«by JANE ELIZABETH KINGSLEY-SMITH A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY The ...»
Where her father's power to cause a shipwreck was greeted matter-of-factly, this discovery throws Miranda into confusion. So impossible is it that he should have been Duke of Milan, Miranda questions whether Prospero is her father (55). Her inability to reconcile the two identities reveals the same assumption that to be Prospero is a position of inferiority in comparison with the lofty eminence of an Italian duke. The movement from one to the other is a tragic fall. Prospero describes his abandonment by Fortune such that, unless he acts on the present 'auspicious star', his fortunes 'Will ever after droop' (183-5).
That the tyrannical authority and awesome magical powers the magus exercises on the island could be seen as ill fortune is an ambivalence crucially dependent upon his self-image as an exile. For after twelve years Prospero remains the banished Duke of Milan. One might have thought that his new roles as magician and lord of the island would have at least consoled Prospero for his loss. Rather, his status as a magician and perhaps colonialist serves to reinforce his exclusion from other men, even his unfitness to live amongst them. Prospero's new powers re-enact that original banishment even before he directs them to that purpose.
The practice of magic in Elizabethan and early Jacobean drama often begins with figurative or literal exile. 2 Magic is the attainment of the scholar who has dedicated a great number of hours to the contemplation of various texts.3 The practical demands of study, not to mention the illicit nature of conjuring at this time, require withdrawal and solitude. We first see Dr Faustus (1592) in his study pursuing 'concealed arts' and from there he removes to a 'solitary grove' (1.1.104, 155).4 In Robert Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1589), reference is made to 'Bacon's secret cell' C2.9). 3 Prospero in Milan has largely confined himself to his library, 'being transported/ And rapt in secret studies' (1.2.76-7). The profession of the magus apparently demanded this kind of self-imposed exile and a psychological detachment from the 'vulgar uncomprehending masses and from 'worldly ends'.6 Henry Cornelius Agrippa, whose De Occulta Philosophiae (1533) was a major text in the formation of the English
Renaissance magician, 7 described this work as deliberately elusive:
for we have delivered this Art in such a manner, that it may not be hid from the prudent and intelligent, and yet may not admit wicked and incredulous men to the mysteries of these secrets, but leave them destitute and astonished, in the shade of ignorance and desperation. 8 2 Elizabeth Sewell poses the question 'What is it to be a magician-philosopher, and could it be that the commitment of oneself to such a vocation means, of necessity, one goes into exile?', 128. The Tempest renders this question somewhat banal in its equation of self-imposed exile with banishment which in turn facilitates magical power. Due to the scope of her study, Sewell's insights into Shakespeare's play are limited.
Nevertheless, she raises the Neoplatonic theory of man as essentially exiled and hints at the incompatibility of
political and magical power, an issue explored at length by Kurt Tetzeli von Rosador in The Power of Magic:
From Endimion to The Tempest' Sh. S. 43 (1991), 1-13. See 'As I was Sometime Milan': Prospects for a Search for Giordano Bruno, through Prospero, Coleridge, and the Figure of Exile', Mosaic 8 (1975), 127-39.
3 Although considerable emphasis is placed on the magician's skill there is also an assumption that whoever possesses the magic books will be similarly empowered. In Dr Faustus, Robin has no problem conjuring Mephistopheles and the devil punishes him and Rafe for their frequent calls upon him, 3.2.
4 Doctor Faustus and Other Plays ed. by David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 1604 A-Text used here.
5 Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay ed. by J. A. Lavin (London: Ernest Benn Ltd., 1969).
6 See Barbara A. Mowat, 'Prospero, Agrippa, and Hocus-Pocus', ELR 11 (1981), 281-303, 284-5.
7 See the chapter on Agrippa's influence in Frances Yates' The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (London and Boston: Ark, 1979, repr. 1983), 37-47. At 1.1.119, Faustus suggests that he too has been a student of Agrippa.
8 Three Books of Occult Philosophy tr. by J. F. (1651) (Hastings: Chthonios Books. 1986), 3 vols., vol. 3, chp Ixv, p 555.
