“Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” -Flannery O’Connor
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Why do you conclude that Prospero wants Alonso dead? He made sure that no one was harmed in the shipwreck, even their clothes remained dry. True, he is bitter from the injustice he suffered but this whole event is about setting things right and that includes bringing the king to acknowledge his guilt, to repent and to understand how cooperation with treachery (Antonioo’s) breeds treachery (Sebastian’s). Remember that Caliban had tried to rape Miranda in spite of all that Prospero had done for him. Why didn’t Propero just kill him? He takes care of Caliban in the only way such a dangerous person can be cared for – he exercises strict authority over him and makes him do useful work.
This is a play about the possibility of using the arts in a God-like way to heal a society torn apart by rebellion against lawful authority. In some ways it reminds me of the story of Joseph.
I think there is a hidden message in the play to King James, namely that those who connived with the monarchy to overthrow the Pope and suppress the Catholic religion might themselves turn against the monarchy when it suited their purposes. Prophetic.
I don’t think I assumed Prospero wanted them dead, the student did.
To be quite honest this was only my second time reading the play and I’m still feeling my way through it. Usually takes me several passes to really get into a Shakespeare play. Maybe it would have been better for me to hold off on teaching it, but then again I learned quite a bit in the process.
I haven’t read much criticism of the play, either. Did less homework than usual because, quite frankly, I’ve had much less energy than usual this semester. Guess pregnancy does that to you.
Your reading is compelling, I’ll have to think it over. Certainly there is great evidence that Prospero is not a killer (keep in mind we’d just finished reading Machiavelli so maybe we were all a bit bloody minded and perhaps too ready to read more into his desire for revenge than was there.)
I do wonder, though, what you make of Ariel’s plea for mercy and Prospero’s response. He seems to lay down some previous plan for revenge. Even if his original plan isn’t to kill Alonso and Antonio, it does seem that he was swayed from something darker than the mercy we see at the end of the play. One could also argue that he was playing cat and mouse with them and that preserving them dry and safe was a means to separate the innocent from the guilty.
I’m fairly new to the area of Shakespeare studies that investigates the possibility of Shakespeare’s possible Catholicism and hidden messages embedded in the plays. I only saw an article on it this summer. I’d like to learn more and am hoping to spend more time on that in the spring when I’ll be taking a hiatus from teaching. Do you have any good leads as to books or articles I could read on the subject? I always appreciate recommendations.
Thanks very much for the thought-provoking comments. As I tell my students, there’s nothing like reading and discussing books with a wide variety of other readers to help you identify your own blind spots and assumptions. I always learn most about the texts from the unexpected questions my students spring on me when I have to think quickly on my feet. I think I’d enjoy sitting down and talk Shakespeare with you some time.
I guess I read 5.1 lines 17-32 as a dialog that explicates Propero’s original intentions rather than changes them.
I love the Tempest. It would indeed be a pleasure to talk Shakespeare. Best wishes with your pregnancy.
PS: I saw Clare Asquith’s book on half.com for $14. Maybe you could put it on your list for Santa.