Written by Foo Siang-tse, 2A13A, 1996.
Write an essay on the relevance of apparitions and stage spectacle to the central concerns of The Tempest.
What immediately strikes the audience about The Tempest is the use of the supernatural in the form of apparitions like Ariel and the Harpy. These apparitions are under Prospero's authority and the result of [hopefully] his Art, which is the disciplined use of virtuous knowledge. By invoking a masque to celebrate the bethrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda, Prospero effectively brings to full circle the theme of re-generation by obliterating the evil done and suffered by one generation through the love of the next. However, this is juxtaposed against the anti-masque elements of the attempted usurpations of Antonio and Caliban, which hold the play in a delicate balance between a tragic or comic resolution, holding the audience in great suspense.
Through the use of his Art, Prospero is able to bring Ariel, whom he releases from the imprisonment of Sycorax, under his control. By transcending into the realm of the supernatural, there is an inversion of the natural Order as Prospero is but a mere mortal while Ariel is beyond humanity at the spiritual end of the natural hierarchy. However, the authority that Prospero possesses over Ariel is liable to abuse as there would be a very human temptation for him to use Ariel to exact his revenge on the Court Party [members] who are effectively at his mercy, because of an inherent susceptibility to feelings of resentment, anger and revenge due to the injustice of 12 years' past. This is Prospero's test as a ruler, not only in his treatment of the Court Party but in his treatment of Ariel. He must exhibit benevolence and temperance before he can pass this test. Initially, there are lapses in Prospero's control over his anger when, as Ariel asks for his freedom, Prospero replies with a harsh "if thou more murmur'st, I will rend an oak, and peg thee in his knotty entrails, till thou has howl'd away twelve winters." Thus, it is only when Prospero has the qualities necessary to rule only by controlling his passions with reason and always remembering that his purpose is the education of the Court Party and not revenge, that he can win the respect of the audience and earn his journey home.
This "brave spirit" is a minister of Order and Providence. By being omniscient, not only does he allay the initial tempest through his music, he undermines the plots against human life -- Antonio and Sebastian's attempt at Alonso's life and Caliban's murder plot. On a lighter note, Ariel also acts as a source of great entertainment for the audience as he goes about his work for Prospero, especially when he proceeds to undermine Caliban's murder plot with great relish and excitement as he leads the intoxicated conspirators through a "filthy mantled pool", symbolic of their bestiality. The antimasque of the spirits in the form of dogs and hounds, which hunt them down, is also an indication of their bestiality. [Relevance to the question is not specifically identified.]
The juxtaposition of a spirit of the elements with a creature of the earth in the form of Caliban, brings out the bestiality of this deformed brute. The subjugation of both creatures is reminiscent of forced colonialism as they would very much rather be free. Caliban would rather be his "own king" while Ariel repeatedly asks for "my (his) liberty". While the bestial Caliban responds to Prospero on a sensory and sensual level and operates on his baser instincts, Ariel rationally obeys the instructions of his master in the pursuit of justice. Such a contrast between beast and spirit reflects the passion-reason conflict within Prospero's own inner nature. [What is the specific relevance to the question? Are you responding to the beast Caliban as spectacle?]
"Solemn and strange music" mark the beginning of the banquet [scene] spectacle. Exhaustion has "dulled the spirits" and they are thirsty, hungry and in need of sustenance, after hours of hard and conscientious searching for Ferdinand. Thus, it is inevitable that they cannot believe the feast laid before them. [Could they under any circumstances?] The reactions of the various characters to this spectacle reveal their basic nature. For instance, Sebastian's response to the food is purely materialistic. On the other hand, Gonzalo, being the eternal optimist, looks for a rational and reasonable harmony within this spectacle -- "these are people of the island ... their manners are more gentle, kind, than of our human generation you shall find." Moreover, he demonstrates his pragmatism by arguing against fear and superstition and recognises the necessity of food and drink. Alonso, being a king, also recognises the practicality of the situation.
Arial adopts the symbolic guise of the Harpy and appears as a minister of divine vengeance [?!w.c.] Ariel's speech, which can only be heard by the "three men of sin" is terrifying and is reminiscent of a judgement day experience. The fact that nature and Providence work in tandem is illustrated by the sound of thunder and the flash of lightning, indications of divine wrath, which mark Ariel's entrance. Moreover, they are told they are "unfit to live" and that Providence, working against them, will inspire the natural world to act in service against them, making them aware that the hostile environment is a form of judgement for their sins. The guilty ones are made to endure torment and can avoid "ling'ring perdition" only through repentance and continuing [?] innocence. There appear to be religious overtones to this as Alonso is punished for sins past while Antonio for sins present. While the conscience-stricken Alonso, bereft of hope, is bent on suicide, Sebastian and Antonio arrogantly seek defence by drawing their swords. Furthermore, unrepentant, defiant and being overwhelmed by selfish concerns, they intend to assist Alonso in his suicide bid. [possible] This increases the tension level against the audience and is essentially the climax of the plot to usurp the throne. Hence, the audience will be kept in suspense throughout Act IV. [Why? A simple statement will suffice.]
In contrast with the fearful spectacle of the vanishing banquet in the previous scene, the masque provides comic relief from the tension from the previous scene. However, there is an ongoing tension regarding the usurpation in the Court Party which could lead to tragic consequences. Here, happiness and fertility dominate and the masque can be likened to a representation of Nature's beauty, ministering to the natural beauty of Ferdinand's and Miranda's love. The theme of reconciliation is played out as Prospero makes amends with Ferdinand telling him that "all thy vexations were but trials of thy love, thou hast strangely stood the test" and that his labour in log-bearing his culminated in this marriage. Ferdinand's response to Prospero later as "a wonder'd father and a wise" reaffirms his acceptance of Prospero as a father as Prospero had accepted him as a son. Symbolically, the marriage between Ferdinand and Miranda joins two great households in love, reflecting the fact that the sins of the past have been forgiven.
