«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 the shipwrecked men see devils, Miranda and Ferdinand see gods. At their first meeting, each independently assumes the other to be divine (1.2.421-5). Despite Prospero's attempts to temper his daughter's wonder by comparing Ferdinand to 'a Caliban', Miranda is obdurate: 'I have no ambition/ To see a goodlier man' (485-6). Of course the reference to the beloved as a divine being is a familiar trope but here it holds a deeper significance. There is a suggestion that rather than seeing each other half blinded by attraction, they see man more clearly for what he might be. Prospero forgives the son of his enemy and releases him from his servitude and the taint of bestiality. He explains that it was 'but my trials of thy love' (4.1.6) which Ferdinand has 'strangely' passed. Ferdinand is now placed on the side of the angels and Prospero shares with the couple his masque on the perfection of mankind until thoughts of Caliban interrupt and the spirits 'vanish heavily'. The significance of Caliban's interruption is partly his disruption of the polarity Prospero insists on between the bestial and the divine. Prospero managed to keep the lascivious Venus and her son, Cupid, away from the celebrations but thoughts of the darker aspects of humanity, exemplified in the rape and violence that Caliban partly represents, still intrude.
We have already referred to Caliban's dubious human status and the ease with which he is translated to a beast. When Stefano threatens him with banishment, he does so because his slave refuses to gather up the 'glistening apparel'. Like Prospero, Caliban nearly gets himself banished for his rejection of the worldly and superficial in pursuit of the magician's books.
That Caliban's higher purpose is the murder of Prospero and the possession of the island does not necessarily destroy the analogy. It is in the landscape that Caliban finds the seeds of a Neoplatonic transcendence to be perceived not through the symbols in Prospero's books but through his dreams. The heavens have promised to drop riches upon him and it is the promise of this splendour, if not deification, that leads Caliban to search the island for a god to worship.
Caliban further escapes the monster/devil stereotype through the qualities he shares with Miranda. A deliberate parallel is drawn between them in their aspiration after what is good via what is beautiful. For both, the island is the only world they have known or can well remember. Nevertheless, they make comparative judgements with great confidence. Caliban says that he has never seen a woman except for his mother and she cannot compare with Miranda's beauty (3.2.101-4). Miranda tells Ferdinand in a striking anticipation of the
mine own...' (3.1.48-50). Nevertheless, Miranda cannot imagine a better man. Moreover, Ferdinand's 'brave form' (1.2.414) immediately leads her to assume that he is noble. Such reterences to forms and beauty as truth suggest that Prospero has already begun to educate his daughter in Neoplatonism. Yet this language appears instinctual in both of Prospero's pupils.
Of course, they make mistakes. Miranda's naivete in assuming that man must always be what he appears could prove dangerous and does not escape mockery (5.1.185-7). Caliban's judgement is even more faulty when he kneels to Stefano as a god and makes 'a wonder of a poor drunkard!' (2.2.164-5). Nevertheless, his desire to kneel is at first a recognition of superiority, the kind of beauty Miranda thinks she perceives and wants to adore in Ferdinand.
The quest for divinity is also an expression of the transcendent in Caliban's nature. He wants to serve what is higher than himself and to be ennobled by it. When he discovers his mistake in Stefano and Trinculo, Caliban adores the magician as he once did and hopes to sue for grace'(5.1.299). 72 We have seen how Prospero's treatment of Caliban is informed by his desire to project alienation onto the "native'. By designating Caliban as all that is savage and alien to the civilised Duke of Milan, Prospero seems to be rejecting that dangerous incivility within himself which banishment implies. Yet, this impulse to distinguish is also a recognition of likeness. Skura sees the relationship between these two characters as repeating a pattern established throughout the canon. Powerful figures who are forced out or voluntarily retire from public life continue to manipulate others in that world, thus revealing their fascination with what has supposedly been sloughed off (power, aggression, sexuality). The Caliban 72 There is obviously the potential for Caliban's submission here to be seen as a kind of colonialist wishfulfilment wherein the master is finally kneeled to voluntarily. Yet this need not preclude the possibility that Caliban responds to something higher which Prospero does not embody but might lead him towards. On Caliban's suing for grace in the Christian sense see Bate, 'The Humanist Tempest', 18-9.
figure is one who epitomises the repressed will of the potentate and arouses in him passionate often apparently irrational feelings. 73 Prospero's formal recognition of Caliban as relating to himself, 'This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine', could be the tag-line to the film adaptation of The Tempest, Forbidden Planet (1956), directed by Fred M. Wilcox. Here, the monster is more mysterious and deadly than Caliban. It has destroyed the Krell civilization and the human colony of which Dr Morbius (Prospero) was a part. Only towards the end of the film is its identity revealed as the id, man's bestial subconscious. The Krell had unlocked the mysteries of nature and were perfecting themselves in a recognisably Neoplatonic way.
They had achieved the power to create by thought but divinity was snatched from their grasp by their own subconscious. Morbius, the inheritor of this wisdom, similarly unleashes the monstrous id or Caliban. As the walls of the cell are being broken down, the professor confronts his own destructiveness, acknowledges the 'thing of darkness', and dies to save the other humans including his daughter. 74 Prospero's final acknowledgement of Caliban after so many disavowals echoes his decision at the beginning of Act 5 to recognise the humanity in himself. Until 5.1 we do not know what ultimate revenge Prospero may take upon his banishers. His forgiveness of Ferdinand may allow for optimism yet the magician's irascibility makes this far from certain. Whilst it was in his interests to encourage a union between his daughter and Ferdinand, Prospero might reclaim his dukedom more easily by the destruction of the present claimants than by 73 Skura alludes to this paradigm at work in The Merchant of Venice, Henry IV, As You Like It and Measure for Measure, 'Discourse and the Individual', 61-3.
