Here, for your reading pleasure, are three articles by Dr. Kathleen Lubey, one of our department’s specialists in 18th-century literature. Please read at least two — or if if you’d prefer. The article on pornography, which emerged directly out of a grad seminar, might be particularly interesting & accessible to those who are not deep in 18c waters.
We’ll likely spend most of our time tomorrow night on 20c responses to The Tempest, esp Cesaire’s and some of the other modern critics. (Lamming seems to have aroused some interest already.) But I wanted to put a word in early for the little snippets of source text that precede those essays, inc Pico’s “Oration,” from which the title of this post comes.
These snippets are hard to read (esp the shorter ones), and sometimes hard to follow (esp when excerpted), but they repay the effort. Pico’s phrase might help us think about the philosophical basis for Prospero’s treatment of Caliban (whom he calls “thou earth” in 1.2), and more broadly about intellectual aspiration and what it does in this play.
For any who are wanting to work on post-colonial readings, too, I strongly suggest looking closely at Samuel Purchas (93-5), who gives a succinct summary of the reasons Englishmen felt justified in colonizing the New World.
Guam (found at Starbuck’s in the Baltimore Hyatt during the Maritime Heritage Conference last week) went to Olivia. Northern Marianas Islands (found this morning at St. John’s) to Ian.
The wages of coffee…
Alinor told me about a 67-year old man who was found dead yesterday in Long Island Sound about a mile along the shoreline from where we swim. He lived on Clam Island, one of the low, bare bits of rock on which people have been perching houses since the late 19c.
He was fully dressed, so it doesn’t seem to have been a case of swimming gone wrong, though it’s not clear how or why he got into the water. What is clear is that however he got in — falling, tripping, a stroke — he wasn’t able to support himself in what Conrad calls “the destructive element.”
I went on my afternoon swim anyway — it won’t be gorgeous September swimming weather much longer — but not as far as I usually go. The wind blew hard out of the southwest, and the waves were choppy.
A few sources for Danielle’s project on the Atlantic slave trade in the early modern period, which may be of interest to the rest of you.
Herbert Klein, The Atlantic Slave Trade (Cambridge, 1999)
Equiano, The Interesting Narrative (any number of editions of the well-known & influential abolitionist autobiography)
Vincent Carretta, Equiano, the African (Penguin, 2005) (a controversial & well-regarded biography that provides evidence that Equiano may have been born in North Carolina)
Nick Hazelwood, The Queen’s Slave Trader (2004) a good popular bio of John Hawkins
I’ll also see if I can find a copy of vol 10 of Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, which has Hawkins’s most substantial voyage to Africa in it. If I can’t find it, the NY Public Library is your best best.
I’ll also bring in an interesting short article in the journal Sea History that discusses the American anti-slavery squadron in the early 19c, & their use of African small boat handlers to negotiate the dangerous surf along the West African coast. Interactions between Europeans & Africans were quite complex during the slave trade, with lots of individuals and groups on both sides of the various transactions.
A slightly edited version of this review will appear this winter in Shakespeare Bulletin, alongside reviews of As You Like It (Bridge Project) and Measure for Measure (Theatre for a New Audience). Anybody see any of these productions last winter?
How many versions of Prospero have we each seen or imagined? Even though we no long believe the old stories about the play as Shakespeare’s self-portrait, there’s something about this familiar figure—magician, teacher, slave-holder, father—that carries the over-ripe taste of the familiar. Even very strong performances by big-name actors—Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan—can, in retrospect, fade into the role rather than putting an individual stamp upon it. Stephen Dillane’s Prospero, while very faithful to the text, was probably the most distinctive I’ve seen. He played the magician as threadbare and scholarly, deeply engaged with his inner spirits. He arrived on stage for the first scene before the house lights went down and was distractedly reading a book. Sam Mendes’s direction emphasized Prospero’s control of the island by having all the play’s action take place inside the sand circle of his art, with the actors not performing in each scene sitting motionless around the edge of the stage like marionettes without strings. Despite his control inside the circle, Dillane’s Prospero didn’t feel all-powerful. He paced urgently around the circle in the storm scene (the impact of which was slightly muted by having the wizard visible from the start); he seemed angry and impatient in the “great globe itself” speech (4.1); and he needed to blindfold Miranda in 1.2. The production emphasized both Prospero’s power and his human frustration with that power. He controlled everything inside his circle, but that circle itself, which seemed to represent a navigator’s compass and a child’s sand box as well as a conjuror’s circle, was frustratingly small. There was a lot outside that Prospero could not dominate.
