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  • Title: The Tempest: Critical Introduction
  • Author: Paul Yachnin
  • ISBN: 978-1-55058-370-0

    Copyright Paul Yachnin. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Paul Yachnin
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    The Tempest: Critical Introduction

    1234. The Play in the World

    The Tempest has had and continues to have a robust life in the theater and as a work of literature. It has also emerged in different forms as music, painting, film, live-action TV, and animation. Indeed it is a quality of great works of art that they--unlike the people who make them--grow younger, stronger, more various, and more influential as they grow older. Shakespeare died in 1616 in Stratford-upon-Avon, the provincial town to which he had returned after a successful career in the theater; his play, then about five years old, has, in the centuries since, traveled the world, been translated into many languages, been adapted (as opera, poem, novel, film), inspired many other works of art (a painting by William Hogarth in the eighteenth century, poetry by Robert Browning in the nineteenth, music by Jean Sibelius in the twentieth, and countless other works), and has called forth a vast body of interpretive literature. The Russian critic and theorist Mikhail Bakhtin captured this dimension of the lives of works of art with his idea of "great time":

    Works break through the boundaries of their own time, they live in centuries, that is in great time and frequently (with great works, always) their lives there are more intense and fuller than are their lives within their own time. (Bakhtin 4 [italics in original])

    124Some critics have attributed the growth and dissemination of the play and of Shakespeare's works more generally to the expansion of British power in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. No doubt, there is some truth in such arguments, especially since the play could not have achieved an international life at all if it simply had not been available anywhere outside England; but it is more important to consider the answerability of The Tempest to a range of artistic, social, and political situations and to see how the particular completeness and complexity of "the world in the play" (discussed in the previous section) has enabled it to light up so brightly in relation to the concerns of different communities in various places and at different times. To adapt Antonio and Sebastian's mean-spirited mockery of Gonzalo, we can say that Shakespeare carried the island "home in his pocket" and gave it to us "for an apple":

    What impossible matter will he make easy next?
    I think he will carry this island home in his pocket and give it his son for an apple.
    And sowing the kernels of it in the sea, bring forth more islands.
    (TLN 761-3)

    126In what follows, I tell the story of the play in the world. Given the extraordinary proliferation of performances, interpretations, adaptations, translations, and appropriations, it can hardly be a full, detailed account, but I do think of it as the whole story since it focuses on (to quote Bakhtin again) the play's "more intense and fuller" life in "great time"; I attend, that is, to the realization of the tremendous artistic possibilities founded on the imaginary island world that Shakespeare created in 1611, as those possibilities have played out in the vastness of the real world over the past 400 years.

    127Early Modern England

    In the middle of the Epilogue, Prospero tells the audience that the purpose of his "project" was "to please" (TLN 2333-4) The actor who played Prospero in the first performances, as well as the other members of the company, knew well that The Tempest was first of all a work of entertainment. The play makes good-hearted fun of its pleasure-seeking audience when Trinculo tells us that English holiday-fools would give good money to see even a picture of a monster-fish. The play has its own picture of a monster--an actor playing the part of the "servant monster" Caliban. It also features a spectacular storm scene, magic shows, multiple costume changes (including Ariel as a harpy), players dressed as gracious, welcoming monsters and as "dogs and hounds," and a marriage masque with ensemble singing and dancing. It is the most musical of Shakespeare's plays. The company went to the expense of hiring Robert Johnson, lutenist to King James, to write two original songs, "Full Fathom Five" and "Where the Bee Sucks," for performance by the boy actor who played Ariel. Caliban says no more than the simple truth when he tells Stephano and Trinculo that "the isle is full of noises, / Sounds, and sweet ayres that give delight and hurt not" (TLN 1492-3).

    128In addition to the pleasures of spectacle, dance, and music (not to mention the enjoyment of watching the unfolding of a complex plot performed by a magician, a beautiful maiden, a handsome prince, a eloquent monster, a musical spirit, and all the rest), the play offered its first audiences lively representations of a number of political and religious matters that would have had particular currency in early modern England. It might be difficult for us to understand the huge appeal to early modern pleasure-seekers of questions about the nature of divine Providence, the proper means of individual salvation, the legitimacy of monarchical rule, or the justice of the European colonization of the Americas, but it's hard to grasp only until we remember that ordinary people in Shakespeare's age were excluded by royal fiat from the public discussion of just such matters. A 1559 proclamation expressly forbade any plays that considered religion or politics:

    129. . . her majesty doth likewise charge every of them [i.e. her officers] as they will answer: that they permit none to be played wherein either matters of religion or of the governance of the estate of the commonweal shall be handled or treated, being no meet matters to be written or treated upon but by men of authority, learning, and wisdom, nor to be handled before any audience but of grave and discreet persons. ( Hughes and Larkin 2: 115-16)

    130From the late 1580s until the closing of the theaters in the middle of the seventeenth century, the drama was able to stage plays that repeatedly took up these apparently forbidden questions about politics and religion, largely because playing and playgoing came to be seen by the authorities as harmless forms of commercial recreation for common people (see Yachnin "The Powerless Theater"). In truth, however, the drama was able to provide ordinary people in early modern England--that is, the vast majority of the population--with a place where they could participate with the actors in collective thinking and feeling about matters of social and political concern. The theater was able to give what the period called "private" people new forms of public language, identity, discussion, and judgment. Playing and playgoing were thus part of the long-term growth of the ideal of an inclusive political community, a polity where even young women like Miranda, working men like the Boatswain, and "servant monsters" like Caliban have a voice and are entitled to the public recognition of their views and their value as persons.

