Archive for the The Tempest Category

Music, Magic, Men – More Class Notes on The Tempest

Posted in The Tempest with tags , , , , on March 22, 2009 by Saera

 Why is the play titled such? The storm only lasts for the first few scenes. Is it because the fundamental struggle between good and evil is, like a storm, a tempest?

Is Prospero a vigilante? Does he only want revenge? Or does he want resolution and love?  Prospero was motivated by love for Miranda.

A very famous, much praised Danish king over part of England (Knute the Great) had his throne placed on a beach and ordered the waves not to touch his feet. Of course the waves did not obey the king, but continued to wash ashore. He did this in order to show his people that he was not as great or powerful as his subjects were making him out to be and that there were powers greater than he was.

Prospero seems to also recognize the greater powers to which he is subject. He does use his magic to try and point out that people are also subject to powers greater than themselves, that there is clearly defined good, and clearly defined evil, and that knowledge does give power, but only a limited kind. His magical powers are directly connected to his books, and consequently, education and learning. Is Shakespeare using this as a type of allegory for showing how useful education is, but that even with all the education in the world, men are still men and under control of greater powers such as nature, fate, or GOD?

“Ariel” is an elemental spirit of air, fire, water, and earth.

What does the island look like? Whose description of it is correct? Gonzalo or Antonio? Could it be both? A&A are bad guys – morally desert, so they see the island as brown and sparse. Gonzalo is good, spiritually rich in character, he sees a lush paradise. This could also be seen as the varying levels of gratitude – A&A had little or no gratitude because of their pride, while Gonzalo is incredibly grateful and humble in spirit.

“We are such stuff as dreams are made of.”

The stage of the Globe theatre could be likened to the island: what you see is what you bring to it. Audience members would be required to use their imagination and so provide the necessary missing components to those plays they watched. Shakespeare, as a playwright, is like Prospero, the magician. He creates  a type of magic and uses “spirits” as his slaves, in a sense.

Gonzalo: “And all of us, ourselves, when no man was his own.”

Shakespeare also uses his “magic” to teach others their flaws, and bring a sort of reconciliation to them.

Prospero uses his magic to show others more about themselves – the three evil ones through a stinking swamp, the courtiers through a maze. While this means of magic is “fakery” or “trickery,”  it can lead to more wisdom about true matters. Just as fiction or drama can show great human truth about human interactions or nature while being fake or not real.

The Tempest also deals with the subject of usurpation.

Fairness issue with Prospero: Dr. Donovan claimed that one cannot be “just” when there is no one to be just to. So, Prospero’s use of magic on an island deserted by humans, would not necessarily be an issue of fairness (as magic usually is), and explains why Prospero did not practice magic until he was on the island, then gave it up when he moved off of it.

Prospero – A Case for Magic

Posted in The Tempest with tags , , , on March 22, 2009 by Saera

Who is Prospero?

Is he a villain of The Tempest for owning slaves and practicing magic, or is he rather a noble hero because he uses his magic to help others rather than himself?

First off, Prospero is a mysterious character;he rarely ever makes the reasons for his actions explicitly known. However, his great love for his daughter, Miranda, seems to be a key motivator for many of his actions. I see it as one of the main reasons that he took hold of the chance offered him by “Providence” and caused the shipwreck of the king and company. Some see this action as selfish, they believe that it evidences Prospero’s selfishness and they argue that he uses his magic to gain power over others. I do not see it this way though for several reasons.

First, Prospero did study books (magic in this play is closely linked with “book knowledge”) back while he was still Duke of Milan. However, he is not mentioned to have actually practiced any magic at this time.  This seems to indicate that he did have a knowledge of magic, but he deliberately chose not to use it until he was exiled.

Once he was exiled, his magic was virtually the only means available to him of providing any hope of escape for him or his daughter.  From the play, we learn that he gradually used his magic powers to kill Caliban’s mother, and eventially enslave Caliban as well as Ariel. This act of slave ownership has often been used to argue against Prospero. However, in Caliban’s case, Prospero first tried to teach Caliban language and he even took Caliban into his own house and treated him very well. Only after Caliban rebelled did Prospero enslave him, and perhaps he did this to ensure the safety of Miranda. With Ariel, Prospero did not have as much reason to enslave him as Caliban, yet Prospero does keep his word and set Ariel free at the play’s end. I think that maybe there was some benefit for Ariel in being Prospero’s slave.

