Showing posts with label Tempest. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tempest. Show all posts

Monday, April 28, 2014

William Shakespeare's The Tempest as a Romance

"Romance" was not a generic classification in Shakespeare's time.  The modern term "romance" refers to a new kind of play, a hybrid of comic and tragic elements, developed and popularized by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher between 1607 and 1613. Their Philaster, 1609, is typical of the genre.  At the end of his theatrical career, Shakespeare wrote four such plays which are now commonly grouped together as the Romances: Pericles (1607-1608); Cymbeline (1609-1610); The Winter's Tale (1610-1611);and The Tempest (1611).

A romance is unrealistic. A romance usually has an improbable plot; rapid action; surprises; extraordinary occurrences such as shipwrecks; disguises; riddles; children or parents lost and found; supernatural events or beings etc. The Tempest, as a romance, has almost all these characteristics.

The plot of The Tempest includes improbable happenings. The setting of the play is in a remote island. We find ourselves on a remote, enchanted island which is full of `noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.” It has a romantic glow, a rainbow world that has been created entirely out of the imagination. The entire atmosphere is surcharged with magic and enchantment.  There are strange events and shows. The play begins with a shipwreck. The passengers on board the ship are cast ashore. On a previous occasion, twelve years ago, Prospero and Miranda had themselves been cast ashore on the same island after having been exposed to all the dangers from the sea and the sky. Now, although all the passengers have been saved from death, King Alonso is separated from his son Ferdinand and believes him dead.

An air of unreality pervades the play because of the striking role of the supernatural. Supernatural elements abound in romances and characters often seem "larger than life".

In the play, Prospero with his magical power emerges as a typical romance character with larger than life stature. He has absolute control over human affairs, over the forces of nature, and even over the spirits of the air.The whole action of the story is governed by the supernatural powers of Prospero operating through Ariel, a spirit of the air who is ever ready to carry out Prospero’s commands. Ariel is himself a supernatural being with supernatural powers. Ariel can assume any shape he likes, and he is invisible to human eyes except to the eyes of Prospero. Prospero commands the services not only of Ariel but also of a horde of many other spirits, goblins and fairies. A large number of the spirits of earth, water, fire, and air do service to Prospero.

Like a perfect romance, the play abounds in supernatural happenings. The storm on the sea, the shipwreck, the preservation of the lives of the passengers and the crew aswell as of the ship itself,the laying down of the banquet by the strange shapes, the denunciation of the three sinners by a harpy; the presentation of a masque for the entertainment of Ferdinand and Miranda-all these events, which are crucial to the development of the plot and which also have an interest of their own for the reader as well as the spectator in a theatre are brought about by supernatural means. These supernatural events and situations lend to the island an atmosphere of enchancement.

In a romance plot is not logical, because in a romance cause and effect are often ignored.  The action, serious in theme, subject matter and tone, seems to be leading to a tragic catastrophe until unexpected trick brings the conflict to harmonious resolution. Reason can find no explanation for strange happenings on island. They are incidents such as happen in a fairy tale or in a dream world. In The Tempest the plot is also going to end tragically, if Prospero does not twist it into a comedy.

Another common feature of romances is the love of a virtuous hero and heroine.Miranda and Ferdinand are the beautiful and virtuous heroine and the brave and handsome hero typical of romance. Ferdinand falls in love with Miranda as soon as he sees her, and she too falls in love with him at first sight. Their love for each other is intense and ardent. Ferdinand willingly undergoes the labour of pilling up logs in order to be near Miranda and she tells him that she would become his wife and his life-long servant. A love affair becomes even more romantic when there is an obstacle or hurdle to be overcome, and in the present case, the initial severity and harshness of Prospero towards Ferdinand is the inpediment which is, however, soon overcome.