    131For the playgoers at the Globe in 1611, the story of shipwreck and salvation in The Tempest would likely have recalled the miraculous survival of the Virginia colonists, mapping that instance of the providential care of English colonists onto Prospero and Miranda's original escape from death at sea and also onto the happy outcome of the whole history of the characters in the play. At the start of the play, Prospero tells his daughter that it was "Providence divine" (TLN 267) that saved them from the sea. Near the end, Gonzalo praises the "gods . . . that have chalked forth the way / Which brought us hither" (TLN 2182-5) The "gods," like the phrase "Providence divine," stand for the Christian God, the figure that oversaw human affairs and gave meaning to history and legitimacy to political figures like kings and dukes. The belief in Providence was both a religious and political issue for the people of Shakespeare's time. For one thing, King James claimed that his power derived from the divine rather than from the earthly realm, and as such was essentially beyond question by mere mortals. From the first moments of the first scene, however, when the Boatswain points out the limitations of royal power in the face of the storm, Shakespeare raised the "religio-providentialist view of the state" precisely as a question. The Epilogue suggests a communitarian idea of salvation that challenges Gonzalo's overstated claim for the top-down operations of divine power and authority. Prospero tells the audience that only they can save him, as if all of them, rather than a single royal figure, were the vessel of divine will. Prayer becomes a collaborative salvation-seeking activity as the actor playing Prospero--amazingly--imagines the players and playgoers freeing each other from despair by praying together:

    132Now I want
    Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
    And my ending is despair,
    Unless I be relieved by prayer,
    Which pierces so that it assaults
    Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
    As you from crimes would pardoned be,
    Let your indulgence set me free.
    (TLN 2334-41)

    133With their emphasis on the benefits of an active kind of prayer that is able to "pierce . . . mercy itself," the final words of the play challenge the idea of passive submission to Providence that is at the heart of Gonzalo's speech. The words are anti-authoritarian, but they are nonetheless profoundly and traditionally Christian, based on the ideal of Christian moral community, as in Matthew (6.14): "For if ye do forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." (quoted from The Geneva Bible). The lines have also a Protestant character, at least in the way the use of the word "indulgence" transforms the institutionalized Catholic practice of selling "indulgences" to those seeking remission of sins into the virtue of mutual forgiveness and charity among believers.

    134For Shakespeare's playgoers, living in the wake of the tremendous upheavals of the age of Reformation, religion and politics were tightly interwoven areas of concern. The play's interest in Providence and power extends into the two major areas of conflict and controversy in the period--the conquest of the Americas and the political struggles at home in Europe. The island serves this double focus well by being located in the Mediterranean and by also having characteristics of the more distant islands of the West Indies. It is indeed a descendent of a no-place island such as Thomas More's Utopia, a place uncannily apart from and yet of a piece with the world, in terms of which the artist is free to think experimentally about the events, ideas, and people of the real world.

    135The play is thus a utopian thought experiment about divinity and power in the Old and the New World. Throughout the sixteenth century, the central justification for the take-over of the Amerindians had been that Europe had a religious duty to convert the "savages." Proponents emphasized the savagery, cannibalism, and godlessness of the natives. Critics of the European "mission" pointed to the barbarity of the European treatment of the Amerindians and to the already developed culture and religion of the so-called savages. Shakespeare came to the question after almost 100 years of debate, the high points of which for English readers would have been the 1583 English translation of Bartolomé de las Casas' A briefe Narration of the destruction of the Indes and John Florio's translation of the Essayes of Montaigne (1603), which Shakespeare read with penetrating attention, perhaps especially "Of the Cannibals," from which he took Gonzalo's description of a utopian society. He would also have read Montaigne's high praise of the cannibals: "They spend the whole day in dancing. The young men go a hunting after wild beasts with bows and arrows. . . . They believe their souls to be eternal, and those that have deserved well of their gods, to be placed in that part of heaven where the sun riseth, and the cursed toward the west in opposition" (Montaigne 165). Elsewhere he lauds their lyric poetry: "this invention hath no barbarism at all in it, but is altogether anachreontic [i.e. like ancient Greek poetry]" (Montaigne 170).

    136The play invites spectators into the debate about conquest and colonization. What does the native (Caliban in this case) get from the colonizers? What does he have to give up? It is noteworthy that while he apparently had no language before Prospero and Miranda taught him theirs, he nevertheless remembers non-European words like "scamels" or the name of his mother's god, "Setebos," which Shakespeare picked up from one of the New World travel narratives (Frey, "Tempest and the New World," 29). Caliban claims ownership of the island on the strength of inheritance from his mother. Native religion, a mother tongue (though not his mother's tongue, since she was not American), a sense of ancestry, and a right to a homeland based on ancestry are stripped from Caliban by the Europeans. He also suffers corporal punishment at the hands of Prospero, especially being hunted by dogs, which is reminiscent of the reports of Spanish mistreatment of the Indians. In recompense, he receives European language, to which he adds an American dimension, and it is this language that gives him his expressive individuality and personal dignity, even as he is playing the slave to Ferdinand; the Europeans become his community, one that even seems potentially redemptive for him; and at the end he seems to learn a valuable lesson about not enslaving himself to "drunkards" and "dull fools." As for religion, Shakespeare treats the question of Caliban's conversion gingerly. There is no indication that he has become a Christian; the only suggestion that he has joined a Christian community is his statement at the end that he will "seek for grace," by which he means clemency from Prospero and which might also refer to grace of a higher order.

