«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 ...»
Though Prospero remains apparently confined to the island, the Renaissance magician also expanded his mental horizons through travel. Fausrus plunges into hell, ascends into the heavens to 'prove cosmography', and begins a European tour that takes in Germany, France and Italy (3.0.7, 3.1.1-19). Bacon remains in Oxford during the course of Greene's play but his opponent, Vandermast, boasts of his reception in various European cities. Indeed, the Renaissance magician, as a scholar, would expect to travel in pursuit of learning and of patronage. That this journeying could be far from pleasurable is suggested by John Dee in the preface to the first English translation of Euclid (1570). In a section called 'A Refutation of
Slander', Dee defends himself from the charge of demonic practice:
Should I for my twenty or twenty-five years study for two or three thousand marks spending; seven or eight thousand miles going; and travelling only for good learning's sake, and that in all manner of weathers, in all manner of ways and passages; both early and late; in danger of violence by man; in danger of destruction by wild beasts; in hunger and thirst; in perilous heats by day, with toil on foot; in dangerous damps of cold by night, almost bereaving life [...] should one (I pray you) for all this, not otherwise, nor mere warily or (by God's Mercy) no more luckily have fished, with so large and costly a net, for so long a time in drawing [...] to have caught and drawn up a Frog? Nay, a Devil?21 This passage reminds us of the context of national and imperialist expansion within which the magician was often perceived. Dee himself was committed to using his scientific and mathematical studies for the national good, in particular for the expansion of Elizabeth's realm.22 His genealogical studies confirmed what he saw as Elizabeth's imperial destiny, to be achieved through the enlargement of her navy and the adoption of the latest navigational arts. Though of secondary importance, Dee's conversations with angels were also pursued in the hope of attaining some secret wisdom such as Friar Bacon hoped to discover from his brazen head. Specifically, Bacon mentions his ambition to construct a wall of brass around England (2.24-9, 57-60).~J Whilst the magician relishes the prospect of the renown he will thus secure, his magic is also represented as serving the nation's interests. In the magical contest between himself and the German, Vandermast, Bacon's victory is an honour to Oxford and to England (9.165-6). Similarly, Faustus' ambitions are both for his country and for himself as emperor. In a stunning example of the leitmotif of the magician's
transgressiveness and desire, Faustus says of Mephistopheles:
21 The Preface to Euclid in John Dee: Essential Readings ed. by Gerald Suster (Crucible, 1986), 44 22 William H. Sherman elucidates Dee's practical applications of his learning in John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995), 14-5. 148Faustus also plans to place such a wall around Germany, 1.1.90. His nationalistic ambitions also include military expansion and the eviction 'from our land' of the Prince of Parma, a Spanish governor-general reviled in England for his oppression of the Netherlands, 11 94, 95.
Thus before the Virginia project and before Shakespeare's Tempest, magical power was conventionally linked with territorial expansion and foreign conquest or annexation.
In contrast with his dramatic forebears, Prospero seems to lack any sense of magic as hedonism. He has apparently no interest in wealth and disdains the sparkly trash that Stefano and Trinculo find so enticing. The sensual delight of the spirit banquet and the masque are mainly for the benefit of others. Furthermore, Prospero has no possibility of achieving fame on the island since there are so few natives to grant it and travel is not an option. Yet unlike the ambitious Faustus and Bacon, or the hermit-like Bomelio and Aramanthus, Prospero creates an empire for himself to rule, even if it is only an uninhabited island. It is through magic that he claims the island for his own and preserves his lordship from the threat posed to it by Caliban and later by the shipwrecked men. Nevertheless, Prospero's magical actions are invariably demystified by recent critical approaches. His strange power becomes analogous to that wielded or desired by early seventeenth-century English colonialists. 24 Contemporary colonialism has been seen to cast light on Prospero's island project in two main ways. Shakespeare borrows both plot and incidental details from contemporary documents on the adventuring and colonial projects of the period. An account of Magellan's circumnavigation of 1519-22 might have provided the story of a mutiny by Antonio and Sebastian, the loyal subject Gonzalo, and details such as the god Setebos and the mysterious 24 In "This Tunis, sir, was Carthage": Contesting Colonialism in The Tempest', Jerry Brotton warns against colonial readings which recast Prospero as a 'prototypical English coloniser' and ignore the protagonist's strangeness as a magician and an Italian. See Post-Colonial Shakespeares ed. by Ania Loomba and Martin Orkin (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 23-42, 30.
