for grace') is more like freedom than liberty as the subject of Stephano, so Ferdinand and Miranda learn to renounce their freedom in the voluntary bondage of love, a paradox emblematized as Prospero discovers them playing chess, a game at which the sexes meet as equals, and which had been often allegorized in terms of the courtship of two lovers making their moves in turn, and also in terms of life itself, as the chessmen 'stand for the different ranks and occupations of men'.15 The game in which they may, as Miranda puts it, wrangle 'for a score of kingdoms', is serious as it ends in mate; their love-play bears on their relation to come as husband and wife, and as prince and princess, rulers of men.
At the centre of the play the masque of IV.i serves as a focus for these paradoxes. The masque in a sense realizes as a vision Gonzalo's idea of the golden age, in the image of Ceres and Juno together offering a prospect of perpetual natural plenty, and echoing Spenser's Garden of Adonis:
Spring come to you at the farthest In the very end of harvest!
There is continuall spring, and harvest there Continuall, both meeting at one time. . . .
(The Faerie Queene, III.vi.42)
However, this is not Gonzalo's primitive world of innocence, a sort of Eden where society might begin over again in a new setting of unspoiled nature, but rather the end-product of an age-old civilization, embodied in the highest imaginative reach of Prospero's art.16 The masque is a court entertainment, of a stylized and highly structured kind, which contains the vision of innocence within a pattern involving tradition, myth, history, and social obligation; the pastoral scene itself is no longer primitive, but cultivated with
rich leas Of wheat, rye, barley, vetches, oats and pease,
and the whole masque is designed to celebrate a contract of true love in betrothal pointing to marriage. It is the most sophisticated version of pastoral in the late plays, and though only a 'vanity', an 'insubstantial pageant', it is as substantial and 'real' as the 'reality' of the world of Naples and Milan to which the play returns us at the end. It is the vision, like the other wonders and games contrived by art, that gives that social and political world its bearings, enables it to understand the relation between nature and civilization, and illustrates the necessity and nature of rule; and finally, it images the moral and religious sanctions necessary for society.
The marriage of Ferdinand to Miranda, and the return to Milan, will complete all that Prospero aimed to do; the drive that has sustained him is exhausted. His art is no longer necessary, and the emotional power of his farewell to it is bound up with the larger farewell to the island, and, in a sense, to his life. All the years on the island were a preparation for a return to Milan, and for the proper restoration of his daughter to her place in society, and these things achieved, Prospero has made his masterpiece, and the rest is preparation for death; so he says that in Milan:
Every third thought shall be my grave.
The epilogue wittily continues this image, as he comes to beg the favour of the audience:
Now I want Spirits to enforce, Art to enchant; And my ending is despair, Unless I be reliev'd by prayer.
His 'ending' is the death of the magician, conventionally dying, like Faustus, in despair, unless his prayers can save him and win the indulgence of the audience. This perhaps confirms that final paradox for Prospero, that the success of his art in completing all his desires is also the completion of his life, in the sense that it leaves him nothing more to live for; which accounts for the sense of melancholy that many people carry away from what is superficially a joyful ending.17
1 See, for example, G. Wilson Knight, The Shakespearian Tempest (1932), and The Crown of Life (1947); also D. A. Traversi, Shakespeare; The Last Phase (1954), and Frank Kermode's discussion of critical attitudes to the play in his Introduction to the New Arden edition (1958), pp. lxxxiv-lxxxv.
2 On the question of allegory in relation to the play, see A. D. Nuttall, Two Concepts of Allegory (1967). The. Tempest is also sometimes treated as if it were to be properly regarded less as play than as poem; so Reuben Brower calls it 'a Metaphysical poem of metamorphosis' in his essay, 'The Mirror of Analogy', included in his book, The Fields of Light (1951), and reprinted in Shakespeare; 'The Tempest', edited D. J. Palmer (1968), pp. 153-75.
3 See Enid Welsford's The Court Masque (1927), pp. 336-49; the climax of the play for her lay in the discovery of Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess, and she wrote, 'the spirit of The Tempest is far nearer to the spirit of masque than is Comus" (p. 340).
4 For other instances of Prospero's ability to foresee what is to happen, see I.ii.180 and II.i.288.
5 This is elaborated in Leo Marx's brilliant account of the play as 'Shakespeare's American Fable', in The Machine in the Garden (1964), pp. 34-72.
6 Frank Kermode, in his Introduction to The Tempest, p. xlii.
7 See the complex and subtle discussion of Caliban by Kermode, pp. xxiv-xxv and pp. xxxviii-xliii; he sees the extent to which Caliban serves as an 'inverted pastoral hero, against whom civility and the Art which improves Nature may be measured', but still regards him too much in terms of ideas, and not enough in terms of the actor playing the part.
8 Kermode, op. cit., p. 144. The account he gives of Elizabethan ideas of fairies is based, as he acknowledges, on M. W. Latham's The Elizabethan Fairies (1930).
9 The parallel with Pericles is cited in Kermode, op. cit., p. 89n.
10 Many commentaries on The Tempest ignore the masque of Ceres, or regard it as of little consequence. I have come across two accounts of the play which see it as of central importance structurally; one is by R. J. Nelson, Play Within a Play (1958), pp. 30-5, who sees the mood of The Tempest as shifting 'from the comic to the tragic or something akin to it' after the masque; the other is the fine analysis of the masque and its links with pastoral by Leo Marx in The Machine in the Garden, pp. 61-5, to which I am indebted.
11 A point noted by Kermode, p. 114.
12 Kermode, op. cit., p. 149.
13 See Kermode, op. cit., pp. xl-xli.
14 Leo Marx op. cit., p. 69.
15 H. J. R. Murray, A History of Chess (1913). p. 533; see also pp. 435-7.
16 Leo Marx, op. cit., p. 62, sees the setting as 'an idealized version of Old England'.
17 David Grene in Reality and the Heroic Pattern (1967) registers especially sharply his feeling that 'a play which is an uninterrupted story of success for its chief actor leaves one with the prevailing sense of melancholy and failure' (p. 100). I do not share his view, but his essay deserves attention as a sensitive reading of the play.
Philip C. McGuire (essay date 1994)
SOURCE: "The Tempest: 'Something Rich and Strange'," in Shakespeare: The Jacobean Plays, St. Martin's Press, 1994, pp. 175-97.
[In the following essay, McGuire emphasizes the essentially theatrical nature of The Tempest, and suggests possible interpretations of the text—especially of Antonio's silence at the end—that can be represented on stage but might not be apprehended by readers. He also points out unique or distinctive qualities of the work which include the unconventional deception of the audience, concern with the New World, observance of Neoclassical unities of time and place, and a heterogeneous mixture of sources.]
No Shakespearean play uses music more extensively than The Tempest, widely regarded for more than one hundred and fifty years now as the final play Shakespeare wrote singlehandedly even though, as Stephen Orgel notes, there is no way to determine 'chronological priority' between it and The Winter's Tale (1987, p. 63). The second of nine songs in The Tempest tells of changes being worked upon the body of Ferdinand's father, drowned, he is certain, in the shipwreck he himself has just survived:
Full fadom five thy father lies;Of his bones are coral made;Those are pearls that were his eyes:Nothing of him that doth fade,But doth suffer a sea-changeInto something rich and strange.
The song itself—sung by Ariel—is 'something rich and strange'. On the one hand, it is a lie; Ariel knows that Ferdinand's father is not dead. On the other, it is the play's most compelling articulation of the profoundly transformative process—equivalent to a 'sea-change'—through which characters pass as their sense of the past, their visions of others and of themselves, and their personal and political relationships are radically reshaped.
The song is part of a play that is itself not only 'rich' but also 'strange' in the sense of being different from the other plays called Shakespeare's. That strangeness makes itself felt in various ways, including a decidedly atypical opening moment. Unlike the vast majority of Shakespearean plays, The Tempest begins (like Macbeth) with a stage effect: 'A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard'. Audiences take that 'noise' as evidence of a ferocious storm raging within the fictional realm of the play. That they do is fully consistent with perhaps the most basic of the conventions—the network of assumptions, habits, and practices agreed upon by audience, players, and playwright—without which no theatrical performance can occur: that audiences accept what they know full well to be theatrical illusions as actual events within the world of the play. As audiences continue to look and listen, they behold a ship caught in that storm break apart, exposing all on board to watery deaths.
In the next scene The Tempest, taking the kind of risk that The Winter's Tale, the Shakespearean play written closest in time to it, delays until the final moments, makes its audiences aware that they have been deceived. That awareness does not come in a manner—via a soliloquy by Prospero, for example, or a chorus—that preserves their customary privileged position by giving them knowledge withheld from other characters. As they see and hear Prospero comforting Miranda, distraught at the shipwreck she, too, has witnessed, her perspective as a character within the theatrical fiction and theirs as spectators of that fiction converge. Deceived like Miranda by what they have just seen and heard, they become, in effect, Prospero's daughters, learning in tandem with her, as virtual equals, that the tempest has harmed no one. The direful spectacle of the wrack,' Prospero says,
I have with such provision in mine Art So safely ordered that there is no soul— No not so much perdition as an hair Betid to any creature in the vessel Which thou heard'st cry, which thou saw'st sink.
Even the ship that broke apart, audiences soon hear Ariel report, is intact, 'safely in harbour', the mariners themselves out of peril and asleep, 'all under hatches stow'd' (I.ii.226, 230).
The storm with which The Tempest opens is not the only one in a Shakespearean play. There are storms in Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, to name but three. What makes the storm in The Tempest 'strange' is that it is the only one controlled by a character within the play. Nor is the shipwreck that the storm (seemingly) causes the only one in a Shakespearean play. Storms destroy ships in Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare's Elizabethan comedies, and in Pericles and The Winter's Tale, both written closer in time to The Tempest. None of those shipwrecks is enacted onstage, however. The (seeming) shipwreck in The Tempest is, strangely, the only one that Shakespeare ever calls upon the King's Men to take the theatrical risk of actually staging. Even more strangely, it is also the only one that proves to be an illusion within the fictional world of the play.
During the opening two scenes, the illusions of storm and shipwreck generated by playwright and players while performing The Tempest merge with those generated by Prospero. Although deprived twelve years earlier of his office as Duke of Milan by his younger brother Antonio and Alonso, the King of Naples, Prospero possesses magical powers that give him control and thus de facto authority over all who are on or even near the island, including Antonio and Alonso, that is far greater than that exercised by any other Shakespearean character. Working with and through Ariel, Prospero not only raises a storm but also induces sleep, inflicts pain, compels manual labour, imposes paralysis, and conjures visions that confound as well as enchant. What is most extraordinary about Prospero is the degree to which he exercises authority over not only his fellow characters but also the audiences of The Tempest. To an extent unmatched by any other Shakespearean character, he has the power to determine what audiences see and hear, and he is frequently taken as Shakespeare's self-portrait, the character through whom he most directly expresses his own feelings.1
The characters who survive what they think is a shipwreck find themselves on an unfamiliar island, in a landscape all the stranger because Prospero's 'art' enables him to determine what they hear and see. The Tempest places its audiences in a theatrical situation that is analogously unfamiliar, strange—one in which the convention that enables what audiences know are theatrical illusions to function as signs of actualities within the dramatic fiction is no longer a reliable frame of reference. One measure of the deception generated by the merging of theatrical illusion and Prosperian magic is that were 'the direful spectacle' of the opening scene an actual shipwreck within the dramatic fiction, nothing in the opening scene would be different.
The Tempest is also 'strange' by virtue of being the only Shakespearean play set in a place associated with the New World. The island over which Prospero rules and on which the survivors of what they think is the destruction of the ship carrying them from Tunis to Naples find themselves is situated somewhere in the Mediterranean, yet it is endowed with New World qualities. In fashioning The Tempest, Shakespeare drew upon accounts of what happened in 1609 to the Sea-Adventure, a ship bearing the governor of Virginia to Jamestown as part of a fleet carrying several hundred colonists. In late July a hurricane off the coast of Virginia separated the Sea-Adventure from the rest of the fleet, eventually driving it aground in what Ariel refers to as 'the still-vexed Bermoothes' (I.ii.229). Those on board spent the winter there, then set out again for Jamestown, arriving safely in May of 1610—to the astonishment of their fellow colonists who were certain they had perished. Gonzalo's extended description of the Utopian 'commonwealth' he would establish 'Had I plantation of this isle' (II.i.143, 139) comes virtually verbatim from Montaigne's essay 'Of the Cannibals', widely available in England from 1603 on in John Florio's translation. The name Caliban is an anagram of 'cannibals', the term, not yet associated with the eating of human flesh, that Montaigne used for the natives of the New World. Set on and near a Mediterranean island endowed, strangely, with New World qualities, The Tempest stands apart as the Shakespearean play that most directly registers, responds to, and thus helps to determine the impact of the project of trans-Atlantic colonisation on which England embarked in the final decades of Elizabeth's reign. During the first decade of James's, which saw the establishment of the Virginia Company in 1606 and the founding of Jamestown in 1607, it pursued that project with renewed vigour.
Caliban challenges Prospero's right to rule the island, basing his claim on inheritance and prior possession. 'This island's mine,' he insists during his first appearance in the play, 'by Sycorax my mother, / Which thou tak'st from me' (I.ii.333-4). 'I am all the subjects that you have,' he tells Prospero, 'Which first was mine own King' (I.ii.343-4). Soon after, Caliban willingly accepts the drunken Stephano as his new master and king and, subsequently chastened by that experience, he tells Prospero as the play closes, 'I'll be wise hereafter, / And seek for grace' (V.i.294-5). Caliban's early words challenging Prospero have acquired a distinctive resonance during the post-Second World War era, which has seen the breakup of the vast empires that Britain, France and other European countries had acquired in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. So compelling is that resonance—so expressive of the displaced and oppressed—that it is not uncommon these days for directors and commentators to regard The Tempest as an examination of colonialism.
The presence of Caliban also contributes to the strangeness of The Tempest in another way—by virtue of his being a character for whom there is no Shakespearean precedent. Moments before audiences first see him, Prospero calls him 'Thou earth' (I.ii.316) and he is, in many respects, the antithesis of Ariel, whom the First Folio describes as an 'airy spirit' in the 'Names of the Actors' provided at the end of the play. Caliban's presence poses a challenge—beyond that found in any other Shakespearean play—to the capacity, of audiences and characters alike, to distinguish between two categories central to all cultures: the human and the non-human. Taking advantage of the process of performance, The Tempest poses that challenge in specifically theatrical terms by setting what audiences and characters see on first encountering Caliban against what they hear.
Of the Europeans who think themselves shipwrecked, the first to encounter Caliban is Trinculo, who sees him before hearing him make any sounds. What he sees is so 'strange' that he takes him to be something other than human. 'What have we here?' he asks, eyeing, sniffing, and perhaps even nudging the creature lying silent before him, 'a man or a fish? dead or alive?' (II.ii.24-5). 'A fish,' he concludes, 'A strange fish' (II.ii.25, 27-8). When Trinculo, seeking shelter against the storm that is 'come again', creeps under the creature's 'gaberdine' (II.ii.38-9), the human and what he regards as the inhuman merge, and when Stephano, the second shipwrecked European to encounter Caliban, enters moments later, he sees a four-legged creature. Like Stephano, he takes it to be something non-human, a 'monster of the isle' (II.ii.66). When that 'monster' utters sounds that he recognises as his own language, Stephano finds himself confronting a paradox. 'Where the devil,' he asks, 'should he learn our language?' (II.ii.67-8). For the Elizabethan-Jacobean era, the capacity to speak was the most direct manifestation of the rationality that sets humankind apart from and above the lower orders of creation, among them the fish. The words coming from Caliban's mouth force Stephano and Trinculo to face the presence of some element of the human within the non-human, in the monstrous and fish-like.
In contrast to Trinculo and Stephano, who see Caliban before they hear him speak, audiences hear Caliban speak before they see him. His first appearance in the play is orchestrated so that audiences find themselves called upon to face the non-human in a being they initially take to be human. When Prospero calls, 'What, ho! slave! Caliban! / Thou earth, thou! speak', audiences hear a voice answer from 'within,' from offstage or even understage: 'There's wood enough within' (I.ii.315-16). Hearing that voice speaking 'our language', they assume the humanity of the unseen speaker. Prospero then orders Caliban to enter: 'Come forth, I say! . . . Come, thou tortoise! when?' (I.ii.317-18). At that point, a stage direction calls for the entrance of a figure that looks 'like a water-nymph' (I.ii.318) and proves to be Ariel, not Caliban. The timing of Ariel's entrance not only delays the audience's first sight of Caliban but also provides a contrast with what they behold when they do see him.
The play further delays the audience's first sight of Caliban by having Prospero confer with Ariel: 'Hark in thine ear' (I.ii.320). For readers, the conference lasts no longer than it takes to read 'Hark in thine ear' and move on to Ariel's obedient reply, 'My lord, it shall be done' (I.ii.320). In performance, however, the conference need not be virtually instantaneous, and the longer it lasts, the longer audiences must wait to see the recalcitrant Caliban, whose entrance Prospero, after Ariel's exit, again commands: 'Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself/Upon thy wicked dam, come forth!' (I.ii.321-2). This time Caliban obeys, and audiences at last see him. What they see is a character whom the First Folio, in the 'Names of the Actors', describes as 'a salvage [savage] and deformed slave'.
Earlier, the sound of an unseen Caliban speaking 'our language' had prompted them to assume that he is human. Now, his entrance into their field of vision, delayed so as to increase its impact, challenges them to reconcile their sense of what is human with their sight of a figure so non-human in appearance—so 'deformed'—that Trinculo and Stephano, seeing it, take it to be a fish or, to use the term by which they repeatedly address Caliban throughout the play, a 'monster'. Caliban is the Other, the embodiment of that awareness of difference against which, and thus in inescapable relationship to which, one knows one's own identity as an individual and as a member of various social and cultural groupings. To the extent that Caliban's presence prompts audiences to re-conceive and re-work their sense of what is human and extend it to include facets of Caliban, if not Caliban himself, it also prompts them to reconsider their sense of themselves. In so doing, they enter into a complex affiliation with Caliban—involving simultaneous recognition of likeness and difference—akin to that voiced by Prospero, who near the end of The Tempest says of Caliban: 'this thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine' (V.i.275-6). Prospero may be stating that Caliban is his slave or a member of his party rather than Alonso's, but his words also attest to and accept the existence of a bond between them that includes some element of responsibility on his part for what and even who 'this thing of darkness' is. His word for Caliban is 'thing', a term that does not emphasise whatever human qualities Caliban possesses. Prospero explicitly grants freedom to Ariel—'[T]hen to the elements / Be free, and fare thou well' (V.i.317-18)—but Caliban's fate, after he obediently and without delay departs to 'trim' Prospero's cell 'handsomely' (V.i.293), is left disturbingly vague. It is not clear from the playtext whether Caliban goes to Milan with Prospero or remains on the island. Beerbohm Tree's 1904 production responded to that vagueness by showing Caliban, after Prospero's epilogue, alone and gazing mournfully out to sea after the departing ship, towards which he stretches out his arms. In Jonathan Miller's 1988 production at the Old Vic, on the other hand, Caliban found himself facing, after Prospero's withdrawal from the island, not loneliness but the prospect of a new subordination, this time to Ariel, who, having fitted together the parts of the magical staff Prospero had broken, began using it to establish dominance over all who remained on the island.
The wealth flowing into England from the colonies in the New world accelerated the extremely complex process of social change already under way as part of England's movement into the early modern era. On first encountering Caliban, both Trinculo and Stephano see an opportunity to earn riches out of keeping with their social places in the world beyond the island. Calculating Caliban's value as a 'monster' that speaks 'our language', Stephano says, 'If I can recover [cure] him, and keep him tame, and get to Naples with him, he's a present for any emperor that ever trod on neat's-leather' (II.ii.69-72). He does not, however, anticipate making a present of Caliban should he get him back to Naples. Instead, responsive to the financial opportunities of the emerging marketplace economy, he foresees making a profit by selling him, declaring that no price will be too high: 'I will not take too much for him; he shall pay for him that hath him and that soundly' (II.ii.78-80).
Moments before, Trinculo, gazing on Caliban for the first time, had also envisaged the wealth that would be his 'Were I in England now, as once I was, and had but this fish painted, not a holiday-fool there but would give a piece of silver' (II.ii.28-30). 'There,' he adds, thinking about the fortune he could make, 'would this monster make a man; any strange beast there makes a man' (II.ii.30-1).2 Stephano's vision of charging admission to see Caliban glances at, and almost parodies, what occurred each time the King's Men performed The Tempest at Blackfriars or the Globe: audiences paid to see one of those Men 'make' a 'strange beast' named Caliban by playing him. By (dis)playing Caliban on two of Jacobean London's commercial stages, the King's Men appropriated the practice of bringing natives back to England, thereby tapping into the wealth flowing from the New World and diverting some of it into their own pockets.
Still another way in which The Tempest is 'strange' is that it departs from Shakespeare's standard compositional practices. In composing the vast majority of his plays across the full span of his career, he typically worked from, with, and on one, occasionally two, major sources, sometimes preserving, sometimes altering, sometimes even—as in King Lear and The Winter's Tale—inverting what he found there. In fashioning The Tempest for performance by the King's Men, however, Shakespeare abandoned that practice. It is his only Jacobean play—and one of but three3 among the thirty-seven generally attributed to him—for which no major source has been identified.
For The Tempest, Shakespeare, instead of working extensively with one or two sources, combined a farrago of writings, some contemporary, some classical. Elements from accounts of what happened in the New World to those aboard The Sea-Adventure co-exist with echoes of Virgil's Aeneid, most prominently the discussion of Dido (II.i.73-97). The combination associates the voyage from Tunis to Italy that Alonso and his court are making when the opening storm (seemingly) destroys their ship, with both a specific voyage to the New World in the recent past and the voyage that Aeneas, abandoning Dido in Carthage, undertook at some point in the far-distant epic past. That voyage led to the founding of Rome, with whose first emperor, Caesar Augustus, James was often compared in order to distinguish his style of rule from Elizabeth's.4 The founding of Rome in turn led to the founding of Britain by Brutus, Aeneas's grandson, and James saw, in the sovereignty he exercised over England, Wales, and Scotland, an opportunity to re-establish Britain's primeval unity. Gonzalo's 'commonwealth' speech (II.i.139-64) comes from Montaigne's 'Of the Cannibals', and, in a borrowing from Ovid's Metamorphoses that blurs the distinction between Prospero and Sycorax, 'white' and 'black' magic, Shakespeare lifts from the sorceress Medea's incantation of the powers she commands much of the long speech (V.i.33-57) in which Prospero describes the scope of his 'so potent Art'.
The change in Shakespeare's compositional practices is related to The Tempest's associations with the New World. One impact of the discovery and colonisation of the New World was a change in the conception and construction of authority in European cultures.5 In the Middle Ages, authority flowed from the ability of thinkers and writers to make events meaningful by placing them in a context provided by the books that formed the basis for the systems of knowledge by which people of that epoch made sense of their world: the Bible in theology and the writings of Ptolemy in astronomy, Constantine in medicine, Boethius in arithmetic, Cicero in rhetoric, Aristole in dialectic, and the ancient poets in grammar. What could not be explained in terms sanctioned by those authoritative books was not acknowledged as having any reality. The engagement with the New World shattered that conception and construction of authority by bringing Europeans into contact with utterly new systems of realities—peoples, languages, artifacts, laws, customs, plants, animals—of which those books made no mention and which in some cases could not even be named, let alone comprehended, using the terms they provided. To speak about what lay in the New World required making up new words or borrowing words from the natives—required, that is to say, changing what Ferdinand, encountering Miranda for the first time, proprietarily calls 'my language' (I.ii.431) and what Stephano, encountering Caliban for the first time, calls 'our language' (II.ii.68). To English, the language of The Tempest, the New World contributed such words as canoe, hurricane, and skunk, and Caliban's list of the delicacies he will provide for Trinculo and Stephano includes 'young scamels' (II.ii.172), a word whose precise meaning remains unknown to this day.
The gap between what was found in the New World on the one hand and in the authoritative books of the Old World on the other spurred the development of a novel and competing conception of authority based not on the capacity to apply traditional cultural precedents but on the capacity to represent what was new, different, other, 'strange', by assembling, fabricating—from whatever diverse elements are at hand—a framework within which the events presented take on cultural coherence and meaning. The mixture of writings, contemporary as well as classical, upon which The Tempest draws is an example of such fabrication, and by endowing a Mediterranean island with New World qualities and placing on it a creature such as Caliban, the King's Men and their playwright claimed for themselves and for the recently emergent institution that was commercial theatre the authority to represent that which was radically new.
The Tempest is also 'strange' because, at least partly in response to the challenge such representation poses, it arises from and incorporates the equivalent of 'a sea-change' in the handling of dramatic place and time typical of the other plays Shakespeare provided for the Lord Chamberlain's-King's Men over the course of an association that, at the time The Tempest was most likely written—late 1610 or early 1611—had lasted more than sixteen years. In 1595, the year after Shakespeare helped to found the Lord Chamberlain's Men and became that company's attached playwright, Sir Philip Sidney's Defence of Poesy, written in the early 1580s, was posthumously published. It includes a forceful critique of contemporary plays for 'being faulty both in place and time, the two necessary companions of all corporal actions':
For where the stage should always represent but one place, and the uttermost time presupposed in it should be, both by Aristotle's precept and common reason, but one day, there is both many days and many places inartificially [i.e., unartfully] imagined.
(1965, p. 134)
By Sidney's standards, every play but one that Shakespeare provided for the Lord Chamberlain's-King's Men from 1594 on is glaringly 'faulty'. The single exception is The Tempest. With all action situated on an island and its adjacent waters, it comes close to observing unity of place, and it conforms to the unity of time by concentrating events within a single day, the hours between sometime after two in the afternoon and six in the evening specified in the following exchange:
PROSPERO: What is the time o'th'day? ARIEL: Past the mid season. PROSPERO: At least two glasses. The time 'twixt six and now Must by us both be spent most preciously.
The Tempest comes closer than any other Shakespearean play to observing the strictest form of unity of time, in which the span of time covered during the play corresponds exactly to the length of time needed to perform it.
That 'sea-change' in the treatment of dramatic time and place is all the more 'strange' if one considers the three plays that, like The Tempest, are associated with the closing phase of Shakespeare's career and are included with it in the grouping known variously as his 'last' plays, 'late' plays, 'romances', and 'tragicomedies'.6 None of them shows any concern with conforming to Sidney's dictum that 'the stage should always represent but one place'. Quite the opposite. They disregard it, sometimes flamboyantly. Pericles takes place in half a dozen cities along the coast of the eastern Mediterranean Sea; Cymbeline places scenes in Italy and various parts of Britain, including Wales; The Winter's Tale opens in Sicily, shifts to a succession of sites in Bohemia, and for the final act returns to Sicily. Sidney also scorns plays that, failing to confine themselves to the events of a single day, are 'liberal' with time:
For ordinary it is that two young princes fall in love; after many traverses she is got with child, delivered of a fair boy; he is lost, groweth a man, falleth in love, and is ready to get another child, and all this in two hours' space.
(1965, p. 134)
Pericles is 'liberal' in almost exactly that way. Pericles meets Thasia early in the second act, and at the start of the third she dies giving birth to their daughter Marina, who, before the play ends, has grown into a young woman of wondrous beauty and virtue. The Winter's Tale is also 'liberal' with time. Perdita, with whom her mother is pregnant at the start of the play, appears onstage as an infant in Act III, and by the beginning of Act IV, she is sixteen years of age and ready for marriage.
In subjecting to 'a sea-change' a dramaturgical practice that had shaped his work for some sixteen years, Shakespeare may have been acting upon the willingness to take 'extraordinary risks' that David Daniell says is common in the 'last works' of 'a very great artist' (1986, p. 119). In addition, there may have been an imitative, perhaps even competitive factor: the desire to match, if not surpass, the example of Ben Jonson's dazzling use of the unities of time and place in The Alchemist, which the King's Men performed in 1610. The handling of place and time in The Tempest may also be evidence of the lengths to which Shakespeare was willing to go—and capable of going—to help the King's Men cope with the problems. . . that from 1609 on performing at both the Globe and Blackfriars posed. Such factors are not mutually exclusive, and they interact with pressures arising from the concern, unique to The Tempest, with the New World. The compositional technique of the play involves weaving together elements from a potpourri of diverse sources rather than—in accord with the traditional conception of authority—applying or adapting one or two sources. As if in compensation for cutting loose from the kind of authority provided by the use of specific sources, Shakespeare, for the only time during his long association with the Lord Chamberlain's-King's Men, shapes a play that conforms to the unity of time and comes close to observing the unity of place. By thus breaking with his own long-established practice, Shakespeare in effect endows The Tempest with the authority of Sidney and Aristotle.
The attention to the unities of place and time that makes The Tempest 'strange' in the sense of different from every other play Shakespeare wrote during his association with the Lord Chamberlain's-King's Men is the basis for still another kind of strangeness: its similarity to The Comedy of Errors, most likely written in 1590, well before the formation of that acting company in 1594. The Comedy of Errors is the only other Shakespearean play that is not by Sidney's criteria 'faulty both in place and time'. The similar treatment of dramatic time and place in The Tempest and The Comedy of Errors establishes a strange symmetry between what has long been regarded as the final play Shakespeare wrote singlehandedly and what is almost certainly his first comedy and possibly even his first play of any kind. 'In the New World,' Stephen Orgel observes, 'Europe could see its own past, itself in embryo' (1987, p. 35). In writing, towards the end of his career, the play of his that most directly engages the Old World's experience of the New, Shakespeare returned, as the symmetry of The Tempest and The Comedy of Errors shows, to the embryonic phase of his career, delving into that area of his professional past before 1594 that corresponds to what Prospero, summoning Miranda at age fourteen to tell him of her earliest memories, calls 'the dark backward and abysm of time' (I.ii.50).
Fashioned by a process that, at least in part, involves Shakespeare's reaching far back into his professional memory, The Tempest is a play that, as Douglas L. Peterson (1973) has emphasised, insists upon the vital importance of remembering. As it repeatedly requires characters to look into their own pasts, the play links remembering with self-knowledge and with the capacity to act effectively in time by making past actions bear upon present conduct. Prospero's revelation to Miranda, during their first appearance onstage, that the storm and shipwreck are illusions generated by his art changes her sense of what has just passed. Through that revelation, the play brings its audiences to revise their sense of their own immediate theatrical past. They reassess not only the 'direful spectacle' they have just witnessed but also the spectatorly convention, based upon past theatrical experiences, in accordance with which they had construed what they saw and heard in the opening scene as actual events within the dramatic fiction. Prospero goes on to ask Miranda—'ignorant of what thou art'—if she can 'remember / A time before we came unto this cell' (I.ii.38-9). As he proceeds to tell her 'what' she is, she also learns who she is and who her father is. In effect, Prospero uses his power to remember in order to change—and in changing, to shape—her sense of her own past and thus of her own identity. Across the centuries since they came into being on the stages of early modern London's commercial theatres, The Tempest and other Shakespearean plays have come to serve a similar function. In ways that have only recently begun to receive attention, they are now—and have long been—factors in the process of cultural formation, always under way, by which 'this people or that, this period or that, makes sense of itself, to itself' (Geertz, 1980, p. 167). The 'sense' thus collectively made varies from era to era, people to people, but it is in relationship to the specific 'sense' prevailing at a given historical moment that individuals who share that 'sense' develop and preserve a sense of their distinctive personal identities, a consciousness of who (uniquely) each of them is.
Prospero's ability to tell Miranda about their past rests upon his power to remember, and he associates his brother Antonio's act of usurpation with a failure to remember. Interrupting himself three times, twice breaking off in mid-sentence, to ask if Miranda is listening,7 Prospero tells of giving Antonio 'The manage of my state', thus irresponsibly relinquishing his ducal duties in order to devote himself to 'secret studies' (I.ii.70, 77). He also tells of how, in the process of 'executing th'outward face of royalty, / With all prerogative', Antonio 'Made such a sinner of his memory . . . he did believe / He was indeed the duke' (I.ii.104-5, 101-3). Acting as Prospero's substitute, Antonio in effect forgets his identity. Prospero goes on to describe the usurping ambition that grows from Antonio's violation of his own memory: 'To have no screen between this part he played / And him he play'd it for, he needs will be / Absolute Milan' (I.ii. 107-9). Explicitly theatrical, Prospero's terminology directs attention to how, in performance—but not when read—The Tempest itself rests upon and arises from memory, from the ability of actors playing dramatic parts to remember not only the words but also the gestures and movements they have rehearsed.
Later in the same scene, when first Ariel and then Caliban object to the work he calls upon them to perform, Prospero responds by imposing his memory of past events upon theirs. Reminded by Ariel of the freedom he has promised to give him, Prospero insists, over Ariel's repeated objections, that Ariel has failed to remember 'From what a torment I did free thee' and proceeds to 'recount what thou hast been, / Which thou forget'st' (I.ii.251, 262-3). When Caliban objects to the confinement imposed upon him—'here you sty me / In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me / The rest o'th'island' (I.ii.344-6)—Prospero reminds him of his attempt to rape Miranda.
Prospero uses one of the most spectacular demonstrations of his art—and one of the strangest moments in The Tempest—to spur the memories of those responsible for his usurpation: Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian. To 'Solemn and Strange music', as 'Prosper[o] on the top' looks on, 'several strange Shapes' bring in a banquet and invite the three men and those with them to eat (III.iii.17). When they approach the food, however, Ariel, attired 'like a Harpy', enters, 'claps his wings upon the table; and, with a quaint device, the banquet vanishes ' (III.iii.52). Ariel then defines for the 'three men of sin' the relationship between their present situation as they understand it—marooned on 'this island, / Where no man doth inhabit'—and their past evil, which makes them "mongst men . . . most unfit to live' (III.iii.53, 56-8). 'But remember,' he tells them,
For that's my business to you,—that you three From Milan did supplant good Prospero: Expos'd unto the sea, which hath requit it, Him and his innocent child: for which foul deed The powers, delaying, not forgetting, have Incens'd the seas and shores, yea, all the creatures, Against your peace.
The next scene includes another spectacular demonstration of the power of Prospero's art that also involves remembering: the entertainment he provides to celebrate the betrothal of Miranda and Ferdinand.8 It offers the couple a vision of a world in which, with neither 'Venus or her son' Cupid present, the imperatives of sexual desire—'th'fire in' th'blood' (IV.i.53)—are held in check, to be exercised only within the marital bond. That vision is a reminder to Ferdinand and Miranda of his pledge not to 'break her virgin-knot before / All sanctimonious ceremonies may / With full and holy rite be minister'd' (IV.i.15-17). It is also a foretaste of the blessings that will come if the betrothed couple are 'true' to that pledge instead of indulging in the unrestrained lust that would have peopled the island with Caliban's rape-engendered offspring or Stephano's 'brave brood' (III.ii.103). The entertainment provides a glimpse of a world in which there is no winter—'Spring come to you at the farthest /In the very end of harvest' (IV.i.114-15)—and no death.
Prospero calls the entertainment an enactment of 'My present fancies' (IV.i.122), and it takes the form of a Jacobean court masque like those at which the King's Men, as Gentlemen of the Chamber and thus formally members of the royal household, were present and in some of which they may have performed (Orgel, 1987, p. 43). Both the Globe and Blackfriars were commercial theatres, open to anyone, regardless of social rank, who paid the price of admission. In choosing to present Prospero's entertainment as a masque rather than a play-within-a-play, Shakespeare and the King's Men offered all who paid to see The Tempest played a representation of, an encounter with, an exclusively royal form of entertainment. Before the masque begins, Prospero instructs Ferdinand and Miranda, its onstage audience, how to behave: 'No tongue! all eyes! be silent' (IV.i.59).9 Those instructions also function as directions to the play's first audiences on how to conduct themselves while hearing and watching a form of theatricalised entertainment that was 'strange' to the overwhelming majority of them—part of a royal world as far beyond the horizon fixed by their places in Jacobean society as the New World was beyond the western horizon.
The betrothal entertainment occasions the only moment when Prospero's concentration upon his 'project' falters, and that lapse takes the form of a failure to remember. As Nymphs and Reapers summoned by Iris join 'in a graceful dance ' to 'celebrate / A contract of true love ', 'Prospero starts suddenly and speaks ':
I had forgot that foul conspiracy Of the beast Caliban and his confederates Against my life: the minute of their plot Is almost come.
(IV.i.138, 132-3, 138, 139-42)
Interrupting the dance, itself an instance of human actions performed in harmony with time, he cuts short the entertainment, abruptly ordering the spirits performing it to depart—'Well done! avoid! / no more'—and 'to a strange, hollow, and confused noise, they heavily vanish' (IV.i.142-3, 138). Prospero's forgetfulness is a consequence of his absorption with the entertainment, and that absorption with what he himself calls 'some vanity of mine Art' (IV.i.41) briefly repeats the more extended fascination with 'secret studies' that, twelve years before, made him vulnerable to another, and more successful, set of usurpers.
Disturbed and angry—at his own lapse as well as the perfidy of the approaching assassins—Prospero voices, in lines frequently taken as expressing Shakespeare's personal feelings, a despairing, keenly felt sense of the transience and insubstantiality of human structures and human life itself. Like the 'vision' provided for Ferdinand and Miranda that has abruptly ended, 'The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, / The solemn temples', even 'the great globe itself' and 'all which it inherit, shall dissolve' (IV.i. 152-4) leaving nothing behind. 'We are,' Prospero goes on to tell the betrothed couple, 'such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep' (IV.i. 156-8). His despair is intense, but it is only briefly disabling. After apologising for 'my weakness' and 'my infirmity' (IV.i.159, 160), he sends Ferdinand and Miranda away and, summoning Ariel, prepares to deal with Caliban and his confederates, whom he easily defeats, at least in part because of another lapse of memory. Drawn to the 'glistering aparel' (IV.i. 193) hanging on a line, Stephano and Trinculo, disregarding Caliban's instructions on how to deal with Prospero, fail to 'Remember / First to possess his books . . . Burn but his books' (III.ii.89-90, 93).
Prospero's passage from despair to action demonstrates how, although he is not immune to the temptations that made him vulnerable twelve years before, he is capable now—as he was not then—of the self-conquest required of a ruler. Another such moment occurs when, with all his enemies now at his mercy, he sets 'my nobler reason 'gainst my fury' (V.i.26). Choosing 'the rarer action', which lies 'In virtue [rather] than in vengeance', he decides to forgive rather than take full revenge on Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian, with whose 'high wrongs I am struck to th'quick' (V.i.27, 28, 25).
'[T]hey being penitent,' he tells Ariel, 'The sole drift of my purpose doth extend / Not a frown further' (V.i.28-30). Prospero goes on to renounce not only vengeance but also, in what can be regarded as still another act of self-conquest, 'the rough magic' that in Milan made him vulnerable to his enemies and that now on the island gives him nearly total power over them. 'I'll break my staff,' he declares, 'Bury it certain fadoms in the earth, / And deeper than did ever plummet sound /I'll drown my book' (V.i.54-7).
In fact, however, the playtext never specifies the moment when Prospero executes his pledge to 'break my staff and 'drown my book' (V.i.54, 57), thereby leaving those who perform the play free to determine when Prospero carries out his pledge. Perhaps while Prospero is waiting for Ariel to return with his ducal attire. Perhaps as Prospero says, 'so, so, so' (V.i.96), after, with Ariel's help, he is newly attired as Duke of Milan. Perhaps at the conclusion of the Epilogue, when Prospero calls upon audiences to set him free. Perhaps not at all.
The playtext also leaves open the issue of whether all who have wronged Prospero 'to th'quick' do in fact come to feel 'penitent' and thus leaves undetermined the related issues of the success of his project and the full efficacy of his art. His political success is beyond doubt. He regains his dukedom, and he succeeds, via the impending marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda, in reconciling the longstanding enmity between Naples and Milan that prompted Alonso to assist Antonio in overthrowing him. That marriage is part of Prospero's design, but it is also one to which the other parties freely assent. Prospero brings Ferdinand and Miranda into one another's presence, but the love they feel for one another comes from their hearts, not his art. He does not, for example, apply to their eyes a love juice like that employed in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Alonso, still convinced that Ferdinand is dead, responds to Prospero's revelation that 'I / Have lost my daughter' by spontaneously wishing for the marriage: 'O heavens that they were living both in Naples, / The King and Queen there' (V.i. 147-8, 149-50). There is also no doubt that Alonso feels the penitence that Prospero says completes his 'purpose'. Seeing Prospero for the first time in the play, he declares, unprompted, 'Thy dukedom I resign, and do entreat / Thou pardon me my wrongs' (V.i. 118-19).
The response of Antonio—Alonso's co-conspirator as well as Prospero's brother—is sharply different, however. He says nothing at all when Prospero tells him:
For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive Thy rankest fault,—all of them; and require My dukedom of thee, which perforce, I know, Thou must restore.
For readers the silence that follows those words lasts no longer than it takes for their eyes to move to the next speech, but in performance Antonio's wordlessness begins a silence that can be lengthy or short, depending on how long the actor playing Alonso waits before ending it by calling on Prospero to 'Give us particulars of thy preservation' (V.i. 135). Having Alonso be the one who speaks sets Antonio's silence against the voice of the man whose support made it possible for him to usurp Prospero's dukedom. Antonio never assents in words to relinquishing the dukedom, never acknowledges verbally any 'fault', even the 'rankest', and—in contrast to Alonso—never asks Prospero or anyone else to 'pardon me my wrongs'.
In fact, Antonio speaks but once during the final scene, when he says of Caliban, newly entered with Stephano and Trinculo, 'one of them / Is a plain fish, and, no doubt, marketable' (V.i.265-6).10 Those words help to bring into focus another contrast—between Antonio's silence when Prospero forgives him and Caliban's use of language during the play's final moments. During Caliban's first appearance, Miranda asserts that when he could 'but gabble like / A thing most brutish', she 'Took pains to make thee speak' and 'endow'd thy purposes / With words that made them known' (I.ii.356-60). Caliban replies, 'You taught me language; and my profit on't / Is, I know how to curse' (I.ii.365-6). During his final moments onstage, however, Caliban, who like Antonio has instigated a conspiracy to unseat Prospero, uses that language to express purposes unlike any he has uttered before. Ordered to trim Prospero's cell, he pledges, 'Ay, that I will; and I'll be wise hereafter, / And seek for grace' (V.i.294-5). His words convey a willingness to obey, a desire to reform, and a sense of penitence that contradict Prospero's characterisation of him as 'A devil, a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick' and as 'this thing of darkness' (IV.i. 188-9; V.i.275). Caliban's final pledge also accentuates the fact that, even when he does speak, Antonio never uses the language at his command to express such sentiments.
Most productions over recent decades have taken Antonio's silence as evidence of his failure or refusal to feel 'penitent'. In John Barton's 1970 production for the Royal Shakespeare Company, for example, Antonio responded to Prospero's words requiring 'my dukedom of thee' by giving him the badge of office, bowing, and then walking away in silence. His wordless actions conveyed grudging acceptance of what, given Prospero's demonstrated powers, was unavoidable, but there was no sign of any penitence or of any resolve to do good in the future. In Clifford Williams's 1978 production, also for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Antonio broke away from Prospero without returning any badge of office or offering even so much as a perfunctory bow, and for the remainder of the play he kept himself apart from those participating in the developing reconciliation between Naples and Milan. Both productions conveyed the sense that Antonio's malevolence has been checked by Prospero's superior powers but not extirpated, defeated but not destroyed or redeemed. He remains, dangerously, what Prospero, shortly before forgiving him, declares him to be: the 'brother mine' who has 'Expell'd remorse and nature' (V.i.75-6).
During 1988 three major English acting companies staged productions of The Tempest that, for all their many differences, concurred in presenting Antonios who were resolutely impenitent. In Nicholas Hytner's production for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Prospero struggled to bring himself to kiss Antonio, who, holding himself motionless, was unmoved by and unresponsive to that gesture of fraternal reconciliation. Even after Prospero required 'My dukedom of thee', the Antonio of Peter Hall's production for the National Theatre continued wearing the ducal coronet, and he kept his back to both the audience and to the others onstage. In Jonathan Miller's Old Vic production, Alonso removed a ring from his finger and gave it to Prospero as he told him, 'thy dukedom I resign'. That 'thy' conveyed his abandonment of Antonio, and when Antonio stared in dismayed surprise at him, the king who had been his partner in the conspiracy to unseat Prospero and make Milan subject to Naples turned away. After Prospero expressed forgiveness and required 'My dukedom' from him, Antonio hesitated perceptibly, assessing the realignment of power that had just occurred, then, kneeling, kissed the ring his brother now wore. Rising to his feet following that gesture of submission to his brother's authority and Alonso's, Antonio again looked at his erstwhile partner, who avoided his gaze. As the stage cleared following the Epilogue, Prospero and Antonio were the last to leave, and before passing from view, the two brothers exchanged a long, wary stare.
Those presentations of Antonio's silence are consistent with analysis offered in three editions currently widely used in studying, teaching, and performing The Tempest. In his vastly influential Arden edition, first published in 1954 and reprinted as recently as 1988, Frank Kermode calls Antonio 'one of Prospero's failures' because 'as far as can be deduced from the closing passages, in which Antonio is silent, he will not choose the good' (1954, p. lxii). Antonio, Kermode insists, is 'another thing of darkness' that 'Prospero must acknowledge' (1954, p. lxii). In his 1987 New Oxford single-volume edition of The Tempest, Stephen Orgel comments, 'It is important to observe that Antonio does not repent here—he is, indeed, not allowed to repent' (1987, p. 53). In his most recent edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, David Bevington concurs, stating, 'Antonio never repents' (1992, p. 1528).
'A world without Antonio,' Kermode observes, 'is a world without freedom; Prospero's shipwreck cannot restore him if he desires not to be restored, to life' (1954, p. lxii). Freedom is a major concern in The Tempest. Both Ariel and Caliban call for it during their first appearance. Caliban, drunkenly and mistakenly, exults in it after accepting Stephano as his new master: 'Freedom, high day! high-day, freedom! freedom, high-day, freedom!' (II.ii. 186-7). In the last song of this most musical of Shakespearean plays, Ariel, helping Prospero to don his ducal attire, sings in anticipation of it: 'Merrily, merrily shall I live now / Under the blossom that hangs on the bough ' (V.i.93-4). Prospero grants it to him as the play nears its conclusion: 'then to the elements / Be free, and fare thou well' (V.i.317-18). 'Free' is also the final word spoken in the play, and it is Prospero who speaks it. At the end of the Epilogue, speaking as a magician who has renounced his magic and as an actor whose part is ending, Prospero, who no longer exercises the extraordinary control over what audiences see and hear that sets him, strangely, apart from every other Shakespearean character, asks those who have watched the play to grant him freedom: 'As you from crimes would pardon 'd be, / Let your indulgence set me free' (V.i.19-20).
Antonio's freedom flows from his silence. Prospero can 'require' him to return the ducal power he usurped, but he cannot compel him to be sincerely and everlastingly 'penitent'. Antonio's freedom goes beyond that which Kermode, rightly, attributes to him. His situation, as The Tempest draws to an end, is not one in which he 'never repents' or is 'not allowed to repent'. More accurately, it is one in which the Shakespearean playtext never allows him to say that he repents. He is given no words to speak equivalent to Alonso's asking pardon or Caliban's pledging to reform. It is, however, equally true—and equally significant—that Antonio is also not allowed to say that he does not repent.11 He is given no words to speak revealing what he feels and does, nor is any other character. In The Winter's Tale, Hermione, newly returned to life, says nothing at all to her husband Leontes, whose groundless jealousy had caused her 'death' sixteen years earlier. Comments by the amazed onlookers make clear, however, that her silence is not a sign of any resentment or ill-will towards Leontes. 'She embraces him,' says one; 'She hangs about his neck,' says another (V.iii.111, 112). In The Tempest, by contrast, no one watching as Prospero forgives his brother and reclaims the dukedom offers any equivalent comment clarifying what Antonio does or feels. In the absence of words—Antonio's or anyone else's—indicating what his silence signifies, it is possible that he does not feel penitent. Most recent productions enact that possibility, and editors such as Kermode, Orgel, and Bevington present it as a certainty. In fact, however, Antonio's silence is also fully compatible with another, directly antithetical possibility: he feels penitence so intense that, in contrast to Alonso and Caliban, he has no words to express it.
Robin Phillips's 1976 production at the Stratford (Ontario) Festival enacted that possibility. Antonio sank speechlessly to his knees on hearing Prospero's words to him, and Prospero, in a gesture confirming the forgiveness he voiced, took his kneeling brother's hands in his. In that production, the silent Antonio was a profoundly penitent man. No longer making 'a sinner of his own memory', he was part of an extraordinary process, summarised by Gonzalo, that brings good from evil and from disorientation self-discovery:
Was Milan thrust from Milan, that his issue Should become Kings of Naples? O, rejoice 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 dukedom In a poor isle, and all of us ourselves When no man was his own.
In Phillips's production, the 'all of us' who have found 'ourselves' included Antonio, penitent beyond words.
Such inclusion, however, is contrary to what is becoming an editorial-critical consensus that takes Antonio's silence as evidence of resolute, enduring impenitence that sets him apart from 'all of us'. That consensus is another, highly typical instance of how any era, responding to and seeking confirmation of its own vision(s) of the human condition, tends to focus and thus to narrow the possibilities presented by a Shakespearean playtext. The currently developing consensus reflects a deep, prevailing scepticism about, on the one hand, the capacity of individuals to change and, on the other, the efficacy of authority, particularly governmental authority, in dealing with evil. The irony, in this instance, is that, under the guise of preserving Antonio's freedom, the emerging editorial-critical consensus in fact restricts it, transforming the freedom to be impenitent that his silence allows into a mandate that he must not feel 'penitent'. In so doing, that consensus denies the freedom to be penitent that likewise flows from his silence.