    137Caliban's slavishness to Ferdinand puts into play important Aristotelian ideas about "natural slavery," the idea that some humans were simply unfit for self-rule and so needed the firm hand of "natural" masters who would do them--so the argument went--a kindness by governing their lives and making use of their labor. In a formal debate against de las Casas, the Spanish theologian Juan Gines de Sepulveda defended his country's conquest of the Amerindians in these classical terms: "Those who exceed others in prudence and intelligence, if not in physical strength, are by nature masters; those, on the other hand, who are mentally slow and lazy, though they may have the physical strength to fulfill all their necessary obligations, are by nature slaves, and it is just and useful that they be" (Sepulveda 59). Caliban is at some moments answerable to this description, and in so far as he is naturally slavish, he can stand as an argument for the natural justice of European domination of the Amerindians. In many respects, he is indeed very unlike Montaigne's naturally noble cannibals, whose austere, ethical warrior culture shines out against what Montaigne portrays as the corruption and cruelty of so-called civilized people. On the other hand, Caliban keeps up a fairly courageous verbal campaign against Prospero, he uses slavishness to manipulate Stephano into joining a real war against Prospero, and he seems to have a capacity for intellectual and moral advancement as well as an aptitude for poetry, all of which make him perhaps more like than unlike Montaigne's cannibals.

    138The Tempest spoke to Old World issues as well as to questions about the relationship between Europe and the Americas. It opened a public discussion about one of the most pressing political questions of the period: are subjects justified in following the dictates of their consciences rather than the commands of their monarch? This question was of great importance throughout the Reformation, beginning famously with the execution of Thomas More by Henry VIII. From 1530 to 1560, the national religion changed several times, shifting back and forth between Catholicism and Protestantism under the rule of Henry and the reigns of his offspring. Across Europe, the Reformation unsettled religious and political unity and sparked people's thinking about the claims of individual conscience against the demands of political obedience. In England, the issue was particularly urgent because the English were outgunned by the great Catholic powers of Europe, Spain especially, and subjects who felt entitled to follow their conscience might undertake active forms of resistance, up to the killing of the monarch, a internal attack on the English state which was indeed encouraged by the Catholic Church.

    139We have already seen how Gonzalo finds his way between his duty to his King and his act of charity to Prospero and Miranda. He does not directly save their lives, since that would mean betraying the command of his King; instead he mitigates their suffering and merely improves their chances of survival. His conduct reflects the politics of the play, which are so tough-minded that his victim Prospero, since he has good reason to value those who do not betray their rulers, praises him as "holy" for his mix of loyalty to his King and kindness to his King's enemies. Seen this way, The Tempest looks like it is taking Henry VIII's side against Thomas More, aligning itself with the claims of political obedience against those of personal conscience; but of course the whole bent of Shakespeare's drama is to open questions to debate and judgment rather than to close them down. At the Globe, ordinary Londoners were invited by the action of the play to decide for themselves whether Gonzalo had done the right thing and whether Prospero himself, whose judgment is questionable in so many other matters, was right to praise the very man who was at least immediately responsible for his and his daughter's terrible ordeal of exile.

    140David Scott Kastan has also argued that for early modern playgoers and readers The Tempest would have been first and foremost about English and Continental dynastic politics. The 1613 performance at Court, he says, was "more likely to resonate with political issues in Europe rather than in the Americas." He points to the near parallel situation between Alonso, who believes his son is dead and who has married his daughter to an African prince, and King James, whose son Henry had died in fact and whose daughter Elizabeth was marrying a German prince. Even more striking is the fascinating parallel he finds between Prospero and Rudolf, the Emperor of Bohemia, whose widely discussed abandonment of politics for a life of arcane magical learning, led to his deposition from power in the first decade of the seventeenth century (Kastan 96).

    141Early modern playgoers, and not just those at Court, might have enjoyed how the play staged allegorical versions of goings-on among the social and political elites of England and Europe, precisely the kinds of issue they were not supposed to be attending to. Here we can see how the music, spectacle, and pageantry of the play were of a piece with its wide-ranging engagement with religious and political questions. The play provided commoner playgoers with courtly kinds of music, dance, spectacle, and costuming, and it staged representations of politics that were the usual preserve of the monarchy and the social elite. All of that must have been thrilling to ordinary people, those who were normally excluded from elite entertainment and politics. Shakespeare, however, added something extra: his drama cultivated among lower-rank playgoers a lively emulation of the recreation and interests the social elite, but it also reflected critically on the elite cultural and political goods it was purveying to its paying customers.