'scamel'. More famously, the miraculous preservation of the Sea Venture as retold in documents of the Virginia Company may have inspired Shakespeare's account of the shipwreck and of the island.25 The second approach which now predominates explores Shakespeare^s implication in 'colonialist discourse', most recently defined as 'a new way of thinking in which cultural, intellectual, economic or political processes are seen to work together in the formation, perpetuation and dismantling of colonialism'. 26 Yet what this often means for an interpretation of The Tempest is the play's perpetuation or contestation of the single discourse apparently expressed in a number of specific texts. Such texts have inspired much thought-provoking criticism: Stephen Greenblatt has explored the implications of Caliban's language lessons;27 John Gillies considers The Tempest's parodic use of the Virginian topoi of fruitfulness and temperance;28 the play's production of disorder to celebrate colonial authority is explored by Paul Brown.29 Yet the delimiting effects of imposing upon The Tempest some paradigmatic colonial narrative have also been fruitfully examined in a number of studies that recall the marginalised and dissonant discourses of the 25 See Charles Frey, 'The Tempest and the New World', Sh. Q. 30 (1979), 29-41, on the question of Shakespeare's New World sources.
26 Ania Loomba, Colonialism/Postcolonialism (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 54.
27 Stephen Greenblatt, 'Learning to Curse: Aspects of Linguistic Colonialism in the Sixteenth Century' in Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture (New York and London: Routledge, 1990), 16-35.
28 John Gillies, 'Shakespeare's Virginian Masque', ELH 53 (1986), 673-707.
29 "This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine': The Tempest and the discourse of colonialism' in Political
Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism ed. by Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield (Manchester:
Manchester University Press. 1985), 48-72.
play and that challenge the historical foundations of this colonial archetype. 30 Meredith Anne
In an age when real voyages were read allegorically, the status of allegorical voyages like Prosperous can be doubly ambiguous, especially in a play like The Tempest, which provides an encyclopedic context for Prospero's experience, presenting it in terms of an extraordinary range of classical, biblical, and romantic exiles, discoveries, and confrontations.31 Skura proceeds to undermine the notion of a single colonialist archetype or discourse by examining the multiple and dissonant voices which the Virginia project and other enterprises inspired. Even if we assume that the documents we have on English colonialist expeditions add up to a consistent discourse, The Tempest does not inevitably dramatise that text. Where the similarities are seen to matter, the differences are often ignored. Skura points out that, unlike the Indians of travel narratives, Caliban does not have a superhuman physique, does not wear animal fur, feathers or body paint, and disdains trinkets. Despite his name, Caliban is not a cannibal, nor is he fully native since his mother was an African. 32 Prospero too, does not seem to fit the composite stereotype that that some critics assume. Often occluded is Prospero's Italian identity, so that any colonialist project he undertakes is not English.
Similarly, the fact that he is a magician who holds sway by supernatural means can be 30 Ben Ross Schneider Jnr explores Prospero's anger within a Stoic context in 'Are We Being Historical Yet?
Colonialist Interpretations of Shakespeare's Tempest', Sh. St. 23 (1995), 120-45, whilst Jerry Brotton develops the Old World context of the play, "This Tunis, sir, was Carthage' and Jonathan Bate considers the theme of education in 'The Humanist Tempest', Shakespeare La Tempete: Etudes Critiques (1993) ed. by Claude Peltraut, 5-20. Kathryn Barbour and Curt Breight both explore the play's presentation of power within the context of European and Machiavellian state practices. See Barbour, 'Flout 'em and Scout 'em and Flout 'em and Scout 'em: Prospero's Power and Punishments in The Tempest' in Shakespearean Power and Punishment: A Volume of Essays ed. by Gillian Murray Kendall (London: Assoc. Uni. Presses, 1998), 159-72. and Breight, "Treason doth never prosper": The Tempest and the Discourse of Treason', Sh. Q. 41 (1990), 1-28.
