Ariel Stays On The Island, And I Just Can’t Even

I’ve admitted on plenty of occasions that I still have a lot to learn about Shakespeare. In fact, it is when I learn something new that I am again thrown back into my love for the subject as I run to the text and visit with my old friends again.

I have always, always read the end of The Tempest as:

  1. Ariel, now freed, disappears. Where does he go? Don’t know. Not sure we can even fathom the possibility. Ariel being an “aerie spirit,” could be pan-dimensional for all I know. Prospero says go, and he’s gone. I loved Mr. Teller’s interpretation where Ariel does a vanishing act, literally disappearing before our eyes.
  2. Caliban is left alone to be king of his island, a civilization of one, as he always wanted.

So it came as quite a shock last week when I was shown a line I’d never really noticed before.  As he prepares for his upcoming freedom, Ariel says:

Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

And my world changed. After all their time together, Prospero frees Ariel and Ariel basically just heads off to the other side of the island?  I imagine him sitting in a hammock sipping a drink out of a coconut like something from Gilligan’s Island. He might as well have said, “I miss my cloven pine, it was a little snug but really quite comfortable once you got used to it.”

I hate that so much. That means that, for starters, Caliban is not left alone on the island as he wanted. Worse, he doesn’t even have a kingdom, because Ariel’s not about to listen to him. Ariel and Caliban hate each other. So now I envision the ending of my favorite play with Caliban trying to be left alone and Ariel, now bored silly, forever tormenting him because there’s nothing else to do.

Somebody tell me I read that wrong, and the play isn’t completely ruined for me. I really hate that ending.  My way, everybody – even Caliban – gets a happy ending.  As it should be. This way doesn’t even make any sense. Wouldn’t Ariel want to escape the island as soon as he is able? He’s been a slave here for all those years, so he’ll celebrate his freedom by hanging around? I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.

 

 

 

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That’s Just, Like, Your Point of View, Man

Here’s a simple game. Pick a play.  Now pretend you’re doing a production where the gimmick is that it’s told from a different character’s point of view than normal. Which play do you pick, which character and how does the play change?

In most cases, this is going to create a much shorter play, because the character you pick will often have less stage time than the stars.

Maybe we do The Tempest told from the perspective of King Alonso?  Coming home from a wedding he’s caught in a storm, shipwrecked on an island, his son drowned. Suddenly he’s standing face to face with Prospero, who he’s thought dead for the past fifteen years.

Or how about King Lear from Fool’s point of view? That could be interesting.  Lot of different ways to interpret just how much Fool knows.

Twelfth Night from Malvolio’s POV?

Romeo and Juliet as seen by Lord Capulet? That could be interesting. There’s an almost fight scene, there’s him getting fined by the Prince, there’s a wedding to plan, a big dance party, an argument with his daughter, the death of Tybalt, the death of Juliet…

Winter’s Tale from Hermione’s point of view would make a funny comic short. Gets accused of adultery by her husband, goes to live with her friend who promises to fix everything. Cut to twelve years later when she says, “ok, he’s coming. Pretend you’re a statue.”

Who else?

 

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A Most Mellifluous Monster

Every day I comb through Shakespeare references from social media, reddit, google… and throw out 99% of them because I’ve either seen them a thousand times before, they’re irrelevant (like Shakespeare fishing rods), or they’re just plain dumb (Shakespeare memes are on the rise, and you can thank me later for saving you from most of them).

I do this because sometimes you find a gem, like this 1960 made-for-tv Tempest starring Maurice Evans, Roddy McDowell, Lee Remick and, are you ready for this?  Richard Burton.   I start the movie wondering, “Is he playing Prospero?” Nope, too early, Maurice Evans is Prospero.  Oh, then maybe Richard Burton is Ferdinand.

Nope.  He’s *Caliban*.

This production’s just crazy.  The costumes are amazing (especially Gonzalo and the boys). I have no idea yet if any of the acting is any good, but it’s entertaining to be sure.  Look at the costumes on Gonzalo and the boys! The rocks, the rocks!  Now I want this as a video game.

Love seeing Maurice Evans, too.  For someone my age he’s probably most famous as a Batman villain, and other random supporting bit parts. Nice to see him in the lead.

I should also point out that Bardfilm was there first, back in 2009!

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Now That’s Dedication (A Geeklet Story)

I may have mentioned in a previous post that my daughter had an in-class essay assignment for her Monsters in British Literature course (which we have been incorrectly calling her Shakespeare course, because although they studied The Tempest, they also studied Beowulf and Frankenstein).  The assignment was to identify the monster in the story, and make your case.  She chose Antonio.  At the time I thought this was a one off, “Next time we have class we’re going to write an essay.”  It was actually a research project.  For several days her homework was to gather notes and make her case.  And then, at the designated class, did they all write it up.

So that day comes, and I pick her up, and she starts with, “Just so you know, my Antonio essay did not go as well as expected.”

“Oh?” I ask, keeping my eyes on the road, while immediately thinking, “Was our premise wrong? What could we have missed?”

“Yeah, well, we had an emergency drill today,” she began.  I’m guessing every school in America has different variations of those.  They were always fire drills in my day.  My parents had “duck and cover” drills.  Our kids have lock down drills, active shooter drills, etc…  She continued, “And of course it happens in the middle of her class, so we all have to stop working and lock the doors and sit and not make any noise. That ends up taking like half the class.  So she tells us, ‘I understand that you didnt get enough time to finish, but there’s nothing we can do, so just write what you have time to, and I wont count it against you if you cant finish your conclusion….'”

I laughed.  “Wait, so you’re angry that you didn’t have to write more, and that the standard has been lowered?” I asked.

“Yes!” came the response.  “I worked hard on that, I knew exactly what argument I wanted to present!”