    142Consider Ariel's song, "Where the bee sucks," which is sung to the setting composed by the King's lutenist, in which the airy spirit anticipates his liberation from service, and for which he is praised, even loved, by his master, Duke Prospero. It is the kind of ersatz courtly entertainment playgoers were thirsty for, but the freedom-loving sentiment that the spirit Ariel expresses is essentially no different from Caliban's populist, non-courtly song, "'Ban 'ban, Ca-caliban," which ends with the refrain, "Freedom, high-day, high-day, freedom, freedom, high-day, freedom!" (TLN 1231) The same desire for freedom and fulfillment inhabits both a spirit praised by a duke for his ability as a master of revels and a "thing of earth" reviled by the same duke. One hardly needs the services of a royal musician, the play seems to tell the very audience it seeks to please with courtly song, in order to give voice to fundamental, shared human desires.

    143Restoration and Eighteenth Century

    Both the entertainment and the public, playful discussion intrinsic to the Shakespearean commercial theater were severely curtailed by the English Civil War through the 1640s, the execution of King Charles in 1649, and the period of the Cromwellian Interregnum (the ten years when the English lived without a monarch). When playing resumed in the wake of "the Restoration," that is, the return to England and accession of Charles' son to the throne in 1660, The Tempest was, like so much else in English civil and cultural life, transformed into something almost unrecognizable, but not, as we will see, into something completely unlike itself. Perhaps the most important change was that the play came to occupy an important place in a large field of texts, performances, and practices that greatly expanded both the entertainment and the public, playful discussion that had been one of hallmarks of the drama in Shakespeare's time.

    144A new version of the play, by John Dryden and William Davenant, appeared in 1667. The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island, changed the story, added characters, simplified the play's themes, and greatly expanded the music and spectacle. This version was further altered by Thomas Shadwell in 1677, who kept the Dryden-Davenant text but added more music, dance, and spectacle, making it into something resembling a modern Broadway musical. The Dryden-Davenant-Shadwell Tempest, which displaced Shakespeare's version of the play from the stage for the next 150 years, gave its audiences, in addition to a great deal more music and dance than the original, an expanded romantic subplot, a busier Caliban subplot, and a reduced main plot. Modern critics sometimes say that the Restoration adaptors trivialized Shakespeare by adding music and spectacle; but The Enchanted Island in fact elaborated a feature of the play that Ben Jonson had criticized (and also emulated) in Shakespeare's time when he mocked the play's "drolleries" and decried its "concupiscence of jigs and dances" (Jonson, Bartholomew Fair 130-5). And in any case, the Dryden-Davenant play is hardly without serious concerns. With all its showiness, it develops a political theme that, while different in a number of ways from Shakespeare's, is similar in content and even in the way it might have worked upon the audience. The combination of entertainment and politics worked well for the Restoration audience; so popular was the adaptation that it stirred up a rival company to produce a parody, The Mock Tempest (1675), that rewrote the opening storm as a riot in a whorehouse and included, at the conclusion, a dancing chorus of pimps and bawds (Vaughan and Vaughan, "Introduction," Tempest, 81-2 ).

    145As was often the case with Restoration and eighteenth-century adaptations of Shakespeare, which were re-written for playgoers who were generally of higher social rank than their Shakespearean predecessors, The Enchanted Island added more women characters and expanded the romantic dimension of the play. Miranda now has a sister named Dorinda. There is also on the island the handsome son of the late, deposed Duke of Mantua. His name is Hippolito. Prospero keeps him and the young women apart since Hippolito's horoscope predicted that he would die if he ever saw a woman. It remains unexplained how the young people failed to notice each other on the little boat that brought all of them and Prospero to the island years before. The shipwreck brings Ferdinand to the island and, as in the original, he and Miranda fall in love at first sight. However, the presence of the other young people, Dorinda and Hippolito, occasions a series of misunderstandings, a duel between Ferdinand and Hippolito, and the unintended death of the latter. That brings matters to what surely would have been an unhappy ending; indeed the ever-angry Prospero reveals to his old enemy Alonso that his son Ferdinand is alive, but only to make Alonso's grief sharper when he is told that his son is to die for the murder of Hippolito. The happy ending is saved only by the initiative of Ariel, who magically restores the life of the apparently dead man. The romantic subplot ends by looking ahead to the weddings of the two couples, and it links to the main plot since Hippolito is to be restored to the throne of Mantua (his late father was deposed by Alonso) just as Prospero is to regain his rule of Milan.

    146The main plot thus ends as in the original play, but the moral character of the participants is markedly different. From the very start of the play, Antonio and Alonso express deep remorse for their usurpation of Prospero. On his side, Prospero is ineffectual as a ruler of the island, tyrannical with his daughters and adopted son, and incapable of preventing the outbreak of violence that is caused largely by his long-standing oppression of the young people. He also does not undertake the inward struggle between violence and forgiveness that is so central in Shakespeare; instead he is simply full of bad temper from the beginning to very near the end (he takes real relish in drawing out Alonso's fatherly grief). This flattening out of Prospero and the cancelation of his inward struggle tends to strip out the philosophical element that in Shakespeare's play yokes together the ethical and the political dimensions of life in the world.