Because romances combine both tragic and comic elements, Fletcher called them "tragi-comedies".According to Fletcher, a tragi-comedy "wants deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedy, yet brings some near it, which is enough to make it no comedy."  Like comedy, romance includes a love-intrigue and culminates in a happy ending. Like tragedy, romance has a serious plot-line that includes betrayals, tyrants, usurpers of thrones etc and treats serious themes. A romance is darker in tone (more serious) than comedy.  While tragedy emphasizes evil, and comedy minimizes it, romance acknowledges evil -- the reality of human suffering.

Tragedy depicts alienation and destruction, Romance, reconciliation and restoration.  In tragedies, characters are destroyed as a result of their own actions and choices; in Romance, characters respond to situations and events rather than provoking them.  Tragedy tends to be concerned with revenge, Romance with forgiveness.  The Tempest also ends with reconciliation and restoration, not with destruction and isolation. At the end of The Tempest also a full reconcilation takes place between Prospero and his enemies after he has made a long speech reminding Alonso and the others of their crime and then pronouncing his forgiveness upon them.

Another feature in which a romance differs from a comedy is the "happy ending". Both comedy and romance end with a happy ending. But while the tone of comedy is genial and exuberant, Romance has a muted tone of happiness -- joy mixed with sorrow.  Like comedies, Romances tend to end with weddings, but the focus is less on the personal happiness of bride and groom  than on the healing of rifts within the total human community.  Thus, whereas comedy focusses on youth, Romance often has middle-aged and older protagonists in pivotal roles.  Similarly, while tragedy deals with events leading up to individual deaths, Romance emphasizes the cycle of life and death.

Moreover, in a romance the "happy ending" may seem unmotivated or contrived, not unlike the deus ex machina endings of classical comedy where a God appears at the end of the play to "fix" everything.  Realism is not the point.  Romance requires us to suspend disbelief in the "unrealistic" nature of the plot and experience it on its own terms.

While tragedy explores characters in depth means emphasizing on individual psychology, Romance focuses instead on archetypes, the collective and symbolic patterns of human experience.  Compared to characters in a Shakespearean tragedy (or comedy), romance characters may seem shallow or one-dimensional.  But Romance characters are not meant to be psychologically credible; their experiences have symbolic significance extending beyond the limits of their own lives and beyond rational comprehension.  In Romance, the emphasis shifts from individual human nature to Nature. In the play we also find Prospero and Caliban representing two types of human Nature. It can be easily said in The Play Prospero represents the colonialists and Caliban represents the colonized.

Thus, in every way The Tempest comes out to be a romance. Here the setting, plot structure, the characters and the supernatural happenings make The Tempest a perfect romance.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Plot Construction of The Tempest

There is really very little plot in The Tempest. There is the love story, and then there is the story of two younger brothers who covet their older brothers' titles and possessions. And finally, there is the story of Caliban's plot to murder Prospero. But none of these plots are given much attention or substance; instead, the play is about the complexities of human nature and about reminding the audience that the division between happiness and tragedy is always fragile and must be carefully maintained.

Although The Tempest ends with the promise of a wedding, it could just as easily have ended with tragedy. In this play, there are two murder plots and a betrayal to resolve. In a tragedy, these might have ended with the stage awash in blood, as in Hamlet, but in The Tempest, Prospero's careful manipulation of all the characters and their plans also controls the direction of the action. Prospero's avoidance of tragedy reveals his character's decency and contradicts some critics' arguments that he is an amoral demigod exploiting the natural inhabitants of this island.
The Tempest is unique in its adherence to the three unities. In his Poetics, Aristotle argued that unity of action was essential for dramatic structure. This meant that a dramatic work should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The unity of time is derived from Aristotle's argument that all the action should occur within one revolution of the sun — one day. The unity of place developed later and is a Renaissance idea, which held that the location of the play should be limited to one place. These unities added verisimilitude to the work and made it easier for the audience to believe the events unfolding on stage.