The freedom thus compromised is not Antonio's alone. It is also the freedom of the actors who play him and of those who direct them. In the absence of words specifying what Antonio feels and does when Prospero forgives him and requires the return of the dukedom, responsibility for determining what he feels and does passes to them. More than that, the freedom being compromised is that which the play itself possesses. The Tempest is a play that—edited and performed at and for a given moment in history—presents Antonio's malevolence as beyond the scope of Prospero's art, as checked but not transformed by 'rough magic' capable of dimming the noon-time sun and waking the dead. It is also, however, a play that—performed and edited at and for a different moment of history—allows that 'rough magic' to awaken in Antonio a capacity for remorse and for goodness so long dormant that its revival leaves him wordless.
1 The tendency to identify Prospero with Shakespeare reached somewhat bizarre fulfilment in Peter Greenaway's 1991 film Prospero's Books, which rests on the premise that Prospero himself wrote the play that history knows as The Tempest.
2 Trinculo's words also participate in the play's concern with the relationship between the human and nonhuman. They can mean, as Terence Hawkes (1985) has noted, that in England the 'any strange beast' is taken to be, passes for, a human being.
3 The other two are A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
4 See Chapter 1 [in Shakespeare: The Jacobean Plays] for a fuller discussion of this point.
5 This paragraph draws upon Donald E. Pease's (1990) essay 'Author'
6 Chapter 1 [in Shakespeare: The Jacobean Plays] discusses why this grouping is problematic.
7 These interruptions arise less from any inattentiveness on the part of Miranda than from the force of the feelings that the act of narrating, and therefore remembering, the past stirs in Prospero.
8The Tempest was performed during the festivities before the marriage of James's daughter Elizabeth to the Elector Palatine on 14 February 1613. The first performance on record was at court on 1 November 1611.
9 The behaviour of onstage audiences during the plays-within-the-play in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Hamlet suggests that far from being silent during performances, audiences of that time tended to be talkative.
10 Like Stephano and Trinculo, Antonio first responds to Caliban in terms of the commercial possibilities he offers.
11 For example, he is given no words like those as-signed to him in W. H. Auden's 1945 poem 'The Sea and the Mirror':
Your all is partial, Prospero; My will is all my own; Your need to love shall never know Me: I am I, Antonio, By choice myself alone.
Bevington, David (1992) The Complete Works of Shakespeare, 4th edn. (New York: Harper Collins).
Danieli, David (1986) 'Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy', in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies, ed. Stanley Wells (Cambridge, New York, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press; reprinted 1987) pp. 101-41.
Geertz, Clifford (1980) 'Blurred Genres: The Refiguration of Social Thought', The American Scholar, 49, pp. 165-79.
Kermode, Frank (1954) The Tempest, Arden edition (London and New York: Routledge; reprinted 1988).
Orgel, Stephen (1987) The Tempest, The Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press).
Peterson, Douglas L. (1973) Time, Tide, and Tempest: A Study of Shakespeare's Romances (San Marino: The Huntington Library).
Sidney, Philip (1965) An Apology for Poetry or The Defence of Poesy, ed. Geoffrey Shepherd (London: Nelson & Sons).
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 20344
Bryan Crockett (essay date 1991)
SOURCE: "Calvin and Caliban: Naming the 'Thing of Darkness'," in The University of Dayton Review, Vol. 21, No. 1, Spring, 1991, pp. 131-44.
[In the following essay, Crockett argues that although Caliban initially appears to be emblematic of human corruption, midway through the play he begins to demonstrate a capacity for self reformation, and at the end of the drama he is truly penitent. Underlying the characterization of Caliban, the critic maintains, is Shakespeare's mockery and rejection of the rigid Calvinist doctrine of predestination.]
Shakespeare's Caliban has received a strikingly varied body of critical interpretation, from John C. McCloskey's treatment of the character as a "savage clown" and a "Commedia dell'arte buffoon" (345) to Frank Kermode's agreement with Prospero's assessment: Caliban is "a born devil" (xl). More recently, revisionist commentators have stressed a relatively helpless Caliban's victimization at the hands of an imperialistic Prospero.1 Corona Sharp has gone so far as to read Caliban in a wholly sympathetic light: unjustly despoiled of the ownership of his island and enslaved by an unnecessarily brutal Prospero, Caliban repeatedly exhibits at least equality to his master in morality, intellect, and imagination. So startlingly virtuous is Sharp's Caliban that she finds it necessary to remind her readers that the character is not a noble savage (283, n. 35).
Of course, Caliban has frequently been seen as the antithesis of the noble savage. In fact, it has been suggested that Shakespeare created the monster for the specific purpose of countering the idyllic portrayal of the Native Americans in Montaigne's "Of the Caniballes." While Montaigne's essay is more an indictment of European corruption than a wholehearted endorsement of Native American culture, some of his language does anticipate Rousseau's doctrine of the noble savage:
. . . what in those nations we see by experience, doth not only exceed all the pictures wherewith licentious Poesie hath proudly imbellished the golden age, but also the conception and desire of Philosophy.
There is no doubt that Shakespeare was familiar with Florio's translation of Montaigne's essay; numerous echoes in The Tempest of Florio's language confirm the fact.2 As I hope to demonstrate, however, Caliban is more than simply a reaction to Montaigne, just as he is more than a mere buffoon. Certainly he emerges as something other than "a born devil." Moreover, Sharp's sympathetic reading of the character is too heavily colored with the Caliban of Act V, just as other interpretations seem to begin and end with the Caliban of Act I. In my reading Caliban begins as a comic embodiment of the totally depraved man of popular Calvinism and ends as a full human being, effecting the audience's participation in Shakespeare's vision of divine grace.
This is not to say that discussion of the myth of the noble savage is misguided; as a number of recent discussions of The Tempest have stressed, the whole debate surrounding European treatment of American Indians was very much in the intellectual forefront of Shakespeare's England.3 Particularly influential were treatises translated into English in 1583, in which the Spanish missionary Bishop Bartolome de Las Casas, the primary European proponent of a favorable depiction of the Indians, was pitted against his countryman Juan Gines de Sepulveda, who claimed that the Indians were naturally inferior to Europeans and were therefore suited only for slavery. Naturally, the debate was essentially theological: if the Indians were in fact full human beings, then the Europeans' first duty was to bring them Christianity. If not, there were to be no scruples about imperialistic exploitation. The alternatives, then, were baptizing the Indians or enslaving them; almost no one, not even Montaigne, suggested leaving them alone.4 Fueled by the English explorers' conflicting reports about the character of the Indians, the debate between Las Casas and Sepulveda was a particularly live issue in England in large part because the doctrine of election was also in the forefront of public discussion.
The idea of double predestination—that some have been preordained to election and others to reprobation—was common to all the various shades of Calvinism that had combined to define orthodoxy in the Elizabethan church.5 By the last years of the sixteenth century, though, this orthodoxy was beginning to be challenged by those who would come to be known as Arminians—those who wanted to find some place for human cooperation in the process of salvation and who warned against attempting to penetrate too deeply into the mysteries of predestination. As Lancelot Andrewes maintained in a late Elizabethan sermon. "we are not curiously to enquire and search out God's secret will touching reprobation or election" (5: 197). On the other side were preachers such as the enormously popular William Perkins, who insisted on the rigid categories of predestination and who seldom missed an opportunity to point out the precise nature of the difference between the true Christian and the reprobate. For Perkins, salvation was something like an exact science; in his treatises and sermons he was fond of listing the identifying characteristics of the elect.6 Until the death of James and the accession of Charles in 1625, the predestinarians remained in firm control of the Church of England. This meant that those with Arminian leanings, those who saw salvation as linked to human initiative, needed to find a cultural outlet other than the Church for their views.7 One such cultural institution was the theater.
At the time Shakespeare wrote The Tempest, then, the question of human cooperation in the process of salvation was all the more insistent for its ecclesiastical suppression. Jacobean playwrights were far enough removed from the center of the theological controversy that they were permitted to depict characters who worked out their own salvation, as long as the plays did not directly and explicitly challenge the doctrine of predestination.8 Shakespeare and his contemporaries, then, were in a peculiar position: their culturally marginal status paradoxically allowed them to explore matters central to Renaissance self-understanding. In the case of The Tempest, one such concern is the crucial theological problem of reprobation and election. An examination of the naming of two of the play's major characters, Caliban and Prospero, proves fruitful in addressing the matter of Shakespeare's relation to the complex Christianity of his culture.
The wonderful speculation that the name "Caliban" is a consciously derived anagram for "cannibal" is taken for granted by some commentators on The Tempest.9 E. K. Chambers argues for a derivation from "cauliban," a Romany word meaning "blackness" (1: 494). A further conjecture as to the origin of the name, and one that I have not seen advanced, is that Shakespeare may have had in mind a back-handed swipe at Calvin. The similarity of the names "Caliban" and "Calvin" would seem entirely fortuitous were the whole development of Caliban's character not set in the context of the theological debate concerning Calvin's doctrine of predestination.
There is even some chance that early seventeenth-century French pronunciation of the reformer's name would make it sound more like "Calvan" than "Calvin," just as it does in present-day French, and therefore even closer to "Caliban" than it seems to us, but evidence—such as it is—of Jacobean English pronunciation of French names ending in "in" is inconclusive (Dobson 904, Zachrisson 117). In any case, Caliban's actions raise fascinating questions that bear on the theology of the time, particularly the questions surrounding Calvin's doctrine of election.
Shakespeare's naming of Prospero may well also have its origin in this theological debate. One possibility that I have not seen advanced is that Shakespeare derived the name from Prosper of Aquitaine, a fourth-century Church Father and disciple of Augustine. Prosper s name appears frequently in the discourse of Shakespeare's day; he was among the Fathers widely read and widely quoted throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.10 Interestingly, Prosper's position regarding his main theological concern—the relation between free will and grace—seems to have shifted somewhat during his literary career from a hard-line late-Augustinian (in retrospect, one might say, "Calvinistic") insistence on predestination to an acknowledgement of the possibility of some human cooperation in the process of salvation.11 The following, from Prosper's Grace and Free Will, is indicative of his earlier position: " . . . it is vain, even impious, to want to make a place for merits existing before grace. . . . " The later Prosper, however, writing The Call of All Nations, could be quoted with approval by Richard Hooker, whose Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity attempted to remove the exclusivism of predestination from the center of Christian theology:
The Church every where maketh prayers unto God not only for saints and such as already in Christ are regenerate, but for all infidels and enemies of the Cross of Jesus Christ, for all idolaters, for all that persecute Christ in his followers, for Jews to whose blindness the light of the Gospel doth not yet shine, for heretics and schismatics, who from the unity of faith and charity are estranged.12
Although the difference between Prosper's earlier and later positions is perhaps more one of emphasis than of doctrine, the softening of his earlier position is noteworthy in that it is paralleled in The Tempest by a similar change on Prospero's part. The nature of Prospero's theological development will be examined below. At this point it is enough to say that there is at least some likelihood that Shakespeare derived Prospero's name from the historical Prosper. (The "o" is even dropped from the end of the character's name three times in the play.)13 Although we cannot say with certainty that Prosper is among Shakespeare's sources, there can be little doubt that Prosper's concerns are Shakespeare's concerns in The Tempę st; the language of both Caliban and Prospero is heavily colored with the rhetoric of election and reprobation.
In the whole corpus of Shakespeare's work, the term "election" is usually used in its purely political sense, but at times the playwright puns on the Calvinistic meaning of the term, as in Cymbeline when Cloten complains that Imogen has chosen not him but Posthumus as her husband. The Second Lord says in an aside, "If it be a sin to make a true election, she is damned."14 Shakespeare's humorously ironic treatment of the Calvinistic doctrine of election argues that here as elsewhere in his comedies, there is no reason to suppose that any character—with the apparent exception of Caliban—has been preordained to villainy. Even in the tragedies, where fate often plays a more obvious role than in the comedies, it would be difficult to demonstrate that any character's end had been predestined. Rather, the operative principle in the tragedies seems to be a paradoxical interplay between free will and fate (Grudin). Shakespeare's comedies, even more than his tragedies, appear to assume the operation of free will. The comedies are decidedly not "humors plays," in which every character behaves according to a preconceived, stereotypical pattern. Except for the Caliban of the early part of The Tempest, Shakespeare's comic villains appear not to have been preordained to their villainy; they have chosen it. Malvolio in Twelfth Night and Angelo in Measure for Measure, for example, come across as hypocrites who have chosen their own Puritan rigidity; there is no reason to suppose that they have been locked beside their will into an unalterable reprobation.
Given Calvinism's emphasis on the rigid categories of election and reprobation, it is not difficult to see how a pervasive interest in assurance of election arose among late Tudor and early Stuart Calvinists. Accompanying this emphasis on assurance was an obsessive desire to identify and denounce reprobates. Although the Calvinists of Shakespeare's day saw themselves as following the letter of the Institutes, Calvin himself had foreseen the danger of looking for signs of election:
But what proof have you of your election? When once this thought has taken possession of any individual, it keeps him perpetually miserable, subjects him to dire torment, or throws him into a state of complete stupor. . . . The mind cannot be infected by a more pestilential error than that which disturbs the conscience, and deprives it of peace and tranquillity in regard to God.
Elsewhere in the Institutes, however, Calvin indicates that a perpetually tranquil conscience is not to be expected in the Christian life:
When we say that faith must be certain and secure, we certainly speak not of an assurance which is never affected by doubt, nor a security which anxiety never assails, we rather maintain that believers have a perpetual struggle with their own distrust, and are thus far from thinking that their consciences possess a placid quiet, uninterrupted by perturbation.
These two statements appear to be contradictory, but each is meant to forestall a different excess: in the first case, an excessive desire for assurance of salvation, and in the second, an excessive desire for an unperturbed conscience. Despite the reformer's warnings, Calvinists in Shakespeare's England were prone to both excesses. The extremely popular preacher Arthur Dent, for example, in a frequently reprinted tract called The Plaine Mans Path-way to Heaven: Wherein every man may clearly see, whether he shall be saved or damned, advocated absolute assurance: "For, he, that knoweth not in this life that he shall be saved, shall never be saved after this life."15 Regarding peace of conscience, William Perkins made his position plain in A Treatise Tending unto a Declaration whether a man be in the estate of damnation, or in the estate of grace: "That religion whose precepts are no directions to attaine peace of conscience, leaveth a man still in a damnable case" (396).
It is not surprising that the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean Calvinists departed somewhat from the Institutes, for Calvin himself, never one to countenance alternating states of confidence and despair, advocates a simultaneous recognition of depravity and beatitude.16 Interestingly, it is "to keep pious minds from despair" that he reminds his readers of the persecuted saints: "Though they feel bitterly, they are at the same time filled with spiritual joy; though pressed with anxiety, breathe exhilarated by the consolation of God" (3.2.24). If Calvinists felt themselves incapable of maintaining an awareness of themselves as simultaneously saints and sinners, it was comparatively easy, by emphasizing certain aspects of Calvin's doctrine, to declare themselves saints and look for sinners in the rest of the world. Had Calvin himself not exhorted his followers to do just that?
. . . comparing their good cause with the evil cause of the wicked, they thence derive confidence of victory, not so much by the commendation of their own righteousness as by the just and deserved condemnation of their adversaries.
In fairness to Calvin, it should be mentioned that such language is rare in the Institutes. More frequent are reminders of the Augustinian doctrine that all human beings are to be treated as members of the elect since "we know not who belongs to the number of the predestined" (3.23.14). By the late sixteenth century, however, the dualism implicit in Calvin's doctrine of predestination led to a widespread interest in identifying and condemning reprobates (Rozett 41).
Stephen Greenblatt sees this process of condemnation as a part of the self-fashioning peculiar to the Renaissance:
. . . self-fashioning is achieved in relation to something perceived as alien, strange, or hostile. This threatening Other—heretic, savage, witch, adulteress, traitor, Anti-Christ—must be discovered or invented in order to be attacked and destroyed.17
Greenblatt's idea of self-fashioning in the Renaissance can be seen as the incipient stage of the self-assertion that characterizes the modern age. Hans Blumenberg sees the Calvinistic dualism of election and reprobation as the re-emergence of Gnosticism, which was never fully conquered by the early Church Fathers (135). In Blumenberg's view the modern age has successfully overcome Gnosticism, but the battle was far from over in the early seventeenth century (126). A Gnostic insistence on the pervasive presence of real evil in the phenomenal world, coupled with a new tendency toward self-assertion, demanded that believers learn to identify and condemn their demonic counterparts.
Suitable objects for reproach were often incorporated into worship services such as the rites of public penance at Paul's Cross. These sessions attracted some of the most famous preachers in the land, each of whom on his appointed day would share space on a wooden platform with a penitent. Frequently the audience at Paul's Cross numbered in the thousands, and the sermon lasted for up to two hours. The penitent, dressed in white and holding a taper or a faggot, represented the antithesis of the preacher. This "sinner" would endure the jeers of the crowd as well as blows from the "rod of correction." In vehemently denouncing the sins of the penitent, the members of the audience strengthened their identity with the preacher and the moral order he represented (Rozett 41).
This sort of display's counterpart—and its competition—was of course the stage. Despite their basic animosity toward the theater, many Puritans saw dramatic portrayals of the downfalls of reprobate sinners as serving a useful purpose in edifying the elect (Rozett 72). The English Renaissance stage was thus in one sense an extension of English Protestant thought, adding range and flexibility to the possibilities for dramatic depictions of an essentially dualistic universe. This dualism, combined with the strong tradition of didactic drama derived from the Middle Ages, meant that the Jacobean stage was heavily peopled with characters designed to be hated, reinforcing the audience's identification with these characters' virtuous counterparts.
At first glance Caliban seems to be another character designed to be loathed—another candidate for this sort of education by reverse example. Caliban's depravity is seemingly without limit; the character appears to be a striking dramatic embodiment of Calvin's fallen, unregenerate man. He arrives on stage cursing magnificently:
As wicked dew as e'er my mother brush'd With raven's feather from unwholesome fen Drop on you both! a south-west wind blow on ye And blister you all o'er!
Despite his demonic parentage, Caliban seems to serve admirably as an emblem of human depravity. Shakespeare's Caliban is both loathsome and ridiculous; the physical appearance of this "salvage and deformed Slave," this "freckled whelp hag-born," invites derision (1.2.283).
Certainly this Caliban, who can use language masterfully—albeit to curse—is intellectually capable of realizing that the punishment for his outburst will be swift and unpleasant. The question of what drives Caliban to persist in his rebellious behavior despite its obvious futility can be answered in a number of ways. One possibility is that his indomitable desire for freedom leads him to struggle admirably, even heroically, against impossible odds. But such a reading is undercut not only by Shakespeare's humorous portrayal of Caliban but also by Caliban's own refusal to embrace freedom; he is more than willing to serve and even worship the likes of Stephano.
Another possibility is that on a psychoanalytic level, Caliban represents the darker side of Prospero, perhaps the narcissistic willfulness of his childhood.18 In this reading, Prospero must acknowledge the "other" within in order to attain full maturity.
Such a psychoanalytic reading is compelling in the twentieth century, but of course a Jacobean audience would register the perception differently. In terms of seventeenth-century sensibilities, the simple possibility that presents itself is that the Caliban of the first half of The Tempest is a reprobate. There is no reason to suppose that an audience culturally predisposed to denounce reprobates would find any fault in Prospero's response to Caliban's outburst:
For this, be sure, tonight thou shalt have cramps, Side-stitches that shall pen thy breath up. Urchins Shall, for that vast of night that they may work, All exercise on thee; thou shalt be pinched As thick as honeycomb, each pinch more stinging Than bees that made 'em.
Caliban replies that he has been betrayed and unjustly enslaved by Prospero, to whom he has dutifully shown "all the qualities of the isle, / The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile" (1.2.339-40). Caliban's next lines combine a curse with a wry comment on the limits of Prospero's authority:
All the charms Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you! For I am all the subjects that you have, Which first was mine own King. . . .
But any sympathy the audience feels for Caliban is quickly undercut by Prospero's response:
Thou most lying slave, Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have us'd thee, Filth as thou art, with human care; and lodg'd thee In mine own cell, till that thou didst seek to violate The honour of my child.
Especially in terms of seventeenth-century sensibilities, Prospero's punishment of Caliban is necessary and morally justifiable; Prospero has tried compassion, but Caliban has rejected it. Even now Caliban remains unrepentant of the attempted rape:
O ho, O ho! would't had been done! Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else This isle with Calibans.
Despite Sharp's suggestion that the plurality of Caliban's envisioned offspring is an indication of his desire for honorable marriage, it is safe to assume that a Jacobean audience would find Prospero's treatment of the would-be rapist more humane than the circumstances merited, not less (276). The law against rape in Jacobean England provided for the death penalty (or, if the judge favored leniency, blinding and/or castration [Pollock and Maitland, 2:491]). Miranda reminds Caliban that his punishment has been light; he has "deserved more than a prison" (1.2.304). At this point, the audience has no reason to doubt the validity of Miranda's invective:
Abhorred slave, Which any print of goodness wilt not take, Being capable of all ill!
Later, Prospero calls him,
A devil, a born devil, on whose nature Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost. . . .
Apparently, Caliban is a Calvinistic reprobate; his condition appears to be such that he is incapable of receiving grace. The pinches, cramps, and imprisonment are necessary not as salutary punishment, not as the means of bringing about repentance, but as the only way of keeping the monster's passions in check. The physicality of the punishment is commensurate with Caliban's excessive bestiality. In Calvinistic terms, Caliban is receiving the punishment befitting a reprobate slave, not a wayward son. Calvin makes a distinction between God's chastisements of "our sins" and his punishments of "the wicked and reprobate." Quoting with approval St. John Chrysostom, Calvin says,
"A son is whipt, and a slave is whipt, but the latter is punished as a slave for his offence: the former is chastised as a free-born son, standing in need of correction." The correction of the latter is designed to prove and amend him; that of the former is scourging and punishment.
Clearly, Caliban appears to be such a reprobate slave. His congenitally corrupted will leads him to abuse all gifts, including the gift of language. He says to Miranda,
You taught me language, and my profit on't Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you For learning me your language!
In terms of the popularly perceived Calvinism of Shakespeare's day, Caliban's inability to make good use of the gifts he has received is a clear indication of his status as a reprobate.
A little later in the play Caliban enters, cursing in characteristic fashion:
All the infections that the sun sucks up From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall, and make him By inch-meal a disease!
He then neatly encapsulates his predicament: "his spirits hear me, / And yet I needs must curse" (2.2.3-4). This creature who "needs must curse" in spite of the certainty of retribution amounts to a strikingly dramatic embodiment—albeit a humorous one—of the Calvinistic reprobate. It is Caliban's inability to change his condition, despite his knowledge of it, that marks the characterization as distinctly Calvinistic.
Shakespeare's comic treatment of this reprobate continues as Trinculo enters and mistakes him first for a fish and then for an islander stricken by a thunderbolt. Despite the powerful, fish-like smell, Trinculo crawls under Caliban's gaberdine to escape the impending rainstorm. Stephano mistakes the pair for a four-legged, double-headed monster and gives wine to both ends in an attempt to calm the beast. Hereafter the three join in a drunken pact, a hopelessly misguided plot to murder Prospero. All three have become objects of the audience's ridicule, but in Act III the difference between Caliban and the others becomes apparent. When Stephano and Trinculo are terrified by the invisible Ariel's music, Caliban calms them, revealing a heartrending capacity for imagination:
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices, That, if I then had wak'd after long sleep, Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming, The clouds methought would open, and show riches Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak'd, I cried to dream again.
An element of pathos is added to the audience's perception of Caliban; he can imagine blessings, but even in his dreams he is unable to receive them.
The Caliban who begins to emerge is a being distressingly like the audience members. Like them, he has an acute sense of the gap between life as it is and life as it might be. Although the "riches" of his dreams will eventually have to be given up in favor of a humbler, more human aspiration, his "when I wak'd, / I cried to dream again" is a far cry from his earlier, bestial cursing of his situation. Shakespeare underscores this development by contrasting Caliban's awareness with that of the merely venal aspirations of Stephano and Trinculo. It is Caliban who recognizes the "glistering apparel" brought by Ariel as "trash" and "luggage" (4.1.224, 231). Caliban's aspirations are not yet what they ought to be, but his recognition of the vanity of the "trumpery" is a prelude to his recognition of his own limitations (4.1.186). In short, Caliban has begun to emerge as more than a mere buffoon, more than simply a reply to the proponents of the myth of the noble savage, more even than the reprobate of Calvinism. The audience members, who have been invited to laugh at Caliban, are now challenged to recognize him as essentially human—to recognize something of him in themselves. In the fifth act Caliban finally repents. Shakespeare's rhetorical technique leaves the audience only two alternatives: to reject the Caliban of the second half of the play as inconsistent with the reprobate slave of Act I, or to embrace the character as a fellow human being, one capable of reform.
In the end, Caliban makes just the recognition that the play is designed to effect in the audience. In order for Prospero to embrace full humanity in abjuring his magic, he must come face to face with a part of himself that his magical powers have heretofore kept at a distance. He says of Caliban, "this thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine" (5.1.275-76). If the members of the audience are still reluctant to make a similar acknowledgement, Shakespeare makes it clear that the "thing of darkness" is in fact capable of regeneration. In his last speech Caliban says, "I'll be wise hereafter and seek for grace" (5.1.294-95).
Shakespeare is certainly doing more here than sacrificing continuity of character to his desire for a happy ending that includes everyone, even Caliban. (Antonio and Sebastian, after all, make no indication that they intend to reform.)19 Caliban's statement about seeking grace seems out of character only because the audience has been drawn into the popularly perceived Calvinistic notion that some readily identifiable souls are incapable of regeneration. Caliban, the very embodiment of human depravity, is actually a human being capable of receiving grace. The audience's habit of self-identification in opposition to a reprobate has been challenged; if even Caliban can be saved, who can be excluded?
The instrument of Caliban's regeneration is self-knowledge arising from his repentance. He recognizes his own idolatry and the folly he shares with others:
What a thrice-double ass Was I, to take this drunkard for a god, And worship this dull fool!
The members of the audience are invited to a similar sort of recognition of shared human frailty. Shakespeare beautifully incorporates this idea into Prospero's epilogue, which contains much more than the usual request for applause. In his voluntary rejection of all illusion, Prospero has become fully human, fully vulnerable; he has given up his magic and forgiven his enemies. Now even the illusory wall between actor and theatergoer is broken down as Prospero speaks directly to the audience. The perspectives of character and author blend, and the members of the audience, having witnessed the repentance of an apparent reprobate and the humanization of a powerful magician, are invited to participate in Shakespeare's vision of salvation. Like the audience, Prospero and Caliban are now utterly dependent on God's grace. Fortunately, as Prospero points out, it is a grace that is not confined within the rigid categories of Calvinistic predestination, but is readily accessible through prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assaults Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
1 See, e. g., Cartelli, Brown, Siegel, Hulme (1981), Erlich, Leininger, and Greenblatt (1976).
2 According to Kermode, xxxiv, Montaigne's essay is "the only undisputed source for any part of The Tempest." See also Woodhead, 126.
3 See Skura, Orgel ("Shakespeare and the Cannibals"), Hulme (1986 and 1981), Griffiths, and Barker and Hulme.
4 In "Of the Canniballes," p. 164, Montaigne says in passing that the inhabitants of the New World are in such a state of purity that "I am sometimes grieved the knowledge of it came no sooner to light, at what time there were men, that better than we could have judged of it."
5 See, e. g., Calvin, 3.21.5: "All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation."
6 See, e.g., Perkins's A Case of Conscience, the Greatest that Ever Was: How a man may know whether he be the childe of God, or no.
7 It is instructive that at Cambridge in the mid-1590s, anticipators of Arminianism such as Peter Baro and William Barrett incurred the wrath of the Calvinist authorities for asserting that Christ died for all people and that grace was not irresistible. See Dickens, 426-27.
8 One factor in the degree of latitude afforded playwrights with Arminian leanings may have been Archbishop Bancroft's readiness to denounce extreme forms of Puritanism. For a treatment of censorship laws see Patterson.
9 See, e. g., Skura, Hulme (1981), Levin, and Haskins.
10 See O'Donnell's comment in Prosper, Grace, p. 342. Although I have not done an exhaustive study of the frequency with which Prosper's name is mentioned in the discourse of Shakespeare's day, I have happened across a good many references, in all of which Prosper is cited as a familiar and reliable authority. For example, Prosper's name appears frequently in both volumes of the official Elizabethan homilies (which, in theory at least, every English citizen heard regularly), in Hooker, and in the sermons of the popular Elizabethan preacher Thomas Playfere. Particularly instructive is a reference in a 1627 letter from Richard Montague to John Cosin: "I shall not Calvinise it, not yet Arminianise it, but with the Church of England, Augustine and Prosper, go the middle way" (quoted in Collinson, p. 83, n. 71).
11 See O'Donnell's introduction to Prosper, Grace, p. 339.
12 5.49.6. P. De Letter, in his introduction to Prosper's The Call of All Nations, p. 3, dates the treatise at about the year 450, some twenty years after Prosper's writing Grace and Free Will.
13 "Prosper" is used instead of "Prospero" twice by Caliban (2.2.2 and 2.2.83) and once by Alonso (3.3.99).
14 In the Arden edition, 1.3.26. Some editors combine the first two scenes, in which case the reference is 1.2.26. Cf. 1.2.68 (or 1.1.138), in which Cymbeline asks his daughter whether she is "past obedience" and "past grace." She turns her father's intended meaning into an ironic comment on theological despair: "Past hope, and in despair, that way past grace."
15 Quoted in Rozett, p. 43. Dent's tract, first published in 1601, was in its twelfth printing in 1611, when Shakespeare wrote The Tempest. By contrast, there was only one new printing of the English edition of Calvin's Institutes between 1587 and 1611.
16 Calvin denounces those "semi-papists" who "give conscience a position between hope and fear, making it alternate, by successive turns, to the one and the other" (3.2.24).
17 Greenblatt (1980), p. 9. See also Fiedler.
18 See Skura, pp. 64-66. Cf. Leininger, p. 105, and Holland's Freudian interpretation of Caliban's dream.
19 In his introduction to the Oxford Tempest, Stephen Orgel remarks that it seems odd that Antonio does not repent, that "the demand for repentance has been deflected from Antonio to Alonso," p. 51. It seems to me just as accurate to say that the demand for repentance has been deflected from Antonio to the audience. A few pages later Orgel himself bears out the idea in his discussion of Prospero's epilogue: "The spells are now ours; we have become the enabling factor in the fiction. Our breath, not Ariel's, must send his ship back to Italy, and it is we who must forgive him his faults as a higher power forgives ours," pp. 55-56.
Andrewes, Lancelot. Sermons. 5 vols. Oxford: Anglo-Catholic Library, 1875-82.
Barker, Francis and Peter Hulme. "Nymphs and Reapers Heavily Vanish: the Discursive Con-texts of The Tempest." Alternative Shakespeares. Ed. John Drakakis. London: Methuen, 1985.
Blumenberg, Hans. The Legitimacy of the Modern Age. Trans. Robert M. Wallace. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1983.
Brown, Paul. "'This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine': The Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism." Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985. 48-71.
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Trans. Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957.
Cartelli, Thomas. "Prospero in Africa: The Tempest as Colonialist Text and Pretext." Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology. Eds. Jean Howard and Marion O'Conner. London: Methuen, 1987. 99-115.
Chambers, E. K. William Shakespeare. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930.
Collinson, Patrick. The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society, 1559-1625. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982.
Dent, Arthur. The Plaine Mans Path-way to Heaven: Wherein every man may clearly see, whether he shall be saved or damned. London, 1607.
Dickens, A. G. The English Reformation. London: Fontana, 1964.
Dobson, E. J., ed. English Pronunciation, 1500-1700. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968.
Erlich, Bruce. "Shakespeare's Colonial Metaphor: On the Social Function of Theatre in The Tempest." Science and Society 41 (1977): 43-65.
Fiedler, Leslie. The Stranger in Shakespeare. New York: Stein and Day, 1972.
Greenblatt, Stephen. "Learning to Curse: Aspects of Linguistic Colonialism in the Sixteenth Century." First Images of America. Ed. Fredi Chiappelli. 2 vols. Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1976. 2: 561-80.
——. Renaissance Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980.
Griffiths, Trevor R. "'This Island's mine': Caliban and Colonialism." Yearbook of English Studies 13 (1983): 159-80.
Haskins, John E. "Caliban the Bestial Man." PMLA 62 (1947): 793-801.
Holland, Norman. "Caliban's Dream." The Design Within: Psychoanalytic Approaches to Shakespeare. Ed. M. D. Faber. New York: Science House, 1970. 521-33.
Hooker, Richard. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. The Works of Mr. Richard Hooker. Ed. John Keble. 3 vols. 7th ed. New York: Burt Franklin, 1888. Rpt. 1970.
Hulme, Peter. Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492-1787. London: Methuen, 1986. 89-134.
——. "Hurricanes in the Caribbees: The Constitution of the Discourse of English Colonialism." 1642: Literature and Power in the Seventeenth Century. Proceedings of the Essex conference on the Sociology of Literature. Eds. Francis Barker et. al. Colchester: Univ. of Essex, 1981. 55-83.
Kermode, Frank, ed. (See Shakespeare.)
Las Casas, Bartolome de. The Spanish Colonic . . . Trans. M. M. S. London: 1583. Rpt. Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1977.
Leininger, Lorie. "Cracking the Code of The Tempest" Bucknell Review 25 (1980): 121-31.
Levin, Harry. "Shakespeare's Nomenclature." Shakespeare and the Revolution of the Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976. 51-77.
McCloskey, John C. "Caliban, Savage Clown." College English 1 (1940): 354-59.
Montaigne, Michel de. The Essayes of Montaigne. Trans. John Florio. New York: The Modern Library, 1933.
Orgel, Stephen. "Shakespeare and the Cannibals." Cannibals, Witches, and Divorce: Estranging the Renaissance. Ed. Marjorie Garber. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1987. 40-66.
——. ed. (See Shakespeare.)
Patterson, Annabel. Censorship and Interpretation: The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press. 1984.
Perkins, William. The Work of William Perkins. Appleford: The Sutton Courtenay Press, 1970.
Pollock, Sir Frederick and Frederick William Maitland. The History of English Law. 13 vols. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1968.
Prosper of Aquitaine. The Call of All Nations. Intro. P. De Letter. Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1952.
——. Grace and Free Will. Trans. J. R. O'Donnell. Vol. 7 in The Fathers of the Church. New York: Fathers of the Church. Inc., 1949.
Rozett, Martha Tuck. The Doctrine of Election and the Emergence of Elizabethan Tragedy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Frank Kermode. The Arden Shakespeare. 6th ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1958.
——. The Tempest. Ed. Stephen Orgel. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.
Sharp, Corona. "Caliban: The Primitive Man's Evolution." Shakespeare Studies 14 (1981): 267-83.
Siegel, Paul N. "Historical Ironies in The Tempest." Shakespeare Jarhbuch 119 (1983): 104-11.
Skura, Meredith Anne. "Discourse and the Individual: The Case of Colonialism in The Tempest." Shakespeare Quarterly 40 (1989): 42-69.
Woodhead, M. R. "Montaigne and The Tempest: An Addendum," Notes and Queries (April, 1982): 126.
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Alden T. Vaughan and Virginia Mason Vaughan (essay date 1991)
SOURCE: "Caliban's Debut," in Shakespeare's Caliban: A Cultural History, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 3-20.
[In the excerpt below, the Vaughans discuss Caliban's physical features, his dramatic function, and the ambiguity of his characterization.]
Caliban, a salvage and deformed slave.
The Tempest (names of the actors, 1623 Folio)
Caliban is the core of the play.
Frank Kermode (1954).
Caliban. In modern poetry he is a recurring symbol for the victimization of Third World peoples. In the theatre he can be anything the director imagines, from amphibian to punk rocker to black militant. Contemporary film shows him as the id: In Forbidden Planet he is Dr. Morbius's (Walter Pidgeon's) destructive impulse, ready to kill rather than be suppressed; in Paul Mazursky's adaptation Tempest, he (Raul Julia) is a libidinous Peeping Tom, ogling Miranda from fake foliage and blaring "New York, New York" on his clarinet. Caliban can even play two roles at once: The protagonist in Mrs. Caliban, a recent novel by Rachel Ingalls, is a six-foot seven-inch human amphibian of insatiable sexual appetite and simultaneously a fetus; both are figments of the heroine's starved libido.1 Such bizarre characters, inspired by Shakespeare's Caliban, attest to the monster's integral place in our cultural heritage, a symbol that can be endlessly transformed yet is always recognizable.
Caliban in the late twentieth century is, of course, far removed in both time and interpretation from the character Shakespeare created in 1611. This chapter goes back to the beginning of Caliban's metaphorical Odyssey to examine Shakespeare's text in detail, for Caliban as Shakespeare portrayed him (or, rather, as he first appears in print in the Folio edition) sets a necessary background to the discussion that follows.
We have hewed as closely as possible to the printed text, but we caution readers that any understanding of the play inevitably involves judgments about words and contexts that are in themselves interpretive. Similarly, it is a matter of textual interpretation to accept or reject the characters' "accuracy" in reporting "events," as in Prospero's charge that Caliban tried to rape Miranda or that Caliban is the issue of a witch and the devil. On these and other matters, did Shakespeare want us to take Prospero literally? How a reader answers that question largely determines his or her interpretation of Caliban and the broader conception of the play.
Records from the early seventeenth century show that The Tempest was performed at the court of King James I on 1 November 1611 and was repeated (possibly with alterations) in the winter of 1612-13 at the wedding celebrations for Princess Elizabeth and Frederick, elector of Palatine.2 There may have been other, unrecorded showings—and revisions—before Shakespeare's death in 1616. No texts survive before 1623. Why John Heminges and Henry Condell placed it first in their Folio edition is open to speculation, as is the text's possible evolution from 1611 to 1623.3
The general context in which Shakespeare composed The Tempest is less ambiguous. By 1610, James had substantially stabilized his regime; England enjoyed an uneasy peace with her traditional enemies France and Spain, and the religious squabbles within the Anglican church that had marked Elizabeth's later and James's early years had largely subsided. Royal marriages commanded considerable attention, as did England's precarious footholds in North America. It seems likely that Shakespeare was well aware of current news; his contacts were numerous and notable, especially among investors in the Virginia Company of London. Several topical references in The Tempest—Indians, a fortuitous shipwreck, Bermuda—attest to the dramatist's awareness of New World events. But other events, both foreign and domestic, may have exerted equal or greater influence, as, no doubt, did literary and theatrical concerns that were the warp and woof of Shakespeare's livelihood.
The Tempest was an appropriate play to stage before Princess Elizabeth and her fiancé. A major plot of the play—the dynastic marriage of a duke's daughter to a king's son—no doubt had topical appeal for a royal audience celebrating an equally political and dynastic marriage. David M. Bergeron argues, in fact, that "James and his family are re-presented in The Tempest through the issues of peaceful succession, royal genealogy, interpretation, and the union of the kingdoms."4 The union of Naples and Milan through Miranda's marriage may have been a projection of James's continuing concern for the peaceful union of his native Scotland with England. It could also suggest the union of Protestant England and Germany embodied in the marriage between Elizabeth and Frederick.
But The Tempest seems to have sparked special attention from the author. It was the last drama Shakespeare wrote without a collaborator and may have been the last of his plays staged by the King's Men before he retired to Stratford. Significantly, perhaps, The Tempest depicts a magician absorbed in his art, the power to craft illusions, who, at the drama's conclusion, deliberately renounces his gift, drowns his book, and returns to a life of responsibility rather than creativity. Although modern critics resist overt biographical readings of Shakespeare's dramas, The Tempest remains implicitly autobiographical. By 1611, Shakespeare, like James, was concerned about the marriage of his daughters and what inheritance he could leave them;5 Shakespeare died only five years after the probable date of the play's composition. No wonder Prospero's farewell to his art is often taken for the author's retirement declaration.6
As a member of the King's Men, Shakespeare crafted a play that had more than topical appeal. To suit the royal palate, he included within his play an elaborate masque of gods and goddesses, similar in many respects to the spectacles designed by Inigo Jones for James and Queen Anne. Shakespeare arranged his play so that it would roughly fit the "unity of time" (four hours) and the "unity of place" (a small island)—classical protocols he never bothered with elsewhere, except in the early and Plautine Comedy of Errors. He also focused his plot on issues of royal concern: Conspiracy and possible usurpation must have appealed to the monarch who had escaped annihilation during the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.7 As a king who styled himself the "father of his people," James surely had some interest in issues of government and authority. The play's supernatural elements may also have intrigued him; in 1597 he had published a treatise on demonology, and throughout his life he remained interested in witchcraft and magic.8 Duke Prospero, a ruler who lost power by devoting himself to his studies, could have been a surrogate for a king who preferred hunting and collecting rare animals to governing. And Caliban, perhaps, represented (as anti-masque) the unruly forces of English society—rowdies and malcontents who undermined the ideal unity and harmony of James's body politic. That the king saw Shakespeare's drama as a mirror image of his own court and country is unlikely. But the parallels are evident in hindsight and could not have been wholly lost on The Tempest's early audiences.
It should be apparent from this brief introduction that Caliban is not the most important character in The Tempest, though he is, as most critics and directors make clear, essential. As Frank Kermode observed in his influential introduction to the second Arden edition, "Caliban is the ground of the play."9 He has a scant 177 lines of text (compare Prospero's 653 lines), and he appears in only five of the nine scenes, yet Caliban is central to The Tempest's plot and structure and to its dialogue. He speaks more words than any character except Prospero, though barely more than Stephano or Ariel. (The exact proportions, meticulously measured by Marvin Spevack, are Prospero 29.309%, Caliban 8.393%, Stephano 8.137%, and Ariel 7.888%; each of the other characters has less than 7.5% of the text's words.10) Not that a character's importance can be quantified. Surely Caliban is qualitatively more important to the play's dynamics than anyone but Prospero, regardless of the number of his words. Almost as important as his own lines, of course, are the volume and significance of the words spoken to him or about him; by this measure Caliban is clearly, next to Prospero, The Tempest's predominant character. But our principal concern is Caliban's ambiguity rather than his importance: Of all the characters in The Tempest, Caliban is the most enigmatic and the most susceptible to drastic fluctuations in interpretation. He is Shakespeare's changeling.
The Folio edition of 1623 simply describes Caliban in the cast of characters as "a salvage and deformed slave." (The l in "salvage" was probably silent, as in "calm."11) Each of the operative words illuminates Caliban's character. His savagery, for example, attests to his crudeness and lack of qualities that Englishmen in the early seventeenth century considered essential to human progress.12 In Shakespeare's day, "savage" meant wild, barbarous, uneducated, undomesticated—in short, uncivilized by upper-class European standards.13 The supposed shortcomings of savage people often were enumerated in long lists of negatives: They had no religion, no written language, no established laws, no hierarchical government, no refined (again, by upperclass European standards) habits of dress, speech, and eating.14 "Savage" was thus shorthand for someone culturally inferior to the smug observer. Englishmen lavished the label on the Irish and on the American Indians, the ethnic groups most newsworthy in TudorStuart times, and also on a host of other peoples in Africa, Asia, and even Europe. Shakespeare used variants of "savage"—as noun, adjective, or adverb—in a score of plays, without exhibiting any pattern of ethnic or geographic preference. Savagery could exist anywhere, even in England, especially (in the eyes of the upper classes) among vagabonds, gypsies, and "sturdy beggars." Accordingly, "savage" tells us much about Caliban's cultural condition (as perceived by Prospero and Miranda) but nothing about his physical appearance or moral attributes.
Caliban's social condition is clear too. Prospero repeatedly calls him a slave—"Caliban, my slave," "What ho, slave!" "poisonous slave," "most lying slave." Miranda chides the "Abhorred slave," though the line may be Prospero's, in which case only he explicitly labels Caliban a slave.15 Ariel, too, is called a slave, but, unlike Caliban, he is promised his freedom after a few more hours of servitude. In any event, Caliban himself admits and laments his bondage, complaining to Stephano and Trinculo that he is "subject to a tyrant" (III.ii.40). Most important, Prospero treats him as a slave throughout the play, ordering him about and punishing his indolence or recalcitrance ("If thou neglect'st, or dost unwillingly" [I.ii.367]) with cramps, stitches, and stings. Caliban's slavery begins before the play's action opens and lasts a bit past the final curtain, when he will regain his liberty and his island.16
Whereas The Tempest is precise about Caliban's slavery, it is annoyingly imprecise about his deformity. Morton Luce's lament is initially tempting: "If all the suggestions as to Caliban's form and feature and endowments that are thrown out in the play are collected, it will be found that the one half renders the other half impossible."17 Yet when the clues are arranged in some semblance of order and context, Luce's complaint is palpably overstated.
Of principal importance—though misread by Luce and many others—is the Folio's assertion that Caliban has a human form, however misshapen. Before Caliban appears on stage, Prospero tells Ariel that when Caliban's mother Sycorax confined Ariel in a cloven pine,
. . . Then was this Island (Saue for the Son that [s]he did littour heere, A frekelld whelpe, hag-borne) not honour'd with A humane shape.
(TLN 408-11; Orgel ed. I.ii.281-84)18
If the final two lines of that passage are wrenched from context, as they have often been, they are easily misinterpreted; they seem to deny rather than affirm Caliban's human stature.19 That impression is unintentionally encouraged by the new Arden and Folger Library editions, where the penultimate line of the crucial passage begins a new page, thus visually distorting the syntax. The new Arden and Oxford editions, moreover, substitute dashes for the First Folio's parentheses, which is especially misleading if the last two lines are read independently of their essential precursors.20 When the passage is read intact, including the First Folio's parentheses, it clearly establishes Caliban as the only human-shaped creature on the island before Prospero and Miranda arrived. Ariel, though necessarily appearing on stage as a human, takes any form Prospero desires.21
Any doubt about Caliban's physical humanity is removed, temporarily at least, when Miranda exclaims on her first glimpse of Ferdinand: "This / Is the third man that e'er I saw, the first / That e'er I sigh'd for" (I.ii.445-47); Prospero and Caliban must be the others, for she has already denied any memory of her life before arrival on the island. A few lines later, Prospero indirectly corroborates Miranda when he chides her for unseemly excitement over Ferdinand: "Thou think'st there is no more such shapes as he, / Having seen but him and Caliban" (I.ii.479-80). Because Miranda has surely seen a wide assortment of beasts and fish, these lines strongly suggest that the only "shapes" under consideration are human. (We assume that Prospero has excluded himself. As Miranda's father, he would not suggest himself as a possible object of her amorous affections.) On the other hand, in Act HI Miranda implicitly contradicts her earlier testimony. She tells Ferdinand that her own is the only female face she's seen (in a looking glass)
. . . nor have I seen More than I may call men than you, good friend, And my dear father. . . .
Does she not consider Caliban a man? In the context of her passion for Ferdinand, Caliban is apparently beneath consideration, whatever his biological status.
Adding to the certainty that Caliban is human are the efforts Prospero and Miranda take to educate and civilize him. They have attempted what can be done only to a human; there is no hint that they tried to teach language and astronomy to an animal or a fish. Caliban proved, in their judgment, impervious to nurture, but he did learn their language, and he continues to serve them in wholly human ways. "We cannot miss [i.e., do without] him," Prospero reminds his daughter: "He does make our fire, / Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices / That profit us" (I.ii.311-13). Although Caliban is a "savage" and therefore potentially educable, he is not, in Prospero's or Miranda's eyes, either admirable or an acceptable suitor. But that he is biologically capable of impregnating Miranda, and hence probably human, is clear enough from Prospero's charge that Caliban tried to violate her honor and Caliban's retort that had Prospero not prevented him, "I had peopled else / This isle with Calibans" (I.ii.349-50).
Despite the overwhelming evidence of Caliban's basic physiology, several passages suggest that he is barely—to Prospero, Miranda, and the others (but not necessarily to Shakespeare)—on the human side of the animal kingdom. A partial list of the epithets Prospero flings at Caliban includes "earth," "filth," "hag-seed," "beast," "misshapen knave," and "a bastard one." He is, Prospero insists, "as disproportioned in his manners / As in his shape" (V.i.290-91). Miranda almost matches her father's venom, if the disputed passage in the First Folio is hers, for she calls Caliban "A thing most brutish" and condemns his "vile race" (I.ii.356-57). And in lines that are unquestionably hers, Miranda tells her father that Caliban is "a villain, sir, / I do not love to look on" (I.ii.309-10). Caliban, in sum, earns no laurels from father or daughter, yet on balance they both affirm his human shape, however physically and psychologically distorted he may be.
Trinculo and Stephano, the besotted idlers, are no more flattering and no clearer on Caliban's shape, but they too affirm his humanity. Trinculo initially calls Caliban a "fish," based on his smell: "What have we here—a man or a fish? . . . he smells like a fish; a very ancient and fish-like smell" (II.ii.24-26). Trinculo then sees that the creature is "Legged like a man, and his fins like arms!" (II.ii.32-33). (Trinculo's description of Caliban's upper limbs as "fins like arms" indicates that the presumed [by smell] fish has, in fact, arms, yet Caliban is often portrayed on stage and in illustrations with arms made to look like fins, thus reversing the import of Trinculo's observation.) At this point, Caliban is hiding under a gaberdine, his head and torso not clearly visible. Trinculo examines him further and concludes that "this is no fish, but an islander that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt" (II.ii.34-35)—in sum, a human inhabitant. Later, Trinculo reverts to aquatic imagery (of which he has almost a monopoly in the play), again probably for olfactory reasons; he labels Caliban "debosh'd Fish" (TLN 1376; "debauched fish" in Orgel, III.ii.26) and "half a fish and half a monster" (III.ii.28-29), but these are epithets rather than descriptions. Trinculo surely categorizes Caliban as human when he tells him and Stephano, ". . . there's but five upon this isle: we are three of them" (III.ii.5).
