< EL312: Uniquely Yours, Shakespeare | Main | EL312: Of Irony and Math >

February 11, 2007

EL312: Gonzo for Gonzalo

The beginning of Yachnin's essay read like a history book, and rightfully so, since it is historical criticism. Yachnin didn't have to convince me, though. I already think it's nearly impossible to read much of Shakespeare without looking at the history around it. It's useful, especially since Shakespeare even wrote some "histories" of his own (which are interesting enough in their own ways... They're my favorite.).

The evidence that is provided in the essay, however, forms a solid argument (perhaps the best one we've read this semester?). As Yachnin went about giving pertinent historical details, I began to think about how they connected to Gonzalo's role in "The Tempest." I was pleasantly surprised when it all came together on page 43:

Gonzalo's encomium to Providence toward the end of the play also registers the burden of his crime and his rejoicing signals his surprise at the sudden recuperation of the moral integrity he had chosen to subvert "when he was not his own."

How interesting. I realize that obedience was expected under absolutism, and that is what Yachnin presented all along; however, referencing something else Yachnin says on page 35, I'm not sure what to think.

...if a subject did not actively resist a wicked ruler, was not s/he in fact complicit with the ruler's wickedness, even if s/her refused to carry out wicked orders?

Even though Shakespeare grants Gonzalo reprise of his prior wickedness, can we not call him wicked just the same for having followed his leader's orders--regardless of Prospero's strange brand of forgiveness?

Yachnin seems to present a sort of Christian forgiveness to Gonzalo, and I'm not sure that can be supported since Yachnin also says on page 35,

The Elizabethan doctrine of obedience, it should be noted, did not entail "blind" obedience, since both ruler and subject were seen to be under the ultimate authority of God.

I agree with the argument in most ways. I'm just unsure of the facts as they are presented. Is Gonzalo's case to be considered one that came before the Elizabethan time (and therefore he could not help but be obedient)? Or can we be angry with him for what he did to Prospero?

Yachnin, ''Shakespare and the Idea of Obedience: Gonzalo in The Tempest -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

Posted by KarissaKilgore at February 11, 2007 6:53 PM


I think it is perfectly fine to dislike Gonzalo for his actions. In fact, I think you are supposed to view him as an untrustworthy character despite Prospero's pardon. Gonzalo always struck me as Prospero's old drinking buddy who got off the hook.

Posted by: Dave Moio at February 12, 2007 9:38 PM

LOL, David. His drinking buddy? I don't know about that. He sent Prospero off to die (with accommodations). That's still not nice...

But what feeling are we supposed to have at the end of the play when Gonzalo basically gets his wrongs forgiven by the one he wronged? I'm curious to know what you think.

Posted by: Karissa at February 12, 2007 11:01 PM

We discussed this when we studied the play in Shakespeare last spring. I think that even though Gonzalo has been forgiven it is the way that he was forgiven that needs to be looked at. The forgiveness that Prospero gives to Gonzalo is tentative and I got the feeling that Gonzalo was just getting a trial run. Thoughts?

Oh! Also, what do you think about the character of Ariel? Couldn't he also have been following a leader that had a specific agenda and he was just being obiedient? Just something that I thought about while reading Kevin's entry.

Posted by: Tiffany at February 14, 2007 10:29 AM

I wasn't too excited about the history lesson in the beginning of this essay. Historical essay or not, why couldn't he have talked about this obedience stuff as he went along, instead of dumping it all in the beginning. I'm all for giving background to any story, but in this case, I kept wanted to skip ahead to where he applies the history to the actual work.

We learned in ethics class last semester (then again, I think this should be taught in middle school) that if you just go along with the majority for fear that you will be criticized or even punished, then you're probably making the wrong moral decision. Sort of like when your friends are making fun of someone, and instead of standing up for them, you join in to avoid being teased yourself. Chicken! Gonzalo is a big CHICKEN! It's perfectly up to Prospero on if he'll forgive him, but I personally wouldn't want a CHICKEN for a friend.

Posted by: Valerie Masciarelli at February 14, 2007 10:08 PM

I came across this by accident, while researching the character of Gonzalo for an essay on 'The Tempest'. Does anyone know how I can get hold of Yachnin's essay? Preferably without having to pay for it?

Posted by: jessicajms at September 22, 2007 8:37 AM

The best way to find it would be to ask your friendly neighborhood reference librarian.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 22, 2007 10:45 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)