Shakespeare rarely used the three unities, but he uses them in this play, something he has only done in one other play, The Comedy of Errors. All the events occur on the island and within one brief three-hour period. Shakespeare needed the three unities, especially that of time, to counter the incredulity of the magic and to add coherence to the plot.

The Tempest, although it is one of Shakespeare's shortest plays, still maintains the integrity of the five-act structure. In fact, most Elizabethan theatre adheres to the five-act structure, which corresponds to divisions in the action. The first act is the Exposition, in which the playwright sets forth the problem and introduces the main characters. In The Tempest, the first act establishes the nature of Antonio's betrayal of Prospero, and it explains how Prospero and Miranda came to live on the island. This first act also opens with a violent storm, which establishes the extent of Prospero's power. Most of the play's remaining characters also make an appearance in this act.

The second act is the Complication, in which the entanglement or conflict is developed. In The Tempest, the conspiracy to murder Alonso is developed, which establishes that Antonio is still an unsavory character. In addition, the audience learns more about Caliban, and Stefano and Trinculo appear, allowing the groundwork for a second conspiracy to be formed.

The third act is the Climax; and as the name suggests, this is when the action takes a turning point and the crisis occurs. In a romance, this is the point at which the young lovers assert their love, although there may be complications. It is important that the way to love not be too easy, and so in The Tempest, Prospero has forbidden contact between Miranda and Ferdinand, although the audience knows this is only a pretense. In this act, the conspiracy to murder Prospero is developed, although the audience knows that Ariel is listening, and so there is no real danger. And finally, the essential climactic moment occurs in this act when Prospero confronts his enemies at the ghostly banquet.

The fourth act is called the Falling Action, which signals the beginning of the play's resolution. In this act, the romance between Ferdinand and Miranda is acknowledged and celebrated with a masque, and Prospero deals with the conspiracy to murder him by punishing Caliban, Stefano, and Trinculo.

The fifth act is called the Catastrophe, wherein the conclusion occurs. As the name suggests, this act brings closure to the play, a resolution to the conflict, and the plans for a wedding. As the play draws to a close, Prospero is victorious over his enemies, Ferdinand is reunited with his father, Antonio and Sebastian are vanquished, and Caliban regrets his plotting.

Discord and harmony are the major contesting values in The Tempest

Discord, harmony and reconciliation seem to be the central themes of the play The Tempest. Discord and moral chaos predominate the first half of the play. Bitterness, hatred and suspicion are always close to the surface. The discord exists between the boatswain and the royal party, between the Prospero and Antonio and his accomplices. The discord also exists between Prospero and Ariel and Cali ban. But at the end of the play all discords are resolved. And it is Prospero who masterfully resolves all disorders and gives the drama a happy ending.

Discord followed by harmony

In fact, the entire plot of The Tempest is an elaborate scheme designed by Prospero to bring his rivals to a state of regret so that he can pardon them and restore the rightful order of things to his dukedom of Milan. Since Prospero is seen as being all-powerful over the island, he could easily destroy or punish his enemies in the royal party by any method or means. Instead, he brings the past conspirators face-to- face with the sins of their past, which causes them to be repentant. In a god-like way, Prospero forgives each of them, allowing them to live and return to Italy. In appreciation, they promise to faithfully serve Prospero. It is a picture of full reconciliation, with the exception of Antonio. To add to the beauty of the reconciled image, Prospero masterfully brings Miranda and Ferdinand together as symbols of a new generation standing for hope and re- generation.

The opening is full of confusion

The Tempest opens with total confusion: action, sounds, and the elements produce a sense of discord in the universe. The opening confrontation between Gonzalo and the boatswain reveals one of the most important themes in The Tempest: class conflict, the discord between those who seize and hold power and those who are often the unwilling victims of power. When confronted by members of the royal party, the boatswain orders that they return below deck. He is performing his job, and to stop in response to Alonso's request for the master would be foolish. The boatswain cares little for Alonso's rank as king and asks, "What cares these roarers for the name of king?" (15 — 16). The king has no protection from the storm simply because of his rank, because the storm has little care for a man's social or political position.