Prospero seems to be much more concerned with reconcilation than revenge.  He does not kill or harm his enemies at all, he merely teaches them a lesson and restores his rightful property. I also believe he does this for Miranda’s sake. He wanted to give her a future, and if he did not have his dukedom, what would she have? He also seems to be very concerned with making sure that her husband was a man of good character and faithful affections. Prospero’s magic is used to effect good in people, not evil.

Yet his magic can only go so far. There is an interesting parallel between Prospero and God. Prospero is given a god-like power, but he is still under another’s authority. He could not cause the ship to come to his island, he could only make the most of the opportunity when “Providence” provided it. And he cannot change anyone’s soul like God could. Caliban is a perfect example of this. Despite Prospero’s efforts, his evil nature persisted.

One of the strongest reasons that I view Prospero as a hero rather than a villain is his action at the play’s end.  He chooses to get rid of his magic book, and so give up his magic. This indicates that once his purpose of reconciliation was accomplished, he gave up his magic to enjoy the rest of life. If he were power-hungry, why would he have abandoned his chance to have an advantage over other human beings in the earth?

His actions regarding magic seem to be a sort of “fairness doctrine.” While he is among other humans in Milan, he does not practice his magic. Only when he is alone on the island, and needs that advantage to restore his position in society, does he use his magic. Once he is restored back to society, he gets rid entirely of his magic. This self-control and seemingly purposeful use of magic indicates that Prospero has a good heart and that he uses his power for the benefit of others (especially his daughter) rather than himself.

Class Notes

Posted in The Tempest with tags , , , on March 19, 2009 by Saera

The Tempest is found only in the first Folio of 1623. it was written in 1612. This was the first play in the printed Folio, but was the last play written entirely by Shakespeare.

It is unique in that it is one of two of Shakespeare’s plays which follow Aristotle’s dramatic unities (the other is an early play called The Comedy of Errors). He had not read Aristotle, but he was familiar with contemporaties’ use of the dramatic unities of time, place, and action. These hold that  the amount of time covered in a play is ideally the amount of time literally used to perform the play, that the entire play take place in the same area, and that there be only one action plot. The French liked to observe Aristotle’s Unities, so they also became known as the French Unities (and it is also an explanation for Shakespeare’s lack of popularity among the French during his life).

The Tempest is a Romance form of comedy along with Pericles, Cymbeline, and A Winter’s Tale. These are not romantic comedies but rather bittersweet, pensive plays. They are not farces at all. They use the title of Comedy to mean something that ends triumphantly, not an incredibly humorous play. The Tempest is almost a tragedy, and its atmosphere is rather dark. Caliban is scary, dangerous, and tragic. Each of these romances deals with father/daughter relationships as most central.

Perhaps this is because Shakespeare is older when he wrote the romances, ad because he is now under the Stuart’s monarchy, not Elizabeth Tudor’s. James I and his court are more aristocratic than the Globe Elizabethan theatre. Hence, the Blackfriars Theatre – a smaller, more costly theatre frequented by the elite upper class rather than the middle or lower ones as the Globe was. These people wanted more sophisticated, spectacle entertainment than the Elizabethans did.

Sources for The Tempest‘s plot are from an historical account of an English shipwreck of colonists going to Jamestown. All of the crew was saved, although the ship was completely ruined. But they were able to put the ship back together and sail back to the Bermudas, where they were rescued. Also, Elizabeth often appointed pirates to rob the Spanish fleets so Shakespeare had this information to draw from as well. By the time James I reigned, England was expanding to colonization, and was beginning to drag human “specimens” of other nations back for exhibit, as Shakespeare acknowledges in The Tempest.

This play begins at the end, beyond the tragedy storm. Shakespeare, in adapting Seneca, is following Greek tragedy form.

Some themes of this play include love, forgiveness, providence, creation/pro-creation, power/magic, book knowledge versus brawn or political power.

Prose is used in the storm at the sea, but Prospero speaks poetry, as does Caliban.

Prospero is troubled by the power he has, and at the play’s end, he throws away his staff and book. He has God-like power, but he is a man, and has done things with his power that God would not do – he is a slavemaster to both Ariel and Caliban. He cannot make the characters any better – the good characters are already good, and the bad ones are already bad. He cannot make Caliban any better, cannot change his soul like God could. Does this indicate that book power/knowledge/learning can only go so far? Or does it show recognition of God’s absolute power? How does this possibly relate to colonization and the English attitude towards Christianizing conquered nations, using that as a power play?