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Tempest at the Half

The Tempest
William Shakespeare

Given the way my week’s been going so far (yeah, it’s only Monday—it’s going to be one of those weeks, I’m afraid), I don’t really have any organization to my thoughts about The Tempest thus far—I almost even forgot it was time to post part I! What I’ve been thinking so far:

Getting back into Shakespeare (it’s been 10 years or so since I’ve read any!) has been easier than I expected. Maybe it’s the acrobatics of following Dante, maybe my memory for past Shakespearean experiences has stuck around better than I expected, but I’m really not having much difficulty getting into the language of The Tempest. Sure, there are a fair number of phrases I have to look at the footnotes for, but for the most part I can follow the dialogue without the footnotes.

I’m wondering how the audience is supposed to view Caliban—sympathetically or with revulsion. His early speeches suggest that he has indeed been ill-used by the “conquering” Prospero:

This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak’st from me. 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.
Cursed be I that did so! All the charms
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!
For I am all the subjects you have,
Which first was mine own king; and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o’ th’ island. [I.ii.334-347]

But on the other hand, Prospero claims that it is Caliban’s own misbehavior that has led to his punishment at Prospero’s hands:

Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,
Filth as thou art, with humane care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell, till though didst seek to violate
The honor of my child. [I.ii.347-351]

Of course, then at the end of Act II, Caliban encounters the drunken Stephano, whom Caliban takes for a god, for the sake of his wine. This is suggestive of both ignorance and naiveté. Perhaps Caliban’s ill behavior is more a product of his circumstance than his character? I will be watching him with care in the remaining play in the hopes of forming a more definite conclusion.

Similarly, how are we supposed to view Prospero? He was overthrown as rightful Duke of Milan BUT he had neglected his duties beforehand, turning most of them over to his usurping brother earlier in favor of his studies. He seems to love his daughter, Miranda, BUT he seems willing to manipulate her and her life to his advantage. Are his machinations for his happiness (return to power) or for her own (a happy marriage)? Prospero seems a contradictory character, and I will be watching him also, as I try to learn his motivations.

Posted as part of Allie’s Tempest Readalong.

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3 thoughts on “Tempest at the Half

  1. Excellent review! I like how you dove more into the characters. I feel for Prospero, but I am curious to see how he exacts his revenge, although, knowing Shakespeare, it has to do with his daughter.
    Caliban I haven’t made my mind up about yet. I think I feel some sympathy for him, but Shakespeare will no doubt paint him as a villain.
    Looking forward to part 2! Thank you for participating!

    1. Thank you! It’s been fun getting back into Shakespeare. I’d forgotten how short a play really is, and how much action has to happen in a tight time frame. It’s interesting to see, with the constraints of the stage, how much about the characters Shakespeare is able to convey, and how much we still have to guess at. I imagine that two productions of The Tempest could be completely different, based on how different directors interpret the material.

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