    147The adapted play is for the most part concerned with sexual desire and politics as well as with how the two aspects bear on one other. The Caliban subplot exemplifies how desire connects with politics. Caliban is given a sister, Sycorax, whom he seeks to wed to Trinculo (who is transformed into the Boatswain). Trinculo, Caliban, and Sycorax are joined in the comic subplot by Stephano (here the Master of the Ship) and two other sailors. The four mariners, the monster servant, and his sister take part in a risible contest for rule of the island, where "Duke Stephano" and his two sailor Viceroys are challenged by Trinculo, who claims the throne on the basis of his espousement to Sycorax and alliance with Caliban. It is Sycorax's desire for Trinculo and his consequent claim to sovereignty over the island that enables the comic civil war among the lower-rank characters. Sycorax's desire, however, is a political problem as well as a political solution, especially because her desire is remarkably promiscuous, including even her own brother, and it must be reined in if there is to be any possibility of political order. The same is roughly true for the romantic subplot, where the re-establishment of the political and dynastic stability of the Italian city-states depends on the regulation of desire and the sorting out of the couples. In particular, Hippolito parallels Sycorax since he would have all women and she all men. Only once Hippolito is securely married to Dorinda and Ferdinand to Miranda can relations among the three city-states be normalized.

    148For all the changes Dryden and Davenant wrought, then, there are nevertheless strong elements of continuity from the Jacobean to the Restoration Tempest. The song, dance, and spectacle, which pleased Restoration playgoers like Samuel Pepys so well, were, as we have heard, an elaboration of elements of staging already prominent in Shakespeare's play. The original play's interest in race, with Caliban (whose name is an anagram of "cannibal") serving as a way for Shakespeare to think through Montaigne's thinking about the so-called "savages," is developed in the figure of his sister, who is mocked by Trinculo for her "Blobber lips" (3.3.12), and transposed also to the new play's obsession with images of cannibalism, as when Dorinda recounts how Hippolito (described by Prospero as of "a Salvage race--3.1.89) first took her hand--"He put it to his mouth so eagerly, I was afraid he / Would have swallowed it" (3.1.110-11).

    149In an important essay, Katharine Eisaman Maus has well characterized the main thematic changes from Shakespeare to Dryden and Davenant as a shift to a more exclusively political play with a more conservative representation of the political world than we find in the original. While Maus is certainly right about what she calls "Dryden's pessimistic conservatism" (204), the Dryden-Davenant adaptation nevertheless retains something of the critical capacity--the ability to open debate--that was such a distinctive feature of Shakespeare's play. Dryden and Davenant's merciless mockery of the lower-rank characters, most of them sailors, does undo the original play's valuing of the well-ordered association among ordinary working men on board the floundering ship. But the Restoration version nevertheless sets up parallels between the ridiculous mariners and their drunken attempts to govern themselves and the aristocrats, whose jockeying for power has driven them apart from each other, alienated their offspring, and led them all to being cast away on the island. Only the "savagery" of desire--not the "civility" of contractualism as in the subplot or patriarchal monarchy in the main plot--can save the characters from destroying themselves; and only desire, along with the creative intervention of Ariel, can bring about the restoration of a political community. On this account, the parallels between the sailors and the aristocrats can do what the parallels in Shakespeare play did before them; they can invite and foster a critical view of the claims of the political elite to superiority over their social inferiors. And in this case, the possibility of critique is not inhibited, as it might have been in Shakespeare's play, by the audience's engagement with a sympathetic, suffering Prospero.

    * * *

    150In addition to being a time that saw Shakespeare become again the most popular playwright on the English stage by a kind of "sea change" into a rich cultural resource for the writers, players, designers, and musicians of the period, the eighteenth century was also the first and most formative age of Shakespeare scholarship. Between Nicholas Rowe in 1709 and Edmond Malone in 1790, the century produced ten major editions of Shakespeare's works. The intensive, creative, hotly contested work by a group of amateur scholars over the course of almost 100 years was of a piece with the development of critical, historical, and philological research on the meaning of Shakespeare's stories, characters, and words. One charming example of this interpretive project concerns the strange word "scamels," which names one of the delicacies Caliban offers to Stephano: "sometimes I'll get thee young scamels from the rock" (TLN 1216-7). The word was variously emended and explained; in their 1793 edition of the Plays, which changed the original reading to "sea-mells," Johnson and Steevens conscientiously reprinted proposals by a host of others. Johnson commented, "This word has puzzled the commentators: Dr. Warburton reads shamois; Mr. Theobald would read anything rather than sea-mells. Mr. Holt, who wrote notes upon the play, observes that limpets are some places called scams, and therefore I had once suffered scamels to stand." (Plays)

    151The play was also a focus for critical debate. Rowe, the second great Shakespeare editor (the first being those who prepared the 1623 Folio), offered a judicious account of the play as well as a critique of Dryden and Davenant's adaptation:

    152The Tempest . . . seems to me as perfect in its kind as almost anything we have of him. . . . I am very sensible that he does, in this play, depart too much from that likeness to truth which ought to be observed in these sort of writings; yet he does it so very finely that one is easily drawn in to have more faith for his sake than reason does well allow of. His magic has something in it very solemn and very poetical; and that extravagant character of Caliban is mighty well sustained, shows a wonderful invention in the author, who could strike out such a particular wild image . . . This play has been altered by Sir William Davenant and Mr. Dryden, and although I won't arraign the judgment of those two great men, yet I think I may be allowed to say that there are some things left out by them that might, and even ought, to have been kept in. (Works xxiii-xxv)

