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February 13, 2007

That Happened BEFORE the play, not During it...does that matter?

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

"Gonzolo abandons Prospero and Miranda with 'some food,' some fresh water,' 'Rich garments, linens, stuffs, and necessaries,' and Prospero’s overprized books" (41).

I had a hard time following Yachnin while reading his essay, but whether that was because he was as confusing as he seemed to me or just because I was working in the Setonian office going crazy all day till 10:45 at night I am not sure. But, one thing I did think was weird is how much he seems to focus on events that happened prior to the actual start of the play. This act of sending Prospero and Miranda away with the things that enabled them to survive happened before we are even introduced to the characters and the only reason we know about it is because Prospero tells his daughter in the first act. So, we are really only relying on his testimony of what happens. And while I do feel that the historical approach is a valid one, I don't like the idea odfanalyzing things clearly not in the text, especially in a play (which is meant to be done, not merely read) when the events are only recapped for us by a single character in a speech. How reliable is that really?

Posted by LorinSchumacher at February 13, 2007 12:49 AM


Since all this backstory is established through on-stage dialog, and we're not speculating on why the characters *might* behave as they do, we can treat the backstory as part of the world of The Tempest, just as we should properly accept the magic and fantasy elements.

Most of the important details of Prospero's version of the story are confirmed by accounts that the other characters give, but it is certainly possible to tease out differences in the way the facts are presented. Shakespeare is more interested in Caliban's version of the facts than in Antonio's, but the conflict with Caliban does put forth the idea that Prospero might have a reason to spin the facts in his favor.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 14, 2007 2:38 PM

I did not really pick that up in the Yachnin piece. I think that the one idea we should not get away from is the political issues that were happening in the Elizabethan era. Not to mention, the issues between Catholic and Protestant people of the society. I think obedience and justice are two concepts that Yachnin discusses in his essay that would be helpful for you to understand. I do agree with you that recapping events is not the most effective way to analyze a play like The Tempest, but the question we need to ask ourselves is very simple: Why did Shakespeare do it? (Irony: See Brooks).

Posted by: Jason Pugh at February 14, 2007 6:17 PM

You bring up the question of the reliable narrator - is Prospero really that trustworthy?
I think that he is, because if he wasn't, would the events of play really have mattered?

Posted by: Diana Geleskie at February 15, 2007 3:21 PM

Collectively I think Dr. Jerz and Jay hit it pretty well - as all of this information is revealed as dialogue from a major character, we can then assume, as the character is not a villain, liar, or cheat, then his acount is true.

I, also, had a hard time following Yachnin's essay, but I liken that to fatigue. I think, much in the form of the play, the entirety of the essay is revealed at the end when he discusses the notion of servitude and obedience "As loyalty."

That's just me, though.

Posted by: Kevin at February 15, 2007 3:45 PM

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