The empty recesses of the stage, filled with the slumping figures of actors not participating in Prospero’s action, testified to the limits of his power. This part of the stage contained perhaps two inches of water, as if it were the edge of the ocean itself, the shores of which marked the limits of human and dramatic magic. This opacity and emptiness helped explain Prospero’s sometimes perplexing anxiety, his worries about managing a series of events that he seems always to have well in hand. In Mendes’s production, there was always something visible on stage outside of his control. The emotional urgency of Dillane’s performance finally burst through in the epilogue, for which he stripped himself down to an undershirt and boxer shorts and spat out his lines in a mixture of contempt and deep need: “Let your indulgence set me free.” I’ve never been so moved by those very familiar lines, never seen a Prospero who so desperately needed indulgence.
Not everything in this production was as strong as Dillane’s performance. Juliet Rylance’s Miranda seemed a bit insipid, as if, lacking the physical and dramatic range of her Rosalind, she could find little to do with the part. Edward Bennett, who was so striking as Oliver, played Ferdinand with much less punch. Christian Camargo’s Ariel wore some great costumes, especially a striking full-sized harpy get-up with black wings, but even though the relationship between Prospero and his magical servant seemed to be at the heart of the production, the spirit himself seemed static. Ron Cephas Jones’s Caliban presented himself, uncomfortably, as a kind of natural slave, ceding the play’s emotional center to Ariel’s claims upon his master. It was, above all, a production that revolved around its lead actor; any Tempest must be Prospero-centric, but none of the other actors, not even the fine Alvin Epstein as Gonzalo, managed to escape his overshadowing presence.
The one element of the production that rivaled Dillane was the set design and the lighting. The circle-plus-ocean design of the stage managed to convey Prospero’s near-omnipotence inside his magic realm and also the vast emptiness outside it. The staging of Ariel’s song (“Full fathom five…”) in 1.2 was especially memorable. The stage lights glimmered on the water that surrounded the sand circle. Prospero’s urgent pacing around his circle slowed down. Inside, at the center, Ariel gathered Ferdinand in a seductive and constrictive embrace, while the spirit, along with the on-stage chorus of women who would later play the goddesses in the masque, sang to him. The effect was other-worldly. It was as close to a vision of the bottom of the sea as I’ve ever seen on stage. Five fathoms down, with a King’s body that is not really there, Prospero showed the prince and the audience a vision of dramatic transformation and its threatening consequences.
Yesterday we were talking about how grad students need to be self-interested readers, looking at least as much to advance your own projects as to be a good student who reads what he/she is supposed to. (I know we’re all “good students” in this group.)
Thinking back, I realized I had a perfectly good example of that sort of self-interested classroom behavior on my side. When we were talking about emptiness in “our revels now are ended,” I was (not quite consciously) thinking about the paper that I’m presenting at the end of the semester as George Washington U’s “TemFest II” event on Dec 3:
(Scroll down a little to get to TemFest II.)
Maybe I’ll use this paper as my “work in progress” for the seminar. I’m going to talk about gaps and vacancies in the play and its after life — my opening line will be, “The Tempest is full of holes” — with some attention to the Roman poet Lucretius and his “atomist” theories of matter and empty space.
I also note, if anyone wants to make a field trip, that the Dec 3 event in DC is open to the public & should be lots of fun.
Just a couple of broad points for us to think about on Tues when we discuss “blue humanities” or the “new thalassology” or whatever we’d like to call it.
1. Natural Disorder and Literary Form: In both the oceanic and non-oceanic elements of my work on nature, I’m interested in contrasting the disorder of the natural world (and the environment-human culture relationship) with the kind of order — provisional, of course — that literary form provides.
Prospero’s “revels now are ended” speech might be relevant here.
2. Historicism and Anachronism: In early modern studies (and, I believe, other areas of literary studies as well), much research in recent decades has been historicist in a comprehensive and horizontal sense: scholars immerse themselves in the culture & habits of thought of one particular age. Part of what At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean and the Shakespeare Now! series of which it’s part tries to do is open up this closed historicist circle & ask Shakespeare to speak directly to 21c questions and concerns. There are lots of risks involved in this sort of thing; sometimes it doesn’t work; and I think that a deep historicism is part of this project. But I also want to talk on Tues night about the blindfolds that history puts on us.
The passage in The Tempest that might be relevant here is Miranda’s recollection of her mother, in the “dark backward and abysm of time” in 1.2.
Commissioned by Charles I in 1634, this ship was the terror of the Dutch wars, the first 100-gun ship in the Royal Navy, & the prototype for Lord Nelson’s Victory. The States-General of the Netherlands in 1652 offered 3000 guilders to any ship that could “ruin” the Sovereign.
After a good summer’s run at the Folger, she’s now come to rest on the CT shoreline, above my fireplace. Looks nice.