    153On the strength of this disagreement about what parts of the text are essential to The Tempest, the differences of opinion about the word "scamels," and the back-and-forth between adaptations and parodies among the London playing companies, as well as innumerable other instances where Shakespeare was the centre of contention among people, we could say that in eighteenth-century England, The Tempest, Shakespeare's works, and Shakespeare himself became, certainly, a principal resource for the entertainment industry, both in the theater and in the book trade; and we could also say that plays like The Tempest became opportunities for playful, public discussion and debate (the "scamels" controversy is clearly full of fun), thereby realizing on a grand scale one of the most important purposes of Shakespeare's art in his own time, which was to marry dramatic recreation to popular discussion and indirect social action.

    154Romantic Tempest

    The eighteenth-century Tempest was a lavish musical entertainment, a complex comedy, and a play about politics. The focus of the play shifted in the tide of the Romantic movement of the early nineteenth century, the massive artistic and cultural re-orientation that was begun on the Continent in the late eighteenth century by artists such as Goethe or Beethoven, whose work challenged the Enlightenment idealization of reason and sought to elevate strong emotion, the power of the imagination, the sublimity of nature, and the individual person (as opposed to the polity or the species) as particularly valuable aspects of human life. The start of literary English Romanticism was marked by the publication of Lyrical Ballads by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth in 1798, where the Preface declared the obsolescence of the highly wrought verse of the preceding century and recommended a new poetry founded in ordinary language and "the essential passions of the heart" but colored by imagination so as to reveal the extraordinary within the everyday. (Coleridge and Wordsworth, "Preface" 358)

    155The writers of the early nineteenth century found much in The Tempest that resonated evocatively with their new regard for nature, emotion, imagination, and the individual. They also found themselves able to hear anew the philosophical, elegiac language of Shakespeare's late plays. When Coleridge wrote his poem, "This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison," which is a meditation on solitude, friendship, and the restorative power of nature as well as a melancholy blessing of a beloved friend, he likely had in mind Prospero's "line grove" (emended, in contemporary editions of the play, to "lime grove"). While Coleridge's "Nature [that] ne'er deserts the wise and pure" is some distance from the "bogs, fens, and flats" that dot Prospero's island, his imagining of how shared wonder in the face of natural beauty can salve the individual heart and bring people together owes much to Ariel's songs, Caliban's vision of natural riches and sweet airs, the power of the billows, winds, and thunder to judge human action, and the pastoral marriage masque, by whose enactment of the fecundity of nature a sombre Prospero blesses his daughter's impending marriage.

    156Romanticism's reception of the play greatly extended and refocused the previous century's interest in Shakespearean character. The writers and actors of the nineteenth century shifted the focus of characterization from what Samuel Johnson had described as "just representations of general nature" to something far more unique and individualized, and they extended the range of their attention to characters, like Caliban, that had been more or less beyond the understanding of the earlier century. Coleridge argued that the servant monster was "a noble being . . . a man in the sense of the imagination: all the images he uses are drawn from nature, and are highly poetical" (Coleridge, Shakespearean Criticism 2: 138). The Tempest on stage had been restored to more or less its original form by David Garrick in 1757, and after shifting back into the Dryden-Davenant style a number of times, it was brought firmly back to Shakespeare's text by William Charles Macready in 1838. Caliban's part, which had been played by comic actors in the previous century, was performed more seriously and movingly. Leigh Hunt described the "terrific tragedy" of John Emery's portrayal of Caliban's account of the tortures he suffers at the behest of Prospero (Vaughan and Vaughan, Caliban 179). Robert Browning's poem, "Caliban upon Setebos" (1889), which presents Caliban meditating at length on himself, the world, and the divine, is of a piece with this theatrical rethinking of character, especially characters that had been made marginal or merely comic in the previous century.

    157This ability to attend to Caliban's suffering and his thinking and thereby to recognize his humanity was in some respects a triumph of nineteenth-century Christian liberalism, an ideology at the root of the abolition of slavery in England in 1833; but the recognition of Caliban's claim to personhood was also a continuation of the eighteenth-century ideal of sympathy, extending it to the point where readers' and playgoers' compassion could embrace even the figure that Prospero calls "this thing of darkness." After all, the Abolitionist movement itself was a product of the European Enlightenment. And lest we think that the enhanced prominence of Caliban in the nineteenth century led to either a new, revolutionary reading of the play or a strong shift of sympathy away from Prospero, we can also note that Prospero became for the Romantics a central figure of artistic genius--indeed an embodiment of their highest aspirations. Jonathan Bate points out how the character and language of Prospero shape the figure of the poet in Wordsworth's The Prelude, and how Prospero turns up repeatedly as an idealization of the artist in the poets of the period, including Blake, Keats, and Shelley (Bate, Romantic Imagination, 89, 109, 155, 158, 204).

