Thursday, March 27, 2014

Shakespeare's Language in Lines from The Tempest

This is an old college paper of mine about some lines from William Shakespeare's play The Tempest. It was written for a specific class as part of a specific curriculum, so please forgive any not-suited-for-internet or other weaknesses as simply being academic; it wasn't made to be here. I don't know if it makes sense to put this here in the first place, but I'm trying it out.

Note: Please don't plagiarize, it would make me feel bad, get you expelled from school and or imprisoned for copyright infringement. But mainly, it would be rude.


Prospero's speech beginning with Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves, through [h]ave I made shake, and by the spurs plucked up in act five scene one serves to invoke the assistance of the supernatural and lead to Prospero's magic retirement, the restoration scene and the play's resolution. The first line's assonance is almost the sound of the wind, which the words say later. The plosive "b" of brooks followed quickly by the "g" in groves suggest bass, low pitch combined with the double "o" that follows, and is counterpoint to the "el" of the start of the line. The pitch shift fits in the words as Prospero speaks of nature pervasively, in all the nooks and crannies of the world, both high and low. The poetry of the verse, sonically and with images, is a calm within the storm of the play, a play paced to happen in real-time in front of the audience.

The juxtaposition of "masters" and "mutinous" deals with master-slave relationships. Some linguists theorize that "m" sounds commonly occur in words about mothers, or origins. The theory is that to make the sound, one puts the mouth in the configuration of a baby nursing. It may be a bit far-fetched, but connects to the genesis of the play: the master of a dukedom, Prospero, was removed through political mutiny at his brother's hands, tearing him and his child from their motherland. Prospero, possibly too wrapped up in his books to prevent his overthrow by attending to affairs of state, was a "weak master." He now recounts how he is overthrowing his usurper. While communing with the spirits and forces that have brought him toward restoration, he echoes his own deposition.

The recurring sea imagery, and the actual sailing vessel that opens the play with "boatswain," interconnects these lines with "mutinous." During the one appearance of the concrete title character, the tempest itself, the king demands obedience and compliance of the "boatswain" in the presence of his "master" the king. The king is quickly told that his presence, in face of nature, is hardly relevant. The antithetical presence of mutiny and mastery in the opening of the play is the same conceptual fuel for these lines and the initial breach that sent Prosero and his daughter to exile. Prospero's use of mastery and mutiny allow him to restore everyone by the end. Prospero is Duke again, the union of Milan and Naples will be a blessed marriage and not an illegal overthrow, Ariel is free, Caliban can rule the island as his, and the rebels against the king are diffused. Control and rebellion appear throughout and in these lines connect Prospero's first goodbye to his magic arts to these ideas of control and freedom that permeate much of the play.

Unstressed syllables at the end of the lines begin to address the ocean and storm. These trochees make the verse shift, fluidly like water, as the imagery builds. Later in the speech this becomes the undoing of the instrument of the tempest, using the clipped "I'll break my staff", ending with a fricative that sounds like air being let out. Almost deflating the master of the elements Prospero, and starting his transition, his sea change, from island sorcerer to the man he was in Milan. These simple syllables serve the overall theme of transition and personal change that so turns the play and so many characters in it.

The vowels of "rifted Jove's stout oak" groan following the repeated sounds of "ay" and make a tempo change. It also sets up the staccato ignition of the fire with the roar of the flames. The next line elongates these groans and next line's parallel "have I" construction echoes this staccato followed by legato pattern. This pattern also mirrors the pace of much of the play: many actions followed by periods of exposition. The pattern not only helps keep an audience from rhythmic boredom, but it's also a rhythm of a tempest. Perhaps the rhythm of a day, hours awake followed by restful sleep. Characters often sleep and wake at Prospero's discretion, but this alternation of pace may support the magical powers Prospero is stepping away from more than the sleep patterns he gives people. The pattern is almost trance-like. The break from Italian society, and reconnection with it are the bookends of the play. Magic, trances and the art of illusion fill the space between these bookends. A "di di di di, dah dah dah dah" style rhythm like a shaman's trance or spell infuse the sound of these words with that magic feeling. Reflecting the first scene of the play, and the Tempest itself, these lines move Prospero toward laying down his magic arts.

Shakespeare adapts or borrows these lines from Goulding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses and possibly the original Latin. In Ovid the lines are Medea's. She invokes spirits to exact her revenge and, from her perspective, uses her magic art to set things right. She addresses her internal spiritual life in these lines before striking out in the external, concrete world. Prospero reflects and bids farewell to the magic arts he has used to control his subjects Ariel and Caliban, and used to deceive his former enemies on the island. He addresses his internal spiritual life in these lines before setting those he has mastered free and burying the hatchet with his enemies.

Unlike the Shakespeare's source material, in The Tempest this speech begins the fifth act's journey toward non-violent restoration. These lines begin Prospero stepping away from his magic, and his anger, and moves toward peaceful resolution and setting things right for the future. This coming restoration replaces the illusions with actual truth for everyone except Prospero. He seems to have learned the reality of responsibility to his people, in Milan and the island, before this, and no longer needs his magic arts to learn it. Prospero ends the master-slave relationships between himself and both Ariel and Caliban, releasing and acknowledging as his responsibility for Caliban. Up to this point in the play he has treated Caliban as more of a slave than ward. Prospero also completes the reconciliation of the breach between Milan and Naples replacing it with a sanctified marriage.

Prospero gets himself congruent with the magical forces he has used. Without committing to set aside his art, he may not be able to do make the restoration happen; without addressing what he is setting aside, what he has done, and what was done to him, he cannot move toward the conclusion; he cannot move forward. He used magic to set right the wrongs of his and his daughter's exile. Prospero speaks to the internal, spiritual parts of his world here before he reconciles with the external, human elements of his world. He begins addressing his inside life in these lines, and broadens into dealing directly with his outside life to resolve the play, close the breakage of the usurpation and finish the play.

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him
When he comes back. You demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites. And you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrumps, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew, by whose aid
(Weak masters though ye be) I have bedimmed
The noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war. To the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt. The strong-based promontory
Have I made shake, and by the spurs plucked up

Shakespeare, William (2006-04-20). The Tempest (The Annotated Shakespeare). Yale University Press - A. Kindle Edition.

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this posted by David August at 11:56 PM 

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