Two uses of aquatic imagery do not come from Trinculo. Near the end of the play, Antonio calls Caliban "a plain fish" (V.i.266), which could refer to either appearance or odor; the conspirators have recently been chin-deep in a "foul lake" (IV.i.183). More significant—and controversial—is Prospero's "thou tortoise" (I.ii.316). At first glance this might imply a tortoiselike body, but when read in context, and especially in view of the word that follows "tortoise," the epithet unquestionably refers to Caliban's dilatoriness. (In I.ii.315-16, Caliban fails to respond when called; Prospero demands "Come forth, I say; there's other business for thee. / Come, thou tortoise, when?") By Shakespeare's day, an abundance of fables, beginning with Aesop's, and numerous zoological treatises emphasized the tortoise's leisurely pace; the metaphor would have been obvious to a Jacobean audience.22 Some illustrators and critics have nonetheless avidly seized the tortoise image. In the nineteenth century, for example, one scholar proposed that "Caliban is . . . a kind of tortoise, the paddles expanding in arms and hands, legs and feet." Another commentator saw Caliban as a dwarf in stature, with the legs and forefins of a turtle, and, "if the hardly human face were fashioned after that of a tortoise . . . the eyes would be 'deepset' by nature as well as by drink . . . and he would be 'dim-eyed' and 'beetle-browed,'" his body covered with patches of "loathsome leprosy." More recently and more temperately, two American critics have argued that "'Come, thou tortoise' tended to give a vague approximation of the shape of the deformity."23 More often, Caliban has been portrayed with fish rather than turtle attributes—scales, fins, and shiny skin—which reflect the critic's or artist's or actor's fixation on offhand epithets rather than the overwhelming evidence of Caliban's essentially human form. By contrast, Frank Kermode insists (correctly, we believe) that Caliban is occasionally called a fish "largely because of his oddity, and there should be no fishiness about his appearance."24
"Monster" is Caliban's most frequent sobriquet, but it comes only from Trinculo and Stephano and may therefore be less descriptive than simply pejorative—attempts by a jester and a butler to assert a modicum of superiority over their self-proclaimed "foot-licker." In any event, "monster" appears in the text some forty times, usually with a pejorative adjective: "shallow," "weak," "credulous," "most perfidious and drunken," "puppy-headed," "scurvy," "abominable," "ridiculous," "howling," "ignorant," and "lost." Only "brave," used twice, might be a favorable modifier, and it is almost certainly meant sarcastically. More neutral are "servant-monster," "man-monster," "lieutenant-monster," and "poor monster." To the extent that "monster" implies physical deformity, as it did generally but not exclusively in Shakespeare's time, these abundant reminders strengthen the notion of Caliban as grotesque.25 They do nothing, however, to specify the deformity. Nor does Alonso's quip that "This is a strange thing as e'er I looked on" (V.i.289). The text tells us that Caliban had long nails to dig pignuts (II.ii.162); otherwise his physical deformities are unspecified.
Other references to Caliban are little help. Several times he is called "mooncalf," suggesting stupidity and an amorphous shape. Pliny's Natural History, translated into English in 1601, described a mooncalf as "a lumpe of flesh without shape, without life, . . . Howbeit, a kind of moving it hath."26 Prospero once dubs Caliban "this thing of darkness" (V.i.275), possibly implying a dusky skin, though more likely a faulty character. Similarly, Prospero's "thou earth" (I.ii.314) hints at darkness or dirt or, more likely, baseness of character. Stephano once calls Caliban "cat" (II.ii.70), but the text itself and contemporaneous proverbs clearly link the epithet to alcohol's purported ability to make even a cat speak.27
Several times Caliban's parentage—his mother, Prospero tells us, was an Algerian witch, his father the devil—is invoked, as in "demi-devil" and "a born devil"; such lineage may imply a less-than-human shape, for unions with the devil, especially by a witch, often brought forth—according to conventional wisdom—all sorts of grotesque births.28 The charge of devilish parentage may be Prospero's hyperbole.29 In light of the other evidence in the text that Caliban is essentially human, the attribution of satanic parentage, if such it was, more likely testifies to Caliban's inherently warped character. And the progeny of a witch and the devil could have been human—again, according to conventional wisdom—in fundamental shape, though inwardly and outwardly deformed. As George Steevens observed in his 1793 edition of The Tempest, "It is not easy to determine the shape which our author designed to bestow on his monster. That he has hands, legs, etc. we gather from the remarks of Trinculo, and other circumstances in the play. . . . Perhaps Shakespeare himself had no settled ideas concerning the form of Caliban."30 In any event, the confusion of epithets that abounds in The Tempest encourages artists, actors, and readers to see Caliban however they wish. For three centuries they have enthusiastically accepted the invitation.
Aside from its specific language, the text also provides clues to Caliban's role, and to some extent his nature, through the structure of the plot. He is a pivotal character who, by means of parallels and contrasts, frequently elucidates the ways one views the other characters. His first appearance, for example, is sandwiched between Prospero's opening interview with Ariel and his first encounter with Ferdinand. Caliban manifests significant similarities with, and differences from, both of these characters—parallels and contrasts highlighted by juxtapositions in the text. Caliban, of course, is unaware of these contrasts and parallels because he never appears on stage with either Ariel or Ferdinand. He presumably does not know of Ferdinand at all, and he may be oblivious to Ariel's existence. He suffers the pinches caused by Ariel, but he assigns such bodily punishments to Prospero's magic. Caliban insists to Stephano that to thwart Prospero and succeed in their conspiracy, they must begin by stealing the magician's books.
Caliban first crawls from his cave in a scene of exposition that follows the audience's initial view of Ariel. The airy spirit had asked for freedom from Prospero's domination; after reviewing Ariel's history, Prospero threatens his spirit-servant with a return to the cloven pine, then promises freedom as a reward for a bit more service. Ariel, though often in fear of Prospero, gladly agrees. Despite Prospero's irascibility, there clearly is affection between them.
Caliban is in many ways Ariel's opposite, although their situations are somewhat similar. Both were on the island when Prospero and Miranda arrived. Both are now servants. Both are afraid of the magician's powers. But Ariel is a spirit; he enters from above, flies aloft, and can make himself invisible. Caliban is earthy and earth-bound. He crawls from a cave; his deformity may keep him hunched over, close to the ground. And his earthiness—a near-beastiality (Prospero insists) that prevents him from assimilating civility and morality—makes his relationship with Prospero differ sharply from Ariel's. The spirit-servant had originally been imprisoned in a cloven pine because he would not enact Sycorax's "earthy and abhorred commands" (I.ii.273). Nonhuman spirit though he is, Ariel understands right from wrong. Human though he is, Caliban lacks moral perception. He responds chiefly to appetite.
The principles of parallelism and contrast equally govern Caliban's position vis-à-vis Ferdinand, who is introduced directly after Caliban's first appearance. Both men apprehend the music of the isle, yet it affects them differently. Music, "with its sweet air," allays Ferdinand's passion and leads him to Miranda. She assumes at first that Ferdinand is a spirit, but Prospero assures her that "it eats and sleeps and hath such senses / As we have" (I.ii.413-14). Ferdinand's courtship of Miranda is chaste, its purpose honorable marriage. Caliban, who hears the same music, is also attracted to Miranda, but he has no "nurture"—no moral awareness—to allay his passions. He had lodged in Prospero's cell until he tried to rape Miranda, and he wishes his attack had succeeded: "O ho, O ho! Would't had been done!" (I.ii.348).
The parallels between Caliban and Ferdinand are conveyed visually as well as verbally. Caliban enters (in II.ii) with a "burden of wood"; his task is to carry logs for Prospero. That is also Ferdinand's task: In the scene immediately following Caliban's wood-fetching assignment, Ferdinand enters "bearing a log." Unlike Caliban, he delights in his labor because he is inspired by love of Miranda. Thus, both Caliban and Ferdinand are human creatures with appetites who must perform tiresome labor, but whereas the prince is civilized and controls his appetites and even enjoys his work, the mooncalf has no higher aspirations than to overthrow Prospero and is enslaved by his own desires.
Caliban's situation on the island also parallels Miranda's. At a young age both were isolated from their peers and educated by Prospero. Such limited experience makes them vulnerable and naive. Caliban has seen only one woman besides his mother, and she (Miranda) "as far surpasseth Sycorax / As great'st does least" (III.ii. 100-01). Because Miranda has seen no men besides her father and Caliban, she assumes that Ferdinand is a spirit, until her father exclaims
Thou think'st there is no more such shape as he, Having seen but him and Caliban. Foolish wench, To th' most of men this is a Caliban, And they to him are angels.
Similarly, Caliban mistakes Stephano and Trinculo for gods; Miranda admires Antonio and Sebastian as part of a "brave new world." Both the beast and the beauty misjudge the basic characters of those they initially admire.
Prospero prides himself on Miranda's education. He boasts that on the island
Have I, thy schoolmaster, made thee more profit Than other princes can that have more time For vainer hours, and tutors not so careful.
He has not been so successful with Caliban. The monster first learned language: how to name "the bigger light and how the less, / That burn by day and night" (I.ii.335-37). But Caliban would not retain "any print of goodness," Miranda charges, and instead is "capable of all ill!" (I.ii.351-52)
. . . I pitied thee, [she chides him], Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour One thing or other. When thou didst not, savage, Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes With words that made them known. But thy vile race— Though thou didst learn—had that in't which good natures Could not abide to be with. . . .
For all Miranda's and Prospero's efforts, Caliban remains (to them, at least) "a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick" (IV.i. 188-89). His bestiality and stubbornness contrast starkly with Miranda's beauty and obedience.
Juxtaposed to Antonio's and Sebastian's brutal plot against Alonso is Caliban's conspiracy to murder Prospero. Stephano's "celestial liquor" is a comic parallel to Prospero's magic. Like Sebastian, Stephano aspires to become a king; both men seek total power through murder. Prospero interrupts their schemes by spectacles: A banquet that suddenly disappears confounds the Italian nobles, while Prospero's rich garments, hanging on a line near the entrance to his cave, distract Stephano and Trinculo—despite Caliban's warnings—into a comic parade of "borrowed robes."
There remains an important contrast, however, between the several conspirators. Alonso, the intended victim of Antonio's most recent scheming, repents his past and reconciles himself to Prospero. Antonio has no lines in the conclusion, and most commentators consider him unrepentant and unlikely to change. Raised with the benefits of "civilization," Antonio knowingly chooses the path of evil. By contrast, Caliban seems to learn from his mistakes, especially his misguided adoration of Stephano and Trinculo. In his final speech he promises that
I'll be wise hereafter, And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass Was I to take this drunkard for a god, And worship this dull fool!
Though Caliban remains "natural" man in contrast to "civilized" Antonio, the monster's desire for grace underlines the civilized world's debasement and, once again, emphasizes Caliban's ultimate humanity.31
The play ends soon after this speech. Prospero and the nobles will return to Italy the next morning, their ship and sailors suddenly as good as new. Ariel will be free to soar, and Caliban will reinherit his island. The play's conclusion says nothing about Caliban's fate or how he feels about Prospero's and Miranda's departure. Perhaps this is why so many sequels to The Tempest have been written, most of them concerning Caliban's subsequent career. Caliban is a loose end; for centuries readers and playgoers have wanted to tie him up. He captures their fancy, and they, unlike Prospero, are reluctant to abandon him. . . .
1 Rachel Ingalls, Mrs. Caliban (London: Faber & Faber, 1983).
2 For the bare facts of The Tempest's early performances, see E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare, Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), p. 491.
3 For a concise printing history of The Tempest, see Orgel's edition (Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 56-62.
4 David M. Bergeron, Shakespeare's Romances and the Royal Family (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1985), p. 181.
5 Susannah married Dr. John Hall in 1608; Judith married Thomas Quiney in 1616. S[amuel] Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life (Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 286-93.
6 Thomas Campbell, ed., The Dramatic Works of William Shakspeare, with a Life by Thomas Campbell (London: Edward Moxon, 1838), pp. lxiii-lxiv. Shakespeare collaborated on two, perhaps three, subsequent plays: Henry VIII, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Cardenio (no text survives). The Tempest, however, marks the end of his phenomenal productivity and thorough commitment to the stage.
7 Glynne Wickham suggests that Caliban's plot to murder Prospero may be a direct reference to "the Gunpowder treason." See "Masque and Anti-Masque in 'Th e Tempest'," in Essays and Studies 1975, ed. Robert Ellrodt (London: John Murray, 1975), pp. 1-14, esp. p. 12.
8 Jacqueline E. M. Latham argues that The Tempest was directly influenced by Shakespeare's reading of James's Daemonologie and that Caliban's parentage (born of a devil and a witch) would have sparked particular interest in the monarch. See "'The Tempest' and King James's 'Daemonologie'," Shakespeare Survey, XXVIII (1975): 117-23.
9The Tempest, ed. Frank Kermode, "The Arden Shakespeare," 6th ed. (London: Methuen, 1958), p. xxv.
10 Marvin Spevack, A Complete and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare, 9 vols. (Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms, 1968-80), Vol. I, pp. 36-62. The other characters' percentages, according to Spevack, are Gonzalo 7.221, Miranda 6.242, Antonio 6.167, Ferdinand 6.098, and Trinculo 5.088.
11 On the pronunciation of "salvage," see Richard Grant White, ed., The Works of William Shakespeare, Vol. II (Boston: Little, Brown, 1875), p. 94, which asserts that the word was pronounced both ways in Shakespeare's time because it entered English through both the French sauvage and the Italian salvaggio. We contend, however, that Shakespeare probably did not pronounce the l, because that spelling appears only twice in the canon: in The Tempest's list of characters, which may have been added by the First Folio's editors, and in "salvages and men of Inde" ("savages" in Orgel's edition [II.ii.57]); the only other use of the word in The Tempest omits the l (I.ii.354). The more than forty other uses (including the variants "savagely," "savageness," and "savagery") in more than twenty other Shakespearean plays do not include l. See Marvin Spevack, The Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), pp. 1081, 1083; and Horace Howard Furness, comp., Notes on Studies of The Tempest. Minutes of the Shakspere Society of Philadelphia for 1864-65 (Philadelphia: The Shakspere Society, 1866), p. 33. See also Helge Kökeritz, Shakespeare's Pronunciation (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Press, 1953), pp. 310-11.
12 In the text of the play, Caliban is called "savage" only once—by an angry Miranda (I.ii.354). But the inclusion of the word in the cast of characters suggests (unless it was inserted by the Folio's editors) that it was central to Shakespeare's conception of Caliban.
13 The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists thirteen definitions of "civility." Among those that were current in the sixteenth century are (1) "connected with citizenship, and civil polity"; (6) "Good polity . . . social order, as distinct from anarchy and disorder"; (10) "The state of being civilized; freedom from barbarity"; (11) "Polite or liberal education; training in the 'humanities', good breeding; culture, refinement"; and (12) "Behaviour proper to the intercourse of civilized people; ordinary courtesy."
14 Among the many modern studies of early English notions of savagery, see Margaret T. Hodgen, Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964), esp. ch. 9; and Bernard Sheehan, Savagism and Civility: Indians and Englishmen in Colonial Virginia (Cambridge University Press, 1980), ch. 1-3. For an example from Shakespeare's day, see [Thomas Palmer], An Essay of the Meanes how to Make our Trauailes, into Forraine Countries the More Profitable and Honourable (London: Printed for Mathew Lownes, 1606), esp. pp. 60-68.
15 For a summary of the debate over the proper assignment of the "abhorred slave" speech, see The Tempest, ed. Horace Howard Furness, "A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare," Vol. IX (1892; repr. New York: American Scholar Publications, 1966), pp. 73-74; Furness, Notes on Studies of The Tempest, pp. 18-19; The Tempest, ed. Orgel, p. 17.
16 Caliban's age is never mentioned in the text; his behavior implies young adulthood. Clues in the text suggest that he is approximately 24 years old: Prospero and Miranda have been on the island for 12 years, and Caliban was about age 12 when they arrived. See The Tempest, ed. Morton Luce (the first Arden edition) (London: Methuen, 1901), p. xxxiv; The Tempest, ed. Orgel, p. 28 (η. 1).
17The Tempest, ed. Luce, p. xxxv.
18 Lines from the 1623 Folio are taken from The Norton Facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare, ed. Charlton Hinman (New York: Norton, 1968). Nicholas Rowe's edition (London: Jacob Tonson, 1709) was the first to emend the Folio's "he" to "she."
19Shakespeare's Comedy, The Tempest, as Arranged for the Stage by Herbert Beerbohm Tree (London: J. Miles, 1904), pp. x-xi, presented one of the early arguments for Caliban's human shape. Some commentators follow suit, but many, including some of the most prominent scholars, continue to misread the passage. The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble (London: Guild Publishing, 1985), p. 159, asserts that Caliban "is only semi-human," a fairly frequent assumption of literary critics and stage directors.
20The Tempest, ed. Kermode (Arden edition), p. 28; The Tempest, ed. Louis B. Wright, (Folger edition) (New York: Washington Square Press, 1961), p. 16; The Tempest, ed. Orgel (Oxford edition), p. 116.
21 As Stephen Orgel points out (Oxford edition, p. 27), Ariel appears in the text as a male and yet is assigned essentially "female" tasks.
22 See, for example, John Leo [Leo Africanus], A Geographical History of Africa, trans. John Pory (London: George Bishop, 1600), p. 951; and Edward Topsell, The Historie of Serpents (London: Printed for William Jaggard, 1608), p. 282r.
23 Joseph Hunter, A Disquisition on the Scene, Origin, Date, Etc. of Shakespeare's Tempest (London: Printed by L. Whittingham, 1839), p. 123; Brinsley Nicholson, "Shakespeare Illustrated by Massinger," Notes and Queries, 4th ser., I (1868): 289-91; Barry Gaines and Michael Lofaro, "What Did Caliban Look Like?" Mississippi Folklore Register, X (1976): 175-86. All three works implicitly or explicitly misread the lines about Caliban's human shape. Gaines and Lofaro further contend (p. 178) that "tortoise" did not imply slowness until the late seventeenth century, and hence Prospero must have referred to Caliban's appearance. They base that judgment on the OED, in which the earliest citation of one meaning of the word is 1670, yet overlook a 1589 usage ("Venus standeth on the Tortoys, as shewing that Loue creepeth on by degrees") that clearly equates the animal with dilatoriness. Aesop's Fables was first published in English in 1485; more than a dozen editions followed before 1611.
24The Tempest, ed. Kermode, p. 62. Cf. Willard Farnham, for example, who insists that Caliban's body "is part primitive man and part crude fish": The Shakespearean Grotesque (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), p. 166. . . .
25 The OED's basic definitions all stress abnormality, usually (but not always) manifested in outsized proportions.
26 Caius Plinius Secundus, The Historie of the World, trans. Philemon Holland (London: A. Islip, 1601), p. 163.
27 See Kermode's note, The Tempest, p. 65.
28 Gaines and Lofaro, "What Did Caliban Look Like?" pp. 179-88.
29The Tempest, ed. Orgel, p. 25.
30The Plays of William Shakspeare, 4th ed., 15 vols., Vol. III, ed. George Steevens and Samuel Johnson (London: Printed for T. Longman, 1793), p. 158.
31 Deborah Willis's "Shakespeare's Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism," Studies in English Literature, XXIX (1989): 277-89, argues that "the play's true threatening 'other' is not Caliban, but Antonio" (p. 280).
William M. Hamlin (essay date 1994)
SOURCE: "Men of Inde: Renaissance Ethnography and The Tempest," in Shakespeare Studies: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism, and Reviews, Vol. XXII, 1994, pp. 15-44.
[In the following excerpt, Hamlin explores the relationship between Shakespeare's characterization of Caliban and Renaissance voyagers' narratives that depict Native Americans as fully human yet significantly different from Europeans. Just as with the ambiguous portrait of Caliban, the critic suggests, these accounts acknowledge basic affinities with New World natives even as they insist on their otherness.]
Throughout The Tempest an air of ambiguity surrounds Caliban. His name—almost certainly an anagram of "cannibal"—appears in the First Folio's cast list among the play's human characters (as opposed to its spirits) and above those of Trinculo and Stephano, but he is described there as "a salvage and deformed slave."33 And when Prospero first mentions him to Ariel in act 1, it is difficult to decide whether the bestial or the human plays a greater role in his constitution:
Then was this island (Save for the son that [she] did litter here, A freckled whelp, hag-born), not honor'd with A human shape.
Although Peter Hulme cites these lines as proof of Prospero's "grudging admittance of Caliban's humanity" and rails against those who seize upon the last six words as "'evidence' of Caliban's lack of human shape,"34 I think rather that a sense of uncertainty is exquisitely balanced here, that "litter," "whelp," "hagborn" and the parenthetical exception play off against "son" and the main clause in such a way as to reveal Prospero's own deep confusion about Caliban's status. I will argue later that The Tempest moves gradually—almost inexorably—toward affirming Caliban as a man, but I believe that in the play's earlier scenes his status is deliberately mystified. However, unlike many colonialist readers, who interpret this mystification as Prospero's ruse to justify usurpation, I think its presence is due primarily to the genuine uncertainty regarding the human status of cultural aliens that emerges as a pervasive motif in the early modern period. Again and again in the travel literature, ethnographic description reveals a deep-seated ambivalence toward ethnic otherness and perceived savagery, and while this ambivalence is undoubtedly exploited at times by conquerors and colonists, its initial presence does not appear to be a necessary function of the European will to power.
Take, for example, Richard Johnson's 1609 description of the natives of Virginia near the colony at Jamestown:
[The region] is inhabited with wild and savage people that live and lie up and downe in troupes like heards of Deere in a Forrest: they have no law but nature, their appareil skinnes of beasts, but most goe naked, . . . they are generally very loving and gentle, and do entertaine and relieve our people with great kindnesse; they are easy to be brought to good, and would fayne embrace a better condition.35
Here we see a people likened to "heards of Deere" and alleged to have "no law but nature," yet we also hear that they are capable of "great kindnesse" and—like Caliban when he claims that he will "be wise hereafter, / And seek for grace" (5.1.295-96)—desire to "embrace a better condition." Similarly, in the writings of Captain John Smith we encounter such seemingly contradictory portrayals of the Chesapeake Algonquians as that, on the one hand, they are "sterne Barbarians," "fiends," "inconstant Salvages," and "naked Divels," and that, on the other, they "have amongst them such government, as that their Magistrates for good commanding, and their people for due subjection, and obeying, excell many places that would be counted very civili."36 It is as if the authors of these passages can relinquish neither their wonder at the seemingly "natural" or "bestial" condition of American natives nor their ever-recurring recognition—or suspicion, at any rate—that these people, like Europeans, possess genuine forms of "civility." And while such a comment as Johnson's that the Virginians "would fayne embrace a better condition" may certainly be read within the frame of colonial discourse as a projection of the colonists' desire for defensible hegemony, it also may reflect a more concrete kind of observation—perhaps of the sort we see in Thomas Harriot when he tells us that despite the coastal Algonquians' clear exhibition of spiritual culture, "they were not so sure grounded, nor gave such credite to their traditions and stories, but through conversing with us they were brought into great doubts of their owne, and no small admiration of ours."37
Critics who have touched, however perfunctorily, upon the presentation of Caliban as in some way indebted to New World ethnography have tended either to trace a speculative genealogy through specific travel accounts or to allude somewhat unassuredly to the sort of ambivalence reflected in the above quotations. The former inclination has been present at least since the time of Edmund Malone—who claimed in 1821 that Caliban was Shakespeare's version of a Patagonian—and perhaps reached its apogee in Leslie Fiedler's pronouncement that "Caliban seems to have been created, on his historical side, by a fusion in Shakespeare's imagination of Columbus's first New World savages with Montaigne's Brazilians, Somers's native Bermudans, and those Patagonian 'giants' encountered by Pigafetta during his trip around the world with Magellan, strange creatures whose chief god was called, like Caliban's mother's, 'Setebos'."38 The latter tendency, however, while relatively common, has provoked few interesting observations beyond the rather obvious generality that Caliban's portrayal relies upon a conflation of contradictory descriptions and evaluations of cultural otherness—particularly American otherness. Geoffrey Bullough, for example, writes that "the ambiguity of travelers' opinions about the American natives affects Shakespeare's handling of Caliban," and Peter Hulme goes so far as to say that "Caliban, as a compromise formation, can exist only within discourse: he is fundamentally and essentially beyond the bounds of representation."39 But few critics have, to my knowledge, explored the ambiguity or the "compromise formation" of Caliban at any length. Many seem inclined, after acknowledging ambivalence, to settle upon rather reductive conclusions; a representative example is the claim that "By every account in the play, Caliban is something less than a man. . . . He is an savage, clearly humanoid though not fully human."40
Two commentators, however, have come close to focusing on the sort of ambivalence to which I want to draw attention. In stressing the distinction between the European views that, on the one hand, "Indian language was deficient or non-existent" and that, on the other, "there was no serious language barrier," Stephen Greenblatt anticipates Tzvetan Todorov's useful schematization of European perceptions of native Americans as either acknowledging difference and concluding inferiority, or acknowledging equality and concluding identity.41 Greenblatt writes, for instance, that the tensions of this dichotomy "either push the Indians toward utter difference—and thus silence—or toward utter likeness—and thus the collapse of their own, unique identity."42 And in a slightly different vein, Richard Marienstras has observed that Caliban possesses a "dubious ontological status"; he "can be seen as a complete and irreducible contradiction or, alternatively, as having two positive but separate natures, each stemming from a different scale of values."43 What Greenblatt and Marienstras do not do, however, is point toward a middle range of perception that either acknowledges difference without immediately concluding inferiority or acknowledges equality without positing identity. Yet we see views within this range expressed implicitly, for example, by various early writers in their recognition and description of distinctly different tribes and social groups among native American peoples:
Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (1542): The inhabitants of all this region [Malhado] go naked. The women alone have any part of their persons covered, and it is with a wool that grows on trees. The damsels dress themselves in deerskin. The people are generous to each other of what they possess. They have no chief. All that are of a lineage keep together. They speak two languages; those of one are called Capoques, those of the other, Han. They have a custom when they meet, or from time to time when they visit, of remaining half an hour before they speak, weeping; and, this over, he that is visited first rises and gives the other all he has, which is received, and after a little while he carries it away, and often goes without saying a word. They have other strange customs; but I have told the principal of them, and the most remarkable, that I may pass on and further relate what befel us.
Jean de Léry (1578): Although like other Brazilians [the Ouetaca] go entirely naked, nonetheless, contrary to the most ordinary custom of the men of that country (who, as I have already said and will later expand upon, shave the front of their head and clip their locks in the back), these wear their hair long, hanging down to the buttocks. . . . The Margaia, Cara-ia, or Tupinamba (which are the names of the three neighboring nations), or one of the other savages of that country, without trusting or approaching the Ouetaca, shows him from afar what he has—a pruning-hook, a knife, a comb, a mirror, or some other kind of wares brought over for trade—and indicates by a sign if he wants to exchange it for something else.
José de Acosta (1589): It is a popular error to treat the affairs of the Indies as if they were those of some farm or mean village and to think that, because the Indies are all called by a single name, they are therefore of one nature and kind. . . . The nations of Indians are innumerable, and each of them has its own distinct rites and customs and needs to be taught in a different way. I am not properly qualified to handle the problem, since a great many peoples are unknown to me, while even if I knew them well it would be an immense task to discuss them all one by one. I have therefore thought it proper to speak primarily of the Peruvians in this work.
William Strachey (1612): [T]hus it may appear how they are a people who have their several divisions, provinces, and princes, to live in and to command over, and do differ likewise (as amongst Christians) both in stature, language, and condition; some being great people, as the Susquehannas, some very little, as the Wicocomocos; some speaking likewise more articulate and plain, and some more inward and hollow, as is before remembered; some courteous and more civil, others cruel and bloody; Powhatan having large territories and many petty kings under him, as some have fewer.
John Smith (1624): Upon the head of the Powhatans are the Monacans, whose chiefe habitation is at Rasauweak, unto whom the Mowhemenchughes, the Massinnacacks, the Monahassanughs, the Monasickapanoughs, and other nations pay tributes. Upon the head of the river of Toppahanock is a people called Mannahoacks. To these are contributers the Tauxanias, the Shackaconias, the Ontponeas, the Tegninateos, the Whomkenteaes, the Stegarakes, the Hassinnungaes, and divers others, all confederates with the Monacans, though many different in language, and be very barbarous, living for the most part of wild beasts and fruits. Beyond the mountaines from whence is the head of the river Patawomeke, the Salvages report inhabit their most motall enemies, the Massawomekes, upon a great salt water, which by all likelihood is either some part of Canada, some great lake, or some inlet of some sea that falleth into the South sea.44
To the extent that these descriptions register plurality and allow a varied yet specific cultural inheritance to the native groups introduced they represent anti-tabula rasa views and thus stand in opposition to such bald and overarching characterizations as Samuel Purchas's that American natives are "bad people, having little of Humanitie but shape, ignorant of Civilitie, of Arts, of Religion; more brutish then the beasts they hunt, more wild and unmanly then that unmanned wild countrey, which they range rather then inhabite."45 Yet to the extent that they point explicitly to differences among these natives—and implicitly to differences between them and Europeans—they resist both the easy conclusion of inferiority and the more insidious one of identity. In short, they fall outside the polarizing rubric suggested by Greenblatt and Todorov. Rather than countering claims that native Americans are subhuman tabulas rasas by wholly assimilating them into Europeanness, these descriptions—and others like them—allow the natives their difference and in fact stress their cultural diversity. Thus they provide a more subtle contrast than that proposed by Greenblatt, a contrast more relevant, I think, to The Tempest. If we can admit that early modern ethnography allows for an ambivalence not solely between the binary opposites of subhumanity and virtual identity, but also among the range that includes subhumanity, identity, and cultural—but fully human—difference, we can sharpen our account of the way this ambivalence sheds light on the characterization of Caliban.
An interesting way of producing this account lies in situating Caliban within an ethnographic context and then contrasting him with another curiously ambiguous character from English Renaissance drama: the "wild man" Bremo in the anonymous and highly popular play Mucedorus.46 Caliban has been connected to Bremo before, notably by Frank Kermode in his eclectic genealogy of Caliban's character; but while Kermode points to Bremo's conventionality as a wodewose or salvage man, he does not dwell on the association with Caliban.47 Yet there is much of interest to focus on, particularly given an ethnographic contextualization.
Like the Wild Man in Book Four of The Faerie Queene, Bremo lives in a cave in the woods (7.7, 17.94), carries a club (7.5,21,29), and is lustful and cannibalistic (11.16-19, 11.21, 11.25-30, 15.59-60); but unlike Spenser's Wild Man (or, for that matter, the Salvage Man of Book Six), Bremo possesses language and demonstrates an ability to relent and to recognize changes within himself (11.38-54, 15.105). Moreover, he is represented as having the capacity to fall in love (11.37-55, 15.1-55), though exactly what this love means to him remains unclear.48 Finally, like Caliban, he is poetic, particularly in the description of his immediate surroundings (15.23-55): he knows the forest's oaks, quail, partridges, blackbirds, larks, thrushes, nightingales, springs, violets, cowslips, marigolds, and deer, and if his catalogue strikes us as more conventional and symbolic than realistic, it nonetheless suggests a genuine love of place. Bremo seems, therefore, a rather more attractive character than the standard wodewose or homo ferus, and certainly less violent and lecherous than the type described as common in the late sixteenth century by R. H. Goldsmith.49 Yet Bremo is duped and then brutally killed onstage by Mucedorus late in the play (17.35-67), and nothing in the response of Amadine or Mucedorus to the murder invites us to regard it as anything more consequential than the slaughter of an offending beast. Bremo is dismissed as a "tyrant" and "wicked wight" (17.68,74); that he has grown progressively more sympathetic and dies in the act of providing instruction to Mucedorus (17.51-67) is utterly forgotten. The play seems to tell us that a wild man, regradless of his apparent capacity for improvement or potential for civility, is subhuman and may be killed without remorse or consequence.
Contrast this with Caliban's portrayal in The Tempest. Like Bremo, who is called a "cruel cutthroat" and a "bloody butcher" (17.6,27), Caliban serves as the target of many dubious allegations: Prospero terms him a "demi-devil" (5.1.272) and a "poisonous slave, got by the devil himself / Upon thy wicked dam" (1.2.319-20); Miranda reviles him as an "Abhorred slave, / Which any print of goodness wilt not take, / Being capable of all ill!" (1.2.351-53). Yet much more than Mucedorus, The Tempest offers forms of resistance to these allegations, both in the speeches of Caliban and in the words and actions of other characters. For every suggestion that Caliban is not fully human, a counter-suggestion emerges that he is; Miranda's dual attitude (1.2.445-46; 3.1.50-52) becomes emblematic of this tendency. Moreover, in opposition to the view that Caliban is devoid of goodness, we have the uncontested claim of Caliban himself that his initial relationship with Prospero was thoroughly reciprocal:
When thou cam'st first, Thou strok'st me and made much of me, wouldst give me Water with berries in't, and teach me how To name the bigger light, and how the less, That burn by day and night; and then I lov'd thee And show'd thee all the qualities o' th' isle, The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile. Curs'd be I that did so!
Caliban goes on to point out that he is now Prospero's subject, when earlier he was "mine own king" (1.2.342), and of course Prospero responds to this implied charge of usurpation by making the counter-accusation that Caliban attempted to rape Miranda and thus deserves his subjugation. But if, as Stephen Orgel has suggested, Caliban's unrepentant attitude toward this attempted rape may be partly explained by the fact that "free love in the New World is regularly treated [in Renaissance travel narratives] not as an instance of the lust of savages, but of their edenic innocence,"51 Prospero's allegation that Caliban is a "slave / Whom stripes may move, not kindness!" (1.2.344-45) loses much of its persuasiveness. Indeed, the problems of subordination and rebellion highlighted by the Prospero/Caliban relationship may be usefully contrasted with the relative absence of such problems in the Prospero/Ariel interdependence; Ariel's nearly perfect modelling of subservience and service ultimately rewarded may be possible precisely because Ariel, quite explicitly, is not human. Such behavior, and such social relations, are far more problematic for Caliban.
Many Renaissance descriptions of New World natives have been adduced as sources or models of the subhuman or near-human element of Caliban's characterization, among them Peter Martyr's depiction of "certeyne wyld men" in Española who "neuer . . . wyll by any meanes becoome tame. . . . [and] are withowte any certaine language" and Robert Fabian's portrayal of three Eskimos who "spake such speach that no man could understand them, and in their demeanour like to bruite beastes."52 But far fewer descriptions have been produced in support of another side of this characterization: Caliban as fully human, though radically different. Giovanni Verrazzano's observation that the native peoples of Florida "did not desire cloth of silke or of golde, much lesse of any other sort, neither cared they for things made of Steele and yron" is perhaps typical of these descriptions in that it serves as an analogue of a specific incident in The Tempest: Caliban's rejection of the "glistering apparel" so attractive to Stephano and Trinculo (4.1.222-54).53 But there are other anti-tabula rasa ethnographic views available in the Renaissance, views less likely to be seen as pertinent to The Tempest because broader in scope and not as easily associated with particular passages in the play. And I refer not only to the comparatively well-known writings of Las Casas and Montaigne. Jean de Léry, for instance, emphasizes the social harmony of the Tupinamba even as he exposes the conceptual limitations attendant upon his own religious bias: "As for the civil order of our savages, it is an incredible thing—a thing that cannot be said without shame to those who have both divine and human laws—how a people guided solely by their nature, even corrupted as it is, can live and deal with each other in such peace and tranquility."54 José de Acosta describes the Incas' indigenous form of literacy: "Unbelievable as it may seem, the Peruvians made up for their lack of letters with so much ingenuity that they were able to record stories, lives, laws, and even the passage of time and numerical calculations by means of certain signs and aids to the memory which they had devised and which they call quipos. Our people with their letters are commonly unable to match the skill of the Peruvians with these devices. I am not at all certain that our written numerals make counting or dividing more accurate than their signs do."55 Alexander Whitaker writes that the inhabitants of Virginia are "lustie, strong, and very nimble: they are a very understanding generation, quicke of apprehension, suddaine in their dispatches, subtile in their dealings, exquisite in their inventions, and industrious in their labour. . . . there is a civili government amongst them which they strictly observe"; William Strachey characterizes the elaborate dressing and ornamentation of a Virginian queen as "ceremonies which I did little look for, carrying so much presentment of civility"; and Thomas Harriot, in a passage to which I will return, avers of the Algonquians, "Some religion they have alreadie, which although it be farre from the trueth, yet being as it is, there is hope it may be the sooner and easier reformed. They beleeve that there are many Gods."56 It is true that Léry's and Whitaker's remarks, like those of Las Casas, emanate from a Christian essentialist perspective; this emerges explicitly in Whitaker's opinion that "One God created us, they have reasonable soules and intellectuall faculties as well as wee; we all have Adam for our common parent: yea, by nature the condition of us both is all one, the servants of sinne and slaves of the divell."57 It is true as well that Acosta's "Unbelievable as it may seem" and Harriot's "farre from the trueth" disclose the strongly ethnocentric tendencies of these early ethnographic accounts. But some degree of subjective assimilationism is inevitable in any description of a cultural other; the above quotations—and others like them—are remarkable in the degree to which they avoid the easy conclusion of identity and insist upon a measure of difference. And if, as I believe, such views as these played a role in the evolution of Caliban's character, it is not hard to understand why Caliban seems far less "unaccommodated" than Mucedorus's Bremo. Even Bremo's portrayal reveals certain suggestions of contemporary ethnographic influence, but by and large his conventionality as a wodewose preempts the possibility of any lasting ambivalence in his character: like Doctor Chanca's New World natives, whose "bestiality is greater than that of any beast upon the face of the earth," Bremo is essentially less than fully human; like them, easy to kill without remorse.58 But Caliban, whose depiction relies heavily on Renaissance ethnography—and particularly on the ambivalences I have stressed between the other as subhuman, identical, and human but different—is thereby rendered far less easy to dismiss. If he is a "salvage" man, his savagery is nonetheless treated by Shakespeare with more tolerance and more respect for its potential or concealed civility than is Bremo's by his anonymous creator.
A final word about Mucedorus. The play's Dramatis Personae not only lists the characters but provides instructions for the doubling (and tripling) of parts; thus, for example, Bremo is to be played by the same actor who plays Tremelio and Envy.59 I find this intriguing for several reasons. Tremelio is a would-be assassin, a captain persuaded by the jealous Segasto to kill Mucedorus (6.62-82); in fact, precisely the opposite occurs, Mucedorus killing him in self-defense, calling him a "Vile coward" (6.81). And Envy, a figure who appears only in the induction and epilogue, is constantly reviled by his allegorical counterpart, Comedy, as, among other things, a "monster" (Ind. 16), an "ugly fiend" (Ind. 75), a "hellhound" (Epi. 24), a "Nefarious hag" (Epi. 26), and a "bloody cur, nursed up with tiger's sap" (Ind. 35). In short, the trio of Bremo, Tremelio, and Envy—all playable by the same actor—represents something like a principle of monstrosity or unnaturalness, and these characters' purpose in the play is perhaps indirectly suggested by Comedy's urgent wish that Envy "mix not death 'mongst pleasing comedies" (Ind. 50). In fact, death is present in Mucedorus, and the play becomes more a tragicomedy than a simple comedy treating "naught else but pleasure and delight" (Ind. 51). In spite of the play's happy ending, Envy insists to Comedy, "yet canst thou not conquer me" (Epi. 12) and threatens that in the future he will overthow her by the following strategem:
From my study will I hoist a wretch, A lean and hungry neger cannibal, Whose jaws swell to his eyes with chawing malice; And him I'll make a poet.
This implies that if an outcast or "native monster" (Epi. 20) of the sort Envy describes had the linguistic command of a poet, he would represent a true threat to Comedy's complacence; he would have the power of subversion. And while Comedy dismisses this threat as nonsense and easily manages to subdue Envy by the epilogue's end, the description of a poetic "neger cannibal" nonetheless has a strangely prophetic ring for readers familiar with The Tempest. In spite of Caliban's alleged aphasia at the initial contact with Prospero, he learns language—learns it astonishingly well—and this acquisition, perhaps more than any other trait, marks his humanity and signals his potential dangerousness to the intruding Europeans. Envy's threat, with its suggestion that characters like Bremo and the "neger cannibal" are necessary to the workings of comedy even as they endanger its survival and structural integrity, prefigures in a peculiar way Prospero's elusive remark about Caliban: "this thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine" (5.1.275-76). Comedy cannot thrive without the dangerous potency of Envy: Mucedorus needs Bremo and Tremelio just as The Tempest needs Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian—and just as Prospero needs Caliban.
One of The Tempest's most explicit mystifications of Caliban's status lies in Stephano's reference to him as "My man-monster" (3.2.12). Clearly, such a phrase would be less appropriate with respect either to Bremo, notwithstanding his command of language, or to The Faerie Queene's Salvage Man, in spite of his aphasia; but for Caliban—especially at this point in the play—it seems a perfect designation, emblematic of the pervasive ambivalence regarding his condition which the play has created. Stephano utters it early in the second of four scenes in which he and Trinculo appear with Caliban. In the first of these scenes, Trinculo makes the thoroughly ambiguous remark—after coming upon Caliban wrapped in a gaberdine—that in England "would this monster make a man; any strange beast there makes a man" (2.2.30-31); Stephano seconds this ambiguity by alluding to "salvages and men of Inde" (2.2.58) and marvelling that the composite Caliban/Trinculo is "some monster of the isle with four legs, . . . Where the devil should he learn our language?" (2.2.65-67). Interestingly, however, this uncertainty regarding Caliban is mirrored by Caliban's own uncertainty regarding the Neapolitans—especially Stephano. And it is in this pair of corresponding and reinforcing ambivalences that we begin to see" perhaps the greatest value of locating The Tempest within an ethnographic context.
Prompted by his drinking of Stephano's sack—itself an action resonant with contemporary New World associations—Caliban exclaims to himself, "These be fine things, and if they be not sprites. / That's a brave god, and bears celestial liquor. / I will kneel to him" (2.2.116-18). This is followed by such exclamations as "Hast thou not dropp'd from heaven? . . . I do adore thee. . . . I prithee, be my god. . . . Thou wondrous man" (2.2.137-64). Like The Faerie Queene's Artegall when he meets Britomart—or the satyrs in their encounter with Una—Caliban "makes religion" of his wonder.60 It is true that he swears allegiance to Stephano, and true also that this willing subordination is often interpreted as proof of his natural slavishness ;61 but Shakespeare makes it clear that Caliban takes Stephano for a "brave god" (2.2.117) before he promises to be his "true subject" (2.2.125). Thus, notwithstanding the comic mode of the scene or its status as subplot in the play's larger design, Caliban does not necessarily reveal an abject propensity to be a slave. Stephen Greenblatt has written, in a discussion of the Diario, that Columbus occasionally demonstrates a recognition of "reverse wonderment" among the native Americans he encounters in the Caribbean62; I would argue that Caliban's behavior here suggests a literary transformation of that wonderment. His subservience, initially, is not that of man-monster to man, but of man-monster to man-god; and while it is in some respects comic, it merits far more than ridicule.63 We must not forget, for example, that Caliban possesses a concept of divinity of godhead: his references to his "dam's" god, Setebos, make this clear (1.2.373, 5.1.261). And since it is virtually beyond dispute that Shakespeare takes "Setebos" from Antonio Pigafetta's account of Magellan's voyage, it bears noting that in an adjacent passage Pigafetta describes the reaction of a Patagonian native confronted by Europeans: "When he sawe the capitayne with certeyne of his coompany abowte hym, he was greatly amased and made signes holdynge vppe his hande to heauen, signifyinge therby that owre men came from thense."64 Indeed, the motif of native Americans regarding Europeans as gods appears frequently in the voyagers' accounts.65 And while this representation, due to its utter one-sidedness, is clearly unreliable as a descriptive characterization, its implicit reliance upon the idea that idolatry can evolve into "true" religion suggests that at its core lies the accurate perception, among European observers, that the native inhabitants of America practiced forms of devotion that could only be categorized as "religious." Thomas Harriot, in a passage quoted earlier, expresses this best:
Some religion they have alreadie, which although it be farre from the trueth, yet being as it is, there is hope it may be the easier and sooner reformed.66
The Europeans' very theory of evangelization—or, at any rate, their most successful theory—relied in part upon the premise that what they deemed idolatry was in fact a conclusive indication of humanity and a positive step toward Christian conversion. The ability to confuse men for gods, as Caliban does, is thus a confirmation of the views expressed in the anti-tabula rasa descriptions quoted above. When American natives are represented as overestimating the status of Europeans, they are simultaneously—if indirectly—represented as fully human in status and as possessing cultural forms of their own. They are not blank pages, not unaccommodated.
The emphasis which Shakespeare gives to the ambivalences I have discussed both highlights the play's debt to voyagers' accounts and propels it toward its romantic conclusion. Stephano cannot decide whether Caliban is monster or man; Caliban, equally, cannot decide whether Stephano is man or god. And, as if in sympathy with these uncertainties, Miranda wonders whether Ferdinand is human or divine (1.2.410-20), and neither Ferdinand nor Alonso can initially decide whether Miranda is a maid or a goddess (1.2.422-29, 5.1.185-88).67 Gradually, however, the uncertainties are resolved, the multiple possibilities collapsed. Prospero assures Miranda that Ferdinand "eats, and sleeps, and hath such senses / As we have" (1.2.413-14); Miranda describes herself to Ferdinand as "No wonder, sir, / But certainly a maid" (1.2.427-28); Ferdinand tells his father that Miranda "is mortal" (5.1.188); and Caliban curses himself for his error: "What a thrice-double ass / Was I to take this drunkard for a god, / And worship this dull fool!" (5.1.296-98). And while no explicit recognition surfaces in Stephano or Trinculo that Caliban is human, there remains the far more significant remark by Prospero that "this thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine" (5.1.275-76). As Stephen Greenblatt has pointed out, Prospero "may intend these words only as a declaration of ownership, but it is difficult not to hear in them some deeper recognition of affinity, some half-conscious acknowledgment of guilt."68 Affinity and guilt indeed; many years ago, assuming the persona of Caliban and addressing a composite Prospero/Shakespeare, W. H. Auden characterized this recognition as follows:
Striding up to Him in fury, you glare into His unblinking eyes and stop dead, transfixed with horror at seeing reflected there, not what you had always expected to see, a conquerer smiling at a conquerer, both promising mountains and marvels, but a gibbering fist-clenched creature with which you are all too unfamiliar, for this is the first time indeed that you have met the only subject that you have, who is not a dream amenable to magic but the all too solid flesh you must acknowledge as your own; at last you have come face to face with me, and are appalled to learn how far I am from being, in any sense, your dish; how completely lacking in that poise and calm and all-forgiving because all-understanding good nature which to the critical eye is so wonderfully and domestically present on every page of your published inventions.69
Prospero's acknowledgment may imply that Caliban is what he—Prospero—can become, or what he has in futurum videre within himself, or what his nurture may, in the end, amount to; in any of these cases, his remark hints at the same interpenetration of the conventionally savage and the civil suggested by the portrayal of The Faerie Queene's Salvage Man. Perhaps Prospero is also implicitly admitting that Caliban possesses a perceptive subjectivity and thus stands in a dialogic relationship with him. At all events, this acknowledgment—coming as it does from the character who, more than anyone else, has been responsible for the mystification of Caliban's status—goes far toward finally drawing Caliban within the bounds of humanity.
Throughout The Tempest we look at Caliban much in the way that Renaissance explorers must have looked at New World natives. In some ways he seems bestial; but in others—among them his intimate knowledge of the isle, his initial nurturing of Prospero and Miranda, his later resentment of Prospero's rule, his capacity for forming warm attachments, his vulnerability, and his dreamy, reflective poetry—he seems entirely human. Above all, there is his decision, late in the play, to "be wise hereafter, / And seek for grace" (5.1.295-96).70 Perhaps this means that he will seek Christian prevenient grace—the divine favor of God—or perhaps the pardon or indulgence of Prospero.71 But in this particular instance, the word "grace" need not necessarily refer either to divine dispensation or human forgiveness; it could be being used in the alternative sense of "virtue," as it is twice elsewhere in the play (3.1.45, 5.1.70) and in such other instances as Donne's famous lines about "man, this world's vice-emperor, in whom / All faculties, all graces are at home" or the moment in Macbeth when Malcolm speaks of "The King-becoming graces" and mentions, among other traits, "justice," "temp'rance," "lowliness," "Devotion," and "patience" (4.3.91-94).72 Caliban, in vowing to "seek for grace," may very well be vowing not submission (and thus containment by the dominant culture) but rather an independent project of self-betterment; the virtue he may be seeking is that of proper judgement, so that in the future he will not again make his past mistake of confusing humans and gods. In any case, though Shakespeare never explicitly resolves the matter of Caliban's status, he suggests—to the extent that he gradually allows the play's other uncertainties about character identity to dissolve into thin air—that Caliban, like Ferdinand, Miranda, and Stephano, is a fully human being. And this suggestion is reinforced by The Tempest's thorough contradiction of Prospero's allegation that Caliban is ineducable, "a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick" (4.1.188-89); the same could be said, after all, of Antonio and Sebastian, neither of whom—unlike Caliban—show any sign of repentance for their conspiracy, though both have had the advantage of more refined and extended nurture. One might even argue that Caliban, in his initial and fully reciprocal relationship with Prospero, exhibits a nurture that, far from failing to "stick" to his nature, lies at is very essence.