Chastity, which is advocated by the masque, is a function of temperance and Prospero is sensitive to this too. This is passion and lustful intent are difficult to overcome and, thus, society has to place a constraint on them. By restraining from physical passion would imply that one would be preserving the social order, showing devotion to one's spouse and a dedication to the marriage union. Hence, Prospero warns the couple that should they be unable to control their passions, "barren hate, sour-ey'd disdain and discord shall bestrew the union of (their) bed with weeds so loathly that (they) shall hate it both" and this is echoed by Juno with "whose vows are, that no bed-right shall be paid till Hymen's torch be lighted". Moreover, by having Iris summon the Nymphs, which are temperate and chaste, over Cupid and Venus, which are symbols of unrestrained sensual passions, further emphasises the importance of Miranda's virginity as being an integral part of the disciplined control over passions, which is necessary for the purity of this marriage bond. Ferdinand lives up to the task required of him, giving a chivalrous and courty reply, making clear that he desires "quiet days, fair issue and long life". "In reward of that, Juno later sings "Honour, riches, marriage-blessing, long continuance, and increasing hourly joys be still upon you!" This reflects well on Ferdinand as it implies that he is a man ruled by reason and rational thought. Moreover, he equates honour with reason and discipline and, thus, this honour will be the control of lust and passion. By making clear that nothing will diminish his honour and discipline, it implies that this marriage will be good and his children will be brought up with emotional stability boding well for the kingdom of Naples as it is assured of disciplined rulers over the generations. [All correct but only one clearly relevant statement.]
However, we must not forget that this "most majestic vision" is essentially a celebration of the Ferdinand-Miranda love plot. Prospero is openly beneficent for the first time, revealing his true character more clearly to the audience, being kindly to Ferdinand and even affectionate to Ariel, calling him "my delicate Ariel", "my bird" and "my Ariel". [There is also vanity present here.] The language used by Iris inspires images of youth, vigour, a temperate nature, chastity, all appropriate "to celebrate a contract of true love", a union of two noble households and representing the blessings from a higher supernatural authority in the form of the Gods, Juno and Ceres -- "Juno sings her blessing on you!". The colourful costumes, dancing and singing of the Reapers and the Nymphs are traditional elements for the masque spectacle, which is essentially an elaborate form of court entertainment, meant to titillate the visual, auditory and tactile senses of the audience. We cannot help but react with awe and wonder at this visual spectacle. Images of a Golden Age of peace and fertility are conjured especially with the Reapers which are associated with the fertility that is essential in any marriage bond and for the future. The dance that takes place between the Nymphs and Reapers suggests harmony in elemental nature; the dance also serves as an image and symbol of the continuance of society, of marriage and stability which is present in Shakespearan comedies, marking the movement of the play towards a comic resolution.
The jarring of the "strange, hollow and confused noise" is greatly upsetting, especially in contrast to the merry singing and dancing, and this creates an air of anticipation in the audience. A feeling of tension is created when Prospero recalls the "foul conspiracy of the beast Caliban and his confederates against (his) life.". Elements of tragedy are introduced here as this conspiracy involves usurpation and the taking of life, which is at odds with Order. The antimasque elements of this plot is at odds with the spectacle of the masque. Coupled with the danger of the Court Party, being in Antonio's and Sebastian's hands, tragedy and comedy are being held in a very delicate balance. These anti-masque elements deal with the issue of qualities required in a ruler and both Alonso and Prospero evidently still have much to learn in dealing with and controlling their subjects, remembering that "confidence sans bound" can no longer be given.
The assertive, confident tone of a masque presenter is inverted in Prospero's philosophical digression as it reveals increasingly the weariness of an ageing man, with the burden of considerable knowledge, experience and responsibilities that must be fulfilled. We are made aware of a sense of infirmity in this poignant speech before he relinquishes his Art. He warns the couple that everything earthly will fade, including the most revered -- "gorgeous palaces" and "solemn temples", which are symbols of government and religion respectively. This is a warning to Miranda as she steps out into her "brave new world" that all physical things and human endeavours are but of a temporal nature. He underlines the insignificance of humanity with the warning that "all shall dissolve, and like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind", re-emphasising his notion of the importance of the spirituality of the marriage bond and the promise it holds for the future over pageantry and material things of the world.
We must recognise that Providence has facilitated Prospero in both his education of his peers and also himself. He is blessed with an Art and Ariel to aid him in his search for justice and reconciliation. The dramatic presentation of the masque spectacle is of importance, as it reminds the audience that all of human activity is drama. We are offered a play within a play, basically dealing with the concept of a microcosm within a much larger macrocosm. We also watch Ferdinand and Miranda watch the play and judge their responses, they being unaware of being watched themselves. Through the use of supernatural elements like the banquet spectacle and the masque, the themes of regeneration and reconciliation are effectively dealt with respectively and we are sure that Ferdinand and Miranda are the hope for the future, having the potential to be better rulers than Prospero and Alonso, reaffirming the Renaissance ideal of the improvement of society over the generations and strengthening the social hierarchy.
There seems some clear evidence of secondary source use. Be sure to give it credit.
Art vs. Nature (E-Ching's),
Art vs. Nature (Rouh Phin's),
Prospero as Ruler, Prospero vs. Caliban,
The Tempest as Masque, Apparitions and Stage Spectacle,
Ideas vs. Dramatic Principle, Island of Echoes & Suggestions,
Comic Resolution, Prospero Context
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