    158It should not be surprising that this deepening of the humanity of Shakespeare's characters came finally to coalesce into an almost mythic understanding of the figure of Shakespeare himself. In his book, Shakspere: A Critical Study of his Mind and Art (1875), Edward Dowden elaborated a biographical reading of the plays, which culminated in an account of The Tempest as something like the playwright's spiritual autobiography in dramatic form. So heartfelt is Dowden's reading that it retains a certain force in spite of the outrageous circularity of the argument. "We identify Prospero in some measure with Shakespeare himself," Dowden says ". . . because the temper of Prospero, the grave harmony of his character, his self-mastery, his calm validity of will . . . and with these, a certain abandonment, a remoteness from the common joys and sorrows of the world, are characteristic of Shakespeare as discovered to us in all his latest plays." Having cast aside the constraints of critical thinking, Dowden then offers a biographical allegorization of the play that identifies Miranda as Shakespeare's art and Ferdinand as Shakespeare's young collaborator John Fletcher. The way Dowden sees it, the play tells the story of how the wise magician Shakespeare bestows his art on his young protégé Fletcher (Dowden, 426-7).

    159The up-close identification with Prospero on the part of the Romantic poets and, it seems clear, on the part of scholars such as Dowden, as well as the allied identification of Prospero with Shakespeare himself might seem a rejection of the political dimension of the play that was so prominent a part of its life in its own time and in the eighteenth century, as if the questions and relationships that count were all personal matters of empathy rather than political ones having to do with power. To a large degree that is true, although it should be borne in mind that empathy for Duke Prospero is of a piece with empathy with the servant monster Caliban, and that to be able to grasp the humanity of a Caliban is an affective response not without a political element nor even without the possibility of real political consequences.

    160Modern Tempest

    The life of the play in the modern age is hugely diverse in terms of geography, language, focus, form, and media. The most salient features of its fortunes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries include the Americanization and globalization of the play, the growth of a view of the play as a form of social and political critique, and its entry into intermediality--its reproduction, adaptation, translation, and sampling through live theater, print in various forms, radio, TV, film, and the internet, which has augmented the speed of its dissemination and the scope of its public life, and which has both enhanced and fragmented the formative dialogue the play has conducted with different epochs over the past 400 years. Globalization and mediatization have complex effects on the political dimensions of works of literature, effects that weaken the public life of art as it is traditionally conceived (where art is imagined as able to address the public) and effects that also strengthen art's public life by enhancing its ability to address and help create multiple publics. As a play that has come to reach from England to the Americas, Europe, Africa, and China and in forms from live theater to print, film, pop music, and manga comics, The Tempest offers something of a textbook case of the public life of art in a globalized, mediatized age.

    161As we have seen, the play had an American dimension from the beginning since it was occasioned by the remarkable story on an English ship that had run aground on an American island and also since it was responding to 100 years of writing about the European exploration and conquest of the Americas. But as Alden and Virginia Vaughan have pointed out, the American dimension was not prominent between the early modern period and the end of the nineteenth century, when a number of scholars began to take stock of the play's indebtedness to Renaissance travel literature and to re-assess its value for an understanding of the history of the Americas (Vaughan and Vaughan, Caliban, 118-43). In 1898, Sidney Lee reasoned that Shakespeare and his contemporaries would naturally have identified Prospero's island with the Bermudas since the miraculous recovery of the English sailors and colonists and the haunted but kindly Bermudas were the talk of the town in 1610. Lee also adduced several references in The Tempest to Renaissance travel literature in support of his argument; and he finished by suggesting that Caliban was "an imaginary portrait . . . of the aboriginal savage of the New World, descriptions of whom abounded in contemporary travellers' speech and writings" (Lee 257). His work brought forward a dimension intrinsic to the play--its provocative interest in the Americas--and heralded the growth through the twentieth century of an understanding of the play as a work primarily about and also implicated in the growth of colonialism.

    162The colonialist understanding of the play founded in historical research about the European encounter with the Americas was of a piece with the growth of the play into a powerful expressive register for late nineteenth and twentieth-century thinking about relations of domination--between different classes and different races. Its power depended mostly on the characters of the master Prospero, the servant monster Caliban, and the complex relationship between them--a relationship that the play itself makes available for radical rethinking.

    163The emergence of the play as a key text of postcoloniality was complemented by the development of a socio-psychological theory of race and domination, much of it based on a reading of The Tempest. Here the work of Octave Mannoni, a French civil servant and psychoanalyst who spent twenty years in Madagascar, was particularly prominent. His model of a dependency complex between the colonizer and the colonized has been sharply criticized by Franz Fanon (among others) in the 1960s and, more recently, by Chantal Zabus; and while Mannoni's racial politics have warranted the critique, his socio-psychological approach has had considerable influence over readings of the play, largely because it roots the play's political force in the feelings, thoughts, and relationships of the characters.

    164Aimé Césaire was one of Mannoni's most outspoken critics. But Césaire's important rewriting of the play as Une Tempête (1969), certainly the high point of the play as a text about race and colonialism, follows Mannoni by focusing on Caliban and Prospero. The ending of the play is all about the master and the servant and very much concerned with their emotionally charged and mutually constituting relationship: Caliban's rebellion is a process of inward self-discovery rather than an armed uprising; and, at the very end, his off-stage achievement of freedom is bound up with the imminent death of his erstwhile master.