Placing The Tempest within an ethnographic context goes far toward explaining why Caliban cannot be discarded in the way that Bremo is, for example, in Mucedorus. Caliban is not merely a "wild man," a sinister, shadowy figure derived from European folklore and medieval tradition; he remains far more complex and distinct, and though his portrayal certainly reveals bestial elements, it is also vivified by an acknowledgment of the existence of culturally alien humans across the ocean. Like the ambivalences of New World ethnography, the ambivalences of The Tempest gradually move toward human inclusiveness. And this levelling tendency, which shows the failings of aristocrats as well as the virtues of an alleged "demidevil," bears a resemblance both to movements in other late plays of Shakespeare and to the ideals of what might be referred to as "Montaignesque pastoral"—a more radical pastoral than that typical of Spenser, more informed by the speculative and critical spirit that characterizes the Essais. As the whore-son and the Bedlam beggar must be acknowledged in King Lear (1.1.24, 3.4.28-180) and the strange Tupinamba in Montaigne's "Des Cannibales," so, too, must Caliban.
I wish to express my gratitude to Joanne Altieri, David Bevington, and Charles Frey for reading and carefully responding to earlier drafts of this essay. I have learned much from their acuity and generosity. . . .
33 As Meredith Anne Skura points out, these words appear in the Folio's "Names of the Actors"; Shakespeare may or may not have written them ("Discourse and the Individual: The Case of Colonialism in The Tempest," Shakespeare Quarterly 40.1 (Spring 1989): 48).
34 Peter Hulme, Colonial Encounters (London: Methuen, 1986), 114.
35Nova Brittania (London: 1609), in Tracts and Other Papers, Relating Principally to the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America, ed. Peter Force, 4 vols. (New York: Peter Smith, 1947), 1 (6): 11.
36The Generali Historie of Virginia (London, 1624), in The Complete Works of Captain John Smith, ed. Philip L. Barbour (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986) 2: 152, 183, 189, 198, 125-26.
37A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia (London, 1588), in Virginia Voyages from Hakluyt, ed. David B. Quinn and Alison M. Quinn (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), 70.
38 Edmund Malone, The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, 21 vols. (London, 1821) 15: 11-14; Leslie Fiedler, The Stranger in Shakespeare (New York: Stein Day, 1972), 233. Sidney Lee also points to the varied ethnographic roots of Caliban, including the Guianans described by Ralegh, but he curbs his enthusiasm enough to recollect—unlike Fiedler—that there were no "native Bermudans" ("The American Indian in Elizabethan England," in Elizabethan and Other Essays, ed. F. S. Boas [London: Oxford University Press, 1929], 263-301).
39 Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975) 8: 257; Hulme, Colonial Encounters, 108. See also Robert Ralston Cawley, who argues that Caliban is not a mélange of types but a representation of the changing attitudes toward native Americans held by the colonists ("Shakespere's Use of the Voyagers in The Tempest," PMLA 41 : 719n); Sister Corona Sharp, who writes that Caliban's character "took shape under the influence of conflicting opinions held on the American Indians during Shakespeare's lifetime" ("Caliban: The Primitive Man's Evolution," Shakespeare Studies 14 : 267); and Karen Flagstad, who adds that "the savage Caliban conflates contradictory stereotypes" ("'Making this Place Paradise': Prospero and the Problem of Caliban in The Tempest," Shakespeare Studies 18 : 221).
40 Bernard W. Sheehan, Savagism and Civility: Indians and Englishmen in Colonial Virginia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 85, 87.
41 Greenblatt, "Learning to Curse: Aspects of Linguistic Colonialism in the Sixteenth Century," in First Images of America, ed. Fredi Chiappelli, 2 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 2: 574; Todorov, The Conquest of America (New York: Harper & Row, 1984), 42-43.
42 Greenblatt, "Learning to Curse," 575.
43New Perspectives on the Shakespearean World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 169-70. I disagree with Marienstras, however, when he asserts that Caliban's uncertain status "gives the reader a feeling of instability that remains with him through to the end of the play" (170).
44 Cabeza de Vaca, Relation of Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, trans. Buckingham Smith (New York, 1871; Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1966), 82; Léry, History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, trans. Janet Whatley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 29; Acosta, How to procure the salvation of the Indians, excerpted in John Howland Rowe, "Ethnography and Ethnology in the Sixteenth Century," Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers 30 (1964): 16; Strachey, Historie of Travell into Virginia Britannia, excerpted in The Elizabethans' America: A Collection of Early Reports by Englishmen on the New World, ed. Louis B. Wright [Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1965], 215; Smith, Generali Historic in The Complete Works of Captain John Smith, ed. Philip L. Barbour (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 2: 119.
45 "Virginias Verger," in Hakluytus Posthumous, or Purchas His Pilgrimes (London: 1625), 20 vols (Glasgow: J. MacLehose & Sons, 1905-7) 19: 231.
46 All quotations from Mucedorus (London, 1598) are drawn from Drama of the English Renaissance, ed. Russell A. Fraser and Norman Rabkin, 2 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1976), 1: 463-80. Mucedorus was published in seventeen separate editions between 1598 and 1658. It was performed by the King's Men in 1610 "before the King's majesty at Whitehall on Shrove-Sunday night" (Fraser and Rabkin, 463); thus Shakespeare probably knew the play, and may have acted in it.
47 Introduction to the Arden Tempest (London: Methuen, 1954), xxxviii-ix. Norman Rabkin writes that "Bremo the wild man is something of a forerunner of Caliban, suggesting the interest of an age of exploration in the phenomenon of natural man while ensuring that the play remains fairy tale" (Introduction to Mucedorus, 463).
48 Bremo's encounter with Amadine in scene 11 reveals obvious similarities to the conventional motif of the wild man's transformation to civility in the presence of a beautiful and virtuous woman. But this particular encounter is presented, I think, as a more sentimental and less thoroughly transforming experience.
49 Goldsmith, "The Wild Man on the English Stage," Modern Language Review 53 (1958): 481-91.
50 This speech, with its indication of Caliban's intelligence and appreciation of Prospero's gifts, echoes numerous accounts of New World natives, among them James Rosier's 1605 description of Indians along the New England coast: "They seemed all very civil and merry, showing tokens of much thankfulness for those things we gave them. We found them then (as after) a people of exceeding good invention, quick understanding, and ready capacity" (A True Relation of the Most Properous Voyage Made This Present Year 1605 by Captain George Weymouth, excerpted in The Elizabethans' America, 149). On Weymouth's voyage, see Sidney Lee, "The American Indian in Elizabethan England," 282.
51 Orgel, introduction to the Oxford Tempest (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 34. Sister Corona Sharp takes this view even further in calling the attempted rape "Caliban's failure in European sexual ethics" ("Caliban: The Primitive Man's Evolution," 273). And Paul Brown asserts that Caliban's "inability to discern a concept of private, bounded property concerning his own dominions is reinterpreted as a desire to violate the chaste virgin, who epitomizes courtly property" ("'This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine': The Tempest and the discourse of colonialism," Political Shakespeare, ed. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), 62). See also Orgel's "Shakespeare and the Cannibals," in Cannibals, Witches, and Divorce, ed. Marjorie Garber (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), 55.
52 Martyr, The Decades of the new worlde or west India (London: 1555; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Microfilms, 1966), decade 3, bk. 8, p. 134; Fabian, in Richard Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (London: 1598-1600; New York: AMS Press, 1965), 7: 155. The three Eskimos Fabian describes were brought by Sebastian Cabot to England from the North American Arctic in 1502 and presented to Henry VII. See Sidney Lee, "The American Indian in Elizabethan England," 270.
53 "The relation of John de Verrazzano a Florentine, of the land by him discovered in the name of his Majestie. Written in Diepe the eight of July 1524," in Hakluyt, Principal Navigations 8: 433.
54 Léry, History of a Voyage, 158.
55 Acosta, How to procure the salvation of the Indians, 17.
56 Whitaker, Good Newes from Virginia (London: 1613; New York: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1936), 26-27; Strachey, Historie of Travel into Virginia Britannia (London: 1612), excerpted in The Elizabethans' America (New York: Harper, 1959), 212; Harriot, A briefe and true report (London: 1588), in Virginia Voyages, 68.
57 Whitaker, Good Newes from Virginia, 24.
58 Diego Alvarez Chanca, a Spanish surgeon, accompanied Columbus on his second voyage to the West Indies (1493-96) and wrote about the natives in his "Letter addressed to the Chapter of Seville" (Four Voyages to the New World: Letters and Selected Documents, trans, and ed. R. H. Major [Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1978], 66).
59 Alan C. Dessen discusses this role-doubling as "a means to call attention to structural or thematic analogies" in "Conceptual Casting in the Age of Shakespeare: Evidence from Mucedorus," Shakespeare Quarterly 43 no. l(Spring 1992): 67-70.
60The Faerie Queene, ed. Thomas P. Roche, Jr. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), 4.6.22 and 1.6.7-19.
61 Richard Marienstras, for example, writes that Caliban "rushes into servitude even when striving for freedom" (New Perspectives on the Shakespearean World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 175).
62 Stephen Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 77.
63 For a fascinating and sustained example of native Americans confronting Europeans whom they cannot, at first, satisfactorily categorize, see Diego Durá n, The Aztecs: The Indies of New Spain (New York: Orion, 1964), esp. chap. 69-74. Durá n claims, for instance, that Moteczoma and his ministers plotted various strategies of resistance to Cortés and the other conquistadors even while alluding to them as immortal beings: "T do not know' [said Moteczoma] 'what measures to take to prevent these gods from reaching the city or seeing my face. Perhaps the best solution will be the following: let there be gathered enchanters, sorcerers, sleep-makers and those who know how to command snakes, scorpions and spiders, and let them be sent to enchant the Spaniards. Let them be put to sleep, let them be shown visions, let the little beasts bite them so that they die.' . . .' 'O powerful lord' [responded Tlillancalqui] 'your decision seems good to me, but if they are gods who will be able to harm them? However, nothing will be lost in the attempt'" (276).
64 Martyr, Decades, 219.
65 Drake's men found that the Miwok natives of California "supposed us to be gods, and would not be perswaded to the contrary" (Richard Hakluyt, "The famous voyage of Sir Francis Drake into the South sea," Principal Navigations 11: 119). And Thomas Harriot writes of the Indians near the Roanoke Colony, "some people could not tel whether to thinke us gods or men" (A briefe and true report of the new found-landof Virginia [London: 1588], in Virginia Voyages from Hakluyt, ed. David B. Quinn and Alison M. Quinn [London: Oxford University Press, 1973], 73). See also Robert Cawley, The Voyagers and Elizabethan Drama (Boston: MLA, 1938), 385-88. In one of the classic English fictions dealing with the encounter of European and native American, Daniel Defoe exploits this motif in portraying the relationship between Crusoe and the "savage" Friday: "I believe, if I would have let him, he would have worshipped me and my gun" (The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, ed. Angus Ross [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965], 214).
66 Harriot, A brief e and true report, 68.
67 On connections between Miranda and the American native Pocahontas, see Morton Luce's Arden edition of The Tempest (London: 1902) 169-70; Geoffrey Bullough's Narrative and Dramatic Sources 8: 241; and Jeffrey Knapp, An Empire Nowhere, 240-41.
68 Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations, 157: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), See also Skura, "Discourse," 66; Knapp, An Empire Nowhere, 239; and Lynda E. Boose, "The Father and the Bride in Shakespeare," PMLA 97.3 (1982): 341. When Ferdinand speaks to Prospero of "our worser genius" as a force that can potentially "melt . . . honor into lust" (4.1.27-28), he perhaps anticipates Prospero's "thing of darkness" speech inasmuch as he suggests that a principle of wildness or savagery lies within all humans.
69 "The Sea and the Mirror," in The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden (New York: Random House, 1945), 387-88.
70 In claiming that he will "be wise hereafter, / And seek for grace" (5.1.295-96), Caliban is almost certainly not speaking ironically; the tone of self-annoyance in which he castigates himself for taking the drunkard Stephano for a god and worshipping the "dull fool" Trinculo (5.1.297-98) seems strongly to preclude this.
71 On prevenient grace, see article 10 of the Church of England's thirty-nine articles (1571): "The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will" (from Thomas Rogers, The Faith, Doctrine, and Religion, Professed and Protected in the Realm of England . . . Expressed in 39 Articles [Cambridge, 1607; rpt. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1968], 103). If Caliban is capable of seeking prevenient grace, the presumption is strong that he is fully human.
72 Donne, "An Anatomy of the World: The First Anniversary" (11. 161-62) in John Donne: The Complete English Poems, ed. A. J. Smith (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), 274. See also As You Like It, 3.2.11 and 3.2.17, and Hamlet, 4.7.21. The OED defines this meaning of "grace" as "In persons: Virtue; an individual virtue; sense of duty or propriety" (2.13b).
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 31402
Marjorie B. Garber (essay date 1974)
SOURCE: "The Truth of Your Own Seeming: Romance and the Uses of Dream," in Dream in Shakespeare: From Metaphor to Metamorphosis, Yale University Press, 1974, pp. 186-214.
[In the excerpt below, Garber reads The Tempest as Shakespeare's most complete dramatic treatment of the dream world as a representation of human imagination and creativity. As in his previous plays, she argues, the dream world here is a timeless and transcendent state of mind in which illusion and reality are momentarily reconciled, and through which the dreamer achieves self-understanding.]
The Winter's Tale is fundamentally a play of metamorphosis in which the stage of "becoming" is central to the action. Time and change, "things dying" and "things new born," underlie each of its essential symbols and processes; the space of sixteen years between the third and fourth acts, a violation of the "unities" which Shakespeare deliberately elects to make, is indicative of a tendency to render credible the most improbable events through a mature integration of poetry and action. With The Tempest, which immediately succeeds it in chronology, Shakespeare's attention turns to yet another way of treating the same major themes. Where The Winter's Tale was designedly cyclical, analogous patterns repeating themselves as redemption and reconciliation emerged from the union of the temporal and eternal, in The Tempest events are even more directly transcendent. Essentially, things happen in The Winter's Tale against a background of their having happened before and with the possibility that they may happen again; in The Tempest, the most remarkable of all Shakespeare's dream worlds, things happen on the island in order that they need never happen again. Our attention is drawn from the first to the moment of revelation and discovery, the dream that unveils truths and self-truths. At the very close of the play, Gonzalo puts this redemptive discovery into words which once more recall Berowne:
in one voyage Did Claribel her husband find at Tunis, And Ferdinand her brother found a wife
Where he himself was lost; Prospero his dukedom In a poor isle, and all of us ourselvesWhen no man was his own.
The theme of losing and finding here attains its ultimate expression, the journey to the enchanted isle which is the dream world, the conversion of loss into new and transcendent awareness. For The Tempest is a play which takes the dream state for its subject, deliberately and directly exploring the poles of sleeping and waking, vision and reality, art and the human condition.
Both the spatial and the temporal worlds of the play are tightly circumscribed, as compactly constructed as The Winter's Tale was deliberately broad. In his first interview with Ariel, Prospero stipulates that they have only four hours to do their work, and Ariel confirms the success of this design at the beginning of the denouement (V.i.4). The entire action takes place on Prospero's island, although behind it we can see the political world of Milan, from which the travelers have come and to which they will return, and beyond even that the limitless scope of Tunis and "the great globe itself." Prospero's island is both subjective and objective, a state of mind as well as a location; his neglect of political affairs in Milan, as he explains to Miranda, came about because he inclined instead to the private study of the "liberal Arts."
Those being all my study, The government I cast upon my brother And to my state grew stranger, being transported And rapt in secret studies.
The dream world of the island is simultaneously the world of these "secret studies," which Prospero will not abjure until the play's close. From the examples of Richard III and Antony and Cleopatra we know that such neglect of political responsibility is dangerous: the experience of the island is therefore redemptive for him as well, persuading him to "discase" himself and appear "as [he] was sometime Milan." (V.i.85-86). But within the dream work of the play itself he stands apart, as the stage direction fittingly says "at a distance, unseen," the final and greatest of Shakespeare's poet and stage-manager figures, whose world is the creative world of the imagination.
The play begins with the tempest of its title, which resembles in symbolic purpose the similar storms of Pericles and The Winter's Tale. The uproar of the storm and the anguished cries of the mariners are in deliberate contrast to the calm of the island, and are significantly associated with the strife and confusion of the external Milan world, dominated by usurpation and greed. The characters of the Milanese company—the surly, cynical Sebastian, the arrogant Antonio, the good-hearted but abstracted Gonzalo—are all for a moment adumbrated against the background of crisis and fear. The scene is itself a nightmare of sorts, a dark scene cut through with thunder and lightning, the symbolic equivalent of the more psychologically conceived opening scene of Othello. With Gonzalo's despairing cry for "an acre of barren ground, long heath, broom, furze, anything" (I.i.64-65), the scene rapidly shifts to the island itself, a lush and romantic haven in marked contrast to the harshness of this description. We are immediately transported into a world of dream and dreams, as unlike the assumptions and expectations of the new arrivals as is Gonzalo's word picture from fact.
Prospero and his daughter Miranda have watched the storm from the island; and Miranda, whose name implies that she is both "wondered at" and "wondering," begs him to intervene:
If by your art, my dearest father, you have Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
Were she "any god of power" (10), she says, she would have acted to save the "brave vessel" (6) and its crew. "Brave" is a word which recurs frequently in her language; it is later used to describe both Ferdinand and the "brave new world" of men she has discovered, and it carries, always, an innocent hope which is very like the Shakespearean "grace." As the storm abates, Prospero reassures her that no harm has been done to the passengers, and in what is really a long, broken monologue, narrates for her the story of their arrival on the island. Significantly, he first lays aside the magic robe in which he has been dressed, saying "Lie there, my art" (I.ii.25), in the first of what will be many direct associations of his magical powers with the related transforming power of poetry. The robe is a costume, and thus an agent of willed metamorphosis. Throughout the play there will occur similar garment images, all having to do with illusion, transformation, or self-deception: the "sustaining garments" of the ship's survivors (I.ii.218), the "glistering apparel" which seduces Stephano and Trinculo (IV.i.SD), and the costume of Prospero as "sometime Milan" (V.i.86). Disguise is thus from the first integrated into the radical symbolism of the play, supporting an allegorizing tendency which is yet not sufficient to disturb the delicate balance of the play's poetry.
Prospero prefaces his tale by asking if Miranda remembers her life before they came to the island. "'Tis far off," she replies,
And rather like a dream than an assurance That my remembrance warrants.
This is the first explicit reference to dream in the play. Miranda, whose only reality is the world of the island, significantly refers to life beyond it as "like a dream," while all those who come from without will find the island itself dreamlike and inexplicable. The "dark backward and abysm of time" (50) to which Prospero alludes is a temporal frame, like the spatial frame of the Tunis-world, against which the figurai and timeless present action is performed; the phrase is both specific and symbolic. He now proceeds with his narrative, pausing every few moments to make sure she is attending: his role is now that of storyteller, and he is anxious to properly affect his audience. His description of the usurper Antonio is a diagram of self-delusion:
like one Who having into truth—by telling of it— Made such a sinner of his memory To credit his own lie, he did believe He was indeed the duke.
This is the pattern of falsehood to self, self-disguise, which the play will seek to unravel; the exchange of "lie" and "truth" is a familiar one, and the characteristic task of the dream world will be to restore "truth" to its proper place. There is another familiar pattern in the account of the expulsion of Prospero and the infant Miranda from Milan; the tempest in which they are set adrift, though it is mentioned after the present storm, temporally foreshadows it, again in a mythic or figurai manner. Gonzalo's bounty, in placing upon the ship "rich garments, linens, stuffs and necessaries" (164), recalls the launching of the richly laden coffin of Thaisa or the cloth and gold which accompanied the infant Perdita. The recapitulated narrative of the "dark backward and abysm of time" is thus deliberately evocative and echoic, a collection of symbolic actions as well as a tale of past events. We might say that this kind of multiple referent, at once factual and mythic, is metaphorically in the imperfect tense, the tense of recurrent action, as opposed to the simple past. It is a mode which will be frequently used in The Tempest, as it has been to a certain extent in The Winter's Tale, and it makes the luminous dream of the narrow four-hour span expand to fill up all of time.
Having finished his tale, Prospero now induces Miranda to drowsiness, a drowsiness which has in part been abetted by the rhythmic periodicity of his narrative:
Thou art inclined to sleep. 'Tis a good dullness, And give it way. I know thou canst not choose.
The readiness with which Miranda falls asleep is a sign of virtue, as has been true in other plays we have examined. Her sleep here is coterminous with the arrival of Ariel, the dominant spirit of the play's dream world, and she is therefore to be associated with innocence rather than with art. For Ariel's nature, which is central to the play as a whole, is supremely that of art and the imagination; he is at once the agent, the instrument, and the substance of transformation.
In the course of the play Ariel undergoes a number of metamorphoses: during the tempest he is himself the fire in the riggings of the ship, which, in a lovely transference of epithet, is said to have "flamed amazement" (198); at the end of his conversation with Prospero he is told to make himself "like a nymph o' the sea" (302), recalling and extending into the supernatural Florizel's image of natural metamorphosis, "When you do dance, I wish you / A wave o' th' sea" WT IV.iv. 140-41); through much of the play he is invisible to all except Prospero, thus approximating the condition of the air to which he is so closely related; and in the climactic speech of the play, the remarkable address to the "three men of sin" (III.iii.53ff.) he appears as a harpy, and calls himself and his fellows "ministers of Fate" (III.iii.61). But somatic transformation is rather the beginning than the end of his powers. As we have mentioned above, it is difficult to avoid looking at The Tempest in partly allegorical terms, associating Prospero with mankind and the poet, Ariel with the imagination, and Caliban with the body and with natural or instinctive man. Plainly these are only beginnings, and approximate ones, but it seems clear that Ariel's association with the imaginative part of man is a very close one; he anticipates the thoughts of others, and his language is "poetic" in the most extended sense of that term. It is Ariel who both plays and sings throughout the play, and his songs are themselves transformations in little. His music, which can be as light as a pipe or as common as a tabor, is the accompaniment of the acts of "magic" or vision which recur throughout the play, and which are the operative dreams within the dream world. He is at once an elemental spirit, compact of water, air, and fire, an English fairy of the type of Puck, and the embodiment of poetry as a transforming power; of all the quicksilver characters we have discussed, he is the most consummate. Yet his bondage to Prospero is enforced though good-tempered, and his progress to freedom first necessitates imprisonment by the chthonic natural forces of Sycorax. His definition, like his appearance, must elude us, for he is a mood and a quality; and like dream itself he appears and sings only in moments of transcendence which shed light on more ordinary experience. Here in his first appearance we learn of his part in the tempest and of the effect the experience has had upon the travelers:
Prospero: My brave spirit! Who was so firm, so constant, that this coil Would not infect his reason?
Ariel: Not a soul But felt a fever of the mad and played Some tricks of desperation.
Once again, the rejection of "reason" appears as a necessary prelude to the dream experience. The "madness" which seizes the voyagers is not unlike the much more psychologically determined madness of Hamlet or Lear, a first essential step into subjectivity which is likewise basic to dream. The mariners, we may notice, are excluded from this translation; when they awaken in the first act at Ariel's bidding, they serve as the ground of common experience, the frame within which the action and reconciliation have occurred. Ariel reports that he has left them asleep "'with a charm join'd to their suffer'd labor" (231), their ship safely in harbor. The noble passengers have made their way to shore, and Ariel describes their condition in terms of clothing imagery:
On their sustaining garments not a blemish, But fresher than before.
The transforming power of the island is already at work upon them, freshening their external as it will their internal selves.
Ariel's truest language, however, is song, and it is through song that he is able to cross the boundary between the internal and the external, the thought and the heard; his music throughout, but most particularly the two haunting songs sung to Ferdinand, approach the condition which T. S. Eliot has described as
music heard so deeply That it is not heard at all, but you are the music While the music lasts.
["The Dry Salvages," V]
This is the dream state again, the intrusion of the fictive and the irrational into the known. We have discussed these two songs elsewhere, and here need only emphasize the extraordinary multiplicity of meaning and thematic relevance contained in so simple and controlled a form. The first song, "Come unto these yellow sands," is an invitation to reconciliation, in which the storm image ("the wild waves") refers simultaneously to the physical tempest and the spiritual turmoil within. The phrase "sweet sprites bear / The burthen" carries the primary sense of "sing the refrain," as indeed they do in the voices of dog and cock, the night watch and the morning of reawakening and rebirth. But "burthen" also retains its nonmusical meaning of "responsibility" or "obligation," and it is to some degree true that the responsibility of carrying out the reconciliation is entrusted by Prospero to Ariel and his attendant spirits. The first song is thus a song of hope, and Ferdinand associates it with "some god o' th' island" (392). "This music," he says,
crept by me upon the waters, Allaying both their fury and my passion With its sweet air.
This "allaying" is the beginning of the fulfillment of the song's prophecy, the "wild waves whist"; "sweet air" is at the same time "music" and "atmosphere," a rich ambiguity which The Tempest will continue to develop. Both interpretations, and most especially the blending of the two, suggest the elusive condition of Ariel.
The remarkable beauty and relevance of the second song have been discussed at some length at the beginning of this chapter [not excerpted here]: the themes of transformation, transmutation into art, and the concept of the "sea change" are articulated, and the effect is such that Ferdinand concludes
This is no mortal business, nor no sound That the earth owes.
The imputation of divinity or divine inspiration is important to all of the romances, but most particularly to The Tempest; later in the same scene Ferdinand will exclaim at the sight of Miranda
Most sure the goddess On whom these airs attend!
and Miranda, seeing the "brave form" of Ferdinand, is moved to call him "a spirit" (414) but finds herself refuted by Prospero: "No, wench; it eats and sleeps and hath such senses / As we have, such" (415-16). Caliban's encounter with Stephano and Trinculo leads to a parodic conception of the drunken butler as a "brave" god, and in the final reconciliation scene Alonso asks of Miranda
Is she the goddess that hath severed us And brought us thus together?
We may be reminded of Hamlet's observation, though it is cast in a different key:
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals; and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
The illusion of godhead and the subsequent acknowledgment of mortality are equally valuable and important; the island's occupants are the more wonderful for their human condition. For the pattern of The Tempest, as of The Winter's Tale, is to take man through dream to a renewed appreciation of his mortal state, bringing him through dream to a transfigured reality.
This sharpening of experience is part of Prospero's purpose in affecting to discourage the attraction of the lovers; echoing the god Jupiter in Cymbeline, he fears "lest too light winning / Make the prize light" (I.ii.454-55). Moreover, Ferdinand's response to this pretended sternness is, fittingly, a willing acknowledgment of the strong subjective power of dream:
My spirits, as in a dream, are all bound up. My father's loss, the weakness which I feel, The wrack of all my friends, nor this man's threats To whom I am subdued, are but light to me, Might I but through my prison once a day Behold this maid. All corners else o' th'earth Let liberty make use of. Space enough Have I in such a prison.
It is interesting that heightened emotional experience converts itself for Ferdinand, as it does for the play as a whole, into spatial terms. Like the lover of [Richard] Lovelace's Althea, he paradoxically finds liberty in bondage, just as his fellows will find enlightenment in privation. It is the theme of Gonzalo's summation again: "Ferdinand, her brother, found a wife / Where he himself was lost"; "and all of us ourselves, / When no man was his own."
The arrival of the shipwreck victims has a similarly paradoxical effect upon Prospero's island. Before their advent it is tranquil, harmonious, virtually uninhabited—a dream in the sense of an idyll, atemporal and ruled by magic. With the intrusion of political and personal strife in the persons of the voyagers, this dream world is disrupted and replaced by internal dream episodes, levels of conscious and subconscious discovery which will lead to a greater and more far-reaching synthesis. Hints of this are sharply adumbrated in the conversation of the survivors at the beginning of the second act, as the wordy Gonzalo, aided by Adrian, tallies the charms of the island:
Adrian: The air breathes upon us here most sweetly.
Sebastian: As if it had lungs, and rotten ones.
Antonio: Or as 'twere perfumed by a fen.
Gonzalo: Here is everything advantageous to life.
Antonio: True, save means to live.
Sebastian: Of that there's none, or little.
Gonzalo: How lush and lusty the grass looks! How green!
Antonio: The ground indeed is tawny.
Sebastian: With an eye of green in 't.
Antonio: He misses not much.
Sebastian: No; he doth but mistake the truth totally.
This stichomythic dialogue is a demonstration of the subjectivity of the dream state, which is essential to transformation. Gonzalo and Adrian see the island as a fertile and aromatic paradise; its fertility is thematically significant and is substantiated by the words "lush and lusty," which are hotly contested by the others. Sebastian's jest about the air possessing "lungs," since Adrian has poetically said that it "breathes," demonstrates a literalism of spirit which is opposed to imagination. Truth on the island is clearly subjective, as protean as the denizens of dream themselves, and the allegation that it is Gonzalo who is mistaken is usefully countered by a remark he himself makes to Sebastian earlier in the scene: "you have spoken truer than you purposed" (21-22). We have frequently come upon this circumstance in the world of dream, the partial truth of the speaker superseded by the greater truth communicated to the audience, and an acknowledgment of it this early in the play hints at a willingness on the part of the speaker to accept the irrational and the inexplicable. But Gonzalo, though more amiable than the others, is nonetheless in need of the transfiguring power of the dream world. His vision of the island as an innocent Arcady is reminiscent of Polixenes' vision of eternal innocence and suffers from the same misconception about the necessity of time and change:
I' th' commonwealth I would by contraries Execute all things. For no kind of traffic Would I admit; no name of magistrate; Letters should not be known; riches, poverty, And use of service, none; contract, succession, 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: No sovereignty.
All things in common nature should produce Without sweat or endeavor. Treason, felony, Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine Would I not have; but nature should bring forth, Of it own kind, all foison, all abundance, To feed my innocent people.
The determining element here is timelessness, a disregard of the processes of natural growth and experience which are necessary for redemption. Gonzalo's vision is a dream of sorts, but a delusory one, and the truth it reveals is a misconception on its speaker's part. The need for a radical transformation of this attitude is symbolically demonstrated during the next episode by Ariel, the embodiment of subconscious action, who must forcibly awaken the sleeping Gonzalo with song in order to warn him of the plot against the king.
The entrance of Ariel at this point in the action, as Gonzalo quibbles on the sign word "nothing" (181-83), produces the third literal "sleep" of the play, following those of Miranda and the mariners. Though visible to the audience, he is unseen by the courtiers, and the "solemn music" he plays is likewise apparently below the level of consciousness, for it is not remarked. Sleep here, as ever in Shakespeare, is a mark of spiritual innocence; it comes instantly to all but those who are guilty of past misdeeds or contemplating present ones. Gonzalo finds himself "very heavy" (193) and sleeps at once, as do all but Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian. Alonso, whose guilt (in arranging with Antonio for tribute from Milan) is at least partially balanced by his sorrow at the supposed loss of his son, is the next to succumb:
What, all so soon asleep? I wish mine eyes Would, with themselves, shut up my thoughts. I find They are inclined to do so.
He is preparing, by a consideration of his own state, for the moment of redemption which will transform him finally from guilt to grace.
Antonio and Sebastian remain awake, and are indeed both amazed and slightly contemptuous of the slumber of their fellows:
Sebastian: What a strange drowsiness possesses them!
Antonio: It is the quality o' th' climate.
Sebastian: Why Doth it not then our eyelids sink? I find not Myself dispos'd to sleep.
Antonio: Nor I: my spirits are nimble. They fell together all, as by consent. They dropped as by a thunderstroke.
Here again they "speak truer than they have purposed"; the climate does induce the slumber of the courtiers, but out of its dream function rather than for merely meteorological reasons. Antonio's assertion of "nimble" spirits seems to imply that sleep is weakness, and the apolcalyptic note in the lines which follow suggests a subconscious awareness of supernatural powers at work and a derogation of their objects. But though both remain awake, there is a decided difference in the tone of their conversation. For Sebastian the period that follows is itself like a dream: "it is a sleepy language," he says, "and thou speak'st / Out of thy sleep" (215-16). Antonio's attempt to persuade him to kill the king and inherit the crown is couched in images of the dream world; in a passage which bears a strong resemblance to the witches' scene in Macbeth (I.iii),13 he begins with a seductive image phrased like a vision:
My strong imagination sees a crown Dropping upon thy head.
This is the malignant imagination of the conscious mind, Iago's sphere, the dream enforced and thrust upon the latent ambition of Sebastian.
Sebastian: What? Art thou waking?
Antonio: Do you not hear me speak?
Sebastian: I do; and surely It is a sleepy language, and thou speak'st Out of thy sleep. What is it thou didst say? This is a strange repose, to be asleep With eyes wide open; standing, speaking, moving And yet so fast asleep.
Antonio: Noble Sebastian, Thou let'st thy fortune sleep—die, rather; wink'st Whiles thou art waking.
Sebastian: Thou dost snore distinctly; There's meaning in thy snores.
Sebastian is yet again speaking truer than he has purposed; the "strange repose" he speaks of is indeed much more like dream as we have observed it than like waking. Antonio, sensing his advantage, pursues the metaphor with more directness; in a reference to the distant Claribel, the rightful heir after Alonso and Ferdinand, he apostrophizes
"Keep in Tunis, And let Sebastian wake!" Say this were death That now hath seized them, why, they were no worse Than now they are. There be that can rule Naples As well as he that sleeps; lords than can prate As amply and unnecessarily As this Gonzalo; I myself could make A chough of as deep chat. O, that you bore The mind that I do! What a sleep were this For your advancement!
And Sebastian's reponse is itself like an awakening, deliberate, halting, with a note of the dazed and the tentative:
Antonio: Do you understand me?
Sebastian: Methinks I do.
Antonio: And how does your content Tender your own good fortune?
Sebastian: I remember You did supplant your brother Prospero.
The startling effect of this last is itself an indication of the vestiges of dream; its apparent irrelevancy speaks to the subject covertly behind Antonio's remarks, rather than to the less significant remarks themselves. The effect of this entire episode is not unlike the "jealousy" passages at the beginning of The Winter's Tale. We are here presented with the dangers of dream, although dream is related in this case to ambition rather than to sexual jealousy, to Macbeth rather than to Othello. But the creative and benevolent actions of Ariel are deliberately counterpointed by incidences of irrational destructiveness. When, swords drawn, they are frustrated in their attempt at assassination by the watchful machinations of Ariel, they produce a fictive account of their intentions which fittingly mirrors the truth: they have heard, they say, a "hollow burst of bellowing / Like bulls, or rather lions" (315-16). The implications of "hollow" and the created and "untrue" image of discordant sound are symbolic translations of the dream scene which has gone before. Gonzalo, by contrast, has heard "a humming, / And a strange one" (321-22), the harmonious and almost undetectable dream actions of Ariel in defense of the king. The two realms, symbolic and dramatic, are fused in Gonzalo's pious hope for Ferdinand: "Heavens keep him from these beasts!" (328). And with this note the scene shifts to the literal beasts of the play, Caliban and the drunken butler and jester, whose seriocomic conspiracy is a symbolic counterpart of the sophisticated political plots of the courtiers.
The nature of Caliban, like that of Ariel, is a crux for the play as a whole. He is the only true native of the island, the son of "the foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy / Was grown into a hoop" (I.ii.258-59), an earth magician of black and chthonic sorceries who is the unredeemed counterpart of Prospero and his theurgic arts. Prospero has supplanted Sycorax, taking over the rule and management of the island, but he has retained Caliban in bondage to serve him. This retention has a dual significance in light of our association of the island with the dream world. Prospero keeps Caliban because he is necessary to life:
But, as 'tis, We cannot miss him. He does make our fire, Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices That profit us.
Yet he also keeps him because he cannot let him go: "this thing of darkness," he says at the close, "I acknowledge mine" (V.i.275-76). Caliban is, like Ariel, a denizen of the dream world of the irrational, but his is the dark side of dream. His attempt on Miranda, his foulness of language, his desire to usurp the power of the island are all manifestations of an impulse toward destruction which is centered in the subconscious mind. Like Prospero, we must have Caliban if we are to have Ariel; further, we must keep Caliban, even when, as we must, we let Ariel go.
The dramatic world which surrounds Caliban is an effective analogue to this spiritual condition. The comic scene in which he is discovered by Stephano and Trinculo has many of the aspects of dream or nightmare: Stephano, fearing devils, observes a strange shape and takes it for a monster, when actually it is the combined form of Caliban and Trinculo half-hidden beneath a cloak. Moreover, the "monster" inexplicably speaks the language of the Neapolitans, further startling Stephano with its incongruities. This is a visible enactment of metamorphosis, the "monster of the isle, with four legs" (II.ii.65-66) turning into a pair of people, one of whom is himself seen as a "monster." In the momentary union of Caliban and Trinculo there is a direct manifestation of the aspect of the dream work described by Freud as "condensation": Trinculo, a man with many of the malign qualities which Caliban symbolizes, is conflated with Caliban, the metaphorical embodiment of those qualities. Stephano's mistake, in thinking the two to be one, and "monstrous," is presented as a symbolic truth.
But just as we were able to perceive something of the quicksilver nature of Ariel through his language, we may also profit from a study of the language of Caliban. We know from Caliban himself that his speech is something with which he has been endowed by Prospero:
You taught me language, and my profit on't Is, I know how to curse.
Even the medium of language, then, can be misshapen and transformed. But often in this play Caliban's language seems to contain, not coarseness, but a strange and transforming lyricism. His naïve vision of the early days on the island recalls the omnipresent time theme, presenting a brief glimpse of lost innocence:
When thou cam'st first, Thou strok'st me and made much of me; wouldst give me Water with berries in 't; and teach me how To name the bigger light, and how the less, That burn by day and night, and then I loved thee And showed thee all the qualities o' th' isle, The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile.
Just as Miranda, familiar only with the island world, finds wonder in the shape of man, so Caliban, the island's sole native inhabitant, sees a paradise in the teachings of civilization; the enchantment of transformation, wrought by the island upon its recent visitors, is produced in them by the visit itself
The most striking instance of Caliban's transforming use of language, however, is .his enchanting address to his fellow conspirators on the subject of music:
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices That, if I then had waked after long sleep, Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming, The clouds methought would open and show riches Ready to drop upon me, that, when I waked, I cried to dream again.
His pleasure in music is itself musical. The dream he here describes is a recurrent one, the only such dream which we have encountered with the exception of Lady Macbeth's. And while Lady Macbeth's dream was a recapitulation of past action in the world of fact, Caliban's dream is clearly a fantasy or wish fulfillment. Music, which we have seen to be the sign and instrument of transfiguration, lulls him to sleep; and he dreams of riches dropping from heaven, a dream so seductive that he "cries" to dream again. It is in part an enlightenment dream, a dream of missed or only partially realized opportunity; the "hum" of voices like Ariel's intimates to him, though only in the actual state of dream, the transcendent possibilities of the world they inhabit. The aspect of recurrence is a particularly interesting one, since in psychoanalytic theory recurrent dreams are considered regressions to an anxiety of childhood; such a dream, says Freud, "was first dreamt in childhood and then constantly reappears from time to time during adult sleep."14 Caliban is conceived as a character uniquely child and man at once, as the wonderful simplicity and purity of his diction in this dream passage bears witness: the sheer imitative enjoyment of "twangling," the concern for those things that "hurt not," the readiness with which he "cries," both vocally and, perhaps, through tears. As a childlike figure he is more than ever indissolubly bound to Prospero in a compact which neither can escape. Shakespeare's intuitive understanding of the dream process is once more demonstrated in a dream form which precisely mirrors the thematic and symbolic identity of the dreamer.
In a wider sense the conspirators' scene has a dream form of its own. The existence of two bands of conspirators, the "high" (Antonio, Sebastian, Alonso) and the "low" (Stephano, Trinculo, Caliban) is similar to the process of "doubling" in the dream work, where more than one image is called up by the mind to express a certain idea or theme. Ariel's incidental appearances in the scene enhance the dream feeling as well: the echo incident, in which, while invisible, he intermittently "gives the lie" to the conspirators, causes them to turn upon one another in confusion; later, when Stephano and Trinculo begin to sing a song to the wrong tune, he corrects them by playing the tune accurately on a tabor and pipe, prompting them to call him—with the usual dimension of hidden meaning—"the picture of Nobody" (130). But the designs of the low conspirators, though too uncompromising to be comic, are only antecedent to the pivotal scene which exposes and confronts the nobles with their greater iniquity. In this scene Ariel plays a critical role, and through the agency of metamorphosis the subconscious world of dream becomes again vivid and visible upon the stage.
The dumb show of the "several strange Shapes" which precedes the appearance of Ariel is accompanied by "solemn music" of the kind that recurs throughout the play. The king and his company are astonished at their "excellent dumb discourse" (III.iii.39), but when the shapes vanish, the royal party abandons speculation:
Francisco: They vanished strangely.
Sebastian: No matter, since They have left their viands behind; for we have stomachs.
Before they are able to reach the banquet, however, it disappears in thunder and lightning and is replaced by the vision of Ariel as a harpy. Structurally the harpy's sudden appearance is a refinement of the descents of Diana and Jupiter in Pericles and Cymbeline: here it is not an external deity appearing for the first time, but rather a significant metamorphosis of a familiar and central character which precipitates the sudden access of self-knowledge. Ariel's successive transformations have reflected both Prospero's and Shakespeare's purposes; from the invisible singer of subconscious thoughts he has become a visible and frightening judgmental figure who allies himself with destiny. When he addresses the "three men of sin" (Antonio, Sebastian, and Alonso), he descants upon the theme of retribution as a stern prelude to the play's ultimate objective, reconciliation.
You are three men of sin, whom destiny— That hath to instrument this lower world And what is in't—the never-surfeited sea Hath caused to belch up you and on this island,
Where man doth not inhabit, you 'mongst men Being most unfit to live. I have made you mad; And even with suchlike valor men hang and drown Their proper selves.
Madness as a preface to renewed vision is the culminating image of a series of thematic summations: the world, and most particularly the familiar symbol of the cleansing and devouring sea, is a purposeful "instrument" of their arrival; the island, heretofore regarded as fair, is seen as the proper isolation of the less-than-human, as well as the found haven of the exemplary. "I and my fellows / Are ministers of Fate" (60-61); thus the natural and the supernatural are joined in an overwhelming search for redemption.
The appearance of the harpy is yet another dream within the larger dream of The Tempest itself, directed by the unseen stage-manager figure of Prospero and invisible except to those to whom it has relevance. Like Macbeth's guests at the banquet, Gonzalo is baffled by behavior of the others: "Why stand you," he asks, "in this strange stare?" (III.iii.94-95). Those who do hear are caught in a solemn "ecstasy" (108), "all knit up / In their distractions" (89-90)—they are in the dream state, attentive only to the vision of conscience. Their interpretation of the event includes yet another factor of the dream work, "secondary revision," which tries to make waking sense out of the irrational and inexplicable happenings of the moment of dream. Thus Alonso attributes the message to some concatenation of natural forces;
Methought the billows spoke and told me of it; The winds did sing it to me; and the thunder, That deep and dreadful organ pipe, pronounc'd The name of Prosper; it did bass my trespass.
Ariel is indeed a spirit of wind and water; in Alonso's rationalizing view, it is these externals only which remain in the conscious mind. But the process of awakening has begun; the "ecstasy" to which Gonzalo refers is the liberating madness of dream, a madness which will, in Alonso's case at least, lead to self-knowledge. For Sebastian and Antonio the vision provokes anger rather than sadness, moral blindness rather than acceptance. Unlike Alonso they adhere stubbornly to the objective state of consciousness, and so the harmony of nature, even in reproach, is a radical awareness denied them.
This harmonious relationship of human life to the natural world and the round of the seasons is the subject of the scene which follows, the performance of the masque and the contract between the lovers. The dialogue which begins this scene is reminiscent of the conversation between Florizel and the old shepherd in The Winter's Tale. Again the father and the young lover recount the praises of the beloved:
Prospero: O Ferdinand, Do not smile at me that I boast her off, For thou shalt find she will outstrip all praise And make it halt behind her.
Ferdinand: I do believe it Against an oracle.
The image of the oracle takes the rhetorical place of "that/Which he not dreams of in The Winter's Tale—the meaning in both is that the beloved's quality is such that it surpasses the ability of the supernatural world to define it, a superlative mode which recalls in turn Cleopatra's "past the size of dreaming." Both are "nature's piece 'gainst fancy, / Condemning shadows quite," and thus they move toward the reconciliation of the illusory and the real which is part of the play's purpose.
The masque itself reinforces a number of themes we have associated with dream and its transforming power: the structural unit of the play-within-a-play and the recurrent images of metamorphosis and transformation. The mention of the myth of Proserpina functions as a reminder both of natural fertility and of the danger of unlawful love. Fundamentally, however, the role of the masque is secondary to that of the play which surrounds it; Ferdinand's remarks before and after the performance carry more weight than the performance itself. Thus he engages Prospero in a significant dialogue after the marriage song of Juno:
Ferdinand: This is a most majestic vision, and Harmonious charmingly. May I be bold To think these spirits?
Prospero: Spirits, which by mine art I have from their confines called to enact My present fancies.
Ferdinand: Let me live here ever! So rare a wond'red father and a wise Makes this place Paradise.
"Vision" and "harmonious" substantiate the symbolic integrity of the masque as it relates to the ongoing action. The enactment of "present fancies," on the other hand, is a note of warning, which is soon to be validated by Prospero's remembrance of Caliban and the conspirators. And Ferdinand's plea for eternity on the island makes clear the fact that a further transformation is required. Eternity in the dream world, as we have before discovered, is an illusory concept, one which fails to take into account the imperatives of the human condition. Ferdinand will have to acknowledge the serpent in the paradisal garden, or, in Leontes' figure, the spider in the cup, in order that his renewed awareness may be fused with purpose in the Milan world to which he. must return. It is to this end that the "harmonious" masque is disrupted by Prospero's sudden memory of treason. His exclamation, "the minute of their plot / Is almost come" (141-42), touches again on the time theme, bringing the precision of specific time to interrupt and terminate the dream of eternity. The celebrated speech with which he ends the episode is yet another such reminder of mortality:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air; And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.
The reflexive quality of the image has already been noted: the actors upon the stage are spirits playing actors who in turn play gods and nymphs. So too the physical world is at once illusory and real; the two framing phrases, "like the baseless fabric of this vision," and "like this insubstantial pageant faded," reinforce one another and contain between them three lines which, though fictive and "poetic" in tone, are descriptions of that which is real. Prospero's tone is at once regretful and proud, a glorification of man and an acknowledgment of his radical limitations. With the phrase "our little life / Is rounded with a sleep," he recapitulates in language the structural organization of the play, in which sleep becomes the boundary between one kind of life and another. This calm resolution—that "we are such stuff / As dreams are made on"—is curiously reminiscent of Hamlet's tortured imaginings, though it differs wholly in tone:
To die, to sleep— No more—and by a sleep to say we end The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to! 'Tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep— To sleep—perchance to dream.
Again, as in the transmutation of the skull image from Clarence's dream [in Richard III] to Ariel's second song, the vision presented by The Tempest is purified of passion, sublime in its acceptance of the real. For Prospero's whole great speech is in fact an exploration of the relationship between the dream world and the world we know as real, in which the analogy is finally resolved into identity, and metaphor becomes metamorphosis. His speech suggests on the level of language what The Tempest in its entirety will accomplish in dramatic terms: the merging of the worlds of dream and reality in the creative mind of man.
As has happened so many times, a rhetorical evocation of the dream world passes into a vision of that world itself; Ariel in his "shape invisible" (IV.i. 185) reveals the bewitched Caliban and his confederates. Having lured them with music, he now tempts them with "glistering apparel," which continues the prevailing clothing imagery and introduces the question of the fictive and the real. Stephano and Trinculo, more "montrous" than the "monster" himself, are captivated by the display; Caliban, fruitlessly insisting "it is but trash" (224) pleads without success that they perform the murder first, or else
We shall lose our time And all be turned to barnacles, or to apes With foreheads villainous low.
Once again the time theme is closely linked with metamorphosis; even the choice of "barnacles" alludes to the widely held notion that the sea animal transformed itself into a barnacle goose. With the entry of "divers spirits" shaped like dogs and hounds, the nightmare quality of the scene is completed, balancing the idyll of the masque with an equally persuasive vision of the dangerous and passionate irrational.
Reconciliation and revelation, the deciphering of dream, are the tasks which remain to Prospero; having created a world of illusion, in which each man perceives in the dream state truths he does not know in the external world, he now prepares to restore them to "reason" transfigured by self-knowledge. Significantly, this final turn in the pattern of the play is prefaced by a change in Prospero himself: "The rarer action," he confirms, "is / In virtue than in vengeance" (V.i.27-28), love and grace taking the place of anger and revenge. This is in itself a returning to the real world of men, an accommodation toward grace which takes note of human frailty. Dispatching Ariel for the "spell-stopped" courtiers, he sounds once more the tonic note of new reality found through illusion:
My charms I'll break, their senses I'll restore, And they shall be themselves.
Like Gonzalo's later echo, "all of us ourselves / When no man was his own," this declaration asserts at once the primacy of dream as an agency of transformation and the necessity of a return to "senses," to "themselves," as participants in the ongoing round of time. His abdication of his art ("but this rough magic I here abjure") is accompanied by yet another evocation of metamorphosis, an address to the spirits of the island which closely follows Golding's Ovid (33 ff.).15
But these spirits, like the spirits of a A Midsummer Night's Dream, are part of the special dream world they inhabit, and cannot function in the full daylight world of reality. Music, ever the harbinger of transformation, accompanies the entrance of the courtiers; and Prospero's description of the lifting of the spell recalls Oberon's "spirits of another sort," transforming citizens of the dawn:
the charm dissolves apace; And as the morning steals upon the night, Melting the darkness, so their rising senses Begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle Their clearer reason.
Here too imagination and the dream world give way in the half-light of morning to "clearer reason," both clearer than the "fumes" which cloud them and clearer than before their transformation. The image of the "rising senses," like the sun rising through morning mist, is an image of awakening and of new birth, binding the idea of transcendence once more to the round of nature. From this point there begin the series of awakenings which will culminate in reconciliation. Prospero "discases" himself and appears to the courtiers "as I was sometime Milan" (86), fusing the idea of identity with that of locality in a usage which, though common, nonetheless echoes a major symbolic theme. With conscious double meaning, he discusses the "loss" he shares with the grieving Alonso, who has not yet learned that his son is alive:
Prospero: 1 Have lost my daughter.
