The Tempest

The way in which all of our texts continue to hit us over the head with the same themes from different angles is actually something really valuable. Whereas I used to think that one could categorize books by their human ideas (e.g. “this book is about justice. This book is about alienation” etc.) I’ve come to realise that these themes, these ideas of justice, monstrosity, sight, power relations, etc. are unavoidable in any book. They are human issues and therefore part of everything we read or write. Perhaps the course was engineered this way, but in The Tempest I particularly notice how all these ideas roll into one play, and in doing so continue to raise a whole bunch of questions.

First of all, the big idea of justice. Prospero seems to have a very subjective view of what is just. I don’t know how Plato would feel about it but I know he would be very dissapointed in how easily it wavers and changes. Prospero is outraged and indignant at the way he was betrayed and cheated by his family. He calls this unjust and expects the audience to agree. His justice is hypocritcal though, particularly in the way he enslaves and treats Caliban the “monster” as well as his enslavement of Ariel until it suits him to release him. Sure, Ariel owes him something (releasing him from the claustrophobic setting of a trees interior) but it doesn’t change the fact that what is just to Prospero is the same thing as what benefits Prospero. And he gets away with it too, just because there is no one, no higher power or contradictory force, to decide what is just or not (other than Prospero himself)

Concerning the treatment of Caliban: he is treated like he is a monster. Is he? Caliban is an interesting character in The Tempest. I find him to be the most interesting. Prospero and Miranda expect him to be honored by their treatment of him, as though the way they taught him human speech and mannerisms are the only thing that brought him up away from a primal cave-like existence. But I wonder if it was his birth necessarily that made him monstrous or whether or not he has become monstrous through his oppression. I think the character of Caliban and the extent of his monstrosity is going to be something important to the discussion of this play.

A couple years ago I watched a film adaptation of The Tempest, never having read the actual play before. I liked it and thought it was well done and all that. Reading the play now I notice some fairly serious differences that I thought were curious. The film followed the script exactly, and was very similar to the original play, except for a few things. Prospero was a woman, a witch instead of a wizard, a duchess instead of a duke. I know this is no film studies class, but it is still curious that a modern adaptation should make this change. It changes everything! It becomes a play about motherhood instead of fatherhood, and a whole plethora of other gender issues arise. The film approached it as a “strong woman against malicious men” angle. Caliban was also an african american, the only one in an all white cast. I don’t know how relevant it truly is, but I thought it was interesting.