    165Caliban's defiance is powerfully stated--

    Understand what I say, Prospero:
    For years I bowed my head
    for years I took it, all of it--
    . . .
    Prospero, you're a great magician:
    you're an old hand at deception.
    And you lied to me so much,
    about the world, about myself,
    that you ended up imposing on me
    an image of myself:
    underdeveloped, in your words, undercompetent
    that's how you made me see myself!
    And I hate that image . . . and it's false!
    But now I know I know you, you old cancer,
    And I also know myself!
    (Césaire 64)

    166--yet since, according to Césaire's conception, the two men are bound together, Caliban's liberation requires the passage of the time it takes Prospero to grow from angry adulthood to enfeebled old age. This is symbolized on stage by "the curtain's lowered halfway and reraised"; at the end of this hiatus, Prospero is near the end of his life, the island is overrun by "unclean nature," and the old man's helpless shouts for "Caliban" are answered only by a stage direction that reprises Caliban's populist anthem of liberation along with the sounds of a pure and enduring natural world:

    In the distance, above the sound of the surf and the chirping of birds, we hear snatches of Caliban's song:
    (Césaire 68)

    167The strong focus on Prospero and Caliban has receded in many recent versions of the play. Often, as in two of the most prominent Canadian productions of the past twenty years, Caliban has become a far less important figure, and his relationship with Prospero has been displaced by the magician's relationship with his daughter and/or a feminized Ariel. In Robert Lepage's 1993 production of the play at the Festival De Théâtre Des Amériques in Montreal, Caliban was a punk rocker whose colloquial "joual" French, set off against Prospero's formal diction, captured the persistence of class differences in modern Quebec and retained also something of the critical dimension of the postcolonialist Tempest. But, in general, this Prospero was a kind, loving, and somewhat stereotypical father to his daughter before he was anything else. In the Canadian Stratford Festival production of 2010, starring Christopher Plummer, the figure of Caliban was an empty vestige of the previous century's engagement with the political meanings of the servant monster. The focus shifted to the girlish, blue Ariel, a witty and tender figure that held Prospero's heart just as she held his.

    168The Stratford production is of special note also for its intermediality and aspiration toward an expansive audience. It was filmed and presented at special showings at cinemas across Canada, an attempt to expand the public for "live" theater while preserving something of the immediacy of performance. Britain's National Theater and the New York Metropolitan Opera have developed similar marketing strategies for an international audience. This kind of intermediality is in some respects a development of the early modern performance-print nexus that fostered the public life of Shakespeare's works, as plays like The Tempest were able to move from commercial playhouse to Court to print and back to performance in ways that augmented their visibility, longevity, and influence.

    169But the Stratford Tempest also suggests something about the fate of art in modernity. As a commercial artwork such as The Tempest becomes more visible, more available to a mass market, and more able to move from one media form to another, it becomes correspondingly less capable of speaking creatively about matters of shared concern and less able to foster public debate, judgment, or action. Consider the most renowned version of the play of the last thirty years, Prospero's Books (1991). Peter Greenaway's ravishingly beautiful cinematic reimagining of the play, at first an art-house film, has morphed and multiplied into a DVD, a book, an audio album, and a series of excerpts on YouTube. Like the original (also intermedial) play, the film is highly allusive: Shakespeare draws on Virgil and Ovid, among others, and Greenaway creates a pastiche of Renaissance and Baroque artists. Both put a premium on high-end entertainment--the playing company commissioned original songs by the King's lutenist while Greenaway engaged composer Michael Nyman to write the score for the film; and both play and film used the latest special effects technology of their respective ages. But whereas Shakespeare was able to incorporate allusiveness and entertainment into a work that could address social and political matters in formative ways, Greenaway's film brings to completion the makeover of the play into an almost pure spectacle of music, dance, and image that was begun with the Restoration adaptation, The Enchanted Island. In Greenaway, tellingly, Caliban is transformed from a monstrously defiant orator into a grotesque naked dancer, a figure seemingly possessed by the "songs and sweet ayres" of the island but without a song or a word of his own.

    170The depoliticization of The Tempest that is carried out by Prospero's Books does not mean that the film fails as art, but it certainly suggests that it fails as theatrical art, which is a kind of art that has traditionally been able to deploy a high degree of social as well as aesthetic creativity. The social creativity of Shakespeare's play has moved elsewhere--to local theatrical performances such as the collaborative Robert Lepage-Ex Machina / Huron-Wendat Nation performance of La Tempête (2011) with a mixed White and First Nations cast; niche films like Derek Jarman's Gothic gay version (1979), in which Caliban, a "grimy-toothed lecher" has more than his fair share of screen time and a surprising degree of autonomy and authority; and musical adaptations such as the song "A New Kind of Freedom" (2001) by the German metal band Caliban. All of these are commercial artworks (the disparagement of commercial art is a mere ploy of cultural conservatives), each takes on matters of social concern in original ways, each is made at least partially available by way of the internet, each is addressed to a particular, limited constituency (as opposed to being marketed to a mass audience), and each is also able to attract a larger and more various audience. The social agency and aesthetic inventiveness of artists and artworks such as these, each addressed to a public rather than to the public, guarantees that Shakespeare's play will continue to enjoy, to quote Bakhtin again, a life in "great time" that is "more intense and fuller" than was its life in its own time (Bakhtin, 4).