“Even in the time you got, you probably still wrote twice as much as any other kids.”

“Well, yeah,” she admitted.

Love my nerd.  🙂

This month’s posts are sponsored by No Shave November. To help raise cancer prevention awareness, and some money along the way, all proceeds from this month’s advertising, merchandise and book sales are being donated.  If you’d like to support the site by supporting the cause, please consider visiting my personal fundraising page linked above, where you can make a direct donation.

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Here Be Monsters

This month’s posts are sponsored by No Shave November. To help raise cancer prevention awareness, and some money along the way, all proceeds from this month’s advertising, merchandise and book sales are being donated.  If you’d like to support the site by supporting the cause, please consider visiting my personal fundraising page linked above, where you can make a direct donation.

Some folks may have been part of this conversation on Twitter.  I’d like to expand on some thoughts here, where they feel more permanent.

For my daughter’s “Monsters in British Literature” course they’re just wrapping up The Tempest. One of the questions she was tasked with answering was (paraphrased), “Do you think Caliban is the monster of the story?  If he’s not, who is?”  I know that they read something else in class that basically laid out the “what is a monster” rules, but I can’t find that to reference it at the moment.

But there’s only a few characters in the story, so let’s talk about all the candidates.

Prospero

On the one hand we’ve got colonizing Prospero.  He shows up on an inhabited island and says, “Mine now.” Promptly enslaves its few inhabitants, possibly even killing one of them.  It’s never really said what happens to Sycorax, is it? I used to think she just kind of died and left Caliban there to fend for himself, but how in the world does Prospero know so much about her if that’s true?  Did he learn it all from Ariel?  Caliban didn’t even know how to talk when he met Prospero, so that’s unlikely.

On the other hand we’ve got forgiving Prospero. He has his enemies in his grasp, and can smite them any time he wants. Instead he opts to forgive and forget – even his treacherous brother Antonio, who we will speak more of shortly.

Personally I don’t find him the monster. Especially when you play the “all in care of thee” card.  He’s a dad protecting his daughter from the world.  What dad doesn’t have a little animal instinct in him on that level?  See a threat, neutralize the threat. Only put down your card if someone else is going to take your place (say, for instance, her getting married).

Caliban

The “too easy” answer.  Sure he’s this base creature who would hardly be civilized if it wasn’t for Prospero.  Is that so bad?  Caliban was minding his business on his own island when this dude just showed up and took over. Of course he’s got some resentment issues.  He’s got some issues with Prospero, sure – but remember that Prospero is in complete magical control of him, and can basically torment him with pinches and cramps whenever he wants.  How can we fault Caliban for not wanting a little retaliation?

Sure, there’s the Miranda thing. He did try to “people this isle with Calibans”.  Honestly I tend to lump that in with base biological instinct. He’s closer to an animal than a person.  What do animals do?  They eat, they mate, they fight.  That doesn’t make every animal a monster. But what ultimately turned me against Caliban is the way he offers her to Stephano as a prize.  Don’t forget, after you kill her father, she’ll keep your bed nice and warm! That is not the instinctive act of an animal. That is a strategic move, using another human being to negotiate a deal.  Caliban’s got a lot of reasons to hate Prospero, but to take them out on his daughter? That’s a bit much for me.

Stephano

I only really put him here as a technicality, because in theory his job is to bash Prospero in the head with a log and then take Miranda as his wife. He doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with this plan, on either front.  But are we really expected to ever be afraid for Prospero?  Think Stephano an actual threat?  I don’t think so. He’s comic relief.  If I’m not mistaken (though I do not have the text readily available), I think he even shows a certain distaste for the gruesome work at hand, as if he’d rather not go through with it.  Hardly a monster behavior.

Ariel

I don’t think people explore evil Ariel enough.  Most of the magical work that’s done in the play is done by Ariel.  Prospero’s charms appear mostly of the “prevent you from doing things” variety, have you noticed that? He binds Ariel to his service. He freezes Ferdinand, and binds him to service. Presumably Caliban is also bound to service, or why wouldn’t he flee?  All of the other stuff, the shipwreck, the magical dogs, the voices … that’s all Ariel.

You get hints of dark Ariel.  He’s clearly not too thrilled about having escaped the bondage of his tree, only to land in Prospero’s bondage.  Don’t we think that he would have killed everybody on board if Prospero had let him? With no remorse?

One of the features of a monster, if I recall the book correctly, is that they live away from man by choice, interact only out of necessity or circumstance, and then return to solitude.  That certainly fits Ariel.  Desires his freedom. Minute he gets it? Gone.

Antonio

It’s easy to forget that Antonio’s even there, if you only pay attention to the marquee characters.  First of all he’s the character that conspired to steal his brother’s kingdom.  As far as he’s concerned, his brother (and his niece) can just go somewhere and die.  Remember that it is Gonzalo that saves them.

When the opportunity presents itself Antonio is quick to attempt a move up the ladder by killing the sleeping king, too. It’s not even like the man is a manipulator who has other people do the dirty work, he’s got it in him to hold a drawn sword over a defenseless victim without hesitation.

Perhaps most importantly, in the final scene where everything is revealed, we learn that Prospero is alive and not only can he look his brother in the eye, but that he forgives him?  Antonio says … nothing. Everybody else wants to hear the story of how everything seems to have turned out so happily. But Antonio? You get the feeling that before the play’s even over, Antonio is already planning when he can get his kingdom back. He probably regrets not killing Prospero in the first place.

 

Did I miss any contenders?  I don’t think we could really argue that Miranda or Ferdinand or Trinculo are monsters.  Sycorax and Setebos might be two other possibilities, but I mean come on, they’re not even in the story.  You’d be filling in 99% of their back story just to make your case.

 

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