Alonso: A daughter? O heavens, that they were living both in Naples, The king and queen there! That they were, I wish Myself were mudded in that oozy bed Where my son lies. When did you lose your daughter?
Prospero: In this last tempest.
The subsequent "discovery" of Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess is yet another naturalized rebirth, like the awakening of Hermione in The Winter's Tale. Miranda underscores the sense of renewal in her delighted exclamation, "O brave new world / That has such people in't! (183-84), which is immediately undercut by Prospero's customary warning note of realism, '"Tis new to thee" (184); Alonso's expressed fear lest "this prove / A vision of the island" (175-76) becomes yet another proof of the identity of the visionary and the real. The master and boatswain of the ship now appear, reporting that their ship is "tight and yare and bravely rigged as when / We first put out to sea" (223-24); and the boatswain recounts the mariners' dream:
If I did think, sir, I were well awake, I'd strive to tell you. We were dead of sleep And (how we know not) all clapped under hatches; Where, but even now, with strange and several noises Of roaring, shrieking, howling, jingling chains, And moe diversity of sounds, all horrible, We were awak'd; straightway at liberty; Where we, in all our trim, freshly beheld Our royal, good, and gallant ship, our master Cap'ring to eye her. On a trice, so please you, Even in a dream, were we divided from them And were brought moping hither.
Like so many others, they, too, have had the experience and missed the meaning. Finally, the trio of low conspirators is driven in by Ariel, and their treacheries exposed. Caliban withdraws after anatomizing his own fictive transmutation:
What a thrice-double ass Was I to take this drunkard for a god And worship this dull fool!
Yet Prospero's great phrase of acceptance, "this thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine" (275-76) advises us that Caliban's withdrawal is only temporary and that his anarchic energies, though they can be restrained, can never be wholly forgotten. By contrast Ariel and the whole sphere of the creative imagination which he represents are by necessity released from service; the utility of the dream world has been to regenerate the company, and that transformation accomplished, the worlds of art and nature once more diverge. Their intersection has been momentary but transcendent.
In the superb octasyllabic couplets of the Epilogue, Prospero once again expresses the identity of reality and vision, the transforming uses of the world of dream:
Now my charms are all o'erthrown, And what strength I have's mine own, Which is most faint. Now 'tis true I must be here confined by you, Or sent to Naples. . . . . . . Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant; And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer.
The speaker is a magician bereft of his magic; he is also, manifestly, an actor who has finished with his part. In the traditional appeal to the audience for applause, there is implicit the deeper appeal of Paulina's admonition: "It is required / you do awake your faith." The life of the play is the condition of the dream state, that subjective state in which reason gives place to imagination. Its existence is momentary and yet for all time, as the play itself exists in time and beyond it. The poet in this moment speaks through his character, asserting the identity of art and dream. His affirmation here, and in the last plays as a whole, is an acknowledgment of the central role of the creative imagination, the vital transforming power of the world of dream in the life of man.
13 For other echoes of Macbeth in this play, see G. Wilson Knight, "The Shakespearian Superman," in The Crown of Life (London: Oxford University Press, 1947), pp. 212-13.
14 Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. and ed. James Strachey (Standard Edition, London: The Hogarth Press and the Institution of Psycho-analysis, 1953; rpt., New York, 1965), pp. 222-23.
15 Ovid Met VII. 197-209.
John Arthos (essay date 1977)
SOURCE: "Dream, Vision, Prayer: The Tempest" in Shakespeare's Use of Dream and Vision, Rowman and Littlefield, 1977, pp. 173-202.
[In the following essay, Arthos examines the metaphysical and spiritual principles implicit in the dramatic action of The Tempest. He looks closely at aspects of the play that compare life to a dream in which the dreamer is powerless and uncomprehending, and concludes that of all the characters only Prospero accepts the reality that freedom is an illusion and that the mysterious forces which redeem humankind are inef fable.]
From the first, watching the spectacular storm and the crazed behavior of those aboard the ship, we are not moved as we might expect to be by drama in which the representation is so vivid. There is a great 'noise' that should be drowning every voice, yet as the sailors and passengers curse and pray and even jest their words come through as it were unweakened, and there is as much of the ridiculous as the desperate in what we hear. Then, when the storm subsides and we join the two who have watched it from the shore, going over with them all that has been happening, we learn how little there was indeed to fear. The cracks of sulfurous roar, Jove's lightnings, Neptune's boldness were no more harmful than the St. Elmo's fire that was not even that but the guise Ariel had taken to bring it all about. And in the words that tell the real enough distress of those who thought God was punishing them we come to recognize the act of a power moved as much by concern as anger.
Brought into the quiet where Prospero and Miranda are watching, we are hardly surprised to hear music, whether from the air or earth, leading a young prince out of the sea to before the feet of these two.
Come unto these yellow sands, And then take hands. Curtsied when you have and kissed, The wild waves whist, Foot it featly here and there; And, sweet sprites, the burden bear.
We have learned of powers effecting wonders at sea, at the same time lightening fear and gracing the terrible, and now there are signs of what might be still others, loving and gentle and humorous. A young fellow rescued from the very heart of a tempest finds his spirits suddenly rapt with beauty.
Where should this music be? I' th' air or th' earth? It sounds no more; and sure it waits upon Some god o' th' island. Sitting on a bank, Weeping again the King my father's wrack, This music crept by me upon the waters, Allaying both their fury and my passion With its sweet air.
(I. ii. 387-93)
It is not Ferdinand's bemusement that suggests divinity at work in this disembodied music so much as the words with which Ariel embodies it. In their simplest sense they are wonderful enough—bearing an invitation and promising an unthought of satisfaction, blessing a betrothal more kindly than even the magnificent songs ending Love's Labour's Lost. But the words are also prophetic, and it is in this character that they are the strangest for they speak as if present and past and future were in a single moment, leading Ferdinand on step by step while telling of something that is yet to happen as by one who has already seen it come to pass. The words seem to belong outside time.
To add to what Prospero tells us about Ariel we are being led to think of him as someone like a sorcerer's medium who knows more than anyone possibly could unless consciousness inhabited the very nature of things and took a voice. But the most provocative indications that Ariel has commerce with another, mysterious realm of being are in the song he next addressed to Ferdinand:
Full fathom five thy father lies, Of his bones are coral made, Those are pearls that were his eyes, Nothing of him that doth fade But doth suffer a sea change Into something rich and strange. Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.
(I. ii. 396-402)
This is mockery—Ferdinand's father is alive, still walking the earth. No one rings his knell, least of all the nymphs that never were. And Ariel himself, 'beginning it', ringing the bells, is enjoying this playful way of leading Ferdinand on, persuading him he is surviving and is his father's heir, and that in a little while he will be making Miranda his queen, death leading to this joy too. Ariel is taking delight in the idea, in the fancy and fun, in the deceit, and in the happiness he foresees for the young prince. He is also celebrating a most wonderful power and act, imagining transfigurations in which a body and a skeleton by the grace of the all-sustaining sea have become jewels and marvellous sea-growths. Besides the mockery and the fun, besides the fancifulness and the factuality—that in the course of nature death distributes its mortal objects among the other forms of the world—there is the astonishing clarity of his perception. In the mere naming of eyes and pearls and bones and coral he endows them with such beauty and strangeness as we would not have known the objects of sense possess. It is this clarity Milton responded to so directly in picturing the jewel-paved streams of Paradise, water and stone becoming turkis-blue and emerald-green and azure, the lucidity all things own when honored rightly. All is seen by such a light as Ariel says will be his forever after he has left Prospero's service—
Where the bee sucks, there suck I, In a cowslip's bell I lie, There I couch when owls do cry, On the bat's back I do fly After summer merrily. Merrily, merrily shall I live now, Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
(V. i. 88-94)
As Prospero prepares to give over his last responsibilities, thinking of his grave, he imagines a time when all else will have disappeared in a rounding sleep. His sense of things now is the opposite to the burden of Ariel's song that death is the means of transformation into the rich and strange, and in that 'nothing' he speaks of in the dead, that nothing that will fade, we also read, endless, ceaseless change. It is Prospero who is speaking at the end, and we may think the play is concluding in pressing his assertion of the vanity of all things even though his words are not unambiguous.
But the irony in his conclusion is sharp enough, as it also is in the epilogue, to keep us from forgetting the continuing existence Ariel was planning, an almost impish defiance of any constraining power whatever—
Merrily, merrily shall I live now, Under the blossom that hangs on the bow.
Earth's increase, revels, marriages and christenings may all be done with, now and forever, when the globe is gone, but from the time of that first sight of Ariel's work and his first singing we are kept mindful of an illimitable spirit, a capacity whose limits are unknown. His strange knowledge, the resonance of his words, his power not only over the forms of matter but in penetrating minds, all seem to say he could do what he would—we cannot perceive what limits there would be for him beyond that vague contract with Prospero. And when Prospero with his gloriously beautiful words allows us to think there might be an end to all that humans have ever known he but re-invokes our wonder at what we have come to think is unconstrained. Ariel is no more to be bound, as unconstrained now as that power that transfigured a dead man, quick with what freedom makes possible, a power never to be a party to obliteration.
It is not only with the flowers of summer, or when freed from a curse, no longer subject to the pinchings of a master or the harassment of Caliban and the imps of the earth that Ariel, a delicate spirit, will joy in his liberty. He is assured he will be everywhere always, partaking of existence in every form nature and time and understanding take.
Prospero has used Ariel to perform miracles, to introduce dreams and madness into men's fancies, to chastise, to condemn, to guide, and Ariel has of himself conceived and devised what he needed in managing these most difficult matters. And like the songs he ornaments his work with, all he does pays as full respect to the way things are as it does to the playing of the imagination. He will be as free and immaculate as light and will thereby honor thought and being as much as nature.
As the drama moves towards its end, and the Milanese and Neapolitans prepare to return to the mainland, Caliban is being left behind to whatever his lonely future, and Ariel has disappeared. But nothing leads us to think he is vanishing into any such darkness as Prospero prophesies for humans. He has simply been let go, to exist as he knows existence—wherever it is, however to be thought of, it is inseparable from light.
A magician avenged himself and arranged a decent future for his daughter. Approaching the end of his life he began to prepare for it. He looked back upon it all as the evanescent thing it was, as all earthly life, full of illusion, passing traceless from all knowledge.
His own labors had been finally successful, partly fortuitously, partly through real spiritual insight and the power that had been lent to him, provisionally as it were. He had pursued justice, and executed it upon the wicked and the shameless, he was returning Milan and Naples to order and the promise of a decent future. The usual uncertainties were to be anticipated but meanwhile he had been just and merciful. And even though in the course of his precarious and difficult undertaking he had brought forward the most sustained and searching reasonings to support his faith in a God of justice and mercy, he knew well enough he had accomplished no more than any proper magistrate would have. And so it is that I think we are to take his valedictory as one might take anyone's—an affirmation that he has done as well as he could, it was not good enough, he has not effected what divinity itself would have, and with his own passing all may foresee their own.
But his language remains pretentious, it is full of the metaphysical affirmations he and much of his enterprise had depended on. So we must accept his declaration as much as ever as by his lights, and not identify it as the burden of the play—he is a bilked old man who succeeded in settling a claim and thinks he has earned a rest.
He may of course have been as capable of divine intimations as anyone, as his author, and his author may not too ironically for a moment or two allow himself to be brought forward in Prospero's words as someone whose life was also writ on water. But there is also the author who more obviously introduces himself in the Epilogue as someone not identical with Prospero, offering a belief to take the place of Prospero's philosophy. This figure suggests that the end of life may be another life. Prospero may have believed, until he was disabused, that for faithful and perfect service salvation was to be his reward. But the words of the epilogue say something else—the soul devoted to thought, to the service of philosophy and justice, is still imprisoned, and the freedom that is eternal life thought itself cannot earn. Prospero has done well, the dream of efficacious power was rightly enchanting, but it was a dream, the idea that he could do God's work. The suggestion has been denied that virtue would take him beyond the sphery chime. If he is to wake it will be through God's free act.
But how is it That this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else In the dark backward and abysm of time?
(I. ii. 48-50)
We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.
(IV. i. 156-8)
The words 'dark backward and abysm of time' and 'rounded with a sleep' invite speculation upon realms of being 'outside' that the senses and even thought know. The very word 'outside' is paradoxical, since it signifies normally what is accessible to experience. Yet the language and matter of the play themselves compel us not only to treat with paradox but to accept what the paradox is founded on, the notion of a realm of unchanging being, the only basis that can be suggested as contrast to the world of change and time, a realm of the changeless and timeless. 'Certainly through Prospero's speech on the vanishing of the globe Shakespeare is not affirming that we last forever, but rather the exact reverse. Yet the nature of the denial is metaphysical in its assumption of pathos. It only makes sense in the context of immortal longings.'1 Leaving aside whether it is Shakespeare or Prospero who is thought to be affirming this, the question persists—in this conception, in these dim figurings of 'abysm' and 'darkness' and 'roundness' is there a power the poetry and the play sustain deriving from an assured metaphysics?
The subject and the question were with Shakespeare from the beginning. They took a charming form in the humor of the Princess of France when she repelled the too importunate pleas of the suitors, deferring an answer, this being
A time . . . too short To make a world-without end bargain in.
(Love's Labour's Lost, V. ii. 774-5)
In the Sonnets, as Mr. J. W. Lever so well rehearsed it, human love has truly deific power:
'. . . the co-existence of beauty and corruption, of truth and mutability, and the universal tyranny of Time, which were the issue of Shakespearean drama, became in the sonnets the issue of personal integrity; and through the prepotency of human love, on a plane customarily reserved for divine grace, a poetic resolution was affirmed for the antinomies of life.'2
Something very close to the wonder in the conception underlying these images in The Tempest is at the heart of the magnificence of Antony and Cleopatra:
O sun, Burn the great sphere thou mov'st in, darkling stand The varying shore o' th' world!
(IV. xv. 9-11)
The darkening shore, the determining centre of the world dissolved, the obliteration of all that gives distinction and difference, so that the moon must look in vain for anything to invest with mystery, abundance surfacing from the containing medium—all this poetry has for its basic idea, not a particular bounding line, but in widest conceivable terms the border between the formed and the formless, that alien region with which a great part of the poetry of the last plays occupies itself.'3
In Sonnet LX we read what we may take to be almost an outline of the conclusion Prospero has been led to:
Nativity once in the main of light, Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned, Crooked eclipses gainst his glory fight, And Time that gave, doth now his gift confound.
The question arises—in such words as these, are we being presented with metaphysics proposed responsibly, or are these merely playful figurings, useful simply for teasing thought? And then, since we meet with the same suggestions again and again in the poems and plays, in an almost infinite sounding, even sometimes developed into arguments, is there some constancy in the repetitions that would indicate a fixed disposition and cast of mind if not belief of the author's? Or are these ideas that go to the heart of Platonic and Christian philosophy being allowed to dissolve in ambiguity? Professor Nuttall thinks that in The Tempest scepticism took on a new life:
'It is as if a second wave of scepticism has passed over the poet. It is quite different from the coprologous indignation of Troilus and Cressida. He no longer, for the sake of one transgression, denies the authenticity of love itself. But a reservation as to the truth-value of the assertions love provokes seems to have reappeared. Time, the old grey destroyer of the Sonnets, was not, after all, put down by love. After the enthusiastic reaffirmation of the later Sonnets and the first three Romances, a sadder and more complex reaction has set in, slightly ironical perhaps, but not at all cynical. The world has not been wholly redeemed by love; look at it. The subjective vision of the lover may transcend objective facts, but it does not obliterate them. The lover has one level, the hater another; perhaps there are a thousand more such levels, each as unreal as the rest.'4
It is clear that throughout The Tempest we meet with many indications that the ultimate triumph of good is far from certain, for no more than in the tragedies is there any scanting of the power of evil and of death. Yet I do not think the ending effect is simply ironic or sceptical, or that the prayer of the epilogue is but the recognition of defeat in the face of the conclusion that all we love is doomed. Nor does Professor Nuttall think this is the conclusion we must certainly draw. The wonder suffusing the entire work is so powerful we must be sure we have made all the discriminations we can before unresolved doubt is accepted as the final suggestion the play is making.
For one thing, we must discover if anywhere in the play, or elsewhere in Shakespeare's writings, there are matters that not only bring us to a still closer comprehension of what we would judge to be not merely metaphysical speculations but religious commitments; if here and there arguments are so resolved that il gran rifiuto should seem inconceivable. Do the poetry and drama, through images and symbols, ever develop meanings that the arguments do not include? In short, are there conceptions evidently so religious that contradiction would leave them unaffected?
The 'dark backward and abysm of time' is paradoxically an image of space in which we are led to negate the idea of duration. The bottomless pit of the abyss, or else the formlessness of chaos, suggests endlessness in the other sense: our imagination, our memory, our sight, looking back to that dimly sensed time before thought came to life and light lost itself in the notion of endless space. And as the images of space and duration become confused we are compelled to try to conceive at once of nothingness and of the timeless, and of how there could be such a thing as coming-into-being—out of 'the jaws of darkness'.
'Rounded with a sleep' presents us also with opposites. The globe and all that inhabited it having vanished, life and consciousness are said to end. Yet that which we can only know as waking is said to be in sleep, and we are bound to infer, such sleep out of which waking has taken its life. Consciousness is ended as a circle ends, and that completion which is ending one thing is continuing that very thing; the annhilation of what we have taken to be life is yet the continuance of a sort of life. We vanish and yet sleep.
The reasoning underlying these paradoxes opposes on the one hand duration to timelessness and space to nothingness, and on the other, being to non-being. This reasoning is, I think charmed with the notion of perfect being (ens perfectissimum), the reality underlying all change.5
But it is not the abstractions of thought, or the appeal of metaphysics that are finally holding us through these words of Prospero's but rather the sense they establish of persons searching the abyss, or waking from sleep, images of particular persons taking the form of life. Miranda, of course, and Prospero, or ourselves, what it is that gives particularity to persons treating with each other and with reality. What holds us above all and will not let go is the sense that such words are saying as much as can be said of being born into the world of sight and touch and breath. We are drawn to wonder not at truths about Being but about the survival or disappearance of individuals, and, as some of the key devices of the play will make clear, about the nature of our own coming into being and passing away. The metaphysical substance is here but it is not without reference to the concern for individuals peculiar to religion.
Mr. D. G. James had this in mind when he wrote of what it was that Miranda remembered when her father appealed to her:
'Canst thou remember A time before we came unto this cell? . . . Of anything the image tell me that Hath kept with thy remembrance.
(I. ii. 38-9, 43-4)
We see the mind fetching out of its past some fragment of our infant dream—"of anything the image tell me"—stumbling in the vast darkness of what lies behind us, in the immeasurable depths which lie beneath us; a sense of the incalculable immensity out of which our lives appear and with which they are continuous, which we know, but cannot contain, within ourselves. (We think of the second of those last chapters of St. Augustine's Confessions which M. Gilson has called the Paradiso of the Confessions, and the words: "Great is this force of memory . . . a large and boundless chamber. Who ever sounded the bottom thereof? Yet is this a power of mine, and belongs unto nature; nor do I myself comprehend all that I am.") Out of this vast darkness, Miranda brings the image of herself, royally attended.'6
Mr. James has taken the paradoxes—'immeasurable', 'incalculable', and yet to be known—and thinks it right to equate Prospero's notion of the abysm of consciousness and Miranda's summoning of her first remembrances with Augustine's abyssum humanae conscientiae (Confessions, X, 2), carrying forward what else the play has suggested of the Platonic metaphysics into Augustine's Neo-Platonizing and Christianity. I think we may agree that much in the play supports him in this although the dialogue itself may be thought to stop short. What gives his paraphrase the authority it does obtain is all that in the play is likening life to a dream. The subject is not only the relation of images coming out of the memory to the truth of things, or the likenesses of memory to the kind of thought that is called dreaming, it is also all that the play in telling of dreams and of truth, of illusions and reality, is treating with the authority by which an individual judges himself to be dreaming.
Prospero is to speak of life as a pageant, which signifies somewhat dimly but clearly enough a patterned procession of humans across time and space. The substance of the notion was his at the beginning when he was explaining to Miranda how those returning from the wedding in Tunis had come into his power. The moon, the tides, the plans of many persons, the coming of age of his daughter, all as it were conjoined.
By accident most strange, bountiful Fortune . . . hath mine enemies Brought to this shore.
(I. ii. 178-80)
What in his later perspective is a pageant is to those caught up in it a troubled sleep, a driven motion whose direction they cannot know. Prospero will also say that life in the pageant is an insubstantial stuff, that most if not all of the actors are dully sensitive, their reason muddy where it should be clear. (V. i. 82). Even 'things certain' (V. i. 125) they disbelieve. Yet knowing neither themselves nor what is driving them they are all too sure of suffering and confusion, of sorrow and loss, of hate, of crime, of being strangely manipulated.
All torment, trouble, wonder, and amazement Inhabits here.
(V. i. 104-5)
Prospero can look upon the pageant and the dream as if detached from it, although he concludes he is not, but the others never gain his wisdom. They are told of truth and the work of Providence, they did what they could to master confusion, but all they ever came to know was that they were powerless before mysterious impulsions, some learned they were being brought to judgment, and even to a beginning knowledge of themselves. (V. i. 212-213). All sensed the intrusion of mysterious forces.
As Ferdinand, Alonso, Gonzalo searched for clues to their predicaments we see in their uncertainty just such obscurity as faced Miranda. Confronting experience they cannot account for or comprehend, their memory itself confused, even what is before their eyes is 'rather like a dream than an assurance.' (I. ii. 45) Alonso, when told Prospero is his brother, hardly dares acknowledge what he might be expected to know if he knew anything:
Whe'r thou be'st he or no, Or some enchanted trifle to abuse me, As late I have been, I not know. Thy pulse Beats as of flesh and blood; and, since I saw thee, Th'affliction of my mind amends, with which, I fear, a madness held me. This must crave (An if this be at all) a most strange story.
(V. i. 111-17)
But it is of course Caliban's confusion as he recalls the celestial music that seemed to him the very rain of grace, when if ever it was truth, not a dream, that held him, causing him to pray to dream again. It is this that says most plainly of all how far everyone but Prospero is from what he will call understanding. Prospero's assurance, and, at the end, his serenity rest on his acceptance of the paradox, that we know change for what it is from knowing of changelessness. Miranda probably rests in wonder—which may be a deeper understanding still, and Ferdinand may learn to. The others must take on trust that what they do become assured of is for their good. They must believe it is right that they should become themselves again, but they will have no inkling of how it all began or ends, where it ends, or how the parts they played became theirs even though they themselves had chosen them like Plato's souls in choosing good or evil.
The strange necessities that brought these dim images into Miranda's remembrance were at work in what one after another took to be his dreaming. It was these same necessities in their apparent incoherence that Prospero solicited with his magic. We sense them in what we learn. of the origins of Caliban, in the purposes of his terrible parent, in Ariel's history. There is an indication of the same strangeness in Prospero's likening the whole earthly existence to a pageant, a procession whose commencement is as undefined as its conclusion, though its existence and its passing are evidence of indeflectible compulsions. What all attempt to do is to take these strange stirrings to be life—their remembrances of the past that is the prologue, their existence which seems no existence, their annhilation which they do not succeed in imagining. So it is, I think, that we may not take Prospero's wonderful summing up of his conclusions as the play's, for what he says is but another dimly recognized shape taking form out of the abysses in his understanding, and the light by which we are to perceive this is not to take form until the epilogue. Other words of Augustine in the passage Mr. James pointed to apply as well to Prospero as to the others—'the mind is too narrow to contain itself entirely.' (X, 8).
In speaking of the end as a rounded sleep Prospero is in one sense using words to point to what may not be possible even to conceive of. In another sense he is applying to death a characterization one after another in the play was applying to his present life. Paradox, absurdity—whatever—the words signify limitation and constraint, the loss of consciousness, of the power to act, of freedom. Many in the play had been led to think their waking life not unlike this, and their acting as their inaction like somnolence. On occasion a charm transfixed them, but even without a charm there were occasions when they felt the helplessness men know in dreams. And in likening what they continued to think of as their waking state to this they felt they had lost possession of themselves, the dream no longer evanescent but, rather, all there was. However lightly sketched much in the play is, the import of this fear, and desire, was developed to the limit, to the conclusion Prospero drew. Powerlessness, confinement, the loss of consciousness. If there was illusion in all this it would have been chiefly in the thought that freedom had been wholly taken from the living. On the other hand, the fundamental irony of The Tempest is in precisely this, that it is not an illusion.
Sometimes one or another had an intimation of another existence entirely, apparently not transient but enduring, through hearing celestial music, or through a vision, or in the sight of what appeared to be gods. Sometimes circumstance, sometimes a succession of events seemed to testify to the reality of fortune and destiny and providence. But unless it was Ariel, no one was to rest for long in the assurance of anything other than bondage. Until at the end they were returned to themselves—as Gonzalo said, 'no man was his own.' (V. i. 213). Prospero alone entertained the thought of lasting non-existence—when his understanding had gone as far as it could he found a paradox to account for the time when he, too, would no longer be his own. Each thought of his confinement differently, and the conditions were indeed different, but on one matter all agreed, no challenge would disturb the rule of what was fated.
Long before the audience supposes anything like this to be the burden of the play we are presented with a number of indications, apparently trivial in themselves, that are preparing for it. As the storm rages the boatswain curses the passengers who are getting in his way. Gonzalo reproves such insolence, offering the old joke that the rascal is clearly destined not to drown but to be hanged. Fate, if not society, he is suggesting, has ways of correcting license. There are other such instances of insubordination. We are reminded of the worst by Prospero's presence on the island, expelled from Milan by his brother. One reference after another establishes the very action of the play within a history of rebelliousness—Ariel had been locked into a pine tree because he would not comply with all that Sycorax required; Sycorax had been driven from Argier for outrages; her god, Setebos, would have been the most incorrigible of all—Caliban but inherited his and his dam's disposition. Never content they were all seeking to break free from the conditions life had set for them.
As such indications were multiplied we are bound to notice a certain consistency in the fortunes of the visitors to the island as they continue in the ways of insubordination and rebellion. Conspirators, having been successful in bringing down a duke, set out to kill a king. Confounded once, they set to again, they become desperate when they are thwarted this time, and imagine it is a legion of devils they must hereafter fight against. Seeking to free themselves from the limitations imposed by another's sovereignty they end in the prison of hysteria. Caliban and his new friends enjoy a wonderful exhiliration in their drunkenness, they think the island is to be theirs almost for the asking, and yet they end by being hounded as never before, and are returned to the same galling servitude.
There had been irony in Antonio's 'What's past is prologue', suggesting that the dispossession of Prospero was but an act in a drama leading to the removal of the King of Naples, a drama already written. He spells it out, this is destined—
And, by that destiny, to perform an act Whereof what's past is prologue, what tó come, In yours and my discharge.
(II. i. 245-7)
The nature of that destiny may not be what he supposes—Ariel saw it differently: destiny caused the sea to belch Antonio and his companions upon the island, caused them to go mad, even arranged for their perdition. Ambition in truth was everlastingly promising rewards for those who would overthrow authority in seeking more and more scope, and it appeared that it was in the nature of things for such attempts to lead but to other restraints. Such ambitions were misconceived, the world was inhospitable, and every success bore within itself the requirement of its own frustration.
What was true for the noble conspirators was also true for the others, each undertaking was self-defeating. Caliban's rebellions led to more scourging. Moreover, had he succeeded, Miranda ravished would have no more been won than Milan conquered was possessed. The ambitions of the good and the just were conceived in deeper respect for the ways of nature and destiny, but these too would fall short and discover their limits. Whatever promises love and the service of justice made, or seemed to make, the way of the world was still unfathomable, there was much no one could give direction to. Ferdinand and Miranda understood that in some sense they were discovering freedom in devotion, but for them, too, there was the long future with its mysteries that Juno and Ceres were to celebrate. Not only death but time itself would see to it that Prospero should put down his task. Ariel alone was assured of complete emancipation, but through means no human could even know of.
Who it is Prospero serves may not be named. It is certainly not a person, and not love, if that could be thought of as a power in nature or as a goddess. He can reasonably enough refer what happens to fortune and providence, even as if they were deities, yet we shall not find him using such words as those on the ship who pray when they see death coming near; or such as Ariel spoke in reminding the wicked of the need for contrition and satisfaction, words that point unmistakably to the traditional observances of Christians and even to sacramental doctrine. He hardly ever allows himself such language as Ferdinand, that all the devils have left Hell in order to people the storm; nor is he ever to suppose, as the young prince does, that he has come into the presence of a deity. Prospero, of course, has summoned up spirits who take the form of Juno and Ceres—(Ariel represented Iris)—and in making it clear these are not the goddesses themselves he but continues his consistent reticence. He has proof enough of the reality of spirits, of the hierarchy of demons, of the terms on which spirit and matter treat with each other according to the complex of emanations in which all eventually derives from a single source. This everlasting, divine power he continually consults and obeys, and within the limits of his understanding he is able to conspire with it in effecting good. But whatever he himself brings about is only what force could have effected—transformations of mind and the growth of love he may encourage, but that is all, these proceed according to other necessities.
Prospero also knows how limited his understanding is. He may speak of the thoughts of others as 'muddy' (V. i. 82) and even promise their ultimate enlightenment, but he can only dimly apprehend his own future. His reason has in every respect informed him that there are abysses reason will never sound. No god—Eros or Chronos or any—will for him ever take form out of the abyss of being, no object will through the power of love inspire in him such promises as Ferdinand and Miranda treasure.
It was left to Ariel to delineate and celebrate all that Prospero holds in honor even if he himself is imprecise—the idea of a transcendent power that is also immanent, that shows the means of redemption and indeed authorizes them, that transforms the dead, that is assured of the existence of perfect freedom. But even Ariel does not give this power a name.
The idea that there might be something more to human existence than conforming to the obligation of command and service, to law in whatever form, was first put forward in the loveliest of senses when Ferdinand knew himself enthralled to Miranda. Being goddess-like she drew his entire devotion, and so he took joy in the menial tasks Prospero set for him in order that he might not think he had gained this wonder too easily:
There be some sports are painful, and their labour Delight in them sets off; some kinds of baseness Are nobly undergone, and most poor matters Point to rich ends. This my mean task Would be as heavy to me as odious, but The mistress which I serve quickens what's dead And makes my labors pleasures.
(III. i. 1-7)
The piling of logs—'this wooden slavery' (III. i. 62)—thousands of them—becomes a patient nothing done in her service. It becomes a game, and more, a means of gaining heaven's favor—
The very instant that I saw you, did My heart fly to your service; there resides, To make me slave to it.
And Miranda, supposing the worst—that she will not become his bride—swears she will become his servant. (85). The two of them never tire of playing upon the idea of servitude—and so, finally, Ferdinand proposes marriage,
with a heart as willing As bondage e'er of freedom.
The language has made the meaning all but explicit—love transforms subjection into the enjoyment of power that ambition was always seeking—possession, union, exultation. Constraints cease to be known as constraints when content promises to follow upon content. All the insubordinate motions that looked towards power mistook their ends as they mistook their means. Instead of honoring what they would possess, they treated it with dishonor, seeking mere domination—reducing Miranda to an object, kingship to tyranny, loyalty to manipulation. Ambition, ever restless, never satisfied, was its own confinement. Even dedication to the work of justice could but set the stage for the correction of wrong since the unregenerate were free to remain so. Love, however, endowed humans with the conviction of power extending limitlessly, even though much of what was to come would be unforeseen. In the ceremony blessing the betrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda, Juno and Ceres tell them that such affection as theirs nature itself blesses. Nature, bringing offspring, causing the earth to flourish, forwards what divinity blesses, what love has indeed prophesied. Those who love well are being told their faith is sound whatever is to happen in the course of time.
This sense of being moved about despite themselves is in part the recognition that particular efforts fail in their intent and have disappointing consequences. In part, also, it follows from the recognition that forces the characters are more or less ignorant of are intruding in their affairs. Prospero himself acknowledges the activity of powers he may be aware of only intermittently but that he must believe are ever-present—the bountiful fortune that has brought the ship to the island when he is able to make the most of the opportunity to effect his purposes; the fortune, also, that takes on the attributes of providence. There is the sense of an even more instantly directing power in the consciousness of what time brings about—the education of Miranda, the maturing of Ferdinand, the period allotted for Ariel's service and the fixing of the time for his emancipation. As impressive a witness of the power of time as anything else is in our notice of the vision Caliban has had of a celestial life, for in this we believe there to be inherent the suggestion of a fulfilment possibly yet to come. There is above all the ceremony of the goddesses, Juno and Ceres, looking towards the fruition of nature through the years.
The sense of time passing and in its passing bringing to birth is pressed upon us insistently, in innumerable circumstances, and just as in Prospero's soliciting of Miranda's memories and the sense his words there give of the womb of time, so the plotters against his life express the same all-encompassing meaning—'What's past is prologue' (II. i. 257). Even as it were in incidental remarks the pervasiveness of the idea is made known to us, as when Antonio speaks to his accomplice, suggesting the murder of the sleeping king—
O, that you bore The mind that I do! What a sleep were this For your advancement!
(II. i. 259-61)
In whatever circumstances, and with whatever emphasis or reference, this sense of powers and of powerlessness is but the extension into philosophy and superstition and religiousness of the theme struck in the first scene of subordination and insubordination, of the cost of responsibility, of the vexation of the ruled, of the desire for emancipation. Almost everyone is chafing at the bit—Prospero with his impatience, Alonso with his grief, Antonio and Sebastian like the boatswain and the drunken butler and Caliban himself in their self-willed ambitions. The desire for emancipation is conceived of not as freedom from the demands of power, but from the demands of authority. The slaves will become slave-owners, the lieutenants kings. Antonio's words fit them all—all except Ariel—
My brother's servants Were then my fellows, now they are my men.
(II. i. 266-7)
Subject to the circumscriptions of existence, life and the dream as the images of fatality, in another dimension are images of the misery of the ruled—of servants and children and ministers, of all subordinates, of the dissatisfaction inherent in mortal life. As of Prospero himself before his expulsion—
Which first was mine own king.
(I. ii. 342)
Even in humor Prospero returns to the theme, teasingly rebuking Miranda—
What, I say, My foot my tutor?
(I. ii. 468-9)
In the dream all are stupefied, in society all are goaded. Which is to say, for all that thoughts are free (III. ii. 118), for all—with spirits bound up—that minds may hold fast to visions or to truths or to justice or to enmity and hatred and rebelliousness, all in nature is confinement.
The world of master and subject, of nature and husbandman, the only world we do know, can be nothing else than one in which men accommodate themselves to each other and to the universe either in strife or in cooperation. It is folly to dream to escape to some state in which rulers are accountable to no one or any thing. The thirst for power can no more be freed from the constraints of power than the creatures of dreams may escape dreaming. The point is extended, and the question becomes from every viewpoint, is liberty an illusion?
The play begins in violence and with the threat of catastrophe, it ends in stillness, in happy and decent prospects, calm seas and auspicious gales. After the spectacular beginning there was an elaborate, even a drawn-out setting of the scene, renewing what the audience as well as Miranda need to know. We were then shown newcomers to the island devising conspiracies almost immediately, and we witness marvellous, even miraculous happenings. We were initially impressed with hints of what Prospero was planning to do, particularly as we learned of his extraordinary powers, but as the scenes succeed each other it is not this that focuses our interest so much as a series of encounters—Ferdinand meeting Miranda; the reuniting of the passengers from the foundered ship; Caliban's joining up with Stephano and Trinculo. We become interested in what these meetings are leading to, what enterprises are under way and how they may affect each other, and largely independently of our concern for Prospero's ultimate success.
Some of the encounters had been arranged, others had come about by chance. Sometimes they seem to have been the work neither of humans or spirits but of invisible influences that suggest the manipulations of fortune or destiny or providence. But in their succession there is so little to be thought of as a plot, the entanglements are so little constraining, that we see that in this play the imitation of the action is as Aristotle conceived of it—an imitation of the energy in life that moves towards fulfilments, or, when perverted, towards frustration. And so when Ferdinand comes upon Miranda, when Antonio and Sebastian and Alonso are reunited, when the clown and the drunken butler join up with the monster, we are but lightly held by such a knitting of interests that constitute a plot, and we are more held by what we see to be at work in the lives of those before us. By the growth of love in Ferdinand and Miranda ('It works'—I. ii. 493); by the energy and inventiveness of malice as well as by the limitations that show themselves to be inherent in evil (Prospero's foes hysterically pursuing legions of fiends); by the words of Ariel that for a moment we may take to be those of an avenging angel ('You are three men of sin.' III. iii. 53). Prospero, of course, has a plan he has plotted, and much comes about as he wishes, but there is so much more that is at work that we are prevented from identifying what he is devising as either the plot or the action of the drama. We are more held in discovering how love and the directions of nature conspire, how dreams may claim authority, how character as well as magic perform charms ('They are both in either's pow'rs'—I. ii. 450) and, above all, we are held by our developing sense of something not to be defined that may be giving direction to all this.
In the various meetings now one now another moves to advance his purpose. Prospero sets Ferdinand tasks that will teach him to value what he hopes to gain, Antonio and Sebastian grab at the chance to murder Alonso and Gonzalo. Successes and failures alike require other undertakings, and the actions in their various stages are as it were punctuated either by apparitions or an account of what might be at their root, as when Ariel sings fancifully of the death of Ferdinand's father, and when Caliban remembers a vision. The apparitions themselves—a banquet appearing and vanishing, evocations of harpies and hounds, goddesses performing a ritual—cap as it were this or that incident with a symbolic reference that attests to the moral and spiritual issues that have arisen in the course of the action. In their sum they attest to still something else, to the continuous presence of the powers ultimately responsible for the existence of what is appearing before us, being themselves translations of the events of the play into expressions of another order of existence. They illuminate the nature of the action of the play, what it is that is giving the lives of the characters their directions, what makes of it all, in Prospero's term, a pageant.
Prospero instigated several of the ghostly appearances and, knowing we may suppose, their import, but what is said by the figures in the apparitions would seem to have gone beyond what he could have conceived. Ariel, most especially, carrying out his orders, speaks as from someone within the vision, addressing sinners as if possessing divine authority, while Prospero can at most, and from the outside, approve. And what Juno and Ceres do in blessing is beyond what even a magician could hope to perform. Then, too, these marvellous sights, accompanied so often as they must have been by music from unseen instruments—as it was when Ariel with her singing led Ferdinand to Prospero and Miranda—would seem to have taken form in another world. By that very suggestion the import they bear would seem to possess something of the character of the chorus in ancient drama, not submerged in the circumstances of the drama's action but granted the special power that belongs to truth itself—comprehending, judicial, serene.
In addition to their spectacular nature many of these marvels hold us with the sense of the same mysterious and fascinating power of so many of the images of the play, the same strangeness that stirs us in Prospero's words asking Miranda to search her memory, and in what goes so far beyond the commonplace when he recalls the infant's smile that encouraged him when the two were adrift—
O, a cherubin Thou wast that did preserve me! Thou didst smile, Infusèd with a fortitude from heaven, When I have decked the sea with drops full salt, Under my burden groaned; which raised in me An undergoing stomach, to bear up Against what should ensue.
(I. ii. 152-8)
But nothing, probably, speaks more for the importance of this power in defining the interest that holds us in the unfolding of the action than Ariel's song to Ferdinand telling what has happened to the dead.
The words begin in tolling, 'Full fathom five,' and then out of the fearful beat there arises a strange beauty. We are struck with the preposterousness of so swift a change of bones and eyes to among the loveliest of sea-growths. But in the startling we recognize too the truth of what we have always known, that in death as in life there are continuous transformations, all is to be wondered at, all changes being preposterous, always to be expected and always surprising. And in these lines there is the promise of the most astonishing marvel of all, that the man himself will take another form, and not merely his bones and eyes. With such apparent guilelessness promised such beauty, such marvels, led into still more expectation, and especially of the strange, the words inevitably strike us with the suggestion of a mystery in what is being done, in the course of things, and in what it all is to end in. In what might have been simply a beautiful mocking song, some celebration of something like the jewel-paved streams of Paradise, we are held by the sense of power at work, transforming and transfiguring the remnants of a man and the man himself.
Nothing is more important to the marrying of the marvellous and the natural than what the production of the play would owe to spectacle and music. The storm scene with its great 'noise' is succeeded by the sight of a young prince rescued from the sea and led to safety by music that enraptures him. Music and singing interrupted a murder—to Gonzalo asleep it was a strange humming, to the murderers the sound of an earthquake and the roaring of lions. Solemn and strange music, then thunder and lightning, then soft music and dancing shapes accompany the magical appearance and disappearance of a banquet. The most glorious effects would have supported the enactment of the ceremony in which the images of Juno and Ceres blessed the betrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda.
I believe it is agreed that in no other play of Shakespeare's is music so vital to the conception although of course we do not have enough to help us re-create the original productions. It is, I think, a misconception—or at least, the argument is unsatisfactory—that speaks of The Tempest as a form developing out of masque into opera, but this I think we may say, that spectacle and music are as integral to the conception of the work as are the representation of persons and the movement of verse and meanings. And the marvels we behold together with music that would have been worthy of the songs would give the finally lasting impress to the metaphysical and religious postulates that underly the action. Mr. J. H. Long could not have worked out all that would finally substantiate his judgment but I think we must generally agree with his idea of the play as a sustá ined musical movement ending in rhythmic and harmonic resolution.7
The notion of a single, completed movement led Prospero to liken the existences of humans and of the world to a pageant, but Shakespeare's perspective of the form of the play is not precisely this. Prospero had acted in bringing certain matters to a conclusion, and in laying down his task he is preparing for death. He has hopes for those who are succeeding him and for those who are yet to come, but his own perspective is that of one whose power is now gone and whose life shortly will be. It is his work and life that is vanishing. Much has been as he planned, and he has looked upon all that has happened as one apart from it. Ariel, by contrast, time and time again speaks as from within the very processes of things, as at the source of the power Prospero has solicited and depended on. The form of the play is established in relating the realm in which Ariel has his being to that of Prospero. It is accordingly not defined as a journey or a procession that is over with but as a celebration of what is and what is to come. The climax of the play is in the ceremonial in which images of goddesses bless the future.
Prospero in arranging to right wrongs and provide for Miranda and in coping with his unwilling minister and servant and those who plot against him submitted himself to an order in things he had learned something of. His magic, his solicitation of memory, and his prescience all attest to his respect for a special hierarchy of demonic powers that he had come to understand at least partly. But he was equally respectful of powers he made no claim to fathom—fortune, the ways of time, destiny, providence. He deferred to all these, indeed he honored them, and he used enough of the language of orthodox Christian doctrine to make it certain he had no interest in going beyond the prerogatives of humans. He could only solicit, not govern. He did not even claim the authority of a priest, blessing, pardoning. He was far from being the intermediary of grace. At most he prays:
Fair encounter Of two most rare affections! Heavens rain grace On that which breeds between 'em!
(III. i. 74-6)
The ways of fortune and destiny he knew were beyond his comprehension, and that he must work with them—it was through these his enemies were brought within his power, and it was through destiny and providence that this should be at a time when there could be a betrothal for his daughter. He knows himself to be subject to the laws that put spirits to the service of men as well as to something he cannot define that he yet recognizes to be at work in the ways in which time brings things to pass. His effectiveness depends upon obedience, his doing right depends on it, his freedom is in choosing to obey the right. And then he must resign his power, leave to nature and fortune and destiny the future of those he has so cared for. He had fostered the union, he had, so to speak, offered to the gods. Now he would depart, the task never to be finished by him, he returning to that death in which fish might feed upon his flesh, and his bones, too, might become coral, all that was certain would be that he would be ending in the fated ways of all things, lifeless, powerless.
In a certain obvious respect Prospero acted to obtain what King Lear dreamed of, the consolation that redeems suffering, and his conception of what the gods wanted led him to act out the vision suffering engendered. The authority of the idea of blessedness in Lear is in the power of the representation of human suffering and how in such as the king it is instrumental in purification and in ennoblement. But in The Tempest all that is in the abyss of the past, and Prospero is not among the sainted, as Lear madly imagined he might be, he is alive and sane and burdened. He cannot afford the illusion of believing he and another Cordelia might pass eternity in God's kind nursery, he must merely make the best of things.
If one wishes to call this motive love, and to agree that here as in so many of the sonnets and in King Lear Shakespeare is allowing it such power as the gods possess, yet one must say that the governing conception of The Tempest is not in the celebration of love as such, whatever its authority, but of what has brought life into being and consigned it to the care of humans. What governs the play, I think, is the conception of being that Shakespeare earlier sounded in The Phœnix and Turtle. For such a conception the idea of love which perhaps inevitably carries with it a personal and human character is too limiting.8
1 A. D. Nuttall, Two Concepts of Allegory, A Study of Shakespeare's The Tempest and the Logic of Allegorical Expression, London, 1967, p. 147.
2The Elizabethan Love Sonnet, London, 1956, p. 276.
Professor Nuttall, in the most adept philosophical treatment we so far have of The Tempest, has taken up the meanings that Mr. Lever has analyzed so finely and extended them: 'The concept of extended duration at last gives way to the frankly metaphysical concept of eternity when the two strands of the Sonnets—the intricate love story and the horror of mutability—are joined in the third remedy, love. It was not the poet's verses that should free his friend from the tyranny of time, but rather his love. Love itself (the now-familiar locution is forced upon us) is timeless and invulnerable.' (Two Concepts of Allegory, p. 122).
In The Tempest itself, with its insistent suggestions of the metaphysical, Mr. Nuttall continues, 'Love is conceived as a supernatural force, and any number of protestations of metaphor and apologetic inverted commas cannot do away with the fact that a sort of deification, and therefore a fortiori reification has taken place. Whether these concepts should be allowed to be meaningful, or whether they should be permitted only a "merely aesthetic" force (and that presumably spurious) I do not know. The unassertive candour of Shakespeare's imagination has left the question open.' (p. 160).
We have long understood that it is not only in The Tempest we must come to terms with what Shakespeare is doing with the suggestions of supernatural power and benevolence. Sooner or later we arrive at whatever conclusions we judge proper when it is proposed that Shakespeare is depending upon Christian faith. For my part I believe that the effects of the poetry itself—this communication of the quality I have spoken of as stillness and serenity—should initially be referred to that state the ancients spoke of as close to the divine. This is a character I think we must allow such expression in Shakespeare whether or not we are drawn to other conclusions as well. On this matter we may be grateful for the summary M. Ragnar Holte provides: 'Si l'on cherche à condenser en une formule générale ce que signifie ευδαιμονία pour un Grec, on peut dire—nous laissons ici de côté les sens affaiblis, secondaires—qu'il désigne un idéal de vie amenant les hommes aussi près de la vie des dieux qu'ils peuvent en avoir le désir sans pour autant se rendre coupables de démesure, ύβρις. . . . L'ευδαιμονία est l'état de l'homme ou l'élément divin n'est ni affaibli ni étouffé, mais se trouve au contraire actualisé avec son maximum de plénitude et de force, les autres puissances vitales étant soit déracinées soit soumises à sa direction. Cet état est toujours conçu comme dépendant de la vertu, άρε γη, surtout de la plus haute des vertus, la sagesse, φοφία, ou comme s'identifiant avec elle.' (Béatitude et Sagesse, Saint Augustin et le problème de la fin de l'homme dans la philosophie ancienne, Paris, 1962, pp. 14-15.
3 John Armstrong, The Paradise Myth, London, 1969, p. 46.
4Two Concepts of Allegory, pp. 156-7.
5 The Aristotelean sense here agrees in important respects with the Platonic: '"To be" anything, in the world of natural processes, means "to be something that comes into being and passes away", something that is subject to change. In this sense, anything that is, any ousia, is anything that is what it is as the result of a process, a kinesis.' (J. H. Randall, Aristotle, New York, 1960, p. 111).
This is the argument of the Metaphysics, and here as well as in On Philosophy Werner Jaeger believes that Aristotle carries on the Platonic notion that the best (ariston) and the purest reality (ousia) coincide. (Aristotle, Oxford, 1948, p. 222).
In The Tempest Shakespeare does not of course introduce either the terms or the arguments that would point us towards certain refinements of speculation, nor does he, as Marston and Jonson on occasion do, supply footnotes in reference. Nor, however carefully articulated we judge the reasoning of The Phœnix and Turtle or any other work to be, may we refer to that for precise corroboration when any number of modifications would be possible from moment to moment. One is merely required to refer to what in traditional thought is coherent with conceptions developed in the particular work.
6The Dream of Prospero, Oxford, 1967, p. 39.
7Shakespeare's Use of Music: The Final Comedies, Gainesville, 1961, p. 96: 'Let us consider the play as some great piagai cadence whose passing chords are resolved by the soul-satisfying completeness and finality of the tonic chord.'
8 The integrity of this composition is such one is bound to relate the political and ethical matters that arise in representing the claims of liberty and subordination to the more general matters that come to mind in reflecting upon Prospero's abjuring of power and upon the temper with which the play ends. This calls for still other perspectives one is obliged to take account of in any effort at a summary.