31 Meredith Anne Skura, 'Discourse and the Individual: The Case of Colonialism in The Tempest', Sh. Q. 40 (1989), 42-69, 47-8. The scope of this thesis does not allow for a detailed examination of The Tempest's debt to classical, romantic and biblical exiles, though some of this material is covered in the chapter on As You Like It and pastoral exile.
32 Ibid.. 48-9.
strangely passed over, as can the 'detail' that he came to the island against his will and voluntarily abandons his power over it before returning to Milan. One of the most problematic assumptions about Prospero is that he has any interest in colonising the island at all. Those texts which are often explicitly or implicitly acknowledged to inform readings of The Tempest and from which our ideas of the seventeenth-century colonialist are largely drawn can seem both slippery and treacherous on this question of Prospero's colonial commitment.
To begin, Prospero's appropriation of the island does not follow the procedures considered by Stephen Greenblatt in his study, Marvellous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World.
Columbus' claim to new territory was directed by formal rites of possession. Of particular importance were the naming of the island and some kind of physical alteration, even if only symbolic, for example the placing of stones or raising of mounds.34 Virginia was involved in both rites. In 1594, Raleigh renamed this area of North America, previously known as Wingandacoa, in compliment to Queen Elizabeth. According to A True and Sincere Declaration, the Virginian colonists subsequently marked trees there with Christian crosses and other signs."0 Prospero seems to have omitted both formalities. Naming is not only a manifestation of power, an idea derived from Genesis that to name is to command, or solely a legal matter although the act of possession necessarily required this.
36 Rather, as Greenblatt has argued, naming is an act of christening:
- the cancellation of the native name - the erasure 33 Both Schneider and Knapp acknowledge this point in 'Are we being historical yet?', 123, and An Empire Nowhere, 221.
34 Greenblatt, Marvellous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 52-85, 56.
35 A True and Sincere Declaration of the Purpose and Ends of the Plantation begun in Virginia (London 1610) STC 24832, 18.
36 'Marvellous Possessions', 82.
of the alien, perhaps demonic identity - and hence a kind of making new; it is at once an exorcism, an appropriation, and a gift'.37 Alteration is not just a matter of possession but of 'colonial' ambition. Dr Faustus boasted that he could redraw the map of Europe through the manipulation of physical entities, land, seas, rivers, but he never fulfilled these vaunts. In contrast, Prospero suggests that he has
dramatically changed the landscape:
Yet Prospero's transformation or 'exorcism' is explicitly associated with black magic, suggesting that a demonic rather than a benevolent power has taken control of the island. The
suggests that he has the power to transform the island in other ways but does not do so.j9 We may also ask ourselves why in twelve years Prospero has not made any attempts at civilization even for his own comfort. He still lives in a cave by a fen nor has anything been planted. L. T. Fitz refers to the island as having progressed no further than a 'hunting and gathering economy 7.40 We should take care not to expect some kind of empire-building from 37 Ibid., 83.
38 'Prospero, Agrippa, and Hocus-Pocus', 287-9.
39 In the case of Bomelio and Aramanthus at least, the inability to alter their condition or their environment seems to result from limited powers. On the convention of limited magic in these plays see Traister, HeavenlyNecromancers, 39-40.
40 See L. T. Fitz, 'The Vocabulary of the Environment in The Tempest', Sh. Q. 26 (1975), 42-7, 43. Compare this with Fiedler's assumption, I think an erroneous one, that Prospero sets Caliban to the cutting down of trees because he wants to subdue and order the island rather than because he wants to survive, The Stranger in Shakespeare, 235-6.