terça-feira, junho 09, 2015

I think there is more barbarism in eating man alive than to feed upon them being dead: "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare, Robert Langbaum



Published 1998.


On this re-reading I noticed that the word "brave" was used a few times in the movies that I watched (Taymor, 2010 & Jarman 1979).

I like this word. It generates a very good feeling in my heart. This word often makes me think of someone who has a quality to face something difficult with the strength of heart / mind / body... Does not take me much to feel a respect and admiration for this person...

I also come to know that the word "brave" describes something wonderful, admirable in appearance...

And I just got curious to see how often the word "brave" was used in "The Tempest". And I started reading the play to look for the word "brave" and "bravely", and every time I found one of these words, I put a post-it note to the page to keep track of it... No, I did not use any fancy software to sort out the words or count the words... The work was done manually... Though I tried to be as faithful and accurate as possible, there might be a few occasions that I missed finding these words... 

It looks like there are 11 occasions that the words "Brave" or "Bravely" were mentioned...

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * 

BRAVE / BRAVELY

Act 1 Scene 2 Line 6 
Said by Miranda: 
A brave vessel
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her 
Dashed all to pieces. 

Act 1 scene 2 line 206 (?)
Said by Prospero (to Ariel):
My brave spirit!

Act 1 scene 2 line 441
Said by Ferdinand (to Prospero)
And his brave sone being twain. 

Act 2 scene 1 line 171
Said by Gonzalo (to Alonso, Antonio & Sebastian)
You are gentlemen of brave mettle. 

Act 3 scene 2 line 11
Said by Trinculo (to Stephano)
Where should they be set else? He were a brave monster indeed, if they were set in his tail. 

Act 3 scene 2 line 95
Said by Stephano (to Caliban, about Miranda)
Is it so brave a lass?

Act 3 scene 2 line 136
Said by Stephano (to Caliban and Trinculo)
This will prove a brave kingdom to me, where I shall have my music for nothing. 

Act 3 scene 3 line 85
Said by Prospero (to Ariel & himself)
(aside) Bravely, the figure of this harpy hast thou
Performed, my Ariel. 

Act 5 scene 1 line 185
Said by Miranda (to Prospero, Ferdinand and the people that she meet for the 1st time)
How berates mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in 't!

Act 5 scene 1 224 - 227 
Said by Boatswain
The next, our ship ---
Which, but three glasses since, we gave out split ---
Is tight and yare and bravely rigged as when 
We first put out to sea.

Act 5 scene 1 line 243
Said by Prospero (to Ariel)
Brave, my diligence. Thou shalt be free. 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Maybe this is just a coincidence that the words "brave / bravely" were mentioned so very frequently. I think the recurrence of "brave" terms could reflect the theme of pushing through trying times and/or difficult circumstances presented by “The Tempest”.  Nothing in life is easy and sometimes striving for the best in life requires us to persevere through immense difficulty.  It takes bravery in order to undertake the arduous tasks set before us.  If we are cowardly and complacent, we won't reach our full potential or achieve successful outcomes. 

Maybe the characters reference bravery as a reminder of how important it is to be brave and face the harshness of the world.  Our very survival may depend on it.

Alonso & his entourage were on their way home from Tunis after Alonso's daughter, Claribel, got married to the King of Tunis when the ship was involved in the storm. I get this is slightly mixed up but they were heading back to Naples (not Milan, I think...), and the journey must have been very long. This long journey alone says something about the bravery of men on the ship.

A brave vessel
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her
Dashed all to pieces.

Considering Miranda's inner beauty and sincerely of her mind, when she said the lines above, she was most worried about the safety of those inside the ship with a feeling of respect in her heart toward them. I don't think she intended any insult or sarcasm.

She did not even know much details of why she and Prospero were living in this island; she has not even met any other humans up to that point. There really is no reason for her, right that moment, to dislike Alonso & his people because she did not know what they've done to her & her father.

Brave people do not take the bravery of others for granted because they know first-hand how truly valuable this attitude and mindset is. I do not think they intend to use this word with a feeling of sarcasm.

I may be wrong, but I think that Shakespeare usually means "splendid" when he uses the word "brave." When Prospero says to Ariel, "My brave spirit!" he could mean 'courageous,' but he could just as well mean 'splendid'.  Often, in fact, the usage might be deliberately ambiguous on Shakespeare's part.  But it's not always ambiguous.  In the most famous usage, 'brave new world' (which 400 years later Aldous Huxley used as the title for his extremely influential dystopian novel), the word clearly means 'splendid.'  (Huxley was using the word ironically, but clearly Miranda wasn't.  Whether Shakespeare himself meant it ironically . . . well, that question is too big for the nonce.)