It is of course impossible to identify the state of mind the play leads to in its conclusion with any other than the author's own resolution of the issues that arose in handling his material. But where so much has to do with obedience and with the recognition of divine powers it would be remiss to exclude from any summary estimate the consideration of a certain Christian perspective upon such matters. I have already cited words of M. Ragnar Holte in characterizing the serenity within the grasp of the ancients to help us in assessing not only Prospero's quietness at the end, but elsewhere, such as Hamlet's also, when he speaks of the felicity he credits Horatio with, and Horatio's state, also, in commending the soul of his friend to the care of angels. The traditional Christian view may offer even more light in helping us reflect upon the conclusion of The Tempest, particularly as we keep in mind that this is looking towards the celebration of a marriage with all that that implies. In exploring such a perspective, M. Holte's further observations can be of great help: '. . . les deux traits de l'amour, la joie et la subordination, ne peuvent entrer en conflit, si l'homme se conduit bien. Ils forment un tout, fondé sus la structure ontologique de la charité (conçue selon le couple participatio-imago). Cette unité est déjà exprimée dans la notion Deo propter seipsum frui, laquelle signifie un don du sujet à un objet situé en dehors de lui. Sans doute le moi ne cesse jamais d'être sujet de l'amour—comment cela serait-il possible?—et jamais non plus l'amour ne peut oublier qu'il s'adresse à celui dont il attend tout bien—sinon il se rendrait coupable d'un péché grave d'ingratitude. . . .
'Nous comprenons maintenant comment Augustin peut identifier le désir de la béatitude avec la recherche de Dieu. Dieu est beata vita, il y a plaisir et joie à l'aimer: Dieu est volonté, l'aimer c'est lui obéir. Si cette unité est fondée philosophiquement sur la structure ontologique de la charité, elle a en même temps son fondement dans la théologie chrétienne de la création. L'homme est créé, pour vivre dans la béatitude, soumis à la volonté de Dieu. Augustin marque particulièrement qu'il n'est pas destiné à une béatitude exempte de soumission. Un degré aussi parfait de béatitude n'appartient qu'à celui qui possède son être et sa béatitude en soi, per se, à savoir Dieu lui-même. Les "notions" que possède l'homme même déchu, constituent des exhortations à realiser sa vocation, qui lui est donnée dans sa création même. Mais l'homme dans l'état déchu ne prend point plaisir à la volonté de Dieu, il est au contraire dominé par le désir d'être son propre maître (superbia). Alors qu'il était créé pour la béatitude sous la souverainté de Dieu, voilà qu'il ne cherche plus que le plaisir à l'exclusion de la soumission. Mais Dieu ne lui permet pas d'y réussir. En effet même lorsqu'il se tourne vers les choses sensibles pour en jouir avec un amour qui vise à la fruitio propter seipsam rei, cet amour le pousse à une subordination qui va à l'encontre de ses intentions. Il devient l'esclave du sensible, il perd la maîtrise de soi-même. En prenant un être autre de Dieu pour objet de fruitio, il a transgressé l'ordo. Suivant une logique inexorable, la sanction se trouve déjà dans la structure ontologique de cet amour faux, laquelle est semblable à celle de l'amour vrai. Fruì comporte dans les deux cas un abandon de soi et une soumission; mais, si la subordination à Dieu est liberté et béatitude, la subordination au sensible est au contraire esclavage, avilissement profond et malheur.' (Béatitude et Sagesse, pp. 230-1).
'L'immutabilité ne désigne pas pour Augustin un état statique, mort, mais au contraire un état de plénitude ontologique et de force, source d'une activité dynamique qui, lois d'ébranler la consistance propre de l'être, met en mouvement une existence ontologiquement inférieure. Constantia est une notion relative, qui n'est pas réservée à Dieu seul. L'âme aussi possede une certaine 'consistance' par comparaison avec le corps, laquelle croît si l'âme acquiert la virtus proprement dit, la vertu.' (pp. 233-4).
It has been observed that 'essentialism' rather than 'existentialism' provides the base for Shakespeare's conceptions, and in the Scholastic sense, being implying essence. (G. C. Herndl, The High Design, Lexington, 1970, pp. 50-1).
Richard P. Wheeler (essay date 1995)
SOURCE: "Fantasy and History in The Tempest," in The Tempest, edited by Nigel Wood, Open University Press, 1995, pp. 127-64.
[In the excerpt below, Wheeler focuses on Prospero's aggressive dominance of others and on Caliban's passive dream of sensual opulence. From a psychoanalytic perspective, the critic calls attention to the similarities between this pair and others in the Shakespearean canon—Bottom and Oberon, Richard II and Bolingbroke, Falstaff and Henry V—who represent the opposition of narcissistic eloquence and theatrical control]
The story Prospero tells Miranda about their past, whatever its claim to historical veracity, contains a simple and important truth at the heart of his post-Milan life. Once when he gave his brother his trust he lost his inherited political power; now that he has found another source of power he will trust no one. Prospero's power over the action of The Tempest is unparalleled in Shakespeare's drama—control by physical coercion over the worker Caliban; control by contractual agreement backed by physical threat over Ariel; control through Ariel over the men who took away his dukedom and over all the other visitors Prospero brings to his island; control over every condition of his daughter's courtship by and marriage to Ferdinand.
As Prospero tells of Antonio's treachery, a rather startling metaphor stands out. Antonio transformed the loyalties of the Milanese subjects, turning their hearts where he pleased, creating a situation in which, Prospero says, 'now he was/The ivy which had hid my princely trunk,/And sucked my verdure out on't' (I.ii.85-7). Antonio was the parasitical ivy wrapped around and sucking the living substance out of Prospero the ducal tree.
Perhaps the vine/tree metaphor seems startling here because it links two brothers in a figure often gendered female and male. In benign forms, the vine is a grapevine associated with fruitfulness and nurture. An apparent biblical source—'Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thy house' (Psalms 128: 3)—links wife/vine/fruitfulness, though without situating the husband as tree. In proverbial uses, vine and the tree unite in harmony: 'The Vine and Elme, converse well together', or 'As we may see of the Vine, who imbraceth the Elme, ioying and reioycing much at his presence' (Tilley 1950, V: 61). In Ovid, the female vine and the male tree are joined to mutual benefit in a story used in an attempt to seduce Pomona, a garden-tending nymph who has spurned many suitors. Pointing to an elm supporting vines loaded with grapes, the satyr Vertumnus (disguised as an old woman promoting his own cause) observes that if the vine did not grow round it the beautiful tree would be barren of fruit, and that if 'the vyne which ronnes uppon the Elme had nat/The tree too leane untoo, it should uppon the ground ly flat' (Ovid 1961: 183). Here form, strength and uprightness gendered male and fruitfulness gendered female combine in an image of two joined in one to mutual benefit and to the benefit of others. In Prospero's image, the male ivy hides the male tree and drains its strength to the detriment of a dukedom thus bent 'To most ignoble stooping' (I.ii.116).
Shakespeare uses the vine/tree metaphor in two earlier comedies in which magic is a preoccupation. In Comedy of Errors, benign and parasitical forms indicate alternative fates for the man Adriana thinks is her husband.
Thou art an elm, my husband, 1 a vine, Whose weakness, married to thy stronger state, Makes me with thy strength to communicate. If aught possess thee from me, it is dross, Usurping ivy, briar, or idle moss, Who, all for want of pruning, with intrusion Infect thy sap, and live on thy confusion.
Adriana, as a vine who shares in and is strengthened by her husband's strength, does not offer her own fruitfulness in the metaphor, but neither does her sharing of the husband's strength diminish its source. She is pleading her need, flatteringly, not her bounty. The invasive ivy (or briar or moss) alternative—the other woman Adriana suspects—is parasitical growth out of control, which contaminates the man/tree's strength and thrives on the destruction resulting from her 'intrusion'. The ivy/sap/intrusion link here closely parallels the ivy/verdure/extrusion link in The Tempest; the breakdown of the parallel—female ivy that invasively corrupts the manly substance rather than sucks it out—adds to the interest. 'Usurping ivy' certainly would seem to connect with the usurpation of Prospero's place and power by his ivy-like brother. But the female ivy Adriana refers to suggests a sexual threat to her husband. Is there any relation here to Prospero's metaphorical rendering of his brother's past crime?
Titania speaks the most eloquent and moving instance of the ivy/tree metaphor in A Midsummer Night's Dream:
Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms.
So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle Gently entwist; the female ivy so Enrings the barky fingers of the elm. O, how I love thee! How I dote on thee!
Here what is expressed is not the woman's bounty nor her need but her satisfaction. Enchanted Titania finds the fulfilment of her desire in her embrace of ass-headed Bottom.
Although Bottom is powerless to escape Titania's attentions—'Out of this wood do not desire to go:/Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no' (III.i. 126-7)—her power over him hardly seems to be the contaminating power Adriana imagines for 'usurping ivy', much less the eviscerating power Prospero claims his brother exercised over him. And as the object of her desire, Bottom does not seem to figure male strength either as complemented or diminished by female ivy. As with an infant, Bottom's dependence creates a situation in which he seems to be magically empowered; he will come to experience omnipotence of mind, a magical responsiveness of the world to wish, defined for him by Titania's bounty:
I'll give three fairies to attend on thee, And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep, And sing, while thou on presséd flowers dost sleep; And I will purge thy mortal grossness so That thou shalt like an airy spirit go.
For Bottom the demands of maintaining a masculine identity in opposition to the otherness of female sexuality—the demands that structure Oberon's world—are suspended. Without ever ceasing to be 'bully Bottom', the centre of his experience is 'translated' back into the realm of infantile at-oneness with comfort, pleasure, fantasy, and conflict-free sensuality. The sight of the sleeping pair appears pitiful and hateful to Oberon, but Bottom awakens to recall 'a morare vision', a 'dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was', indeed, a dream that 'shall be called "Bottom's Dream", because it hath no bottom' (IV.i.200-9).
Bottom's dream can point us back to The Tempest, but not directly to Prospero's curious use of the ivy/elm figure. Titania promises to purge Bottom's 'mortal grossness', letting him 'like an airy spirit go', but the figure in The Tempest who recalls Bottom's experience is not the airy spirit Ariel but the unpurged monster Caliban. As with Bottom, Caliban's monstrousness is clearly connected to sexuality and taboo. But whereas Bottom is for a brief time transported into a magical realm defined in part by a temporary suspension of taboo, for Caliban, a past, failed effort to break taboo has radically and permanently altered the world he inhabits. Bottom, ass-headed only for the night he spends in Titania's arms, regains his non-monster status as soon as Oberon reclaims his sexual partner. Caliban's irredeemable monstrousness, 'Which any print of goodness wilt not take' (I.ii.351), is represented most vividly by his early effort to rape Miranda. Bottom's night of pleasure is licensed by Oberon, who uses the occasion to recover his status as Titania's lover. Caliban has failed to overcome the taboo on Miranda's sexuality enforced by her father, who is also subject to it.
Caliban's account of his island's magical bounty, however, provides a curious parallel to the enchanting presence Bottom recalls. 'Be not afeard', Caliban comforts the frightened Stephano and Trinculo:
the isle is full of noises, Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices, That, if I then had waked after long sleep, Will make me sleep again, and then in dreaming The clouds methought would open and show riches Ready to drop upon me, that when 1 waked I cried to dream again.
Caliban, too, has had a most rare vision, one of sublime, passive fulfilment—though with Caliban it seems to be fulfilment always just out of reach, something lost to the new order Prospero has brought to the island, particularly since the failed rape of Miranda. Bottom awakens to recall, as if in a dream, a world in which wish and reality corresponded, where one's complete dependence on the other was experienced as magical omnipotence. His emergence from this dreamlike world is experienced as a gain—it has given him something he can bring into the world he reenters upon awakening, his characteristic zest for life renewed and enriched. For Caliban, by contrast, the sounds and sweet airs, the twangling instruments, the lulling voices, the riches poised to drop from the clouds of his dream, all are experienced as utterly alien to his everyday life of subjection.
The pleasures Caliban knows through a dreamlike rapport with the island's mysterious musical and sensual abundance have no place in his present reality. Something of the tenderness of the experience he describes to Stephano and Trinculo seems to have had a place in social reality in the distant past of his earliest relationship to Prospero:
When thou cam'st first, Thou strok'st me and made much of me; wouldst give me Water with berries in't, and teach me how To name the bigger light and how the less, That burn by day and night; and then I loved thee, And showed thee all the qualities o'th' isle, The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile
Something of this readiness for adoring submission emerges again in Caliban's response to Stephano and the fantasy he brings of a future released from subjection to Prospero. But in his ongoing reality, there is no place for the responsiveness he brings to the island's bounty, or which that bounty elicits in him. Bottom wakes to bring a sense of dreamlike wonder back into his world, but Caliban cries to dream again.
I have moved from Prospero's ivy/elm metaphor describing his brother's treachery to Titania's use of that metaphor to describe her embrace of Bottom, then moved from Bottom's recollection of that embrace as a dream back to The Tempest and Caliban's experience of dreamlike riches. But whereas the two moments from A Midsummer Night's Dream provide two vantage points on the same blissful encounter, the two instances from The Tempest are quite remote from one another: Prospero tensely reconstructing the past treachery of his brother; Caliban, his slave, poignantly describing the near escape into dreamlike bliss the island can provide for him with its music. Can the connections to and within A Midsummer Night's Dream I have been trying to make illuminate the relationship between these two moments in The Tempest?
The psychological connection that has presented itself so far sees Bottom's account of his dream and Caliban's of his dreamlike relation to the island's musical abundance as fantasies deriving from early infantile relations to a nurturing Other, relations that provide the field upon which later fantasies are articulated. The early nurturing environment, if it is sufficient to ensure the infant's survival, will countenance the emergence of polarized fantasies of omnipotence and of total helplessness; of fusion with a benign, nurturant world and of annihilation by a hostile, rejecting world; of good objects and of bad objects located indeterminately inside and outside of a subjectivity still establishing its boundaries; of being loved unconditionally, and returning it in bliss, and of being hated without limit, and of returning that in rage. Introjection and projection—taking bits of the world in and making them parts of one's experience of one's person and taking parts of one's person and casting them into a world of notself—are dominant psychic mechanisms, shaping a sense of one's person along the coordinates of need, satisfaction/frustration, pleasure/unpleasure, security/distress, bliss/rage.
Bottom's and Caliban's lyrical dreamlike riches share a base in the sensual and nurturant qualities of this level of psychic experience. Prospero's image of the ivy that hid his princely trunk and sucked out his vital spirit suggests a base in the negative register of early infantile experience. If we look just at the action components of the metaphor—the ivy embraces the elm, hiding it, and sucks the verdure from it—the connections come into focus. Holding and sucking, the principal actions conveyed in Prospero's metaphor, are basic to the formative beginnings of an individual. D.W. Winnicott gives the name 'holding phase' to the very earliest stage of infantile existence: the physical experience of being held is central to and prototypical for the infant's relations to an environment that attends to all its needs (Winnicott 1965, 44-50). Freud calls 'sucking at his mother's breast, or at substitutes for it', the 'child's first and most vital activity' (Freud 1953-74, VII: 181). In the action of sucking, sexual pleasure originates and is split off from need satisfaction: when the sucking that seeks to satisfy the infant's hunger produces pleasurable sensations desirable in their own right, 'the need for repeating the sexual satisfaction now becomes detached from the need for taking nourishment' (Freud 1953-74, VII: 182). With the activity of sucking, the infant is initiated into human sexuality. As it negotiates experience within what Winnicott calls the 'holding environment', the infant 'comes to have an inside and an outside, and a body-scheme' (Winnicott 1965, 45).2
Psychic manoeuvres that characterize fantasies and dreams account for the transformations necessary to get from the infantile situation to Prospero's metaphor. Whereas the holding environment locates the infant in a world in which the subject can begin to know itself through the attention the world returns, Prospero speaks of the ivy that 'hid' him (or at least hid that part of him designated by 'princely trunk') from the world. The holding is malevolent rather than facilitating—a withholding. Its action is generated by projection and reversal: the sucking fundamental to the infant's hold on life becomes the action of the ivy that 'sucked my verdure out'. Angry, destructive feelings, associated with frustrations of sucking and feeding, are projected into a fantasied attack by the other.
In Prospero's metaphor for Antonio's ill-doing, two kinds of threat coalesce, mingling two kinds of relation (brother to brother, infant to mother) and two kinds of past (the fictionalized recollection from what the play ascribes to Prospero's young manhood and an infantile past lent to Prospero by his creator). That we can think about the maternal threat being submerged in the sibling threat seems richly suggestive in thinking about this play in which the role of women is so generally suppressed or restricted and in which the only strongly evoked maternal presence is the dead but sinister Sycorax, Caliban's mother and Prospero's predecessor. But now it is less important to pursue a subordinating structure than to note that the two threats point to a single infantile prototype: a male child for whom an apparently exclusive claim on the love of his mother is disrupted, not by a father, but by the arrival of a younger brother and by what appears to be the withdrawal of the mother's attention away from him into her preoccupation with the newborn son. Not surprisingly, Shakespeare's drama never represents this situation directly—that is, in the experience of very young children. But the basic structure—a male's love for a female is disrupted by a second male—is pervasive and powerful.
Oberon is in a situation like this when Titania's devotion to the Indian boy disrupts his sexual bond to her. Oberon disposes of his problem by passing on his situation to the Indian boy, whose claim on Titania's love is displaced by Bottom's, who can then be displaced by Oberon. The task is easy enough for Oberon, supernaturally secure in his own exotic manhood, and with a strong prior sexual bond to Titania to renew. The disruption of Prospero's bond to Miranda by the appearance of a young suitor is of a different sort. The Tempest must dramatize, not the comic renewal of a sexual bond that has been interrupted, but a father's relinquishing to another, younger man, the daughter upon whom his life has been centred ever since his exile to the island, and whose entry into adult sexuality must be her exit from his world.
As with King Lear, the jealous intensity of a father's investment in his daughter shapes the bond the younger man will interrupt. Like Lear, Prospero has gone to elaborate lengths to control the conditions of the marriage. Lear, however, tries to use the ritual division of his kingdom to ensure that Cordelia will go on loving her father all, even after her dynastic marriage to another man about to be ritualistically chosen by him; her refusal to cooperate in his plan sets in motion the play's tragic action. Prospero arranges to bring Ferdinand to his island as his chosen husband for Miranda, and he oversees a courtship between them that follows exactly his plan for it; their complicity and his willingness or capacity to make a gift of his daughter to the younger man make possible the play's comic outcome. But what enables Prospero to do what Lear could not? Or, what enables Shakespeare to move from the destructive exploration of Lear's love for Cordelia to the comic outcome of Prospero's love for Miranda?
There are certainly signs that Prospero is not wholly free of what drives Lear to act so tyrannically at the prospect of giving up Cordelia. Though he assures the play's audience that he could not be more pleased to welcome Ferdinand into the family, Prospero renders the young man powerless, threatens him with violence, mocks him in his apparent loss of a father, enslaves and imprisons him, and finally, when making a gift of his daughter, puts a curse on their relationship should they have sex before he binds them in marriage. And Shakespeare seems to want to make things as easy as possible for Prospero, on this count at least: Ferdinand is clearly a right-thinking young man, susceptible to the pieties Prospero enforces, chaste and worshipful in his love for Miranda, and appropriately awed by her magician father. But if one assumes the action of The Tempest opens on to the destructive potentiality realized in King Lear, it is not yet clear how these measures can protect the movement towards marriage from comparable violence.
Caliban's function as a nasty double to Ferdinand provides one way of defusing the anxieties in the marital situation: it lets Prospero disown and repudiate his own incestuous longing for Miranda and lets him expend his rage against a potential usurper on a vilified embodiment of brute sexuality. I think even more important, however, are the ways in which the play provides multiple situations shaped by the structure that organizes the comic movement toward marriage. Usurpation, of course, is everywhere in The Tempest: Antonio's past treachery when he stole Milan from Prospero; Caliban's conviction that Prospero has robbed him of an island properly his by inheritance from his mother; Prospero's charge that Ferdinand usurps his father's place as king of Naples; the plot to kill Alonso and make Sebastian king of Naples; the plot to murder Prospero, which would give Stephano both the island and Miranda. The two I want to focus on, and which I think are most crucial to the action, concern Prospero's charges against his brother and Caliban's experience of losing the island's bounty—Prospero's ivy/elm metaphor and Caliban's 'cried to dream again' situation.
Although Prospero condenses fantasies of maternal threat and sibling threat into a single metaphor, the action of the play for the most part separates them out again—into Antonio's treachery, which points back especially to the extensive sibling violence of the very early histories, and into the evil legacy of Sycorax, the mother as powerful witch and Satan's partner in sex, heir to Joan de Pucelle, Queen Margaret, and Lady Macbeth. Here separation serves a double function of isolation: by keeping the threat posed by Antonio's betrayal separate from that posed by Sycorax's legacy of malevolent female power and debased sexuality, and by keeping both separate from the romance of Ferdinand and Miranda, it protects the marriage plot from the explosive violence engendered by the actions of Othello or Antony and Cleopatra or The Winter's Tale, where brothers or friends come to be seen as usurping enemies and beloved women are repudiated as whores.
I think, however, that the play's most complex, cruel and tender development of a pervasive Shakespearian structure of usurpation and betrayal is in the presentation of Caliban. Caliban's experience of betrayal closely parallels Prospero's story of an inherited claim usurped by someone he trusted and treated generously: 'This island's mine by Sycorax my mother,/Which thou tak'st from me' (I.ii.331-2). Caliban's relation to the island's bounty has been interrupted by the usurper Prospero. But Caliban's story of his past introduces a period between Prospero's arrival and Caliban's effort to rape Miranda in which the intruder Prospero has been the object of his love. In this interim period, the fantasy of maternal bounty is located in the relationship to the intruder, who stroked Caliban, made much of him, taught him how to read and how to name his world. Indeed, Caliban's story of trust and reciprocity recalls the infantile roots common to his situation and Prospero's more directly than anything Prospero says.
The generosity of Caliban's initial response to Prospero dramatizes a procedure, which Anna Freud called altruistic surrender, that compensates with exaggerated tenderness for resentment toward a rival for parental love; the subject seeks his own fulfilment in his service to another; the usurper is embraced and adored (Freud 1966: 123-34). Altruistic surrender is built deeply into the extravagant generosity and adoration that Shakespeare the poet lavishes on the fair friend of the Sonnets, and into the poet's inclination towards extreme and sometimes almost savage self-effacement when that seems the only way to sustain his love. Caliban keeps the impulse towards adoration and generosity alive in The Tempest, not only through his recollection of his once worshipful regard for Prospero, but in his readiness to bring adoration and allegiance to Stephano: 'Hast thou not dropped from heaven?' 'I do adore thee.' 'I'll kiss thy foot. I'll swear myself thy subject' (II.ii.131, 134, 146). But where the Sonnets poet debases himself to celebrate the glory of the friend, 'Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss' (Sonnet 35, 1. 7), the play debases Caliban, makes a monster of him.
On this island where Prospero subordinates everything to his power, and trusts no one, attitudes of trust and worshipful regard are given extensive thematic development. Gonzalo's fantasy of a sovereignless utopia on the island assumes that trust can replace power as society's basic mode of relating. Ferdinand believes Miranda must be the goddess the island's spirits attend, and he quickly devotes himself to a worshipful love for the sake of which he is happy enough to endure enslavement and imprisonment by Prospero. Miranda thinks Ferdinand must be 'A thing divine' (I.ii.419); at the end, she sees her famous 'brave new world' in the tarnished old order Prospero has reconstituted on the island. In these instances, Prospero's hard-nosed distrust is played against forms of sentimentality or naïveté that manage to ennoble, even while identifying the limits of, the characters who express them. Prospero's relationship to the debased Caliban is more complex. Caliban's pathetic tendency to enslave himself in the service of self-liberation is played against Prospero's wise but tough mastery. But Caliban's openness to, and need for, trust, joy and self-surrender can be set against Prospero's willed estrangement from that part of a human life brought into existence through the nurture of a trusted Other. Slave Caliban dreams about riches ready to drop upon him; master Prospero dreams about an 'insubstantial pageant faded' (IV.i.155), a world that recedes into dreamlike emptiness, and about death. Caliban embodies not only the lust and crude violence, but also the access to trust and spontaneity Prospero has repudiated in himself.
Having waded far enough into the troubled waters of authorial allegory to identify Caliban partially with the impulse toward adoration and subjection in the Sonnets, I find it tempting to situate Caliban's powerful lyricism against the aggressive theatricality by which Prospero manipulates the action of the play as if it were his play to write. I believe it makes sense to think of the astonishing, distancing control Shakespeare achieves through the drama as crucial to protecting his temperament from the potentiality for adoring self-surrender that many of the sonnets embody. Prospero uses his magic art to manifest that kind of dramatic control from within his position as character/on-stage director; he controls Caliban, and distances himself from him, with particular brutality.
I think, however, the play makes this distinction only to collapse it in the end. If Prospero in some fashion represents Shakespeare's power as dramatist, Caliban represents an impulse as basic to his theatrical art as Prospero's executive power. Where Prospero accomplishes sharply defined social and political purposes in the drama he stages through his magic, Caliban seeks his fulfilment in showing his world to others and sharing it with them. 'I loved thee,/And showed thee all the qualities o'th' isle' (I.ii.336-7), he reminds Prospero. 'I'll show thee every fertile inch o'th' island', he assures Stephano: 'I'll show thee the best springs'; 'Show thee a jay's nest'; 'Wilt thou go with me?' (II.ii.142, 154, 163, 166). Caliban, in short, seeks himself in the pleasure he gives others; gives fundamentally by showing and surrendering to others the world he has a special claim to; and takes pleasure for himself in a kind of worshipful abjection that accompanies the giving: 'I'll kiss thy foot' (II.ii.146). It is an impulse built into Shakespeare's relation to the theatre. As the character Prospero dissolves into the actor who speaks the Epilogue, begging forgiveness and indulgence, it is the impulse that needs to find its recognition and reward in the audience's applause, 'or else my project fails,/Which was to please' (Epilogue, V.i.330-1).
W.B. Yeats once described his 'fancy that there is some one myth for every man, which, if we but knew it, would make us understand all he did and thought' ('At Stratford-on-Avon', in Yeats 1961: 107). Yeats's notion is an extreme version of the sameness and difference issues raised in the first section of this essay: it makes everything each of us does into a variant or elaboration of a core theme. Indeed, Norman Holland has put Yeats's formulation to very interesting psychoanalytic use in developing his own claim that a core identity or identity theme, developed in an infant's early relations to a maternal provider, acts as a kind of master key to any individual's thought and behaviour.3 I do not wish to make a claim for the comprehensive interpretative power of a single myth or theme in the manner of either Yeats or Holland. But I think that Yeats's formulation of a unifying myth that controls variation in Shakespeare points to a pattern that links up suggestively with patterns I have been discussing in moving from A Midsummer Night's Dream to The Tempest.
Yeats (1961: 107) wrote: 'Shakespeare's myth, it may be, describes a wise man who was blind from very wisdom, and an empty man who thrust him from his place, and saw all that could be seen from very emptiness.' Yeats sees this myth being worked out in the succession of Hamlet, 'who saw too great issues everywhere to play the trivial game of life', by the soldier Fortinbras. But his chief instance, in this essay prompted by his having just viewed six of the English history plays acted 'in their right order' (Yeats 1961: 97), is 'in the story of Richard II, that unripened Hamlet, and of Henry V, that ripened Fortinbras'. Yeats's clear sympathies are with the otherworldly Richard II, whom he situates on one side of this opposition, and not with the all-too-worldly figure who occupies the pragmatic side:
instead of that lyricism which rose out of Richard's mind like the jet of a fountain to fall again where it had risen, instead of that fantasy too enfolded in its own sincerity to make any thought the hour had need of, Shakespeare has given [Henry V] a resounding rhetoric that moves men as a leading article does today.
(Yeats 1961: 108)
Yeats's curious celebration of Richard the poet-king as 'lovable and full of capricious fancy' (Yeats 1961: 105) but blinded by an excess of wisdom, along with his strong distaste for Henry V as a heartless and ultimately inconsequential politician, sentimentalizes the English history plays. It also introduces an evaluatory register into the myth Yeats associates with Shakespeare that greatly diminishes its interpretative power. If we pull that evaluative register out, the opposition between Richard and Henry V looks rather like the opposition between Caliban's lyricism and Prospero's aggressive theatricality, mentioned earlier.
I do not wish to claim that Caliban is a 'wise man who was blind from very wisdom'—although a powerful trend within criticism of The Tempest has long been occupied with a recognition that there is something in Caliban's way of relating to the world that is both precious and incompatible with the sort of order Prospero brings to the island, variants of the mix of attitudes built into the Renaissance notion of the noble savage.4 Nor do I wish to argue exactly that Prospero, who 'thrust [Caliban] from his place' on the island, is 'an empty man, and saw all that could be seen from very emptiness'. I do, however, find Yeats's use of the idea of emptiness here quite resonant, especially so since he makes it central to Shakespeare's own vantage point on human life: 'He meditated as Solomon, not as Bentham meditated, upon blind ambitions, untoward accidents, and capricious passions, and the world was almost as empty in his eyes as it must be in the eyes of God' (Yeats 1961: 106-7).
To formulate his Shakespearian myth in terms of an opposition between Richard II and Henry V, Yeats, of course, elides two crucial figures. Richard II is not thrust from his position by Henry V, but by Henry Bullingbrook, who thus becomes Henry IV. In order for his son Hal to become Henry V, the figure who must be thrust aside is Falstaff. If the figures missing from Yeats's account are restored, this opposition is worked out doubly in the movement from Richard II to Henry V: Richard II/Bullingbrook-Henry IV and Falstaff/Prince Hal-Henry V. In both cases, the dominating figure is the one with the superior power to manipulate history theatrically. Richard II is, of course, theatrical to the point of histrionics, but it is Bullingbrook who has the controlling theatrical imagination, who uses theatricality, not for expressive, but for political purposes. And although nobody loves play-acting more than Falstaff, it is Prince Hal who uses theatre for effective political purposes, who makes Falstaff an actor in the political scenario he orchestrates throughout both parts of Henry IV to validate his power when he becomes King Henry V.
Both Richard II and Falstaff, like Caliban, are subdued by superior masters of theatre. Do they have anything else in common? I think what they share is a psychological heritage I tried to associate with Bottom and Caliban, a psychological rootedness in themes characteristic of very early phases of infantile development. These connections can be clarified by returning briefly to Bottom and Caliban.
Bottom, too, wants to be an actor; he, too, is manipulated by a man of superior theatrical power when Oberon casts him in the role of Titania's beloved; he, too, will be thrust from his place in Titania's arms after he has served the theatrical effect Oberon seeks by making the Queen of Fairies fall in love with an ass. Bottom's extraordinary good fortune is to inhabit an unusually benign version of this situation. It is as if Bottom recovers in Titania's doting, nurturant love a symbolic replication of the infantile past that would account for the buoyant narcissism of his grown-up character, whereas Caliban can know those nurturant riches only in the longing created by their failure to survive the realm of dream. Bottom's ready self-love is complemented and completed in Titania's. adoration of him; Caliban's need to know himself through his surrender of self to a worshipped other who will accept his service reflects his situation in a world where he can only know his place through the hatred and contempt of others. Only in Bottom's hunger for playacting do we get any hint of the neediness that will drive Caliban to seek recognition through a new and adored master in Stephano. But if bully Bottom is ultimately empowered by his experience, others who share his slot in the opposition I am tracing are not.
Bottom's robust egotism is completed through his inadvertent stumbling into the magical world of Titania; Richard's grandiose but brittle egotism is grounded on a magical identification of his person with a mystical conception of kingly omnipotence. It is an identification in which even Richard can never quite believe, except in so far as he can play the role of omnipotent king before an audience eager to validate his illusion. Because he has no identity apart from this identification, he seeks out those who will sustain his illusion with flattery. When the inevitable crisis approaches, he swings wildly back and forth between assertions of himself as the invulnerable because 'anointed king' (Richard II, III.ii.55) and approaches to what finally is completed in his knowledge of himself as 'nothing' (V.V.38) when the grandiose illusion has been shattered by Bullingbrook. What reaches from one extreme to the other is Richard's language, which he uses for purposes quite different from those of any other character in Richard II. The 'lyricism' that Yeats associates with Richard springs from his use of language, not to negotiate a world, but to constitute a self, alternatively through illusions of omnipotence and through a kind of masochistic cherishing of every nuance of his psychic distress.
Richard's necessary failure to merge with an ideal of kingly omnipotence engages the same level of psychic development as is invoked by the happy fantasy Bottom enacts in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Bottom's rough and ready narcissism rests on a deep trust of self and world that enables him both to inhabit the seeming omnipotence of his position within Titania's dreamworld and to sustain himself when the dream is over. Richard's inability to know himself apart from his identification with his dream of kingly omnipotence represents a failure to carry a securely internalized sense of trust into and through the individuation process.
'I have long dreamt of such a kind of man', says the newly crowned Henry V to Falstaff, 'So surfeit-swelled, so old and so profane,/But being awaked, I do despise my dream' (2 Henry IV, V.v.45-7). But the prince has been dreaming with his eyes open, always shaping the dream to his own shrewdly conceived and theatrically executed political purpose. That is what he does best. It is Falstaff who has been blinded to reality by his own dream of the prince as king and himself as the king's beloved favourite. Like Caliban, who welcomed the exiled Prospero to his world and 'showed [him] all the qualities o'th' isle' (Tempest I.ii.337), Falstaff has welcomed the self-exiled prince to his tavern world and shared it with him. 'When thou cam'st first,/Thou strok'st me and made much of me', Caliban reminds Prospero, 'and then I loved thee' (I.ii.332-3, 336). The wonderfully childlike situation evoked here by Caliban's recollection of Prospero's arrival on the island could hardly be more different from the sophisticated and sometimes rather savage give and take that has long marked the curious bond of Falstaff and Hal. But different as their relationship has been, Hal has, in his own way, made much of Falstaff as well, and Falstaff has, in his own way, responded with love: 'My king, my Jove, I speak to thee, my heart' (2 Henry IV, V.v.42).
Like Richard and Falstaff, Caliban plays a part in a script controlled by another, but he brings to that part a spontaneous expressiveness he shares with no one else in The Tempest. Characters who open themselves most fully to those inner dimensions of psychic experience often speak the most widely and vividly expressive poetry in the plays, the poetry that conveys the texture of joy or agony, of rage or bliss, of a self fulfilled or left desolate. They also make themselves vulnerable to those who distance themselves from, or carefully mediate their relationship to, the force of such inner impulses.
Such a distancing process is exactly what Prospero narrates to Miranda as his past history at the opening of The Tempest. For him it is a movement from trust through betrayed trust to the assertion of power and control. Prospero, overthrown by his brother when he was himself lost in his imaginative engagement with magic, 'transported/And rapt in secret studies' (I.ii.76-7), his library a 'dukedom large enough' (I.ii.110), has made himself over as a figure of power. His power is that of a dramatist who has waited for years for those characters to arrive whom he needs to act his script.
One Shakespearian genealogy for Prospero would emerge from the theatrical manipulators of those figures I have tried to link to the lyrical impulse manifest in Caliban: Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bullingbrook and Henry V in the history plays. It would be a group that emphasizes, whether for good or for ill, the effective integration of psychic components in selves geared towards accommodation of, and action taken to, shape social reality. Instead I would like to look briefly at a group of speeches, spread out over a wide range of Shakespeare's work, including a speech by Prospero, in which the immediacy of social accommodation and mastery recede behind the trope of life as a dream, or as theatre, or as both. In these speeches, theatricality does not represent manipulative mastery and dream does not represent longing or desire.
'All the world's a stage', says Jaques in As You Like It, 'And all the men and women merely players' (II.vii.139-40). 'Thou hast nor youth, nor age', Duke Vincentio counsels Claudio in Measure for Measure, 'But as it were an after-dinner's sleep/Dreaming on both' (III.i.32-4). 'Life's but a walking shadow', Macbeth says to no one in particular, 'a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/And then is heard no more' (V.v.24-6). Prospero explains to Ferdinand, after the wedding masque is interrupted by his recollection of Caliban's conspiracy:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air, And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.
These speeches do not demonstrate theatrical control over an action, but something of how the world looks from the vantage point of Shakespearian drama when it is fully theatricalized. Each is spoken by a character who has rigorously distanced himself in one way or another from direct engagement in human intimacy and from direct responsiveness to powerful inner feelings. Of course, each of these speeches plays a complex dramatic function in the action to which it belongs. What is important to note here, however, is that all these very different characters, in their very different dramatic situations—in a comedy, a problem comedy, a tragedy and a romance—are making the same kind of point: they see life as merely theatre, as no more substantial than a dream.
Jaques, the melancholy satirist who covets the fool's role; Duke Vincentio, the disguised ruler who has stepped out of his political role and is playing at being priest; the murderous tyrant Macbeth, who has cut all close ties to the living and has 'almost forgot the taste of fears' (V.V.9); and Prospero, who has just married off his daughter—all become, in these speeches, poets of desolation. These are not versions of the 'empty man' Yeats believed Fortinbras and Henry V to be, but their haunting expressions of a fundamental emptiness in human life recalls Yeats's claim that 'the world was almost as empty in [Shakespeare's] eyes as it must be in the eyes of God' ('At Stratford-on-Avon', in Yeats 1961: 107).
The emptiness evoked in Jaques's summary of the seven ages of man lies at the centre of his melancholy; it reflects the distance imposed between himself and the world by his satiric spirit. Duke Vincentio's 'absolute for death' speech expresses the emptiness of a character whose most compelling motive for action is to distance himself from what makes the other characters of Measure for Measure human, vulnerable, and flawed. Macbeth's 'walking shadow' is split off from the futile hysterics of his engagement with the enemy; the remote and hollow theatricality of his meditative voice and the desperate violence of his actions present themselves as the double legacy of the disintegration of his merger with Lady Macbeth.
What about Prospero? What can account for the sudden retreat from the immediacy of action in this character who has controlled, with astonishing precision, the minute-by-minute activities of every other notable character in the play?
Prospero's great speech emerges from the only moment in the play when he is not actively controlling the lives of all the other characters in it. He speaks it when he has been startled to realize that, having allowed himself to become absorbed in the wedding masque, he has forgotten to attend to 'that foul conspiracy/Of the beast Caliban and his confederates/Against his life' (IV.i. 139-41). He offers the speech to Ferdinand, who with Miranda has been startled by his agitation, as reassurance:
FERDINAND This is strange. Your father's in some passion That works him strongly. MIRANDA Never till this day Saw I him touched with anger, so distempered. PROSPERO You do look, my son, in a moved sort, As if you were dismayed. Be cheerful, sir; Our revels now are ended. . . .
After he has brought his vision of life as the stuff dreams are made on to completion, Prospero himself comments on his 'distempered' state:
Sir, I am vexed. Bear with my weakness, my old brain is troubled. Be not disturbed with my infirmity.
Gently and humbly, he offers Miranda and Ferdinand the use of his cell for rest:
If you be pleased, retire into my cell, And there repose.
But he still feels the aftermath of his strange agitation:
A turn or two I'll walk To still my beating mind.
This lingering distractedness that completes Prospero's speech presents yet a new voice. He has himself demanded rapt attentiveness of Miranda and Ferdinand at the beginning of the masque: 'No tongue! All eyes! Be silent!' (IV.i.59). The only other interruption of the masque comes when Ferdinand questions him about the nature of the actors: 'May I be bold/To think these spirits?' (IV.i. 119-20). Prospero explains: 'Spirits, which by mine art/I have from their confines called to enact/My present fancies' (IV.i. 120-2). After Ferdinand rejoices at the paradisal prospect of spending his life where 'So rare a wondered father' (IV.i. 123) resides, Prospero again calls for silent attentiveness, this time with just a touch of anxiety that something could go wrong:
Sweet, now, silence! Juno and Ceres whisper seriously. There's something else to do. Hush, and be mute, Or else our spell is marred.
Then, within the masque, Iris summons 'temperate nymphs . . . to celebrate/A contract of true love' and 'sunburned sickle-men' to join them 'in a graceful dance' (IV.i.132-3; 134; 138 s.d.). A particularly elaborate stage direction describes what happens then:
Enter certain Reapers, properly habited. They join with the nymphs in a graceful dance, towards the end whereof Prospero starts suddenly and speaks, after which, to a strange hollow and confused noise, they heavily vanish.
What precipitates the rapid decay of the dance is Prospero's sudden recollection: 'I had forgot that foul conspiracy/Of the beast Caliban . . .' (IV.i. 139-40). When Miranda and Ferdinand are alarmed by Prospero's agitation, he tries to calm them with the eloquent nihilism of 'Our revels now are ended'. Then immediately we hear this master of energy and execution sounding old, out of control, weak and infirm—'vexed' and 'troubled'.
Critics have understandably found it difficult to understand either why Prospero should be so agitated by the thought of Caliban and company,5 since Ariel clearly has those pathetic conspirators under firm control, or exactly why the serene nihilism of this speech should be designed to bring cheer to the newly-wed couple. But perhaps the nature of the recollection that has broken Prospero's absorption in the masque is less significant than the uniqueness of Prospero's discovery that he has indeed been so absorbed, that for the first time in the play he has forgotten to attend to his plans. Or perhaps Caliban springs to mind here for some other reason than the danger he and his fellows pose to Prospero's life. And perhaps the purposes the speech accomplishes for its speaker are more prominent than its intended effect on Prospero's immediate audience.
The interrupted masque culminates the marriage plot, which drives the overall action of the play. Miranda has arrived at sexual maturity on an island in which the only two-legged males are her father and Caliban. Neither is an appropriate mate. Caliban has earlier posed a sexual threat to Miranda. As Prospero puts it: 'thou didst seek to violate/The honour of my child' (I.ii.347-8). Caliban is hardly repentant about this thwarted transgression:
O ho, O ho! Would't had been done! Thou didst prevent me—I had peopled else This isle with Calibans.
In his hopeful new servitude, Caliban concedes Miranda to Stephano: 'she will become thy bed, I warrant,/And bring thee forth brave brood' (III.ii. 102-3). But Caliban remains powerfully associated in Prospero's mind with the sexual threat to Miranda. This threat has defined the social structure of the island ever since it was made. Expelled from Prospero's cell and 'confined into this rock' (I.ii.360), Caliban's enslavement dates from and perpetually punishes his aborted rape of Miranda.
Prospero replaces Caliban, a 'thing most brutish' who tried to rape Miranda, with Ferdinand, a 'thing divine' (I.ii.356, 419) who sees Miranda as the goddess of the island. Caliban's degraded sexuality gives way to the idealized and idealizing Ferdinand, all by Prospero's careful design. The psychoanalytic allegory that is being worked out here looks something like this: Prospero's repressed sexual desire for his daughter is purged by his projection of it on to the loathsome Caliban; Ferdinand, ritualistically identified with Caliban by being temporarily imprisoned and enslaved as Prospero's log-carrier, is both punished in advance for the sexuality he brings to Miranda and ritualistically purged of the identification with Caliban's degraded sexuality when he has, with appropriate humility, 'strangely stood the test' (IV.i.7); Prospero maintains his control over Miranda's sexuality with his management of the steps leading to a marriage in which he gives her to the young suitor.6
The processes of control by splitting off and projection at work here are characteristic of Prospero, and they are turned towards what is, for him, the central issue in the play and in his life—the sexual maturation of Miranda and the impossible situation this creates for the two of them on the island. But these defensive processes cannot simply erase the deep connections that underlie them, nor can they undo what the passage of time has done to bring Miranda into young womanhood. Prospero sees the circumstances that allow him to bring the Italian ship to the island as depending on an 'accident most strange', 'bountiful Fortune' and a 'most auspicious star' (I.ii.178, 182). But the deeper necessity for the events of the play is Miranda's maturation. Prospero dramatizes the urgencies of this most time-conscious play in terms of his astrological art, but the clock that ultimately drives the play is a natural one, the biological clock in Miranda's body. And if Ferdinand is going to be the solution to the problem, he must, for all the idealizing that is going on, be a sexual solution; he must enact a desire that corresponds to the repressed desire in Prospero, earlier played out in degraded form in Caliban's attempt to rape Miranda.
Prior to the masque, Prospero is still struggling to control the conflicts deriving from his recognition of the need to marry Miranda to an appropriate mate and his repressed desire to keep his daughter for himself. He controls entirely the circumstances of the marriage, offering Miranda as 'a third of mine own life', 'my rich gift', 'my gift', 'my daughter', possessing her in his language even while making her Ferdinand's 'own acquisition/Worthily purchased' (IV.i.3, 8, 13-14). Should Ferdinand 'break her virgin-knot' (IV.i.15) prior to the ceremony Prospero has arranged, however, the marriage will be destroyed by the father's curse:
barren hate, Sour-eyed disdain, and discord shall bestrew The union of your bed with weeds so loathly That you shall hate it both.
Ferdinand provides the appropriate reassurance that nothing can convert 'Mine honour into lust' (IV.i.28), and, when warned again a few moments later about 'th' fire i' th' blood', insists that 'The white cold virgin snow upon my heart/Abates the ardour of my liver' (IV.i.53, 55-6).
The marriage masque is itself constructed to dramatize an idealized image of marriage as a perfect harmony that somehow elides the sexual dimension.7 The famous exclusion of Venus and Cupid from the ceremony explicitly averts 'Some wanton charm' (IV.i.95), but the effect is to exclude sexuality altogether, which can only, in Prospero's controlling imagination, be imaged as degraded.
What is presented, in Ferdinand's language, as 'a most majestic vision, and/Harmonious charmingly', does, as Prospero says, 'enact/My present fancies' (IV.i. 118-19, 121-2). This majestic vision, however, expresses only part of Prospero's present fancies, the idealized part, whereby he can keep at a distance the repressed desires for Miranda that form the unconscious dimension of his fancies. When the 'graceful dance' of the reapers and nymphs is violently interrupted, when Prospero 'starts suddenly and speaks' about 'that foul conspiracy/Of the beast Caliban and his confederates/Against my life' (IV.i. 139-41), and the dancers, 'to a strange hollow and confused noise, . . . heavily vanish' (IV.i. 138 s.d.), what is dramatized is the disruptive convergence of what Prospero has worked so hard to keep separate. Prospero's sudden memory of Caliban's plot against his life represents the intrusion of Prospero's own repressed desires into the idealizing process of the marriage masque.
The masque itself provides the verbal cue for Prospero's response. After 'certain nymphs' have entered, Iris calls forth their dancing partners, rustic field-workers:
You sunburned sickle-men, of August weary, Come hither from the furrow and be merry; Make holiday; your rye-straw hats put on, And these fresh nymphs encounter every one In country footing.
Iris calls for a rustic dance, described as 'graceful' in the subsequent stage direction. But the language calling for that action provides the link to the underside of Prospero's imagination: 'encounter . . . /In country footing' gives us a remarkably dense, redundant, sexual pun, recalling some of the most famous punning moments in Shakespeare.
One is Hamlet's bawdy exchange with Ophelia prior to the play within the play about 'country matters' (III.ii.108). In Partridge's (1968:87) reckoning, 'country matters' here means 'matters concerned with cu*t; the first pronouncing-element of country is coun'. 'Coun', or 'count', of course, is given its most notorious independent exercise in Henry V, with the English lesson Princess Katherine gets from Alice her gentlewoman:
KATHERINE Comment appelez-vous les pieds et la robe? ALICE De foot, madame, et de cown.
KATHERINE De foot et de cown? O Seigneur Dieu! Ils sont les mots de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et non pour les dames d'honneur d'user. . . . Foh! De foot et de cown!
(Henry V, III.iv.44-51)
Here 'foot' for French 'foutre'—'to copulate with' (Partridge 1968: 108)—is added to the pun on 'count'.
As it is, indeed, in The Tempest. For all the effort to dissociate sexuality from the marriage masque, Iris's instructions to the reapers—'these fresh nymphs encounter every one/In country footing' —release into the masque the debased sexuality associated with Prospero's repressed desire, and with Caliban. Caliban here represents the return of the repressed for Prospero, and the intractable permanence of the repressed as well, its resistance to the demands of civilized morality:
A devil, a born devil, on whose nature Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains, Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost.
'The minute of their plot/Is almost come' (IV.i.141-2), Prospero says in his distraction. What I am trying to argue is that the intrusion of the Caliban plot to murder Prospero into the dance that culminates the marriage masque of Ferdinand and Miranda makes a kind of deep psychological sense. It is not, I believe, the threat to Prospero's life that is at issue here, but the threat to his psychic equilibrium posed by his repressed incestuous desires. In surrendering himself to the progress of the masque, in letting himself become absorbed into a process that does 'enact/My present fancies', Prospero loses conscious control over the direction in which his 'fancies' lead him. The ' country footing of the reapers and the nymphs comes to represent for him the repressed sexual dimension of his longing for his daughter, and the violent dissolution of the dance breaks the hold of the masque turned to nightmare. Prospero's understanding of the interruption as his sudden memory of Caliban's plot both disguises the threat and identifies it, since it is Caliban as a representation of his own repressed sexuality that figures unconsciously into the memory.
The exquisite poetry of 'Our revels now are ended' expresses Prospero's full recoil from his dangerous absorption in his 'present fancies'. The masque has drawn him into a process that, for the first time in the play, eludes his control, draws him into a closeness with deeply repressed dimensions of himself—not only his desire for Miranda but his very capacity to give himself over to an experience that follows a logic deeper than his conscious manipulations. The psychological result, as he recovers himself, and before he turns to the business of resuming control over the action, is a movement in the opposite direction from control. After the marriage masque has drawn him too deeply into its symbolic action, Prospero retreats to a vantage point where nobody is in control and where it does not much matter.
Prospero's lyrical vision of the world as 'insubstantial pageant' in some respects recalls Caliban's account of his dream of imminent riches that are all but his, but that waking deprives him of. 'I am full of pleasure' (III.ii.114), Caliban says, when he thinks all will work out with Stephano. It is a momentary perception, ill grounded, but its expression catches the whole orientation of Caliban's character. This orientation is most fully expressed in his account of the 'Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not' (III.ii.135), of the clouds he thinks will 'open and show riches/Ready to drop upon me' (III.ii.139-40)—the experience to which he gives himself in his dreams, and for which, upon awakening, he cries to dream again.