Conflict between the colonized and the colonizer

Apart from this conflict, there are many tempests to be explored during the course of The Tempest. In addition to class conflict, there are also explorations into colonialism (English explorers had been colonizing the Americas) and a desire to find or create a utopian society. Other tempests will be revealed in subsequent scenes, such as the emotional tempests that familial conflict creates (consider the conflict between Antonio and Prospero, and the coming conflict between Sebastian and Alonso); the tempests of discord (consider Caliban's dissatisfaction and desire for revenge) and of forbidden love (consider the romance between Miranda and Ferdinand). Finally, there are the tempests caused by the inherent conflict between generations. So, although The Tempest might correctly be called a romantic comedy, the title and the opening scene portend an exploration of conflicts more complex than romantic.

Familial conflict

This theme of discord is farther developed in the second scene. Here in order to satisfy Miranda’s query Prospero reveals to Miranda that Antonio is his brother, and that he was once the rightful Duke of Milan, a position Antonio now holds. Antonio usurped Prospero's estate and wealth while Prospero became increasingly "rapt in secret studies" and oblivious to his brother's machinations; and in order to take Prospero's title as well, Antonio arranged to have his brother Prospero and Prospero's daughter Miranda killed secretly. But Prospero is widely known to be a good man, so those charged with his death decide not to kill him, Instead, Prospero and Miranda were set adrift on the open sea in a decayed vessel, and were able to survive off the supplies that the honest councilor Gonzalo arranged for them to have; thus, they landed on the island where they now live.

Discord between human and the supernatural

The discord is seen also between human and the supernatural beings.Prospero’s initial interaction with Ariel and Caliban gives us an impression that they are both little more than slaves to Prospero's wishes, and their relation with him is not harmonious. Prospero has clearly promised Ariel freedom and then denied it, and he treats Caliban as little more than an animal. The audience needs to understand that cruel circumstance and the machinations of men have turned Prospero into a different man than he might otherwise have been. But Prospero's character is more complex than this scene reveals, and the relationship between these characters more intricate also.

Any initial concern that the audience might have because of Caliban's enslavement evaporates at the news that he attempted to rape Miranda. His subsequent behavior will further prove his character, but he can be redeemed, and his redemption is necessary if the play is to succeed. Furthermore, Caliban, who is initially bad and represents the black magic of his mother, serves as a contrast to the goodness of Ferdinand and Miranda. The young lovers are instantly attracted to one another, each one a mirror image of the other's goodness. It is their goodness that facilitates the reconciliation between Prospero and his enemies. In this reconciliation lies Ariel's freedom and Caliban's redemption.

Beginning of harmony

But there is a suggestion of harmony with the entry of Fardinand at the end of Act 1 ,Scene 2.Ariel, playing music and singing, enters and leads in Ferdinand. Prospero tells Miranda to look upon Ferdinand, and Miranda, who has seen no humans in her life other than Prospero and Caliban, immediately falls in love. Ferdinand is similarly smitten and reveals his identity as the prince of Naples. Prospero is pleased that they are so taken with each other but decides that the two must not fall in love too quickly, and so he accuses Ferdinand of merely pretending to be the prince of Naples. When he tells Ferdinand he is going to imprison him, Ferdinand draws his sword, but Prospero charms him so that he cannot move. Miranda attempts to persuade her father to have mercy, but he silences her harshly. This man, he tells her, is a mere Caliban compared to other men. He explains that she simply doesn’t know any better because she has never seen any others. Prospero leads the charmed and helpless Ferdinand to his imprisonment. Secretly, he thanks the invisible Ariel for his help, sends him on another mysterious errand, and promises to free him soon.

