Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Tempest - 'Sounds and sweet air'

‘Sounds and sweet air’
The Tempest

Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not:
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices.
That if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again, and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again (Act III.2).

     Are these the words of a brute? No, they are not. They are words said in kindness, to allay the fears of friends. They are words of wonder over incomprehensible beauty. They are words of longing.

O ho, O ho! Would’t had been done!
Thou didst prevent me: I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans (Act 1.2).

     Are these the words of a brute? Possibly. Spoken about Caliban’s unwelcome advances to Miranda, these are words, at least, of resentment.  Caliban had been alone on his island. His island. He says to Prospero:

This island’s mine by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak’st from me. When thou cam’st first,
Thou strok’dst me, and made much of me…
…then I loved thee
And showed thee all the qualities o’ th’ isle (Act I.2).

     Alone, lonely but free, master of the Isle. Caliban was overwhelmed by the arrival of Prospero and the child Miranda. Prospero has stolen the Isle from Caliban but accepted his generosity. Until Miranda grows up and Caliban makes mistaken – if understandable – assumptions.  In other words, Prospero’s attitude is, ‘We can take his Isle, accept his gifts, treat him kindly if patronisingly, but would you want your daughter to marry him?’
     And Miranda, who has taught him language, suddenly and to Caliban surely incomprehensibly, turns on him, because her ‘honour’ has been threatened. Shakespeare does not make it clear how this happened. Was it a kiss or attempted rape? We don’t know. Yes, Caliban then boasts he had thought to have babies with her but he might have meant that he was proposing marriage to her. And what choice did either of them have, isolated as they were? Miranda’s words cut deeply and keenly; he had believed in her affection for him:

Abhorrèd slave,
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill. I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak…
…but wouldst gobble, like
A thing most brutish…
…therefore wast thou
Deservedly confined into this rock, who hadst
Deserved more than a prison (Act I.2)

     Oh, cruel Miranda! To pity him and scorn his attempts at learning a foreign language! Let us suppose that Caliban had loved Miranda. Oh, cruel, cruel Prospero! Let us suppose, too, that Caliban loved Prospero. How easily that love would be manifested as hate at the painful, inexplicable rejection, enslavement and torture.
     So Caliban becomes not only a slave but an ill-treated slave, punished for the least infraction with physical pain and torture.
     And thus the story begins.
     Caliban now fears Prospero. This is clear in the scene in which he next appears. He is carrying wood.

His spirits hear me…
For every trifle, are they set upon me…
…bite and prick… and hiss me into madness (Act II.2).

     Is it any wonder, then, that with the intoxication of Stephano’s ‘celestial liquor’ and the fact that neither Stephano nor Trinculo use physical violence against him, Caliban falls to his knees in worship and offers up Prospero to these two buffoons with the plot to kill Prospero and give them the isle?
     Brutish? Of course, but pathetically human. And he pathetically believes that with these new masters he will no longer be a slave:

Freedom, high-day! High-day freedom! Freedom, high-day, freedom! (Act II.2)

     In the midst of the murder plot and Caliban’s dreams of freedom comes the ‘sounds and sweet airs’ monologue quoted at the beginning of this essay. Caliban loves music. His brutish heart longs for music just as it longs for freedom.
     The foolish plot to kill Prospero falls through and Caliban’s eyes are opened to the ridiculous reality of Stephano and Trinculo:

…I’ll be wise hereafter,
And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass
Was I to take this drunkard for a god
And worship this dull fool! (Act V.1)

     Caliban obeys, one supposes, Prospero’s order to go to his cell and tidy it properly.
     And that’s that.
     Does Caliban get his music, his freedom? We don’t know. Shakespeare doesn’t tell us if Prospero takes Caliban with him when he and Miranda return to Milano.
     I hope not. I like to think of Caliban once again master of the Isle, no longer a slave, with no other companion but free Ariel and the spirits, delighting in the sounds and sweet airs.

Films seen this time:
·                The Tempest, BBC, 1980. Director: John Gorrie. Cast:  Prospero – Michael Hordern; Ariel – David Dixon; Caliban – Warren Clark; Miranda – Pippa Guard ; Ferdinand – Christopher Guard; Gonzalo – John Nettleton; Trinculo – Andrew Sachs; Stephano  – Nigel Hawthorne. A thoroughly lacklustre production!  What a shame for such a rich play.  Dixon as a dead-eyed, campy, nearly naked, lizardy strutting breathy Ariel is just so wrong. The only bright parts are when Trinculo and Stephano are on stage. Nigel Hawthorne is often very funny and it’s not strange that Stephano reminds me constantly of Manuel in Fawlty Towers.
·                The Tempest 2010. Director: Julie Taymor. Cast:  Prospera – Helen Mirren; Ariel – Ben Whishaw; Caliban – Djimon Hounsou; Miranda – Felicity Jones; Ferdinand – Reeve Carney; Gonzalo – Tom Conti; Trinculo – Russell Brand; Stephano  – Alan Cumming. By far the best film version.  Strong visual effects, strong acting (mostly) and powerfully set in Hawaii.
·                The Tempest 2014.  Director: Jeremy Herrin. Cast:  Prospero – Roger Allam; Ariel – Colin Morgan; Caliban – James Garnon; Miranda – Jessie Buckley; Ferdinand – Joshua James; Gonzalo – Pip Donaghy; Trinculo – Trevor Fox; Stefano – Sam Cox. The overwhelming memory of having seen this at the Globe – our first! – is only heightened by the close-ups in the film.  The interpretation is more light-hearted than mine but I accept that utterly.  Roger Allam is just so good. He makes Prospero actually likable. Colin Morgan does a poignant, spritely, funny Ariel who leaps and flies about the stage and still projects with blinks and twitches a sensitive and magical character.  James Garnon as Caliban is a bit too much but Sam Cox balances that as a low key and very funny Stefano.  Jessie Buckley and Joshua James are good as the daft young lovers – finally a version in which they are not wimpy!  This is a production we are sure to watch many times just for the sheer pleasure of it. 


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