My notion here is that Prospero's marriage masque captures him in something of the same way that Caliban is captured by his dream of imminent but elusive riches. It is the closest this power-dominated man comes to a point where it would make sense for him to say, with Caliban, 'I am full of pleasure'. In his absorption in the masque, which represents his 'present fancies', that pleasure proves to be disruptive. Suddenly vulnerable to a threat from within himself, Prospero for the first time finds himself in a situation where he cannot address his crisis by magically manipulating the external world. He cannot act on, cannot even acknowledge directly, the sexual component of his need for Miranda—though he will, later, in a famous and problematic statement, say of Caliban: 'this thing of darkness I/Acknowledge mine' (IV.i.275-6). And he cannot stop the socially inflected but ultimately natural clock that has brought Miranda to sexual maturation and that demands that he surrender her to another. In short, Prospero, the master manipulator, the nearly omnipotent controller of the action of this play, finds himself in a position beyond the limits of his control, a position of helplessness before his own need and before developments in his world that will not yield to his magic.
Prospero's immediate response is not to cry to dream again. Nor is it to reassert the sort of control that has been crucial to his life on the island. Instead, Prospero retreats to a vantage point from which neither the nature of his feelings nor the control he exercises over his world matters. Where Caliban, in his dream, envisions a world heavy with riches ready to drop upon him, Prospero envisions a receding world, of no more substance or consequence than 'this insubstantial pageant faded', dissolving, without a trace, into nothingness. His life, those of his daughter, her suitor, the usurping visitors to the island on whom he still seems to plan vengeance—a little world of people about whom Prospero has made the finest distinctions, ranging from his precious daughter to his pernicious brother, from the venerable Gonzalo to the despised Caliban—all are simply 'such stuff/As dreams are made on'. Their lives, all lives, add up to a 'little life/ . . . rounded with a sleep' (IV.i.155-8).
When Prospero the master of magical power confronts his own helplessness in the face of a situation beyond the limits of his control, he retreats to a vantage point in which action no longer matters, where the precise distinctions and discriminations and the minute-by-minute timing that have characterized his relation to the world are dissolved in the blank emptiness of eternity. On the one hand, this vision of all of life as an insubstantial pageant faded is the extreme form of theatricality as a defence, Prospero's version of Macbeth's poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. But the tone or feeling of the speech could hardly be more different from that of Macbeth's. Prospero describes an emptiness as radical as Macbeth's, an emptiness that suggests Yeats's notion of Shakespeare meditating on a world 'almost as empty in his eyes as it must be in the eyes of God'. But Prospero's speech conveys something very different from the embittered desolation of Macbeth. It is offered to comfort Miranda and Ferdinand; and it seems to bring comfort to Prospero, to break the agitation of his thought of Caliban.
Part of Prospero's comfort, of course, derives simply from the distancing this vantage point provides, the relief of watching his inner conflict and the vexations of managing his world recede into oblivion. But the comfort provided seems to be more richly textured than the comfort of the world's absence. And Prospero's speech, unlike Macbeth's, seems shielded from the perception of life's emptiness as a source of despair, or of terror.
It is harder to point to what there is in the language of this speech that accounts for this more positive sense of comfort and reassurance. But I think important keys are in the lines that bring Prospero's vision of the world's emptiness to a culmination:
We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.
It seems to me that there may be some sense in which 'stuff brings as much substantiality to 'dreams' as 'dreams' brings ephemerality to 'stuff. There is, moreover, a kind of gentleness about this utterance, a tenderness even, quite uncharacteristic of Prospero elsewhere in the play. But I think more important is what happens in the last clause.
The plain sense of the passage is that human lives emerge out of a dark, sleeplike void and pass back into it at death and that these brief lives are of small matter in this everlasting movement from nothing to nothing. But 'our' in 'our little life' seems to play against the sense of dispossession that the speech has turned on. The word 'little' does not suggest paltriness or insignificance here so much as the vulnerability of tininess. I associate 'little life' here with infancy, a little living person. The phrase 'little life . . . / . . . rounded with a sleep' seems to present a kind of holding, almost a caressing image, the little life held by the sleep, or held in ways that facilitate sleep, protecting it from the hurly-burly of the larger world. And 'rounded' here seems to me to convey something of the same tenderness that we can find in this account from A Midsummer Night's Dream: 'For she his hairy temples then had rounded/With coronet of fresh and fragrant flowers' (IV.i.48-9), describing Titania's tender and protective dotage over Bottom.
In short, the speech has submerged within it the tender infant-mother paradigm I earlier associated with Bottom's fulfilment through Titania. In this phase of Shakespeare's development, I think it suggests a point of connection to the two romances from which it most differs: to the promise for renewed life associated with Marina's infancy in Pericles and Perdita's in The Winter's Tale. Within The Tempest, it points back to the nostalgic evocations of Miranda's infancy, both to her distant memory, 'rather like a dream than an assurance/That my remembrance warrants' (I.ii.45-6), of being attended by feminine presences in Milan, and to Prospero's memory of the courage he gathered from Miranda's infantile presence on the 'rotten carcase of a butt' (I.ii.146) that brought them to the island in their exile: 'O, a chérubin/Thou wast that did preserve me' (I.ii.152-3).
Within the play, it also reaches out to Caliban's dream of maternal riches about to drop upon him. If Caliban's sexuality unconsciously represents to Prospero his repressed incestuous longing for Miranda, Caliban's psychological orientation toward a nurturant, giving world represents for Prospero a comparably repressed wish to turn oneself over in trust to a world understood as the heritage of the infantile world of oneness with maternal bounty. Foregoing this wish has defined Prospero's post-Milan world of magic, power, mastery. Obliquely, but poignantly, following his recognition of his helplessness before his own desires and developments in his world, and in the course of an imaginative vision of universal emptiness, Prospero touches base with that wish. It is, I think, an important moment for him, one that contributes crucially to the gestures that culminate his role in the play: his surrender of his magical power, his foregoing of his plan for vengence, his final, formal release of Miranda to Ferdinand, his acknowledgement of Caliban, and his readiness to prepare himself for death in Milan, 'where/Every third thought should be my grave' (V.i.310-11) and where his own little life will be rounded with a sleep.
2 Drive-centred theories and object-relations theories of psychoanalysis have their respective points of departure in this situation—the emergence of infantile sexuality within the nurturant environment that provides both the first objects of desire and the object relation in which the infant's primary sense of being in the world is anchored.
3 See Holland's chapter on the poet H.D., called 'A Maker's Mind', in Holland (1973: 5-59).
4 Recent readings of the play as either a complicit celebration of or a subversive indictment of the colonialist enterprise complicate and extend that trend. When Caliban complains to Prospero that his 'profit' from learning the Europeans' language is 'I know how to curse' (I.ii. 362-63), Greenblatt (1990: 25) writes: 'Ugly, rude, savage, Caliban nevertheless achieves for an instant an absolute if intolerably bitter moral victory.' For Paul Brown, even the dream that seems to give Caliban something he 'may use to resist, if only in dream, the repressive reality which hails him as villain', is ultimately the expression of desire generated by and within colonialism: 'the colonialist project's investment in the processes of euphemisation of what are really powerful relations here has produced a Utopian moment where powerlessness represents a desire for powerlessness' (' "This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine": The Tempest and the discourse of colonialism', in Dollimore and Sinfield (1985: 65, 66).
5 Skura (1989: 60-5), however, points tellingly to several situations in Shakespeare's earlier drama that provide parallels to this moment when the exiled, manipulative, paternalistic duke erupts in anger in response to a figure who embodies qualities he has repudiated in himself: Antonio to Shylock in The Merchant of Venice; Duke Senior to Jaques in his satiric mood ('thou thyself hast been a libertine') in As You Like It; Duke Vincentio to Lucio in Measure for Measure; the newly crowned Henry V to Falstaff in 2 Henry IV.
6 The psychoanalytic components of this narrative have been distributed variously in different psychoanalytic accounts, but they have been in place since 'Otto Rank [in Das Inzest-Motiv in Dichtung und Sage (1912)] set out the basic insight' (Holland, 1966: 269).
7 Prospero's pageant presents a mythic Utopian vision which Skura (1989: 68) compares to Gonzalo's 'more socialized' utopia and to Caliban's dream: all three 'recreate a union with a bounteous Mother Nature. And like every child's utopia, each is a fragile creation, easily destroyed by the rage and violence that constitute its defining alternative—a dystopia of murderous vengeance; the interruption of Prospero's pageant is only the last in a series of such interruptions.'
Unless otherwise indicated, place of publication is London.
Dollimore, Jonathan and Sinfield, Alan (eds) (1985) Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism. Manchester.
Freud, Sigmund (1953-74) The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works, ed. J. Strachey, 24 vols.
Greenblatt, Stephen (1990) Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture. New York.
Holland, Norman (1966) Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare. New York.
Holland, Norman (1973) Poems in Persons: An Introduction to the Psychoanalysis of Literature. New York.
Ovid (1961) Shakespeare's Ovid, Being Arthur Golding's Translation of the Metamorphoses, ed. W.H.D. Rouse.
Skura, Meredith Anne (1989) 'Discourse and the individual: the case of colonialism in The Tempest', Shakespeare Quarterly, 40: 42-69.
Tilley, M.P. (1950) A Dictionary of Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Ann Arbor, MI.
Winnicott, D.W. (1965) The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment.
Yeats, W.B. (1961) Essays and Introductions.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 15944
Michael Payne (essay date 1988)
SOURCE: "Magic and Politics in The Tempest," in Shakespeare and the Triple Play: From Study to Stage to Classroom, edited by Sidney Homan, Bucknell University Press, 1988, pp. 43-57.
[In the following essay, Payne takes a pluralistic approach to The Tempest, discussing its political dimensions with reference to its depiction of Prospero's magic. In the critic's judgment, Prospero uses his magic to bring others to self-knowledge and to rectify his own original error in choosing the magical world over the political.]
Recent critical interpretation of The Tempest, perhaps more than that of any other of Shakespeare's plays, has become thoroughly polarized. Those who have concentrated their attention on Prospero's magic and the traditions it reflects have, with rare exception, seen the play as the crowning glory of Shakespeare's achievement and Prospero as a character who grows in power and moral stature to a height unmatched by any other of the playwright's creations. This view of the play has come to be strongly supported by a series of studies emanating from the Warburg Institute that have reconstructed the traditions of natural and spiritual magic, which Shakespeare carefully draws upon. These interwoven traditions extend from Ficino's complex network of Neoplatonism, hermeticism, and occult philosophy—whose goal is the attainment of knowledge and wisdom—through the more pragmatic teachings of Agrippa and Paracelsus—who would give the magician not only the power to attract but also to control good and evil spirits—on to the tradition's fulfillment in Bruno and Dee—who establish the tradition firmly in England just before its precipitous decline.1
Confidently asserting the magician's power to transcend the earth for the sake of "far other worlds and other seas," Bruno expands on the idea of man's ability to ascend in thought to a state almost divine that Pico mentions in a famous passage in his Oration on the Dignity of Man: "It will be within your power to rise, through your own choice, to the superior orders of divine life." John Dee encourages the occult philosopher to take a further step. In his Preface to Euclid he instructs the magical polymath to return from heaven to the world of nature and to practice his occult art there:
Thus can the mathematical mind deal speculatively in his own art and by good means mount above the clouds and stars; . . . he can [then] by order descend, to frame natural things to wonderful uses; and when he list, retire home into his own center and there prepare more means to ascend or descend by; and all to the glory of God and our honest delectation in earth.2
When Prospero is considered in light of this magical history, it is not surprising that he is seen either as Shakespeare's recapitulation of occult tradition or more specifically as the reenactment on the stage of John Dee's career.3 Prospero confesses to having neglected worldly ends in Milan for the improvement of his mind (1.2.89-90)4 and appears in the course of the play to follow Dee's directive "to frame natural things to wonderful uses." His motive for creating the tempest is not revenge but primarily the attempt to regenerate his former enemies; thus, he declares,
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th' quick, Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury Do I take part: the rarer action is In virtue than in vengeance: they being penitent, The sole drift of my purpose doth extend Not a frown further.
The storm is not only a means of bringing those who wronged Prospero to the island, but also an occasion for the display of his extensive magical powers, which give him command of both the worlds of nature and of spirits. It is, however, only retrospectively that the audience is informed, along with Miranda, of Prospero's beneficent control over the tempest. Throughout most of the play we mainly witness his ability to command spirits, while the other characters are restricted to seeing displays of Prospero's artistic or dramatic virtuosity. Indeed, as an ultimate indication of his self-confidence and artistic control, Prospero conceals his magical and artistic powers. Finally, with those powers at their height, he gives them up entirely in order to resume his common humanity and to allow others the freedom to "be themselves" (5.1.32), which includes his brother's freedom to reject regeneration.
In explicit opposition to this affirmative view of Prospero is a rapidly growing body of revolutionary, polemical commentary that condemns not only Prospero but also the play and Shakespeare himself for promoting a self-deceptive psychology of colonization. Although this view of The Tempest has a complex history that reaches back at least as far as Renan's Caliban (1878), the case against Prospero has been most powerfully made in two important studies published in 1985.5 Paul Brown's essay in Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism goes beyond earlier polemical studies in arguing that the play does not simply reflect colonialist practices but is itself "an intervention in an ambivalent and often contradictory discourse" promoting a colonialist political psychology. The Tempest's "powerful and pleasurable narrative" tries but fails, in Brown's view, to harmonize or transcend the irreconcilable internal contradictions of colonialist discourse.6 Francis Barker and Peter Hulme, in an essay in Alternative Shakespeares, develop a similar argument. They believe that Shakespeare today is made to participate in the construction of a false English past "which is picturesque, familiar and untroubled." But in The Tempest the usual opposition between the autotelic text and its historically problematic context actually invades the text of the play itself. This invasion can now be properly understood, they argue, because of the displacement of the old critical paradigm of liberal humanism by the poststructuralist emphasis on intertextuality. An important consequence of such an emphasis, they conclude, is to see the play as two irreconcilable dramas that undermine or deconstruct each other. Prospero's play is preoccupied with his attempts to legitimate his power by securing recognition of his claim to Milan; in Caliban's play Prospero suppresses a reenactment of the original usurpation of his kingdom when he puts down Caliban's mutiny, which allows him (in the words of Barker and Hulme) "to annul the memory of his failure to prevent his expulsion from the dukedom."7 Both of these essays find the play—and by extension Shakespeare himself—guilty of being controlled by a political unconscious that awaits, not criticism, but a critique powerful enough to make the play's latent politics fully manifest. The essays claim to offer such a critique of the play and its use by generations of critics and performers, who have, perhaps unwittingly, promoted liberal humanism and Western imperialism by accepting The Tempest's politics without question.8
The evidence offered to support such a negative view of the play includes Prospero's need, in scene 2, to establish his own version of the past, which no one (least of all Miranda) is able to question. Furthermore, his usurpation of the native authority of Caliban; his need to make both Caliban and Ariel his slaves; his suppression of the matriarchal magical order of Caliban's mother Sycorax; his dualistic categorization of others as virgins or rapists, friends or foes; his insisting on regulating his daughter's sexuality; his division of the shipwrecked travelers into two clear groups of aristocrats and plebians—all lend considerable support to a polemical deconstruction of the play in an effort to expose its place in a Shakespearean hegemony.
Rather than being necessarily exclusive of each other, the two views of the play I have summarized—the one emphasizing the tradition of magic and Prospero's personal growth and the other emphasizing politics and Caliban's enslavement—not only need but also require each other. To suggest, however, the complementarity of magic and politics is to confess resistance to recent attempts to displace a liberal, humanistic tradition of history. The editor of Alternative Shakespeares warns his readers that "'historical' and, in certain cases, historicist, accounts of Shakespearean texts, pluralist in emphasis and liberal in their capacity to assimilate revisionist, or even radical, challenges, have become a staple of Shakespeare criticism."9 To this, one may respond simply that Shakespeare himself may be the model for such pluralistic assimilation, especially in the all-encompassing ecumenicism of the dramatic romances.10
Magic and politics are linked throughout The Tempest. In the narrative past Prospero neglected politics for magic. In the dramatic present he uses magic as a means to achieve specific political ends. The reclaiming of his dukedom, establishing a line of succession through Miranda and Ferdinand, creating amity between Milan and Naples, controlling the conspiracies against Alonso and himself, regenerating his enemies in preparation for the return to Italy, and restoring Caliban to authority over the island are all political accomplishments of his magical art. In the future, to which the Epilogue points, Prospero will lack the authority he has drawn from magic; yet in choosing vulnerable weakness, he displays his greatest strength and highest art. By the end of the play he has made a complete transition from what D. P. Walker has called transitive magic, used to manipulate others, to subjective magic, directed inward to the control of himself.11 In aesthetic terms this is an achievement of an artistic style of such subtlety and refinement that it hides itself, transferring power from playwright, director, and actor to the audience. In religious terms it is the attainment of the state of grace, a willing suspension of presumed self-sufficiency that makes one receptive to an act of mercy. Prospero combines in his Epilogue the religious, aesthetic, political, and magical significance of his chosen weakness:
Now my charms are all o'erthrown, And what strength I have's mine own, Which is most faint: now, 'tis true, I must be here confín'd by you, Or sent to Naples. Let me not, Since I have my dukedom got, And pardon'd the deceiver, dwell In this bare island by your spell. . . . Now I want Spirits to enforce, Art to enchant; And my ending is despair, Unless I be reliev'd by prayer, Which pierces so, that it assaults Mercy itself, and frees all faults. . . .
(Epil. 1-8, 13-18)
Prospero's salvation requires the audience's mercy that is made possible by a full imaginative identification with his desire for freedom and absolution.
The complementary relationship between magic and politics is diffused throughout the action of the play. It shapes the characterization of Prospero, whose control over the action is greater than that of any of Shakespeare's other creations, and it determines an important part of the audience's perspective on the play. The action of the play may be thought of as consisting of three tempests, each one manifest in a different form. The first is the visual spectacle of the storm itself that occupies the first scene and is the most dazzling display of Prospero's magical powers. In his account of how he brought about the storm at Prospero's command, Ariel suggests that what he did was to play upon the visual perceptions of the voyagers, enflaming their imaginations:
I flam'd amazement: sometime I'd divide, And burn in many places; on the topmast, The yards and boresprit, would I flame distinctly, Then meet and join. Jove's lightnings, the precursors
O'th' dreadful thunder-claps, more momentary And sight-outrunning were not: the fire and cracks Of sulphurous roaring the most mighty Neptune Seem to besiege, and make his bold waves tremble, Yea, his dread trident shake. . . . Not a soul But felt a fever of the mad, and play'd Some tricks of desperation. All but mariners Plung'd in the foaming brine, and quit the vessel, Then all afire with me.
Ariel concludes his account by insisting that the effect of their ordeal by water and fire was to make the voyagers fresher than before, as Prospero had specifically commanded:
Not a hair perish'd; On their sustaining garments not a blemish, But fresher than before: and, as thou bad'st me.
These words reinforce Prospero's earlier assurances to Miranda and firmly establish his intent to regenerate and restore his former enemies rather than avenge himself upon them.
Immediately following the visual spectacle of the storm but preceeding Ariel's account of his role in creating it is Prospero's narrative of the tempestuous series of events occurring before the play begins—his neglect of his responsibilities as Duke of Milan, his entrusting the dukedom to his brother Antonio, and his own banishment following Antonio's usurpation—all caused by Prospero's apparently selfish absorption in the inactive and purely bookish delights of "the liberal Arts" and "secret studies" (1.2.73, 77). Rather than condemning Prospero's attraction to magic, the play emphasizes his error in choosing between the political world and the magical, an error that he has had twelve years to contemplate and now the opportunity to rectify. Thus, Shakespeare would seem to be supporting Dee's advocacy of the active use of magic by a sage who may have first mounted "above the clouds and stars" in pursuit of spiritual truth but who at last retires "home into his own center," applying his knowledge to the affairs of the world.
Following the spectacular tempest of the play's first scene and Prospero's narrative of his stormy past in scene two, the dramatic action of the play itself unfolds, joining the consequences of Prospero's past with his new redemptive purpose. The main action includes Prospero's bringing his tutelage of Miranda to an end by preparing her to return to Italy with a new husband, Ferdinand. Just as he gives his daughter her freedom, so also does Prospero end his control over the lives of Ariel and Caliban. In the midst of these affairs he also attempts to regenerate the usurpers of his dukedom by allowing them the freedom to reenact their crimes against him in the plot to supplant Alonso. In restraining his power over Miranda, Ariel, Caliban, and the voyagers, Prospero exhibits his own self-regenerative control that is also a manifestation of the highest refinement of the art he practices. His abjuration of magic is no second abdication. Rather it is a confident expression of Prospero's self-realization, of his belief in the powers of freedom and self-determination, and of his artistic style that conceals itself by encouraging the recreative participation of his audience, first the several audiences of the masques within the play and then the larger audience of The Tempest to whom Prospero finally—in the Epilogue—entrusts himself. This main action may be seen as moving through a complete revolution: from Prospero's self-indulgence in the magical arts with its political cost, to his using art for the purpose of regenerating himself and others; from the bondage of Miranda, Ariel, and Caliban, to their liberation to "be themselves"; from Prospero's "neglecting worldly ends," to his abjuring "rough magic" and reassuming a common humanity.
In bringing Prospero's tempestuous past to bear on the present action of the play, Shakespeare simultaneously divides up the characters into significant groups and arranges those groups and the individuals within them in a hierarchy of discrepant awarenesses, further strengthening the link between magic and politics. The principal division initially lies between those who are on the island from the beginning of the play—Prospero, Ariel, Miranda, and Caliban—and those who are shipwrecked there by the storm. The second group is further subdivided into three: Ferdinand; the royal party (Alonso, Gonzalo, Antonio, and Sebastian); and the clowns Stephano and Trinculo. Although the manipulations or "practices" of one character upon another leading to different degrees of knowledge is a basic ingredient in Shakespeare's dramatic art, The Tempest is unique in placing Prospero on a pinnacle of awareness that allows him to tower, however briefly, even over the audience.12 Beneath him, from Miranda to Stephano and Trinculo, the characters occupy different positions of varying ironic limitation in a pattern that is recapitulated even within the royal party, as Antonio and Sebastian scheme to overthrow Alonso in an act of treachery that would parallel the original usurpation of Prospero's dukedom. As though to undermine any static sense of hierarchy in these groupings, having once established them, Shakespeare meshes the islanders with the shipwrecked voyagers, bringing Ferdinand and Miranda together, Ariel into a position of control over the royal party, and Caliban into contact with the clowns, while Prospero interacts with them all. The continuum from Prospero to the clowns represents a range of regenerative possibility, from Prospero's radical reorientation to the world and his power over it to Antonio's final, stubborn silence and the clowns' punishment. Prospero's magical power, conducted through his agent Ariel, controls all of these groups and maintains the advantage for the islanders. Even Caliban finally rises above the mindless scheming of the clowns.
The minidramas set within each of these groups are essentially political. The meeting of Ferdinand and Miranda establishes the order of rightful succession in Milan, as well as the union of two Italian states; and in terms of sexual politics it insures the equality of husband and wife, as the chess game with its accompanying wit combat between the lovers suggests. Sebastian's and Antonio's intrigue recapitulates the political treachery of Shakespeare's tragedies: brother conspires against brother and against rightful heirs in a manner that shatters the Utopian illusions of Gonzalo. Thinking themselves masterless men, Stephano and Trinculo would replace the only authority they believe remains and substitute their own debauched tyranny for it. Despite all these acts of rebellion (even Miranda believes she is defying her father in loving Ferdinand), none of these characters finally realizes how much Prospero's magic controls them. Instead, they see an effacement of his magic in the four entertainments that he produces for their enlightenment. For the court party the disappearing banquet (3.3.18 ff.) exposes the appetite for illusory power; for Miranda and Ferdinand the wedding masque (4.1.60 ff.) captures their prospect for harmonious love and fruitful marriage that has the potential of renewing their soon to be united kingdoms; for Stephano and Trinculo their being hunted and hounded (4.1.255) is a means of singling them out for punishment because of their incapacity for regeneration, or what Henri Bergson would have called their mechanical inelasticity; and for Alonso and the royal party the scene of Ferdinand and Miranda at chess (5.1.172) is both an occasion for reunion of father and son and a forecast of a greater union to come of Prospero's and Alonso's states.
All of these internal dramas contribute to the triumph of Prospero's "rarer action" that ultimately manifests itself rather "in virtue than in vengeance" (5.1.27-28) and that makes possible through his art the restoration of all of the characters to their own true selves, as well as the restoration of the play's several political worlds. Alonso facilitates the return of Prospero's dukedom, Prospero provides for the union of their dynasties, the rebellions against both of them are exposed, and Caliban regains his island kingdom. Prospero's magic, thus, provides the world of the play with the security and pleasurable resolution of the romantic comedies, which typically move from a state of bondage to an old law or a dark past to a new and liberated society based on love, "natural perspective," and the promise of new life. The shipwrecked voyagers, on the other hand, bring to the island all the dangers of violence, evil, death, and lost identity that permeate the tragedies. In Prospero, Shakespeare creates a protagonist who has grown and developed out of a past marked by many of the same losses suffered by Lear—indeed, Bradley notes how The Tempest in effect continues Lear's story13—yet Prospero is also complete from the beginning of the play, as his unusual autobiographical narrative in the second scene reveals.
In defining Prospero's character, Shakespeare further develops in this play a dramatic psychology that conceives of the self as consisting of a repertoire of external, socially interactive roles, which clothe or encase a vulnerable inner core of being. The recurring metaphor for this psychology throughout Shakespeare's works equates the roles with the parts an actor plays—these are further called "spirits" in Prospero's revels speech (4.1.149)—and the inner being is equated with the actor's true personality, which is what remains of Prospero after he ceases to play the magician's part. Each role is a means of relating to others and can be terminated at will. The core of being is given at birth, like Antonio's "evil nature," but it can change and develop through experience or be hidden by the roles one plays.
Prospero's roles as father and teacher that have occupied him for the past twelve years are brought to an end in the course of the play. Indeed, Prospero implies that there is a logic of self-effacement in both roles: the father invites his child to assert her own will as a necessary consequence of her maturing independence that he has fostered, and the teacher's authority must finally give way to the student's need to test what she has learned against her experience of the world. As magician, on the other hand, Prospero's achievements have been absolute and cosmic in scope, as he recalls in his speech on abjuring magic. Addressing the daemons who have assisted him, he recalls,
I have bedimm'd The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds, And 'twixt the green sea and the azur'd vault Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder Have I given fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak With his own bolt; the strong-bas'd promontory Have I made shake, and by the spurs pluck'd up The pine and cedar: graves at my command Have wak'd their sleepers, op'd, and let'em forth By my so potent Art.
Indeed as he looks back on his magical career, Prospero claims as achievements the very powers Marlowe's Faustus longed to possess:
Emperors and kings Are but obey'd in their several provinces: Nor can they raise the wind, or rend the clouds: But his dominion that exceeds in this, Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man. A sound magician is a mighty god.
(Doctor Faustus, II. 85-90)
Unlike Faustus, however, Prospero serves a moral purpose with his magic. He uses it to bring others to a full realization of themselves by first working "upon their senses" (5.1.53) until "their understanding / Begins to swell," flooding their "foul and muddy" minds with reason (79-82).
Although his final rejection of magical power forms the dramatic climax of the play, Prospero acts principally as a magician in all that we see him do. His fatherly care of Miranda and his instruction of her and Caliban are in the past, while the resumption of his political role is projected into the future. Indeed it would seem that whereas magic costs Faustus his soul, it is the means by which Prospero regains his and restores those who come under his influence. According to the familiar distinction, Faustus practices goetic magic, calling up evil spirits and commercing with the devil, while Prospero practices theurgic magic, commanding planetary spirits in order to turn loss into restoration. Despite Gonzalo's irrepressible enthusiasm, which has inspired the stage convention of depicting him as a complete fool, he does see clearly the dominant pattern of loss and restoration that extends from Prospero's exile and the marriage of Alonso's daughter Claribel to the concluding action of The Tempest:
Was Milan thrust from Milan, that his issue Should become Kings of Naples? O, rejoice 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 dukedom In a poor isle, and all of us ourselves When no man was his own.
Gonzalo does not see Prospero's magical agency creating this pattern because Prospero presents himself to the royal party not as the magician he has been but as Duke of Milan. Immediately after breaking his staff and drowning his book, Prospero directs Ariel to attire him in his princely garb:
Fetch me the hat and rapier in my cell: I will discase me, and myself present As I was sometime Milan.
The audience alone has witnessed the full extent of Prospero's power.
This unique role of the audience in the play makes the circumstances of The Tempest's earliest performances especially significant, adding as well another political dimension to the play. The Revels Accounts list the presentation of The Tempest at Court by Shakespeare's company in 1611, which is its first recorded performance. In the winter of 1612-13 it was played again as part of the Court entertainments between the betrothal and marriage of the Elector to Princess Elizabeth, both of whom are specifically mentioned in the record of payment to the King's Men. It is not surprising, therefore, that The Tempest abounds in themes and details that mirror concerns and interests of the royal family: the politics of succession, the desire to unify two kingdoms, interest in New World exploration, the study of magic and demonology, the rights of kingship, the theatrical role of the monarch, even Prince Henry's fascination with ships are all reflected in the play and can easily be imagined to have been a powerful part of the royal audience's apparent pleasure at its first performance. Alonso's situation throughout much of The Tempest parallels James's when he saw the play for a second time in 1613.14 Just as Alonso's daughter Clari-bel is married to the sovereign of faraway Tunis and his son Ferdinand presumed by him to be drowned, so within four months had James's son Prince Henry died of typhoid and his daughter Elizabeth become the "Winter Queen" of Bohemia. Such parallels create an almost irresistible temptation to resort to various forms of topical reductionism or historical determinism in interpreting the play. Recent studies of Shakespearean mimesis by Jonathan Goldberg, Howard Felperin, and David Bergeron, however, have emphasized the ways in which Shakespeare mediates by "re-presentation" all of the sources that can now be identified.15 In representing the traditions of magic, the interests of the royal family, and his identifiable written sources, it is Shakespeare's transubstantiation of those sources rather than his duplication of them that is most important for an understanding of his art.
In his re-presentation of the traditions of magic, Shakespeare gives Prospero a sense of his magical power that is close to John Dee's; but unlike Dee, Prospero chooses art, theater, and specifically the masque as the means of exercising that power. In reflecting the contemporary political preoccupations of the Jacobean Court, Shakespeare embodies those topical concerns more specifically in the Alonso subplot than in his account of Prospero, thus invoking those concerns but not allowing them to dominate the play. Despite The Tempest's thematic preoccupations with politics and Prospero's manifesting his magic in the creation of masques, Shakespeare specifically avoids using the masque to flatter James's illusions of imperial power.16 Instead, either Ariel or Prospero offer sufficient commentary on each of the masques to transform them into moral allegories. Shakespeare's transformation of his written sources is an even more telling instance of his art of re-presentation. Unlike the sources for most of his other plays, those for The Tempest do not provide Shakespeare with a narrative. The Bermuda pamphlets and Montaigne's essay "Of Cannibals" instead offer points of view on the contact between Europe and the New World, which Shakespeare weaves into his depiction of the relationship between Caliban and Prospero.
Samuel Purchas's travel books, though they contain the first published version of William Strachey's True Repertory of the Wrack, which was written and privately circulated in 1610, carefully surround the reporting of new facts about foreign exploration with accounts of classical voyages and an apology for colonization based on religious and moral ideas. Drake, for example, is typologized as a Christian Moses who brings the law to savages. Montaigne, on the other hand, argues that the New World is a place of natural virtue, free of the corruption of civilization. In the Indians, he writes, "are the true and most profitable vertues, and naturall properties most lively and vigorous, which in these we have bastardized, applying them to the pleasure of our corrupted taste."17 The authors of the Bermuda pamphlets generally maintain the high moral tone of those, like Purchas, who rationalized colonization; but when Strachey and Jourdain describe the islands and the life they found there, the point of view they adopt, based on personal experience, approaches Montaigne's naturalism. Strachey confronts the issue directly:
. . . I hope to deliver the world from a foule and generali errour: it being counted of most, that they can be no habitation for Men, but rather given over to Devils and wicked Spirits; whereas indeed wee find them now by experience, to be as habitable and commodi us as most Countries of the same climate and situation. . . . Men ought not to deny every thing which is not subject to their owne sense. . . .18
When he created Caliban, Shakespeare had available to him these three views of natural man; that he was wild and immoral, in need of the virtuous instruction and saving grace of Christianity; that he exhibited natural virtues and enviable vitality that civilized man is ready to corrupt; and that he is like other men and can be understood by anyone who takes the trouble to cut through propaganda and see native life for oneself.19
Rather than choosing to follow one of his sources and to reject the others, Shakespeare blends in Caliban all three views of natural man, combining in effect Strachey and Montaigne. Caliban recalls that when Prospero first came to the island, the relationship between them was one of affection, mutual care, and love:
When thou cam'st first, Thou strok'st me, and made much of me; wouldst give me Water with berries in 't; and teach me how To name the bigger light, and how the less, That burn by day and night: and then I lov'd thee, And show'd thee all the qualities o' th' isle, The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile.
That initial relationship, like that of father and child, was shattered by Caliban's attempt to violate Miranda, which Caliban recalls in terms of Montaignean biological growth—"Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else / This isle with Calibans" (1.2.352-55)—but which Prospero and Miranda understandably consider in moral terms:
Abhorred slave, Which any print of goodness wilt not take, Being capable of all ill!
Throughout the play, however, Caliban identifies himself with the minute details of natural life on the island. He offers to take Stephano and Trinculo where crabs grow, to dig them pig-nuts, to show them a jay's nest, to instruct them in snaring the marmoset, and to provide them with filberts and sea birds (2.2.166-72). This aspect of Caliban reflects the humane interest among some sixteenth- and seventeenth-century explorers in careful observation of life in the New World that led to the level of achievement in ethnographic art found in John White's drawings of American Indians.20 These drawings pose a sharp contrast to the physical deformity of Caliban, which is apparently the result of his unnatural birth from the union of the devil and a witch (1.2.321). Finally, however, Caliban is redeemed. His being duped by Stephano and Trinculo not only makes him willing to return to Prospero's service but also leads him to wisdom and the desire for grace (5.1.294-95). In this repentance Caliban rises in moral stature above Antonio. In exchange for the final act of service to Prospero in preparing his cell to receive the royal party, Caliban can look forward to the pardon and freedom he desires. Caliban's life, thus, recapitulates the view of natural man to be found in Shakespeare's sources: Strachey denies that the Bermudas are "given over to Devils and wicked Spirits," which Shakespeare identifies with the birth of Caliban and the worship of his mother's god Setebos (1.2.375). From the time of Prospero's arrival on the island until the end of the play, Caliban is the natural historian of the island, intimately acquainted as he is with its flora and fauna. By the end of the play he moves into the moral and theological order that Prospero himself has commanded since his exile. In Caliban, Prospero's magic and the politics of the play come fully together: his theurgic art of self-realization is defined in contrast to the goetic practices of Caliban's mother Sycorax, and his commitment to the freedom of self-determination arising out of service leads him simultaneously to abjure that magic and to allow others to be themselves.
The polarization of recent critical commentary on the play was anticipated by Oscar Wilde in the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray:
The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.
The Tempest, like all of Shakespeare's works, invites us to see his art as reflecting both his time and our own—"the very shape and body of the time, his form and pressure," as Hamlet calls it. It invites us as well to see our own image reflected back to us. A dislike of either Shakespeare's realism or his romanticism, Wilde suggests, turns us into raging Calibans, unredeemed by the art of Prospero and Shakespeare.
1 The best recent study of this tradition is Barbara Howard Traister, Heavenly Necromancers: The Magician in English Renaissance Drama (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1984), pp. 1-32.
2 "Preface to Euclid," sig. Ciiiv. Bruno's views are conveniently available in Giordano Bruno: His Life and Thought, ed. and trans. Dorothea Woley Singer (New York: Abelard-Schulman, 1950), esp. p. 249. The passage from Pico appears in Renaissance Philosophy I: The Italian Philosophers, ed. and trans. Arturo B. Fallico and Herman Shapiro (New York: Modern Library, 1967), p. 144.
3 This is the view of Frances Yates in Shakespeare's Last Plays: A New Approach (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975) and The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979). For a comprehensive study of Dee's life and thought, see Peter French, The World of an Elizabethan Magus (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972).
4 Quotations from The Tempest are from the Arden edition, ed. Frank Kermode (London: Methuen, 1962).
5 The earlier studies are summarized by Philip Mason in Prospero's Magic (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), pp. 75-97.
6 Paul Brown, "'This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine': The Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism," in Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, eds., Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 48.
7 Francis Barker and Peter Hulme, "Nymphs and Reapers Heavily Vanish: The Discursive Con-texts of The Tempest, " in John Drakakis, ed., Alternative Shakespeares (London: Methuen, 1985), p. 201.
8 Terry Eagleton, William Shakespeare (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), pp. 90-96, and Terence Hawkes, That Shakespeherian Rag (London: Methuen, 1986), pp. 1-25, 51-71, develop a similar argument. Eagleton and Hawkes stress Shakespeare's identification with "the retiring magus" to the point of seeing them both as capitalists who inhumanly create unemployment by the policy of land enclosure (Hawkes) or as practitioners of "oppressive patriarchalism" and a "colonialism which signals the imminent victory of the exploitative, 'inorganic' mercantile bourgeoise" (Eagleton). Eagleton's earlier study of The Tempest sees Prospero as a positive and sympathetic figure (Shakespeare and Society [New York: Schocken Books, 1967], p. 168).
9 Barker and Hulme, "Nymphs and Reapers," p. 17.
10 Cf. Northrop Frye, The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976), p. 53.
11Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella (London: The Warburg Institute, 1958), pp. 82-83.
12 Bertrand Evans, Shakespeare's Comedies (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1960), p. 332.
13 A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy (London: Macmillan, 1905), pp. 328-330.
14 For a detailed discussion of the parallels, see David M. Bergeron, Shakespeare's Romances and the Royal Family (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1985), pp. 182-87.
15 Jonathan Goldberg, James I and the Politics of Literature: Jonson, Shakespeare, Donne and Their Contemporaries (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983); Howard Felperin, Shakespearean Representation: Mimesis and Modernity in Elizabethan Tragedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977); David Bergeron, Shakespeare's Romances and the Royal Family.
16 See Stephen Orgel, The Illusion of Power: Political Theatre in the English Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975).
17 Florio translation, reprinted in The Tempest, ed. Kermode, p. xxxv.
18 Reprinted in ibid., p. 137.
19 For an excellent history of the wild man, see Hayden White, "The Forms of Wildness: Archaeology of an Idea," in Edward Dudley and Maximillian Novak, eds. The Wild Man Within: An Image in Western Thought from the Renaissance to Romanticism (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 1972), esp. pp. 20-21. White slights the third view, however.
20 See Paul Hulton, America 1585: The Complete Drawings of John White (London: British Museum Publications, 1984), esp.p. 9.
21Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (London: Collins, 1966), p. 17.
Richard Halpern (essay date 1990)
SOURCE: "'The Picture of Nobody': White Cannibalism in The Tempest," in The Production of English Renaissance Culture, edited by David Lee Miller, Sharon O'Dair and Harold Weber, Cornell University Press, 1994, pp. 262-92.
[In the excerpt below, originally presented in 1990 at the Seventeenth Alabama Symposium in English and American Literature, Halpern examines cross-cultural elements in The Tempest and the way in which the Western myth of the Golden Age intersects with New World accounts of an American arcadia. Concluding a wide-ranging discussion of Gonzalo's commonwealth, colonialism, and modern as well as Renaissance political concepts, the critic asserts that the play expresses skepticism about Utopian attempts that deny the significance of cultural and racial fusion.]
Tupi or not Tupi, that is the question.
—Oswald de Andrade, Manifesto Antropófago
In his 1971 essay "Caliban," the Cuban critic Roberto Fernández Retamar writes: "A European journalist, and moreover a leftist, asked me a few days ago, 'Does a Latin-American culture exist?' . . . The question . . . could also be expressed another way: 'Do you exist?' For to question our culture is to question our very existence, our human reality itself, and thus to be willing to take a stand in favor of our irremediable colonial condition, since it suggests that we would be but a distorted echo of what occurs elsewhere. This elsewhere is of course the metropolis, the colonizing centers."1 For a critic writing in a revolutionary country just ninety miles from a hostile superpower, questions of cultural and human non-existence are more than merely theoretical. Yet for Retamar, they cannot be reduced to the crude but real possibility of actual annihilation, either. To destroy Latin American culture one need only reduce it to the status of an imitation, simulation, or—as he puts it—"distorted echo" (eco desfigurado) of the metropolitan culture. Retamar's phrase is both resonant and precise. In Ovid, the mythological Echo is indeed disfigured by her unrequited love for Narcissus: she wrinkles, ages, wastes away to skin and bone before decorporealizing entirely into pure, disembodied voice.2 Latin America as "disfigured echo" is not only condemned by the dominating metropolis to mere repetition, it is also drained of strength and vitality by a vampire-like extraction of cultural and material wealth. The metropolis itself, according to the logic of this figure, plays the role of Narcissus, caught in a self-enclosed, specular enjoyment of its own cultural productions, and unable to read in the post-colonial world anything more than another, inferior image of itself.3
Retamar's response to this paralyzing double bind is the figure of the mestizo, of what José Marti called "our mestizo America" (p. 4). The racially mixed figure of the mestizo, compounded of Native American, African, and European blood, represents a culture that chooses miscegenation over imitation; instead of simply repeating or rejecting the metropolitan culture, it assimilates, depurifies, and transforms it by mixing it with non-European strains. As employed by Retamar, the notion of a mestizo culture has clear affinities with certain themes of post-structuralist thought: it denies unique or delimited points of origin, it replaces a monological conception of cultural discourse with a dialogical or indeed disseminative one, and it problematizes boundaries and deconstructs binary oppositions, including that of center and periphery.4 For having once applied the notion of mestizaje ("mixedness" or "mestizoization") to Latin American culture, Retamar then insists that "the thesis that every man [sic] and even every culture is mestizo could easily be defended" (p. 4).5 Mestizoization is thus not a derivative or peripheralized or parasitic state but the inescapable condition of culture as such, including metropolitan culture.
But unlike some of its post-structuralist cousins, mestizaje is not an abstractly textual or discursive concept. It is founded, rather, on the image of the racially mixed body, and insists on this materiality. To borrow Retamar's distinction, it represents human as well as cultural existence. Unlike the emaciated and ultimately disembodied figure of Echo, the mestizo is a corporeal as well as a cultural presence.6 At the same time, mestizaje also invokes a history. For if the figure of the mestizo celebrates cultural mixedness in the present, it also recalls that this mixedness arose from a colonial situation, and that it was originally the product of violence, domination, and desire. Mestizaje is, in a sense, a Nietzschean revaluation of the past, a transformation of defeat through the cultural will to power of the colonized.
In taking Shakespeare's Caliban as the literary symbol for American mestizo culture, Retamar joins a tradition of Caribbean, Latin American, and African writers who have adapted or appropriated The Tempest in an effort either to represent the colonial situation or develop a counter-discourse to it.7 A colonial reading of the play has long been available in the Anglo-American critical tradition as well, at least in the latent form of an awareness of Shakespeare's use of reports from the New World, his informal affiliations with the Virginia Company, and so forth.8 However, it is only in the past decade or so that colonialism has established itself as a dominant, if not the dominant code for interpreting The Tempest.9 Colonialist discourse is typically buttoned onto the play primarily through allegory: the master-slave dialectic between Prospero as colonizing subject and Caliban as colonized.10 Generally it is assumed that Prospero occupies a hegemonic position not only on his island but also in the play's ideological field; The Tempest, in other words, somehow endorses or mystifies colonial domination. It is also frequently noted, however, that Caliban manages at least to question if not undermine the colonizer's assumptions of superiority, in part through political argument (such as Caliban's claim that the island was originally and rightfully his) and in part through a poetic side to his nature which remains invisible to Prospero.11
Such readings have tended to "Americanize" the play, or at least Caliban, by identifying him with the natives described in colonial reports. Leslie Fiedler epitomizes this Americanist reading, arguing that by the end of The Tempest, "the whole history of imperialist America has been prophetically revealed to us in brief parable: from the initial act of expropriation through the Indian wars to the setting up of reservations, and from the beginnings of black slavery to the first revolts and evasions."12 Even if we hesitate in the face of so closely detailed a prophecy, we ought nevertheless to admit that the play manages in some respects to anticipate later developments, and thereby gains much of its cultural force and pertinence. I myself argue that the play's significance is largely American and anticipatory, and to do so I explore paths blazed by both Retamar and Fiedler. More precisely, I want to examine the ways in which the play both advances and erases the mestizoization of Western culture.
I begin by shifting attention away from the Prospero-Caliban axis in the play and toward a possibly unexpected focus: the humanist councillor Gonzalo. Gonzalo, that kind and idealistic if somewhat befuddled character, is generally taken to provide a kind of counterpoint both to the machiavellian plotting of Sebastian and Antonio and to the colonialist domination represented by Prospero. Best remembered, perhaps, for the ideal commonwealth he depicts in II.i., Gonzalo seems to embody an ineffectual utopianism which nevertheless offers a moral contrast to the power politics of the play. In fact, however, Gonzalo's real function is to shift the play's colonialist politics into another mode.
This he does most strikingly when he imagines (or tries to imagine) his ideal commonwealth, accompanied by Antonio's and Sebastian's cynical commentary:
Gonzalo. Had I plantation of this isle, my lord—
Antonio. He'd sow't with nettle seed.
Sebastian. Or docks, or mallows.
Gonzalo. And were the king on't, what would I do?
Sebastian. 'Scape being drunk for want of wine.
Gonzalo. I' th' commonwealth I would by contraries Execute all things. For no kind of traffic Would I admit; no name of magistrate; Letters should not be known; riches, poverty, And use of service, none; contract, succession, 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; No sovereignty.
Sebastian. Yet he would be king on't.
Antonio. The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning.
Gonzalo. All things in common nature should produce Without sweat or endeavor. Treason, felony, Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine Would I not have; but nature should bring forth, Of it own kind, all foison, all abundance, To feed my innocent people.
Sebastian. No marrying 'mong his subjects?
Antonio. None, man, all idle—whores and knaves.
Gonzalo. I would with such perfection govern, sir, T'excel the Golden Age.13
When he speculates on getting "plantation" of the isle, Gonzalo expresses the only positive desire for colonial dominion in the play. Even Prospero is a colonialist malgré lui, and he and the other Italians desert their island at the first opportunity. (Unlike the English or Spanish, Italians in general would not be coded for Shakespeare's audience as fanatical colonizers of the New World.) Only Gonzalo exhibits anything like a colonialist imagination in the play, though an apparently benign and Utopian one.
Gonzalo's ideal commonwealth, as has long been recognized, paraphrases a passage in John Florio's English translation of Montaigne's essay On Cannibals; indeed, it borrows with such fidelity that little attention has been paid to the small but significant changes that Gonzalo rings on his source. The passage from Montaigne offers an idyllic or Golden Age description of the life of the Tupi Indians of Brazil as reported in various colonial accounts. Shakespeare's audience might not have recognized the specific borrowing from Montaigne, but such Golden Age descriptions of the New World had become a kind of setpiece in colonial writings from Columbus, Vespucci, and Peter Martyr on, and hence would have been instantly recognizable as a genre.
Gonzalo's first significant alteration comes in the word "plantation," which unambiguously signifies an exclusively European colony. Hence the "innocent and pure" subjects of Gonzalo's imagined polity are not Montaigne's Indians but white Europeans, who now somehow occupy an American Indian arcadia. Yet they don't do that either, owing to Gonzalo's second alteration. For while Montaigne's passage at least purported to be a description of a real culture in the New World (and I will take up this issue of accuracy later), Gonzalo's commonwealth makes no such claim. Though recognizably derived from New World accounts, then, this ideal commonwealth appears to be peopled by Europeans and modeled on Ovidian and Virgilian descriptions of the Golden Age. All explicit reference to the New World vanishes, though an implicit and ghostly reference still inheres in the arcadian genre itself.
By substituting Europeans for American Indians in his Utopian polity, Gonzalo reproduces a recently current strain of English colonialist discourse. Idyllic, Golden Age descriptions of the New World and its native inhabitants were disseminated by propagandists for the Virginia Company in order to lure Englishwomen and men to America by suggesting that they might appropriate and enjoy the arcadian landscape now peopled by friendly Indians.14Eastward Ho (1605), by Jonson, Marston, and Chapman, parodies such propaganda in ways suggestive for Shakespeare's play:
Seagull Come, boys, Virginia longs till we share the rest of her maidenhead.
Spendall. Why, is she inhabited already with any English?
Sea. A whole country of English is there, man, bred of those that were left there in '79. They have married with the Indians, and make 'em bring forth as beautiful faces as any we have in England; and therefore the Indians are so in love with 'em, that all the treasure they have, they lay at their feet.
Scapethrift. But is there such treasure there, captain, as I have heard?
Sea. I tell thee, gold is more plentiful there than copper is with us; and for as much red copper as I can bring, I'll have thrice the weight in gold. Why, man, all their dripping pans and their chamber pots are pure gold; and all the chains, with which they chain up their streets, are massy gold; all the prisoners they take are fettered within gold; and for rubies and diamonds, they go forth on holidays and gather 'em by the seashore, to hang on their children's coats, and stick in their caps, as commonly as our children wear saffron-gilt brooches, and groats with holes in 'em.
Scape. And is it a pleasant country withal?