Act II: Scene 1

Once again we see the glimpse of disorder and disloayalty.This scene exposes the wicked nature of Prospero's rivals. Antonio is pictured as the most vile amongst the royal party. Once he stole Prospero's dukedom and set him assail to die; now he persuades Sebastian to kill his brother Alonso, the King of Naples, and steal his kingdom. The hunger for power is shown by Shakespeare to be strong and corrupting.

Act II: Scene 2

Caliban drunkenly watches the happy reunion of Stefano and Trinculo and decides that Stefano is a god, dropped from heaven. Caliban swears devotion to this new "god," and the three leave together, amid Caliban's promises to find Stefano the best food on the island.

Act III: Scene 3

Here the major symbol the feast appears. The feast usually symbolizes harmony.
The weary members of the royal party are exhausted, hungry, and tired of searching for the "lost" prince Ferdinand. At Prospero’s command some island spirits on the island prepare a feast for the tired royalty. Ariel then appears in the form of a harpy, a bird- like beast with a woman's face, and sits on the table, making the food disappear. The amazed members of the royal party are stunned. Ariel, still disguised, begins to address the men who once tried to destroy Prospero. He recounts all of the events that led to Prospero's fall, blaming Antonio for conspiring, and Alonso and his brother Sebastian for helping. Alonso is completely awestruck and filled with remorse for his past actions. When he gets up and runs away, Antonio and Sebastian follow him. These two are angry, not repentant.

Final scene

This final scene indicates the extent of Prospero's forgiveness and provides an example of humanity toward one's enemies. Before he confronts his enemies, Prospero tells Ariel that "The rarer action is / In virtue than in vengeance" (27–28). That is, it is better to forgive than to hate one's enemies. This is the example that Prospero provides in reuniting everyone in this final scene.

All the major characters, except Prospero and Miranda, find themselves unexpectedly thrown together after adventures and a long journey. Prospero is the contriver and agent of this reunion. In a gesture of reconciliation, Prospero embraces Alonso, who is filled with remorse and immediately gives up Prospero's dukedom. Gonzalo is also embraced in turn, and then Prospero turns to Sebastian and Antonio. Prospero tells them that he will not charge them as traitors, at this time. Antonio is forgiven and required to renounce his claims on Prospero's dukedom.

Those thought dead are discovered to be alive. A lost son is restored to a joyous parent. Those who have committed offenses repent and are forgiven. The one character who does not seem to be penitent is Antonio. A generous Prospero singles him out for pardon, but Antonio gives no reply.

Except for Antonio, the other members of the royal entourage respond to Prospero's forgiveness. Alonso and Gonzalo react most affirmatively, pledging themselves to the restored Duke of Milan. Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo respond with proper humility; they cannot be expected to participate in the general happiness on a higher level since most of their antics were more of a comic nature. Ariel, the long-standing servant to Prospero, is delighted to be set free at last.

Ariel enters with the master of the boat and boatswain. Although the ship lay in harbor and in perfect shape, the puzzled men cannot explain how any of this has occurred.

In the end, Prospero leaves Caliban to his island and to the natural world that he craves. The conclusion is about redemption, the personal redemption that so many of the participants reach. Caliban's regret during this final scene indicates he, too, has found the way to reconciliation.

Shakespeare's The Tempest as a critique of colonialism

In this post-colonial age the readers tend to give a revisionist reading to any literary text written during the colonial age.In this respect Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a suitable text for the post-colonial study. The play,which reflects a "colonial ethos",can easily fall into the mould of Colonialist literature.Prospero’s attitude to the island, to Caliban and also his usurption of power all can be interpreted from the post-colonial view.The time of the composition of the play also favors the investigation of colonial interests of The Tempest. Shakespeare’s The Tempest premiered two short years after England first colonized Virginia in 1609. The misfortune of one colonial ship, The Sea adventure, separated from its fleet and then wrecked upon the island of Bermuda served as a starting point for Shakespeare to base his shipwreck on in The Tempest.