"The Tempest" is also full of shifting relationships involving power and servitude.  What lessons can we take from these examples?

Power is presented both as sovereignty over territory and mystical power to control.  As sovereignty, Antonio usurped power from Prospero before the play begins.  Sebastian attempts to kill and usurp the throne from his brother, Alonso. Stephano dreams of himself as a king of the island.  As mystical power, Prospero pulls strings and uses Ariel to manipulate the other characters.  For each of these, how is power used (or misused)?  I think the dual nature of power, as both a driving force for good and a corrupting force of evil, is presented.

Servitude, on the other hand, is presented both as faithfulness and as slavery.  As faithfulness, Gonzalo is an honest councilor to Alonso.  Ferdinand and Miranda use terms of bondage, servitude, and slavery to proclaim their love.  As slavery, obviously Caliban is enslaved by Prospero, but he also pledges himself to Stephano when he seeks a new master.  Ariel is held in forced service to Prospero as well and strung along by promises of freedom.  There are plenty of other examples, but I feel that the abuse of servants (as slaves) is a recurring theme in the play.  It makes me wonder if servitude could ever actually be positive.

I think it would be a mistake to overlook the power of the slave. If the slave refuses to work, the master is helpless. Prospero needs Caliban, tying him in cramps, etc., is not going to make him useful. I think they have an interdependent relationship.
Gonzalo is the faithful slave, how do we know that he is not simply and obsequious underling feathering his own nest, he seems to have a foot in the camp of Antonio as well as Prospero, How is it that he was not thrown out of the court with Prospero, I'm not sure that we can trust him.
Arial is different, I'm not convinced he can function without being attached to a human. I think he may be what is known as a "familiar" and will become part of the ethers until another human calls him. I suppose he could be called a slave. Like Caliban, Prospero can scare him with threats but he can't carry out the threats while he needs him to do her bidding. I think most are shifting, such as Caliban's changing of his master and Ariel's freedom in the end. Even Prospero's mystical powers seem to change when he abandons his books. Others may be more constant such as fealty to a sovereign, although the sovereign may change.

It suggests to me that when people seek and hold power over others there is always room for change, especially with regards to tyranny and injustice (or maybe that's just a very idealistic view).

I definitely see the connection to that potential commentary in “The Tempest”.  It speaks to one of the central themes of the play: power.  Prospero (potentially representing colonizing countries), wields the power over Caliban (representing the natives).

I might add that there are also instances of potential colonials creating brand new societies.  Gonzalo speaks of his idealistic society that he would create on the island if he were in power.  Stephano drunkenly claims dominion over the island and tries to act as a ruler.  These instances could be seen as the boundless opportunity that new colonists and explorers may have felt when colonizing a "new" location.  Even in this, there is exploitation of natives as Stephano accepts Caliban's servitude.

There are a lot of details in the text that make such a reading possible... whether this is what Shakespeare intended is largely conjecture, of course (and, at least to me, beside the point).   As I pointed out above, there is a certain co-dependence between Prospero and Caliban in the play -- and this would be a familiar pattern to those have studied colonialism.   Certainly Prospero has the upper hand in many ways-- but he would be in trouble without the service Caliban provides.  

I found myself wondering when I watched Julie Taymor's movie version: what becomes of Caliban after the others leave?  The stories of post-colonial states are not always happy ones...

I also subscribe to the notion that what Shakespeare is actually intended in is beside the point (although it can be interesting to discuss).  The importance lies in how we interpret these plays for ourselves and how those interpretations impact our views and our subsequent actions.

In this particular case, the co-dependency is a great point.  In the end, Prospero will leave and undoubtedly have other servants at home.  Caliban will be left to manage on his own on the island.  This may ultimately end up as a better situation for him, but I wouldn't expect it to be an easy transition, as you point out for post-colonial states.  He may need to go through a "tempest" of his own in order to reach the best possible outcome.

The interesting thing about all this is that Shakespeare was writing at a time when colonization was in its first exploitative infancy, when there would have been no real knowledge or experience of the psychology of dependency in the colonization process. But Shakespeare knows all about power relationships, continually confronts his audience with ambivalent portrayals of the outsider/underdog.