Sea. As ever the sun shined on, temperate and full of all sorts of excellent viands: wild boar is as common there as our tamest bacon is here; venison, as mutton. And then you shall live freely there; without sergeants, or courtiers, or lawyers, or intelligencers—only a few industrious Scots, perhaps, who, indeed, are dispersed over the face of the whole earth.15
This exchange has a clarifying effect on Gonzalo's ideal common-wealth, cynically literalizing a number of features that Gonzalo invokes only implicitly and idealistically. In Eastward Ho the "Golden Age" becomes actual gold, and the Indians are described as willing sexual partners, in an all-too-obvious attempt to lure potential colonists. By merging his white plantation with an Indian arcadia, Gonzalo also (if only latently) performs or acts out the desires produced by colonialist advertisement. Of course, this dream of expropriation and substitution had already turned sour by the time The Tempest was written. The winter of 1609-10 had caused widespread starvation in the Jamestown Colony followed by a breakdown in social order and the imposition of strict martial law: the most recent colonial reports would thus have suggested the very opposite of Gonzalo's arcadian vision.16
Such topical resonances, which render Gonzalo's commonwealth "Utopian" in a bad sense, also point to more fundamental contradictions within the ideology and reality of New World colonization. As is well known, early English settlers found themselves embarrassingly dependent on the technologies of native populations for their own survival—a theme of intermittent interest in The Tempest.17 Appropriation of Native American lands was thus impossible without some imitation of their culture, even if this was limited to piecemeal borrowings stripped from any cultural context.18 Native social, political, and cultural life elicited official reactions ranging from guarded admiration to outright contempt, and even the most openminded colonists never suggested that native culture should serve as a model for Christian Europeans.19 Nevertheless, this culture and social structure were felt to possess a dangerous appeal. Well into the eighteenth century, colonial officials and others inveighed against so-called "white Indians"—that is, Europeans who either fled to indigenous tribes in order to escape the harsh conditions of life in the colonies, or, having been captured by natives and integrated into their social world, refused to return to their families and friends when released. Cotton Mather denounced the "Criolian Degeneracy" which afflicted English youth when they were "permitted to run wild in our Woods."20 To many colonists, Native American life offered a higher degree of both liberty and social cohesion than did the authoritarian government of the colonies. By inserting European subjects directly into a description of an Indian arcadia, then, Gonzalo's ideal commonwealth might be said to invoke the perilously Utopian allure associated with the colonial imitation of native culture, and the subsequent mixing or "Criolian degeneracy" which this could entail. More explicitly, Eastward Ho raises the tempting prospect of cultural and physical miscegenation, but then masters it by insisting on the genetic dominance of European blood. ("They have married with the Indians, and make 'em bring forth as beautiful faces as any we have in England.")21
I think, however, that the relation of Gonzalo's commonwealth to the colonial project is more mediated than this, and that its primary focus is on the assimilation of New World culture by European, and specifically humanist, thought. While it borrows its descriptive detail from Montaigne, Gonzalo's ideal commonwealth also alludes in a more general way to Thomas More's Utopia.22 More, of course, sets his utopia in the New World, and colonial reports on native culture inspire the Utopia to some degree, though the extent of this influence has been the subject of longstanding debate. In Eastward Ho, Seagull borrows More's famous golden chamberpots and chains and relocates these among the Indians of Virginia, suggesting that for early modern audiences, at least, Utopia was strongly associated with the indigenous cultures of the New World. Hence Shakespeare's double allusion to Montaigne and More unmistakably draws attention to New World influences on the humanist imagination, and particularly on its Utopian, political strain.
It does so, however, only to stage the disappearance or rather the repression of this influence. For in describing his ideal polity, Gonzalo, unlike More or Montaigne, avoids any direct allusion to the New World; his only explicit point of reference is the classical Golden Age, which installs him in a conservative and restrictively humanist genealogy. Gonzalo's Utopian project appropriates colonial descriptions of the New World but effaces or occults this influence by reinscribing it within a closed and Eurocentric textual economy. When Antonio cynically remarks that "the latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning," he refers to Gonzalo's inconsistency in handling the problem of sovereignty or kingship, yet his words apply as well to the cultural genesis of Gonzalo's vision. This commonwealth actively "forgets" its non-Western beginnings.
Gonzalo's erasure of non-Western influences is completed when he populates his ideal commonwealth with Europeans rather than Native Americans, thereby removing the bodily as well as the cultural presence of those indigenous subjects. Consuming or erasing the racial body covers up all remaining traces of non-Western origin: Gonzalo's commonwealth is now peopled by Europeans and apparently created by the Western philosophical imagination drawing on the classical tradition. This double process of erasure is what I have chosen to call white cannibalism: Gonzalo in effect consumes the body of the racial other in order to appropriate its cultural force. In this respect he becomes a counterpart to Caliban, the anagrammatical cannibal—a connection I pursue later.
Gonzalo and his imaginary commonwealth do not counter colonialist domination in The Tempest, then, but rather transpose it to a cultural plane. Gonzalo usurps the Indian utopia in thought, just as Prospero usurps Caliban's isle in fact.23 Yet it may seem strange to invest Gonzalo with such dire, or even coherent, intentions. Indeed, the erasure of cultural origins I have just outlined might well be ascribed not to imperialist design but to mere forgetfulness, a frequent attribute of the comic senex or old man figure. Antonio even mocks Gonzalo by calling him "this lord of weak remembrance" (II.i.236),24 and there may be an additional irony in the fact that Gonzalo is a forgetful humanist, given that humanism is generally associated with the restoration of cultural and historical memory. Yet it is truer to say that Renaissance humanism inaugurated a dialectic of memory and forgetting which is here embodied in Gonzalo. Erasmus's writings on rhetorical copia, for instance, recommended "digesting" classical authors in order to produce new, distinct, and individual styles. As a strategy of appropriation through the consumption or erasure of textual origins,25 copia converts forgetfulness from a lapse or weakness into a mechanism of stylistic sovereignty and a means of mastering cultural authority. Erasmian stylistics and its cannibalistic metaphors provide a suggestive analogue to Gonzalo's white cannibalism, and they suggest that Gonzalo's gaps in memory can be read not only as a sign of individual weakness but as a characteristic strategy of Renaissance humanism. Gonzalo is indeed a "lord of weak remembrance" in that his forgetfulness is a source of sovereignty, guarding the cultural coherence of humanism from the shock of non-Western influence.
A telling, indeed paradigmatic, example of Gonzalo's active forgetfulness occurs in the famous "widow Dido" exchange of ILL, shortly before the Utopian reverie:
Gonzalo. Methinks our garments are now as fresh as when we put them on first in Afric, at the marriage of the King's fair daughter Claribel to the King of Tunis.
Sebastian. 'Twas a sweet marriage, and we prosper well in our return.
Adrian. Tunis was never graced before with such a paragon to their queen.
Gonzalo. Not since widow Dido's time.
Antonio. Widow? A pox o' that! How came that "widow" in? Widow Dido!
Sebastian. What if he had said "widower Aeneas" too? Good Lord, how ill you take it!
Adrian. "Widow Dido," said you? You make me study of that. She was of Carthage, not of Tunis.
Gonzalo. This Tunis, sir, was Carthage.
Gonzalo. I assure you, Carthage.
Antonio. His word is more than the miraculous harp.
Sebastian. He hath raised the wall and houses too.
Antonio. What impossible matter will he make easy next?
The topic of conversation is the marriage of Alonso's daughter Claribel to the King of Tunis: significantly, a mixed or miscegenating marriage of white European and black African. Gonzalo's muddled pedantry, which confuses Tunis with the ancient city of Carthage, leads to the exchange about "widow Dido." Yet Gonzalo's apparently random dithering is hardly unmotivated. By recalling Aeneas's romance with Dido, the non-African queen of African Carthage, Gonzalo both evokes and denies the miscegenous marriage of Claribel.26 Further, by confusing Tunis with Virgil's fictionalized vision of Carthage, he transforms a real African city into a spot in the literary geography of The Aeneid, thus supplanting the material existence of a non-European society with a founding text of the Western tradition and, not incidentally, the great epic of Roman imperialism. Consuming both the cultural presence of Tunis and its material or bodily existence, Gonzalo's forgetfulness performs an act of white cannibalism. Tunis delenda est is the ideological maxim here, and Tunis is in fact deleted by being reinscribed within a humanist textual tradition. All of this prepares for a more important and culturally central act: the textual purgation of Gonzalo's Utopian commonwealth.
Within Renaissance humanism, the genre of the utopia served as a privileged medium for both the importation and the neutralization of political ideas from the New World. At the level of content, Thomas More's Utopia is clearly influenced by colonial reports describing communal ownership of property, social equality, and the absence of kingship and marked class differences within some Native American cultures. The New World provides both the content and a hypothetical vantage point for criticizing the dominant social order of late-feudal Europe. Yet this political and geographical exteriority is then abstracted from any specific locale or origin. As a place that is pointedly "nowhere" the utopia posits an inadequacy in all extant cultural systems—Western and non-Western—and is fully at home in none of them. More's Utopia does not, for the most part, legitimate itself by reinscribing New World practices within a humanist genealogy. Instead, it appeals on the one hand to the supposedly self-evident rationality of its social logic and, on the other, to the purely empirical or pragmatic claim that it really exists and works, though not within a known cultural geography.27 The Utopian genre thus aspires to autonomy and self-legitimation. Thomas More's Utopia is set in motion when King Utopus separates it from the mainland, a gesture which we may read as the text's desire to cut all lines of cultural influence. But it is precisely because the utopia claims to legitimate itself that it can borrow features from non-European cultures without seriously decentering the West's sense of cultural self-sufficiency. It is not New World culture but Utopian culture that indicts the West, and this indictment is so global as to seem to come from nowhere in particular. Precisely because it is autolegitimating, the utopia can be a seemingly innocuous medium for the covert or semi-covert importation of non-Western influences into Western political discourse.
Gonzalo's ideal commonwealth doubly effaces its references to the New World. On the one hand it reinscribes them within a humanist genealogy. Yet insofar as it invokes the generic codes of the utopia, it denies all lines of origin by posing as an autonomous act of philosophical speculation. To the degree that Gonzalo's commonwealth is a utopia, it does not suffice to say that its subjects are "Europeans." Rather, they are the abstract subjects of political philosophy, without racial or cultural characteristics: genuinely "white" subjects in the sense that they are blanks inserted in, or rather produced by, a scheme of political reason. Gonzalo's replacement of Native American subjects with Europeans is, in this sense, only the first step toward a more complete disembodiment. As utopia, Gonzalo's commonwealth is genuinely "the picture of Nobody."28
But Gonzalo's scheme is afflicted by a slippage of genre. It clearly begins as utopia: by dubbing his vision a commonwealth, and by claiming to "execute all things" by himself, Gonzalo seems to invoke the Utopian interest in planned, formal institutions. Yet his description passes almost immediately into a neighboring but rather different genre: the pastoral arcadia, which is characterized rather by a lack of formal institutions.29 Gonzalo's citizens are not the purposefully, even obsessively productive inhabitants of a fully rationalized polity but rather the idle denizens of the Golden Age. The end of Gonzalo's commonwealth forgets its generic beginnings as well. But this slippage of literary genre revives all the questions of cultural origin that the utopia works to suppress. For while the Golden Age was a recognizably classical or Western topos, it had also become inescapably associated with colonial reports from the New World. Whereas Thomas More had incorporated New World arcadia into a humanist utopia, Gonzalo reverses this genetic order, and by so doing he reveals the obscure anatomy of Western Utopian discourse.30
One of the assumptions of this essay is that European colonialism extracted not only gold, raw materials, and slave labor from the New World, but forms of political, social, and cultural knowledge as well. It might be objected, however, that arcadian descriptions of New World culture reflected only the values, desires, and nostalgias of the colonists themselves. Hence what appears to be cultural expropriation or transfer may in fact be only ideological projection and feedback. Indeed, this latter view has become widely dominant among historians of New World colonization and settlement.31
Colonial reports from the New World were, to be sure, marked by factual and ideological distortion, often massive. Yet they were rarely mere hallucinations. Karen Ordahl Kupperman has persuasively argued that the more outlandish and ethnocentric visions of the New World were almost exclusively produced by writers who had never been there, and that settlers who regularly interacted with North American Indians often achieved a fairly sophisticated understanding of their culture.32 William Brandon, meanwhile, maintains that even the so-called Golden Age reports produced by the earliest explorers were not without some factual basis. Brandon points out that other non-Western cultures, in Africa or Asia, did not provoke comparisons to the Golden Age, and that a number of New World cultures did in fact possess certain features that at least roughly corresponded to this western myth, common possession of property being one of the most important. Furthermore, while the myth of the Golden Age was imposed on American cultures from without, and interpreted their structures selectively and ethnocentrically, the process of influence was actually more mutual and dialogical than it might seem. For while the classical Golden Age generally depicted an arcadian existence under the rule of a good king, the New World Golden Age generally emphasized political liberty and masterlessness. Thus observation of American Indian culture had a reciprocal influence on the imported model of the Golden Age. Brandon goes on to argue that the conception of political liberty entered Western political discourse largely by means of colonial reports from the Americas.33 The image of the New World as Golden Age is, clearly, neither a pure European projection nor an accurate description of native societies. It is, rather, a mestizoized formation that enabled a number of cultural and ideological operations, many of them contradictory: operations of advertisement and colonial propaganda, the reinscription of native societies as pre-cultural rather than cultural, and, I would insist, the appropriation of native socio-cultural practices by the West.
Critics of cultural imperialism tend to emphasize the imposition of Western cultural norms and practices onto non-Western societies, and to view this as concomitant with political and economic dominion. Yet by depicting non-Western cultures as being too fragile, ineffectual, or inconsequential to exert a counterinfluence on the metropoles, a merely monological or one-way theory of cultural imperialism may actually feed the West's characteristic illusions of cultural self-sufficiency. Moreover, by understanding cultural dominion only as the imposition of Western forms, it may elide very real and equally serious acts of cultural appropriation by the West.34 In The Tempest, Gonzalo's ideal commonwealth is the conduit for both appropriating Native American social structures into humanist Utopian thought and denying this influence by consuming the body of the racial other. Yet the physical presence, at least, of the repressed other endures in the person of Caliban. If Gonzalo's commonwealth both enacts and erases the mestizoization of Western culture, Caliban is the very embodiment of the mestizo: his mother is an Algerian witch, and he himself exhibits traits of both the American Indian and the European wild man. Again, if Gonzalo's commonwealth is a disembodied social order, Caliban seems at times to be pure body removed from any social order.
One ideological effect of applying the myth of the Golden Age to New World cultures was, as I have said, to reinscribe them as pre-political, arcadian existences, and thus to view American Indians themselves as, at best, noble savages. Shakespeare's Caliban, an isolated being lacking any cultural context, is precisely the pre-political, pre-cultural being produced by arcadian myth. An anomic racial body, a bundle of ungovernable drives, Caliban is the ideological precipitate or residue that remains once Gonzalo's commonwealth has abstracted the cultural forms of Native American life.35
To speak of Caliban as "pure body" may seem unjust. He is not, after all, some grunting, heaving piece of nature but a complex and articulate character. Though his drunkenness and attempted rape signify bodily intemperance, he is not in the end defined by these things. Only to Prospero and Miranda does he appear an ineducable savage whose "vile race" both lacks and positively resists culture. By reducing him to a bearer of firewood, Prospero actually makes Caliban into a merely corporeal being, a "natural slave." Gonzalo and Prospero thus cooperate in "processing" the non-European subject. One absconds with his culture, and the other reduces him to bodily labor. Together they create a savagism that they then treat as an antecedent to culture rather than its product. "Pure body," in other words, is not some irreducible substratum but a kind of dramatic role—partly foisted onto Caliban, partly present as an innate disposition, partly adopted as a mode of defense.
When he first spots Trinculo, for example, Caliban deems him a tormenting spirit sent by Prospero, and he pretends to be a corpse in order to avoid further punishment. Trinculo's speculations on the seemingly dead body are instructive:
What have we here? A man or a fish? Dead or alive? A fish! He smells like a fish; a very ancient and fishlike smell; a kind of not of the newest Poor John. A strange fish! Were I in England now, as once I was, and had but this fish painted, not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver. There would this monster make a man; any strange beast there makes a man. When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.
Miming death, Caliban has become pure body. In Trinculo's eyes (and nose) he is not mestizo but amphibian, a mixture of species rather than of race,36 tending toward brute corporeality. Trinculo's plan to exhibit Caliban in England alludes to the importation and exhibition of American Indians which began during the reign of Henry VII and had become regular policy under King James.37
While Trinculo's is a more popular form of spectacle than Shakespeare's courtly play, it adumbrates Caliban's place within a larger system of colonialist representation which included The Tempest. The English beheld American Indians only as isolated specimens, removed from their native lands and cultures and reinserted into a discontinuous, carnivalesque series of curios and wonders.38 "The Indian," a detached spectacle, is produced by abstracting indigenous subjects from sociocultural collectives and repositioning them within something akin to natural history.39 As "wonder," Caliban is interchangeable with a great fish; reduced to visual object, to pure body, he is of equal interest alive or dead. When Trinculo speaks of "painting" this fish, he means reproducing it on a sign to be hung outside of a booth at a fair; Gonzalo's picture of Nobody finds its counterpart and completion, then, in Trinculo's picture of mere body, likewise founded both on the erasure of cultural origin and on the death of the represented subject.40 Disembodied utopia and lifeless body are dialectical products of one system of colonial representation.
"When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian," remarks Trinculo. Since relieving beggars is a prime motive of More's Utopia, Trinculo implicitly designates England both as the negation of Utopia (as More himself had done) and, in the same breath, as the negation of the Indian. The visitors to Trinculo's booth are the descendents of More's idealized petty-producing class, now fully commercialized and hostile to the vagrant population from which, in More's day, they had recently been sundered by the process of primitive accumulation.41 No longer the potential citizens of a Utopian polity, they renounce any imaginary "fusion" with New World models of a communist society, preferring instead to be regaled with the spectacle of the (dead) Indian body.
Yet if Caliban measures the historical deterioration of More's Utopian ideal, he also opens up the space of a counter-utopia. Interestingly, this effort centers on a non-act, or at least an uncompleted one: the reported attempt to rape Miranda. Confronted by Prospero, Caliban is less than remorseful: "Oh ho!, Oh ho! Wouldn't had been done! / Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else / This isle with Calibans" (I.ii.349-51). His evident pride in this attempted rape is perhaps the play's most difficult moment for those readers, including myself, who elsewhere find Caliban to be an appealing or at least a sympathetic character. Here, for one moment, he seems to correspond exactly with the sickest fantasies of colonialist and racist ideology; as Leslie Fiedler puts it, he is "the first nonwhite rapist in white man's literature."42 Reduced entirely to a racial being, to the impure, mestizoized body which is extruded by Gonzalo's disembodying utopia, Caliban nevertheless becomes Gonzalo's double as well. For in wishing to "people the isle with Calibans," he, like Gonzalo, produces an imaginary society. Indeed, Caliban here makes the play's first and only allusion, however indirect, to the idea of a non-European collectivity—the very thing that inspired Gonzalo's commonwealth in the first place before disappearing from view.
In glimpsing the "original" of Gonzalo's stolen commonwealth, however, we do not attain to a more genuine or appealing utopia. On the contrary, Caliban's imagined polity is locked into symmetry with Gonzalo's only to be rejected in its turn. By locating utopia precisely in the context of rape, Shakespeare suggests that the way to utopia is always lined with violence—that this path is cut, as it were, in the hide of the other, no matter who does the cutting. Instead of liberating himself, Caliban merely extends the chain of oppression, displacing violence onto new victims as his sole means of revenge.
My reading of Gonzalo's ideal commonwealth may wrongly have been taken to imply that The Tempest is a covertly anti-colonial play. It does contain an anticolonial strain, and this strain does deftly ensnare Gonzalo, but only so that none of the play's characters, no matter how apparently inoffensive or gentle, may escape being implicated in the exercise of power. The critique of Gonzalo's commonwealth does not work on behalf of some more authentic Utopian ideal, then, or even on behalf of the colonized as victims, but as part of a rigorously anti-utopian current which swamps both Caliban and Gonzalo. The Tempest does not "side" with either colonizer or colonized, but cynically undercuts both in the name of a shared but fallen human nature. The play's political shrewdness, which devastatingly reveals the subtlest folds of power, ultimately serves a game which admits of no solidarities. In The Tempest, as in Shakespeare's plays generally, critique is radically disjoined from utopia.
Although apparently evenhanded, Shakespeare's skepticism purveys an ultimately conservative message: yes, the way of the world is a violent one, but Utopian projectors only multiply the violence they pretend to oppose. In this particular case, however, such rueful and apparently hard-headed moralizing is rather artfully contrived, for despite their own fantasies it was the colonizers themselves who, in their relations with the colonized, held a virtual monopoly on rape and sexual violence. Readers who find themselves casuistically tallying Caliban's sexual assault against the prior wrongs done to him, or who try to "revalue" this assault in light of the anti-colonial utopia it projects, are caught in a false historical premise, one which builds specious symmetries for conservative ends. Retamar's choice of a rapist as anti-colonial hero not only betrays a striking indifference to matters of gender, but falls into an ideological trap set by The Tempest.
Caliban's ideal commonwealth mirrors Gonzalo's not only in its reliance on violence but, ironically, in its apparent attempt to expunge the racial other. Just as Gonzalo requires the New World arcadia to construct his own polity, but then represses this dependency by claiming sole authorship himself, so Caliban's imagined socius can be embodied only through the reproductive agency of Miranda, but Caliban then denies his dependency on her by claiming that he would people the isle with Calibans—that is, with racial clones of himself. Yet if this symmetry bars all paths to utopia, it nevertheless admits of some internal difference, because Caliban is already a mixed or mestizoized being. The fictive children of Miranda and Caliban would be "Calibans" in the sense that they would further the process of mestizoization which is Caliban's legacy. Unlike Gonzalo, then, Caliban does not try to totalize division by eliminating the racial other; he dismantles division through a disseminative, though violent, practice. (Again, we may contrast Seagull's fantasy in Eastward Ho! of mixed couplings producing white children.) As a mestizoized space, Caliban's polity seems to possess a genuinely Utopian content—a content which is not neutralized but rather blocked, because its only visible means of access is Miranda's rape.
In mirroring one another, Gonzalo and Caliban are both drawn into the other's field. It is only as read against Gonzalo's ideal commonwealth that Caliban's rape can even hint at a Utopian end; conversely, that rape manifests the otherwise latent violence behind Gonzalo's commonwealth. If The Tempest does not seem to "prefer" either Gonzalo's or Caliban's brand of violence, it nevertheless allows some distinctions to be drawn between them. For Caliban's violence is at least explicit and thus allows us to take its measure; no reader of the play needs to be reminded of the assault on Miranda. Gonzalo's more symbolic violence, however, conceals itself by annihilating or consuming its victims. While colonial violence is generally quite visible both in the real world and in The Tempest (via Prospero), Gonzalo's case suggests that such violence becomes latent, if ever, not when its modalities are gentle but when its effects are total, and no one remains to report it.
Strikingly similar issues of annihilation and cultural memory are raised in an historical context by Bruce E. Johansen's controversial book, Forgotten Founders: How the American Indian Helped Shape Democracy. Johansen's thesis is that Iroquoian principles of government, as set down in their constitution, "The Great Law of Peace," had a significant influence on such figures as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson when they formulated the principles of American government.43 According to Johansen, the conceptual armature of both the Declaration of Independence and—more indirectly—the Constitution of the United States were significantly informed by Iroquoian example. No explicit reference to native models survives in these documents, however, and historical memory of any possible contribution tended to disappear with the Iroquois themselves, who were nearly exterminated by their erstwhile allies the English after the successful conclusion of war against the French.
The title of Johansen's book—Forgotten Founders—clearly bears on issues central to this essay. In fact, as construed by Johansen, the United States Constitution bears a notable resemblance to Gonzalo's ideal commonwealth in The Tempest. Both are Utopian documents modeled on (mediated) reports of Native American societies—demonstrably and systematically in Gonzalo's case, possibly and inferentially in the case of the Constitution. Yet both utopias are intended for habitation by Europeans. Both repress their mestizoized origins by erasing all traces of native influence. And both complete this erasure by consuming or destroying the body of the racial other—metaphorically in Gonzalo's case, all too literally in the case of America. Johansen's book constructs North American history as a disturbingly real enactment of the white cannibalism implicit in Gonzalo's ideal commonwealth.
Setting Retamar against Johansen, we may suggest that while Caliban's mestizoized counter-utopia takes historical root in the Latin American culture of José Marti, Gonzalo's ideal commonwealth affixes itself farther north. More generally, we ought to distinguish between North and South American "models" when discussing the topic of colonialism in The Tempest. The South American model often retains the bodies of indigenous occupants in order to employ them as slave labor. This model is represented historically by Spain's use of native labor in its American mines, and, in The Tempest, by Prospero's enslavement of Caliban. The North American model, by contrast, expropriates not the labor power but the socio-cultural forms of indigenous peoples. And having done so it then consumes their bodily existence in an act of white cannibalism. The result in literature is Gonzalo's ideal commonwealth; the result in history is the United States, the picture of nobody.
This essay has benefited enormously from discussion, critique, and editorial queries following its presentation at the Seventeenth Alabama Symposium on English and American Literature. I especially thank Francis Barker, Margaret Ferguson, Christopher Kendrick, and the editors of this volume.
1 Roberto Fernández Retamar, Caliban and Other Essays, trans. Edward Baker (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), p. 3. Subsequent references are to this edition. Retamar's essay originally appeared in Casa de las Américas 68 (1971): 124-51.
My epigraph, from Oswald de Andrade's Manifesto Antropófago, is taken from Emir Rodríguez Monegal, "The Metamorphoses of Caliban," Diacritics 1 (1977): 82. In the Brazil of the 1920s, de Andrade's Movimento Antropofago or Cannibal Movement "advocated the creation of a genuine national culture through the consumption and critical reelaboration of both national and foreign influences. Imported cultural influences were to be devoured, digested, and reworked in terms of local conditions." The Brazilian modernists dated their Cannibal Manifesto "the year the Bishop Sardinha was swallowed," thus commemorating the date on which Brazilian Indians had devoured a Portuguese bishop (Brazilian Cinema, ed. Randal Johnson and Robert Stam [London: Associated University Presses, 1982], pp. 81-83).
2 Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Frank Justus Miller (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936), 3:393-401.
3 In Raul Ruiz's film On Top of the Whale, a Dutch anthropologist studies two Patagonian Indians kept on the estate of a man appropriately named "Narcisso." In the house of Don Narcisso, the dichotomy between Western subject and indigenous object of knowledge breaks down into a complex array of doublings and self-deceptions.
4 When Emir Rodríguez Monegal accuses Retamar of "aping the French intellectuals" ("The Metamorphoses of Caliban," p. 82), he means francophones such as O. Mannoni, Franz Fanon, and Aimé Césaire rather than the French poststructuralists. Nevertheless his expression is a striking one, evoking both imitative Echo and the bestial qualities of Caliban.
5 In "Against the Black Legend" (Caliban, pp. 56-73), Retamar develops the theme that Spanish culture is a mestizoized formation of Christian, Moorish, Islamic, and Jewish influences. Under Retamar's gaze, the image of Europe as unified oppressor disintegrates into that of multiple and competing traditions: elite and popular, "central" and "peripheral," and so forth.
6 As employed by Retamar, it also invokes a specifically male presence. The implicit opposition of Echo and Caliban clearly genders the resistance to cultural dependency in a troublingly masculinist way. It would be unfair, surely, to place sole blame for this on Retamar; colonialism had already been gendered, both literally and figuratively, for centuries. Yet it is also true that some male contemporaries of Retamar's, such as the filmmaker Tomas Guttiérez Alea, later came to give more serious thought to the sexual politics of post-revolutionary culture in Cuba. See Alea's Up to a Certain Point (1984).
7 Rob Nixon, "Caribbean and African Appropriations of The Tempest, " in Politics and Poetic Value, ed. Robert von Hallberg (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), pp. 185-206.
8 On Shakespeare and the Virginia Company, see Charles Mills Gayley, Shakespeare and the Founders of Liberty in America (New York: Macmillan, 1917); according to Frank Kermode, Shakespeare's use of colonial reports and pamphlets was first noted by Malone in 1808 (Kermode, Introduction to The Tempest [London: Methuen, 1954], p. xxvi).
9 Deborah Willis, "Shakespeare's Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism," Studies in English Literature 29 (1989): 277-89. Willis both traces the ubiquity of colonial readings and devotes considerable polemical energy to arguing that The Tempest might be about something other than (or rather, something in addition to) colonialism.
10 Two important examples are Paul Brown, "'This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine': The Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism," in Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism, ed. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), pp. 48-71; and Francis Barker and Peter Hulme, "Nymphs and Reapers Heavily Vanish: The Discursive Con-texts of The Tempest, " in Alternative Shakespeares, ed. John Drakakis (London and New York: Methuen, 1985), pp. 191-205.
11 See, for example, Stephen J. Greenblatt, "Learning to Curse: Aspects of Linguistic Colonialism in the Sixteenth Century," in First Images of America: The Impact of the New World on the Old, ed. Fredi Chiappelli, 2 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 2:561-80: "Ugly, rude, savage, Caliban nevertheless achieves for an instant an absolute, if intolerably bitter, moral victory" (p. 570). Compare Stephen Orgel, "Shakespeare and the Cannibals," in Cannibals, Witches, and Divorce: Estranging the Renaissance, ed. Marjorie Garber (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), p. 54; and Willis, p. 284.
12 Leslie A. Fiedler, The Stranger in Shakespeare (New York: Stein and Day, 1972), p. 238. See also Alden T. Vaughan, "Shakespeare's Indian: The Americanization of Caliban," Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 137-53.
13 William Shakespeare, The Tempest, ed. Robert Langbaum (New York: New American Library, 1964), II.i.148-73. Subsequent references are to this edition.
14 Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Settling with the Indians: The Meeting of English and Indian Cultures in America, 1580-1640 (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980), pp. 34, 40-41; William Brandon, New Worlds for Old: Reports from the New World and Their Effect on the Development of Social Thought in Europe, 1500-1800 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1986), pp. 66-87.
15 George Chapman, Ben Jonson, John Marston, Eastward Ho, ed. R. W. Van Fosser, The Revels Plays (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), III.iii.15-46.
16 See Stephen Greenblatt, "Martial Law in the Land of Cockaigne," Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 129-63. Gonzalo's knowledge of the New World is quite pointedly outmoded; his Golden Age reports, along with his monstrous visions of "mountaineers / Dewlapped like bulls, whose throats had hanging at 'em / Wallets of flesh" and "men / Whose heads stood in their breasts" (III.iii.44-47) derive in the main from medieval and early Renaissance travel literature. Likewise the very figure of the humanist councillor and Utopian projector is somewhat archaic. Gonzalo represents a brand of humanism whose time had clearly passed when The Tempest was written.
17 Caliban, of course, reminds Prospero that he showed him "all the qualities o' th' isle" (I.ii.337) and later promises to teach Stephano and Trinculo how to fend for themselves (II.ii.155-80). In his song celebrating freedom from Prospero, Caliban exclaims "No more dams I'll make for fish" (II.ii.188), a line Sidney Lee describes as "a vivid and penetrating illustration of a peculiar English experience in Virginia" ("The American Indian in Elizabethan England," in Elizabethan and Other Essays, ed. Frederick S. Boas [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929], p. 297). Early Virginian settlers were heavily dependent for their food on natives' fish-dams whose construction and operation they could never master themselves. The settlers were thus in a constant state of anxiety lest they alienate the natives and provoke them to destroy the dams. Writes Lee: "The gloomy anticipation of the failure of the dam through native disaffection came true in those early days, and was a chief cause of the disastrous termination of the sixteenth-century efforts to found an English colony in Virginia. The narratives of the later Virginian explorers, Captain John Smith and William Strachey, whose energies were engaged in the foundation of Jamestown, bear similar testimony to the indispensible service rendered by the natives' fish-dams to the English colonists. Caliban's threat to make 'no more dams for fish' consequently exposed Prospero to a very real and a familiar peril" (pp. 298-99).
18 James Axtell, "The Indian Impact on English Colo-nial Culture," in The European and the Indian: Essaysin the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 272-315.
19 See Axtell, "The Indian Impact," and Kupperman, Settling with the Indians, pp. 141-58.
20 Quoted in Axtell, "The Indian Impact," p. 160. See also Axtell, "The White Indians of Colonial America," in European and Indian, pp. 168-206.
21 In his dedicatory epistle to King Charles, George Sandys introduces his translation of Ovid by invoking the issue of cultural miscegenation: "It needeth more then a single denization, being a double Stranger: Sprung from the Stocke of the ancient Romanes; but bred in the New-World, of the rudeness whereof it cannot but participate; especially having Warres and Tumults to bring it to light in stead of the Muses." George Sandys, Ovid's Metamorphosis Englished, Mythologized, and Represented in Figures, ed. Karl K. Hulley and Stanley T. Vandersall (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970), p. 3.
22 As both humanist councillor and philosophical trav-eler Gonzalo combines the roles played by More and his fictional character Raphael Hythlodaeus; his egalitarian, communist utopia bears a generic though clearly imperfect resemblance to Thomas More's fictive polity. See Arthur J. Slavin, "The American Principle from More to Locke," in Chiappelli, First Images of America, 1:147-48.
23 Prospero eagerly adopts a specular relation to Gonzalo: "Holy Gonzalo, honorable man, / Mine eyes, ev'n sociable to the show of thine, / Fall fellowly drops" (V.i.62-64). The two old men do indeed mirror each other, for better and for worse.
24 Antonio's remark may possibly refer to Francisco, not Gonzalo. The Variorum Edition records differing views (pp. 113-114) but ultimately endorses Gonzalo as the referent of Antonio's remark, as does Stephen Orgel in the Oxford edition. Orgel thinks Antonio refers to Gonzalo's confusion while describing his ideal commonwealth.
25 See Terence Cave, The Cornucopian Text: Problems of Writing in the French Renaissance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), pp. 45, 182.
26 For a more extended discussion of the importance of Virgil for this scene, see Orgel, "Cannibals," pp. 58-64.
27 James Holstun, A Rational Millennium: Puritan Utopias of Seventeenth-Century England and America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 63-64, discusses the importance of empirical claims for Utopian fiction, as does Slavin, "American Principle," p. 144.
28 In III.iii., Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban hear Ariel invisibly playing a tune on a tabor and pipe. Trinculo remarks, "This is the tune of our catch, played by the picture of Nobody" (III.iii. 131-32). The phrase refers to an anonymous, early seventeenth-century play titled No-body and Some-body, and to the sign of its printer, John Trundle, which depicted a man composed of head and limbs but without a trunk. In the play itself, the characters Nobody and Somebody are employed as satirical devices to depict the displacement or denial of social responsibilities. For instance:
Come twentie poore men to his gate at once,Nobody gives them mony, meate and drinke, If they be naked, clothes, then come poore souldiers, Sick, maymd, and shot, from any forraine warres,Nobody takes them in, provides them harbor.
(Nobody and Somebody [Glasgow: privately reprinted, 1877], sig. B4r). Likewise, when Somebody orders his men to oppress the poor and widows, rack rents, raise prices, and so forth, he tells them to blame it on Nobody. The displacement of social and moral agency carried out by this simple device is relevant to The Tempest in general and to Gonzalo's ideal commonwealth in particular.
29 Holstun, A Rational Millennium, p. 67.
30 James Holstun's fine discussion of arcadia and utopia in A Rational Millennium (pp. 67-77) is crucial to my argument here. Holstun is surely correct in arguing that arcadia and utopia are antithetical in principle, and that "Utopia is the violent civil negation of pastoral arcadia" (p. 74). I nevertheless want to suggest that, in More's case at least, this negation is never fully carried out, that the genre of the Utopia remains irreducibly mixed, and that this mixture is both medium and sign of the work's mestizoized status. To this extent I disagree with Holstun's insistence that the early modern utopia is entirely produced by Western processes of rationalization and technological domination.
31 See Henri Baudet, Paradise on Earth: Some Thoughts on European Images of Non-European Man, trans. Elizabeth Wentholt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965), pp. 26-27; Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present (New York: Knopf, 1978).
32 See Kupperman, Settling with the Indians, p. 106 and passim. John Howland Rowe, "The Renaissance Foundations of Anthropology," American Anthropologist 67 (1965): 1-20, argues that even Peter Martyr, who did not visit the New World himself, relates "ethnographic information [which] is relatively abundant and is presented in a notably objective fashion" (p. 13). Rowe adds that "no one who makes a general survey of the literature bearing on historical ethnography which has come down to us from 16th century Europe can fail to be struck by the fact that it provides better and more detailed information on New World Cultures than on those of the other parts of the world which the Europeans were exploring at the same time" (p. 14).
33 Brandon, New Worlds, pp. ix, 21, 23, 38, 60, 151. As Karen Kupperman points out in Settling with the Indians (pp. 49-50, 143-44), English colonists interpreted the chieftainship of North American tribes as analogous to European monarchy. The imperial structures of the great mesoamerican cultures were also evident to explorers and colonists. Reports of South American, and especially Brazilian, peoples seem more often to have mentioned the absence of kings (see, for example, Brandon, p. 38). The Golden Age theme of masterlessness is, in any case, raised by Caliban, who complains to Prospero that "I am all the subjects that you have, / Which first was mine own king" (I.ii.341-42).
34 By "appropriation" I do not mean the mere fact of cultural borrowing, or even the transformation of foreign cultural practices that inevitably accompanies importation into another socio-cultural system. I mean a mode of appropriation which entails the erasure of origins. At the same time, it is abundantly clear that abstract constructions such as "the West" and "the New World" are only provisionally useful for purposes of analysis. To assume that New World influences were evenly absorbed by some unified entity called "the West" is as naïve as assuming that New World gold was equally distributed among all the citizens of Spain. (Needless to say, the "New World" is an equally artificial construct.) Differences in national and class cultures, theological outlook, and so forth obviously determined both the extent and mode of cultural appropriation. Historically, the New World clearly played a significant role in anti-monarchical and anti-aristocratic thought. It was assimilated more visibly into bourgeois-democratic than into popular-radical discourse, and for fairly obvious reasons it was more apparent in, say, eighteenth-century France than in seventeenth-century England, where it had little visible influence on radical sectarian literature during the revolutionary era. A more materialist version of this essay would insist on specifying the social conditions under which New World reports were, or were not, included in political or literary discourse. My remarks here are limited to humanist and certain post-humanist assimilations of colonial reports.
35 Elsewhere I have argued that More's Utopia effects a similar split between a "proto-Hobbesian 'natural man'" and an abstractly rational polity (Richard Halpern, The Poetics of Primitive Accumulation: English Renaissance Culture and the Genealogy of Capital [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991], pp. 150-51). In More's case, I maintained, this was entirely a symptom of commodity fetishism: "the reified impulse is the necessary and dialectical mirror image of the reified commodity" (p. 151). The present essay offers another, supplementary explanation of the same phenomenon, this time rooted in the dynamics of colonialism. My earlier reading must be included among the more or less "Eurocentric" readings of the Utopia, for which this essay may serve in part as corrective.
36 At III.ii.30-31, Trinculo describes Caliban as "half a fish and half a monster."
37 The natives, it was thought, would learn the virtues of Christian, civilized life and report on the kind treatment they had received when they returned to America. Conversely, it was hoped that they would inspire interest in the New World among the English, thus promoting colonization (Lee, The American Indian, pp. 268-69, 282-83). Exhibiting Native Americans as popular curiosities was also profitable in its own right, as Trinculo grasps. While a number of these American "guests" died of disease, cold, or the hardships of travel, this did not much reduce their exhibition-value—if Trinculo is to be believed.
38 J. H. Elliott, The Old World and the New 1492-1650 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 30-32. On Wunderkämmer, see also Steven Mullaney, "Strange Things, Gross Terms, Curious Customs: The Rehearsal of Cultures in the Late Renaissance," in Representing the English Renaissance, ed. Stephen Greenblatt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 65-68.
39 John White's watercolor paintings of American In-dians, turned into engravings by the Dutchman Theodore De Bry, illustrate the fusion of early American ethnography with natural history. White was sent along with Thomas Harriot to depict unknown and possibly profitable resources in the New World, and his Indian portraits are therefore interspersed with paintings of herbs, plants, and animals. In White's portraits the isolated Indian is at once a natural object and a potential commodity.
40 Lee, The American Indian, p. 275, lists more than one instance of American Indians who were imported to England, had their portraits painted by distinguished or fashionable artists, and subsequently died before they could return home.
41 On More's Utopia and the petty producing class, see Christopher Kendrick, "More's Utopia and Uneven Development," boundary 2 13 (1985): 233-66. On primitive accumulation, see Halpern, The Poetics of Primitive Accumulation, pp. 61-75.
42 Fiedler, The Stranger in Shakespeare, p. 234.
43 Bruce E. Johansen, Forgotten Founders: How the American Indian Helped Shape Democracy (Boston: Harvard Common Press, 1982). On the Indians' use of wampum as a system of writing, see pp. 29-31.
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Adamson, David. "Authority and Illusion: The Power of Prospero's Book." Comitatus 20 (1989): 9-19.
Discusses the connection between learning and magic in The Tempest, and suggests that Prospero's book is both an image of power and a symbol of the fictitious nature of authority.
Barker, Francis and Peter Hulme. "Nymphs and Reapers Heavily Vanish: The Discursive Con-Texts of The Tempest." In Alternative Shakespeare, edited by John Drakakis, pp. 191-205. London: Methuen, 1985.
Examines the diverse forms of colonialist discourse in that are inherent in The Tempest, as well as the conflicting accounts of usurpation in the play.
Bennett, Susan. "The Post-Colonial Body?: Thinking through The Tempest." In Performing Nostalgia: Shifting Shakespeare and the Contemporary Past, pp. 119-50. London: Routledge, 1996.
Analyzes the complex history of The Tempest as it has been revised, rewritten, and performed in terms of anti-colonialism, post-colonialism, neo-colonialism, and pre-colonial nostalgia.
Bloom, Harold, ed. William Shakespeare's "The Tempest." New York: Chelsea House, 1988, 171 p.
A collection of late twentieth-century essays on The Tempest, reprinted from various books and periodicals. The assembled writings deal with many aspects of the play, including the characters of Prospero and Caliban, the theme of time, the comic and tragic elements in the play, and political / ideological issues.
——., ed. Caliban. New York: Chelsea House, 1992, 262 p.
A casebook of critical extracts and essays, from the seventeenth century to the 1990s, that evaluate the characterization and function of Caliban.
Bourgy, Victor. "On Caliban's Nature." Cahiers Élisabéthains 43 (April 1993): 35-42.
Argues that Caliban symbolizes the natural or instinctive condition of man. Bourgy acknowledges the difficulty of analyzing Caliban as a dramatic character but asserts that he represents the core of meaning in The Tempest.
Campbell, Heather. "Bringing Forth Wonders: Temporal and Divine Power in The Tempest." In The Witness of Times, edited by Katherine Z. Keller and Gerald J. Schiffhorst, pp. 69-89. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1993.
Maintains that while The Tempest ostensibly promotes the values of absolutist monarchy, it ultimately depicts a power structure that is unstable, repressive, and only superficially effective. Campbell also analyzes the play's treatment of gender relations, the masque as a statement of triumphal authority and the subplot as a parodic antimasque, and the nature of Prospero's rule.
Chaudhuri, Sukanta. "Men, Monsters and Fairies: From A Midsummer Night's Dream to The Tempest." Yearly Review 4 (December 1990): 26-42.
Compares the illusory nature of the dramatic worlds in these two plays arguing that The Tempest provides a penetrating critique of the notion of moral hierarchy, subversively depicting a moral order in which everyone is capable of both good and evil actions.
Felperin, Howard. "Political Criticism at the Crossroads: The Utopian Historicism of The Tempest" In The Tempest, edited by Nigel Wood, pp. 29-31. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1995.
Examines the broad historical vision of collective destiny embedded in the political unconscious of The Tempest.
Ferguson, Ian. "Contradictory Natures: The Function of Prospero, His Agent and His Slave in The Tempest." Unisa English Studies XXVIII, No. 2 (September 1990): 1-9.
Explores Prospero as an enigmatic character, Caliban as violent and anarchic yet imbued with a unique perception of the island's beauty, and Ariel as capable of inspiring terror as well as delight.
Griffiths, Trevor R. "Caliban on the Stage." Yearbook of English Studies 13 (1983): 59-80.
Describes the most significant portrayals of Caliban on the English stage from the 1890s to 1980.
Hantaan, Jeffrey L. "Caliban's Own Voice: American Indian Views of the Other in Colonial Virginia." New Literary History 23, No. 1 (Winter 1992): 69-81.
Examines the character of Caliban in relation to colonial narratives circulating in London around the time The Tempest was written.
Hunt, John S. "Prospero's Empty Grasp." Shakespeare Studies XXII (1994): 277-313.
Focuses on the ambiguous nature of Prospero's imperious authority and his emotional isolation from others. The play demonstrates the hollowness of mortal attempts at divine self-sufficiency, Hunt argues, and dramatizes the dependence of even the most powerful men on other human beings for spiritual fulfillment.
Hunt, Maurice. "The Tempest." In Shakespeare's Romance of the Word, pp. 109-40. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1990.
Appraises the connection in The Tempest between the characters' self-knowledge and their linguistic ability. Hunt looks closely at the methodology of Prospero's instruction of Miranda, Caliban's alternating eloquence and curses, the educative function of the harpy's banquet, and Ariel's use of similes to show Prospero the vanity that shapes his desire for revenge.
Kahn, Coppélla. "The Providential Tempest and the Shakespearean Family." In Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare, pp. 193-225. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.
Offers a psychoanalytic interpretation of Prospero and his relationship to his family.
Kinney, Arthur F. "Revisiting The Tempest." Modern Philology 93, No. 2 (November 1995): 161-77.
Reads The Tempest as a cultural document that records ideas and values of English Renaissance culture while simultaneously questioning them.
McNamara, Kevin R. "Golden Worlds at Court: The Tempest and Its Masque." Shakespeare Studies XIX (1987): 183-202.
Links the subversion of traditional masque conventions in The Tempest with the sense of tragic experience in the play. From McNamara's perspective, the abrupt ending of the betrothal masque in IV.i signifies Prospero's recognition of the limitations of his art and the emptiness of his vision of a newly created world in which good invariably triumphs over evil.
Mebane, John S. "Magic as Love and Faith: Shakespeare's The Tempest." In Renaissance Magic and the Return of the Golden Age, pp. 174-99. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.
Asserts that Prospero is a benevolent magician whose art serves as a means by which the will of God may be achieved. In keeping with Renaissance occult philosophy, Mebane contends, Shakespeare depicts Prospero as having attained his magical powers through mastery of his physical passions and the cultivation of his spiritual nature.
Mirsky, Mark Jay. "What Prospero Knows." In The Absent Shakespeare, pp. 125-39. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994.
A pessimistic reading of The Tempest that views it as a drama of deep sexual anxiety. Mirsky alludes to the themes of time, death, and control in the play but focuses on what he regards as Prospero's repressed desire for Miranda.
Novy, Marianne. "Transformed Images of Manhood in the Romances." In Love's Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare, pp. 164-87. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.
In the concluding pages of this chapter, Novy briefly discusses the significance of family ties and relations in The Tempest.
Palmer, D. J., ed. Shakespeare: The Tempest. London: Macmillan, 1968, 212 p.
A compilation of representative commentary on the play. The selections include adaptations and extracts from pre-twentieth-century authors and critics as well as the texts of recent studies.
Porter, David. "His Master's Voice: The Politics of Narragenitive Desire in The Tempest." Comitatus 24 (1993): 33-44.
Asserts that Prospero suffers from severe sexual anxiety, stemming from a fear of betrayal. To compensate for this, Porter maintains, Prospero seeks to create and control the narrative of his own story, and to rewrite the histories of his daughter, his slaves, and the usurpers.
Slights, William W. E. "'His Art Doth Give the Fashion': Generic Fashions and Fashioning in The Tempest." Forum XXX, No. 1 (Winter 1989): 20-32.
Discerns a pattern of generic reference in The Tempest that serves as a mode of instruction to reform the state and its rulers. Slights identifies a technique of allusion to a variety of literary genres that is designed to emphasize the disparate kinds of learning necessary for cultural survival and coherence.
Solomon, Julie Robin. "Going Places: Absolutism and Movement in Shakespeare's The Tempest." Renaissance Drama n.s. XXII (1991): 3-45.
Reads The Tempest as Shakespeare's sophisticated dramatic refinement of early modern conceptions of political authority. From Solomon's perspective, the play's indirect representation of the contest between royal prerogatives and commercial-class rights is embodied in Prospero's rejuvenation of absolute monarchy—first through empirical awareness of facts and conditions, and then by successful exploitation of these circumstances.
Stephens, Charles. "Shakespeare." In Shakespeare's Island: Essays on Creativity, pp. 6-31. Edinburgh: Polygon, 1994.
Speculates about The Tempest in terms of sixteenth-century historical analogues, concluding that Prospero eventually comes to terms with various threats—divine, natural, and human—and uses his creativity to reconcile, at least for a brief period, seemingly irreconcilable forces.
Takaki, Ronald. "The Tempest in the Wilderness: The Racialization of Savagery." Journal of American History 79, No. 3 (December 1992): 892-912.
Views the attitudes of other characters in The Tempest toward Caliban as prefiguring the demonizing of Native Americans by English settlers.
Thompson, Ann. "'Miranda, Where's Your Sister?': Reading Shakespeare's The Tempest." In Feminist Criticism: Theory and Practice, edited by Susan Sellers, pp. 45-55. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991.
Contends that The Tempest apparently denies the importance of female characters yet simultaneously ascribes immense power to female chastity and fertility; the critic asks—and leaves unanswered—the question of whether a feminist approach to the play must inevitably result in a negative reading.
Vaughan, Alden T. "Shakespeare's Indian: The Americanization of Caliban." Shakespeare Quarterly 39, No. 2 (Summer 1988): 137-53.
Examines the origins and development of interpretations of The Tempest as a paradigm of New World colonialism and of Caliban as a symbolic Native American.