At first Prospero’s attitude to the island is similar to the attitude of a colonizer who goes to the colonies.It is true that Prospero’s coming to the island is accidental not intentional.He did not come to the island to better his condition.He was made an exile against his will.But as soon as he lands on the island his conduct does not differ much from that of a colonist.He subjescts the two inhabitants of the island and demands unwavering loyalty from them.He uses the island as a colony and very much like a colonist discards it as soon as his use for it is over.

Prospero’s conduct in The Tempest as an exile reflests the colonial mentality.A colonist can never think the colony he goes to as his true home.He alawys remains allegiance to the center,his mother country.Here Prospero also shows little love for the new world and remains a protagonist from the old world.His thoughts and attitudes are so strongly determined by his old-world allegiance that his conduct bears strong resemblances to that of a typical colonist,who explores and exploits an alien country for selfish ends and then abandons it.

That Prospero at heart is a colonist is seen by the fact that he hates the island inspite of his passing twelve years there.The island geve him shelter,provided him sustenance and created opportunity to accomplish his final mission.But in the play he seldom speaks about the island.He rarely mentions it and on the few occasions when he refers to his own abode onthe island he calls it ’a poor cell’, ’a poor court’.It is true that the island is poor and bare compared with Milan,Prospero’s home country.But the other characters in the play do not such a dislike to the island. Gonzalo,Ferdinand,Stephano and Trinculo don’t hide their likeness to the island.Their likeness contrasts Prospero’s disliking of the island.Thus the main difference between responses of Prospero and others is that while Prospero is openly critical of the island ,others do not profess any hatred for it.Prospero is keen on returning to his home Milan ,leaving the bare island behind while others are not driven by any hatred for the island.Milan or Naples does not appeal to them as it does to Prospero.Thus considering his negative attitude to the island which served him as a home for twelve years it can be assumed that at heart he always remains a colonist.

For Prospero there is always a fixed home and a well defined logos.All his thoughts and actions are governed by a deep tie to his old home and logos.They failed him in the past ,but he believes the lost order can be recovered if his restorative plan succeds.He lived on the island as an exile and happy to leave it.It does not feature in his future thought. For him Milan is home and logos.

Like a typical colonist Prospero lives in a bi-polar world,neatly divided into home and physically distant colony.Home stands for the values he cherishes and belongs to ,where the island symbolizes the other with which he has the least common.
Now let us turn to Prospero’s relation with Caliban.The relation between them is obviously the master servant relation.Caliban represents the native population of a country newly discovered by the white explorers and which is then colonized by them.When the white people conquered a country they considered themselves as the masters and the native people as slaves.Of course ,in settleing down the colonizers conferred many benefits upon the native populations.But at the same time they treated the natives as the slaves and servants.From this point of view Caliban acquires great importance as a representative of the dispossessed natives of a newly discovered country.From Caliban’s speech at the beginning of the play we find Prospero’s treatment of Caliban and the island.

I must eat my dinner
This island is mine ,by Sycorax my mother
Which thou tak’st from me.

Caliban is conscious of his claim over the island ,but powerful Prospero rules over him and the island.Prospero’s attitude is the hegemonic attitude of a colonizer.
Thus Prospero emerges as dictorial colonial governor-general,whise presence on the island demands that Caliban,its native inhabitant,complies with his wishes and standards.Caliban’s lust and his primitive religion are regarded as evil,but ironically,Prospero depends on Caliban’s service for servival.Prospero also exacts constant and loyal service from Ariel as a payment for his having rescued him fromm Sycorax’s imprisonment.The original act of kindness and humanity is rapidly exploited by Prospero once he recognizes what a powerful agent Ariel can be.

Thus Prospero’s conduct on the island is governed by his colonial and utilitarian motives which deny any love ,gratitude,recognition of a place culturally and morally alien to him.He has exploited the island and as soon as its function ends ,he decides to leave it.He is like a selfish and ungrateful guest who is most glad when he can disown his poor host.