Enforced exile may facilitate such studies or allow for their fruition. In The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune, the banished courtier, Bomelio, seems to have discovered magic during the course of his woodland exile. He has taken up residence in a -darksome sell' in the company of certain books, works condemned as 'vile' and 'blasphemous' by Hermione.9 In The Maid's Metamorphosis, Aramanthus, a Duke deposed and banished by his brother, transforms himself into some kind of magician in the course of his exile. For his dramatic descendant, Prospero, the study of the liberal arts that he began in Milan is facilitated by his removal to the island. 10 The precious books go into exile with him. There is abundant time and liberty for their perusal and the island is itself a strange, mystical, spirit-filled world. This sense of continuity in Prospero's fate, his movement from the isolation of his library to an island, has been interpreted as a kind of wish-fulfilment. 11 Berger sees exile as a corollary of
Prospero's essential nature and the inevitable conclusion of his solitude in Milan:
His being set adrift on the ocean, committed to a course which washed away the old burdensome world of civilization and translated him magically to a new world, unpeopled and unreal - this removal and isolation fulfill the process by externalizing his self-sufficient insularity. 12 The reference to 'insularity', derived from the Latin 'insula' for island, makes explicit the appropriateness of the island setting. This association between islands and self-sufficiency is 9 TTje Rare Triumphes of Love and Fortune ed. by John Isaac Owen (New York and London: Garland Pub., 1979), 3.609, 1356.
10 There are a number of similarities between The Maid's Metamorphosis and The Tempest. As has been said, both feature dukes banished by ambitious brothers. Where Prospero pretends to have lost his daughter and fabricates the drowning of Alonso's son, Aramanthus believes his daughter was drowned in a shipwreck but is reunited with her at the end.
11 David Sundelson suggests that Prospero is aware of his inadequacies as Duke and longs to escape his own shame and weakness, 'So Rare a Wonder'd Father: Prospero's Tempest' in Representing Shakespeare, 33-53, 36.
12 'Miraculous Harp', 258.
one Plutarch uses extensively in his consolation Of Exile or Banishment.^ His arguments in support of 'insularity' are both Epicurean and Stoic. Solitude, peace, and liberty are all
benefits of island retirement. Plutarch suggests that the exile congratulate himself thus:
Exempt I am from civil tumults and seditions; I am not subject to the command of princes and governors; my hand is not in the charge and administration of state affairs, nor in any public ministries or services...'.' 4 Similarly, the physical boundaries that prevent one from travelling are not viewed as a source of misery but as a blessing. Plutarch echoes the antitravel bias of other consolations, describing the exile's deliverance from 'tedious travel and wandering pilgrimages up and down in the world from place to place" and from 'the perils of sea' (400). He cites the heavens as a pattern for men, suggesting that the fixed stars are in a 'better state' than the 'wandering planets'. Yet all the planets move 'in a peculiar and proper sphere of their own, as it were in a certain isle, keeping always a just order in their revolution' (401).
Island self-absorption has been identified as one of the excuses made for Britain's spectacular early failures in the race to colonise the New World. 15 Yet, this self-absorption may also be interpreted as Stoic self-sufficiency. Plutarch quotes Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, who blessed fortune for driving him to his 'studying gown and philosopher's life again'. The 13 Plutarch's Moralia translated into English by Philemon Holland (1603), edited by E. H. Blakeney (London: J.
M. Dent & Sons, 1911).
14 Ibid., 398. This consolation is echoed, perhaps coincidentally, in As You Like It, when the Duke praises his exile as 'exempt from public haunt', 2.1.15.
15 Jeffrey Knapp has explored this connection in An Empire Nowhere. He offers various testimonies to England's insularity as an obstacle to its expansion. Of particular weight, is Robert Thorne's letter of 1527 asking Henry VIII to fund an expedition to discover a North-west passage. Thome suggests that Britain's island status has been both an obstacle and an incitement to colonialism and exploration. He suggests that Britain is rightly selfabsorbed whilst praising those explorers who have extended her boundaries and increased her treasure: 'God and nature hath provided to your Grace, and to your Gracious progenitors, this Realm of England, and set it in so fruitful a place, and within such limits, that it should seem to be a place quiet and aparted from all the foresaid desires', 29.
island is a place wherein the exile 'may live indeed properly to himself, being ranged within the centre and circumference of those things which are required only for necessity' (400).