74 This film offers a fascinating reading of The Tempest as well as succeeding in its own right. Its relation to the theme of banishment is oblique. Morbius and his daughter have not been banished but are the sole surviving members of a team who went to the planet voluntarily for study. In fact, it is suggested that the colonists were killed by Morbius' subconscious when they insisted on returning to Earth. Nevertheless, the themes of forbidden knowledge and the title (which is never explained) suggest that alienation I have described, though an alienation desired rather than imposed upon them.
depending on their voluntary renunciation of it. In fact, there is no reference to Prospero wanting to reform or redeem these men until the final act. He rejoices that they are in his power and at his mercy, but does not seem to anticipate being merciful until Ariel intercedes with a description of the royal parry's distress. The spirit suggests that Prospero would have been moved by this scene, that Ariel would have pitied them if he were human. Prospero"s
response seems spontaneous, even impulsive. He decides to become human:
The confusion Prospero has created on the island with men appearing to be devils, islanders and gods, comes to seem an expression of his own uncertainty about his human status.
Through the 'banishment' of the shipwrecked men, Prospero has not only created the conditions for his reinstatement on the Milanese throne but has worked through his ambivalence about human identity, both bestial and divine. With his decision to recognise himself as one of their kind, Prospero proposes to drown his books and relinquish his magical power.'" Nevertheless, if Prospero has found something cathartic in his revenge, his victims' experience has not been one of enlightenment or -redemption'. In 3.3, Gonzalo argued that 75 In Forbidden Planet, the Krell archives and power source have to be destroyed to protect mankind from its own superhuman ambition.
the three men of sin were partly responsible for their frenzy and thus he seemed to condone
By the final act, however, Gonzalo has changed his mind. The agonies of all three men are so extreme and self-destructive, that the lord cannot but locate their delusions outside
themselves upon the island's evil influence:
Indeed, through paralysis, sleep and madness Prospero has seized control of their bodies and their reason, thus reducing them to a condition of bestiality. By controlling their volition, his victims degenerate further into non-beings, toys for the magician/tyrant to manipulate at will.
Whilst in his power, the men of sin may be tormented with guilt but this guilt does not necessarily endure outside the confines of Prospero's charm nor need it inspire repentance.
Rather, they are free once again to reject Prospero's morality. Thus Antonio and Sebastian appear unmoved by the former duke's reproaches and by his forgiveness. Exile has taught them nothing. Alonso does desire absolution but his renunciation of the dukedom is an act more indicative of despair over Ferdinand's supposed death, than of any soul-searching.76 76 Alonso imagines rejoining his son at the bottom of the sea, 3.3.100-2, or drowning for him, 5.1.152-4. He is in despair before Prospero puts the charm upon him, declaring that since the shipwreck. 'The best is past', 3.3.51.
Moreover, if their madness were the result of individual guilt rather than a punishment imposed by magic, we would expect it to have some effect upon Gonzalo who at least condoned the banishment. Yet this is not part of Prosperous plan. From the beginning the magus has defended this lord, arguing that his providing food, water and clothing and most importantly of all books, cancels out the gift of a ship certain to take them to their deaths.
Gonzalo must stand for unstained friendship and Prospero's greatest hope of a return to humanity. Within the charmed circle Prospero greets him thus: 'Holy Gonzalo, honourable man,/ Mine eyes, ev'n sociable to the show of thine,/ Fall fellowly drops' (5.1.62-4 italics mine).
Prospero's transformation into the former Duke of Milan is dominated by this need to embrace humanity. His appearance is a grand coup-de-theatre in the succession of mistaken identities. Having divested himself of his magical garb for a hat and rapier, Prospero presents himself as "The wronged Duke of Milan', a 'living prince', in proof of which he clasps Alonso (109,110). His embracing the men serves to demonstrate his substantiality since they have all believed him drowned for the past twelve years. Thus, Prospero demonstrates that he is not a ghost, a natural spirit or one of the visions of the island (179). Once the Neapolitan party has accepted that Prospero, Miranda and Ferdinand are living and human, the last scene revolves around the acceptance of humanity in the other characters which entails the recognition of bestiality and divinity in man. Miranda's original wonder at Ferdinand is repeated when she sees Alonso and his party. She greets these men of sin, only recently
restored to their senses:
As if the moral crimes of these men were not enough to balance the wonder she perceives in man, the subplot characters enter to 'represent' bestiality. They are things to be bought and displayed back home at freak shows. Caliban is once again described as a 'plain fish' (269).
Yet Prospero insists that these men be identified as human and belonging to them all in a
Prospero has tried to keep the two worlds separate, the bestial and the godlike, both on the island and within himself, banishing the human to leave only the divine. In renouncing his magic he accepts that even this power cannot separate them. Moreover, by rejecting the magic that enabled him to transcend the everyday man, Prospero accepts his own vulnerability and mortality. He achieves this only at the price of drowning the knowledge that he was ever anything more.
At the end of the play, Prospero is treated as a wonder until they accept he is real and human.
Then he becomes another victim of the island's magical power:
Yet whilst Gonzalo assigns everything to a divine plan, the audience and at least three other characters partly know it was Prospero who acted the role of Providence. 77 It was chance that brought the ship near to the island but it was up to him to act upon this and to create the reconciliations, the alliance of his daughter and Ferdinand, and the trials that would supposedly lead to redemption. Yet Gonzalo rejects all human responsibility for the events of the play. Not only does he ignore the unregeneracy of Antonio and Sebastian but the unhappiness of Claribel is subsumed by the fairy tale courtship of Ferdinand and Miranda, a courtship orchestrated by Prospero. The two are literally charmed with each other (1.2.422-3).