At the end of the play, we are left to assume that Prospero grants both Ariel and Caliban their freedoms. Maybe the European occupation has left him sadder and wiser, but Caliban still gets his island back - unpeopled with little Calibans, but his birthright restored, but even though Caliban gets his island back, he will never be restored to his old self.  He has had a form of education during the occupation.  That's a mixed bag.  He has learned language from Amanda.  He has learned subservience from Prospero.  He has seen something of the world beyond his shores.   In many ways it is easy to imagine he will be happier when they are gone.  But isolation presents its own challenges. 

He says at one point that the only advantage of having learned language is that he is able to curse.  But what happens when there is no one but yourself left to curse? 

In so many post-colonial situations we have seen indigenous factions rip one another the shreds.  It's common enough that we might call it one of the most predicable results of colonialism and its aftermath.  But in this imaginary landscape there is only one man left standing.  It's not hard for me to imagine Caliban insane and haunted, crawling in the mud and cursing his fate and those who left him to it. 

Shakespeare, like Molière (whose plays came some 50 years later) wrote for the common man, the "masses," if you will.  Both writers used their pen to vilify the ruling class under the guise of theatrical drama, romance and comedy.  Art reflects reality and truth.  Shakespeare, in “The Tempest”, dramatizes man's evil nature--the lust for power over others---all in the name of profit. 

Je mehr sich verändert, desto mehr bleibt sich gleich!  The more things change, the more they stay the same....slave ships from Africa to the Orient during Shakespeare's time....slave ships from Africa to the Americas a hundred years later....slavery in the American South (Cotton is King!).... indentured "slaves" in England during the Industrial Revolution (the cotton mills)...indentured slaves in China (Apple)...indentured slaves today in the US Midwest (the slaughter houses)....indentured slaves now in the Central Valley of California (agribusiness).  When will we ever learn?

My own attempt at creating a pyramid of the story:

PROSPERO

name of the main personality

INTENSE        FOCUSSED

two words that describe this personality

TURBULENT    DANGEROUS   FRIGHTENING

three words that describe the scene or location

FERDINAND AND MIRANDA CONNECT.

four words that describe one event

CALIBAN BOWS DOWN TO STEFANO.

five words that describe another event

PROSPERO ASSURES FERDINAND AND ACCEPTS REST.

six words that describe a third event

THE HUMAN CONDITION IS TURBULENT AND EXHAUSTING.

seven words that described a problem or difficulty

PROSPERO RELINQUISHES CONTROL, PARDONS ALL, AND ACCEPTS REST.

eight words that describe the outcome of the story




NB: And so ends my first reading batch of 5 of Shakespeare’s plays: “Hamlet”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Much Ado about Nothing” and “The Tempest”. Reading the plays in such quick succession like this I saw more clearly the cross-over in the different plays.  Love being a popular common theme isn't surprising, but I really want to know how many friars were convincing young women to fake their own deaths back then.  And if you don't have to fake your own death there's probably a fairy or some sort of trickery at play in this match making.  Watch out for the plotting villainous brothers.  And surely there is a Duke or Prince nearby for some words of wisdom or to smooth everything over. Shakespeare was a master at just picking elements from a hat and building a scene around them:  Villainous brother, fairies, ship wreck - and go!  He weaves the elements together brilliantly and each play has its own breath and uniqueness.  I'm captivated by different elements in each.  And yet each one I read I was spotting something familiar from the one I had read just before.  That's probably part of their charm.

It certainly is much easier to see links when you are in a pressure cooker of reading. By the end of the year, I intend to have read all of the plays, preferably in an 8 week period, and reading them in chronological order of composition. For that I’ll re-read this batch again along with the other 33 plays + The Sonnets (using my Rowse). I’m expecting to “see” a LOT doing THAT!

NB2: William Strachey: from “True Repertory of the Wrack”, 1610 (description of the tempest) – the reason why chose this edition to read.

Other “reasons”:

Michel de Montaigne: “Of the Cannibals”, 1603, translated by John Florio. “I think there is more barbarism in eating man alive than to feed upon them being dead.”

Ovid: “Metamorphoses”, Medea’s speech, 1567, translated by Arthur Golding; Prospero’s farewell to his art.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “Shakespearean Criticism” from “The Lectures of 1811-1812, Lecture IX”.


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