When the body is reduced to narrow limits and denied external, sensual experience, the mind becomes expansive. This is not only a Stoic doctrine but, more appropriately for The Tempest, a Neoplatonic one. Ficino advises that 'Every Soul should retire from the pestilence of the body and withdraw into the mind, for then fortune will spend its force in the body and not pass into the Soul' 16 Such retirement was also central to the philosopher's acquisition of magic. Agrippa describes how the would-be magus must purify himself through abstinence, chastity and solitude, casting off human affairs in order to 'receive the gifts of the celestial
dieties' [sic]. 1 Retirement from the world facilitates transcendence from it:
Hence it comes to pass that though we are framed a natural body, yet we sometimes praedominate over nature, and cause such wonderfull, sodain and difficult operations, as that the evil spirits obey us, the stars are disordered, the heavenly powers compelled, the Elements made obedient; so devout men and those elevated by these Theologicall vertues, command the Elements, drive away Fogs, raise the winds, cause rain, cure diseases, raise the dead, all which things to have been done amongst diverse Nations, Poets and I8 Historians do sing and relate.
Prospero's magic has been seen to share traits with the Neoplatonist's theurgy. 19 The philosopher's transcendence begins with a careful study of the natural world. With the key of philosophy he will learn to perceive the symbols of divinity marked on every material thing.
The arcane properties of flowers and stones, of certain words or rituals and the meanings of 16 The Philosophy ofMarsilio Ficino ed. by Paul Oskar Kristeller tr. by Virginia Conant ("New York: Columbia University Press, 1943), 298.
17 Three Books of Occult Philosophy, vol. 3, chp Iv, p 524.
18 Ibid., vol. 3, chp vi, p 357.
19 For a consideration of Neoplatonic magic and Prospero's relation to it, see Walter Clyde Curry, Shakespeare's Philosophical Patterns (Louisiana: State University Press, 1937), 141-59, 163-99, Barbara Howard Traister, Heavenly Necromancers: The Magician in English Renaissance Drama (Columbia: University of Missouri Press. 1984), 125-50, and Karol Berger, 'Prospero's Art', Sh. St. 10 (1977), 211-39.
natural phenomena such as meteors will gradually be revealed to him. In the 1998 RSC production of The Tempest, directed by Adrian Noble, there was a striking image of the magus' command of nature. The sky- or sea-blue backcloth was taken up by Prospero as a cloak which empowered him to perform his magic, specifically to call upon Ariel.
Neoplatonic thought suggested that the man who had penetrated the mysteries of nature would be able to harness the power of nature's guardians, its spirits or daemons. He would also thus be enabled to survey time via the gift of prescience and to act in accordance with Providence. In 1.2, Prospero reveals that he has commanded nature (by raising the tempest but controlling its destructive power) through the agency of the spirit, Ariel, and that he has done so in response to his foreknowledge of events.
Nevertheless, such power is obviously implicated in worldly ends. De Occulta Philosophiae promises to reveal things to the 'profit' of man, 'for the preserving of life, honor, fortune'. In the first book dealing with natural magic, Agrippa suggests ways of inspiring love and hatred, sickness and health in other men. There are charms to work against 'the injustice and corruption of Princes, and great men in power and for success of petitions, and to conduce to ending of suits and controversies'.20 The Renaissance stage magician was invariably concerned with literal kinds of acquisitiveness and expansion. Magic promised the attainment
of wealth, power and fame:
20 See Three Books of Occult Philosophy, vol. 1, Preface to Reader, iii, on the profits of magic, and vol. 1, chp xlii, p 84 on the effects of a civet cat's guts on princes, great men and controversies!
There is a sense that the world now lies open to the philosopher, a rich, fruitful and virgin territory which will yield him secrets denied to other men. Most frequently, this plunder is envisaged as material treasure. Faustus imagines fetching gold from India and orient pearl from the ocean. He will 'search all corners of the new-found world/ For pleasant fruits and princely delicates' (86-7). The Duke and Duchess of Vanholt are amazed in 4.2 when he has grapes, then out of season in Europe, transported from the East. Friar Bacon too promises his dignitaries a great feast of 'candy' and 'spices' brought from Egypt, Persia and Africa (9.256We might compare this 'extravagance' with The Tempest in which Ariel's circumnavigation and plundering of the Earth for Prospero has included the bringing of dew from the Bermudas (1.2.229-30).