I assign The Tempest each time I teach introductory anthropology, and that is one of the reasons I am highlighting it today. Although this is not particularly new in anthropological discussions, it deserves a hearty restatement every few weeks: anthropology is richly connected (and this is quite often a sorry aspect of its history) with the colonial experience, in all of its messy and troubling corners. Colonial fascination even worked its way into dramas written by people who rarely went abroad, as we shall see.
The Tempest, for those who are new to it, is a fascinating exploration of "otherness" in many of its manifestations. For those of you who are not new to it, this stuff never gets old. It has often been noted that the play provides an exhilarating (and often troubling) "reading" of political life and utopian/dystopian aspirations held by the island dwellers. Indeed. It has less often been commented that The Tempest shows the little seedlings of several social groups as they sprout up all around the island. It will also not be lost on even the casual reader that the scent of colonialism and exotic otherness is already in the air. Both Stephano and Trinculo (below) mull over the possibilities of bringing the wonder that is Caliban back to "civilization." Shakespeare has a particularly biting wit on this theme, as you shall see.
This segment from the "middle" of The Tempest is one of my favorites, and shows precisely the formation of a tiny little society on a remote corner of an even more remote island. We have a peculiar (pre-Enlightenment) picture of natural man in the (dis)figure of Caliban. When they encounter him, he is cursing Prospero, the undisputed ruler of the island, who makes Caliban haul wood and do menial chores. We may well explore more of The Tempest in future posts, including the "back story" about Caliban and Prospero. If you have read (or are tempted to read) the whole play—and I hope that you do—notice the way that many of the scenes are made up of social triads. There are often (not always, but often) three people sharing, debating, and engaging a rich social dynamic. That is certainly the case as we view the "birth" of a peculiar little society after a fierce set of thunderstorms.
|[b] Drifters RF|
There are so many evocative lines here that it would take many further posts to analyze them all. Take the time to read the whole scene. If you have done so before, it will be like having coffee with an old friend. If you have not, this is the time to examine one of the great works in the history of anthropology.
It's worth watching, but I still think that a good read is best—your choice.
All the infections that the sun sucks up
From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall and make him
By inchmeal a disease! His spirits hear me, 3
And yet I needs must curse. But they'll nor pinch, 4
Fright me with urchin-shows, pitch me i' th' mire, 5
Nor lead me, like a firebrand, in the dark 6
Out of my way, unless he bid 'em; but
For every trifle are they set upon me;
Sometime like apes that mow and chatter at me 9
And after bite me; then like hedgehogs which
Lie tumbling in my barefoot way and mount
Their pricks at my footfall; sometime am I
All wound with adders, who with cloven tongues
Do hiss me into madness. Enter TRINCULO
Here comes a spirit of his, and to torment me
For bringing wood in slowly. I'll fall flat.
Perchance he will not mind me.
TRINCULO Here's neither bush nor shrub, to bear off any 18
STEPHANO I shall no more to sea, to sea,
Here shall I die ashore—
This is a very scurvy tune to sing at a man's funeral.
The gunner and his mate,
Loved Mall, Meg and Marian and Margery,
But none of us cared for Kate,
For she had a tongue with a tang,
Would cry to a sailor, 'Go hang!' 50
She loved not the savour of tar nor of pitch;
Yet a tailor might scratch her where'er she did itch.
Then to sea, boys, and let her go hang!
CALIBAN Do not torment me. O!
STEPHANO What's the matter? Have we devils here? Do
four legs; for it hath been said, 'As proper a man as ever
CALIBAN The spirit torments me. O!
STEPHANO This is some monster of the isle, with four
should he learn our language? I will give him some
relief, if it be but for that. If I can recover him, and keep
CALIBAN Do not torment me, prithee; I'll bring my
STEPHANO He's in his fit now and does not talk after the
wisest. He shall taste of my bottle: if he have never
CALIBAN Thou dost me yet but little hurt.
STEPHANO Come on your ways: open your mouth: here
mouth. This will shake your shaking, I can tell you, and
TRINCULO I should know that voice: it should be—but
STEPHANO Four legs and two voices: a most delicate
friend; his backward voice is to utter foul speeches and
STEPHANO Doth thy other mouth call me? Mercy,
TRINCULO Stephano! If thou beest Stephano, touch me and
speak to me: for I am Trinculo—be not afeard—thy
good friend Trinculo.
by the lesser legs. If any be Trinculo's legs, these
TRINCULO I took him to be killed with a thunder-stroke.
under the dead mooncalf's gaberdine for fear of the
storm. And art thou living, Stephano? O Stephano,
two Neapolitans 'scaped!
STEPHANO Prithee, do not turn me about; my stomach is
That's a brave god and bears celestial liquor.
I will kneel to him.
STEPHANO How didst thou 'scape? How camest thou
escaped upon a butt of sack which the sailors heaved
CALIBAN I'll swear upon that bottle to be thy true subject,
STEPHANO Here! Swear then how thou escapedst.
TRINCULO Swum ashore, man, like a duck. I can swim
STEPHANO Here, kiss the book. [Gives him drink.] Though 127
TRINCULO O Stephano, hast any more of this?
CALIBAN Hast thou not dropped from heaven?
STEPHANO Out o' th' moon, I do assure thee. I was the
My mistress showed me thee and thy dog, and thy bush.
STEPHANO Come, swear to that; kiss the book. I will
TRINCULO By this good light, this is a very shallow monster!
th' moon? A most poor credulous monster!— Well
drawn, monster, in good sooth!
CALIBAN I'll show thee every fertile inch o' th' island;
And I will kiss thy foot. I prithee, be my god.
TRINCULO By this light, a most perfidious and drunken
monster! when 's god's asleep, he'll rob his bottle.
CALIBAN I'll kiss thy foot. I'll swear myself thy subject.
STEPHANO Come on then. Down, and swear!
TRINCULO I shall laugh myself to death at this puppy- 150
STEPHANO Come, kiss.
TRINCULO But that the poor monster 's in drink. An
I'll show thee the best springs; I'll pluck thee berries;
I'll fish for thee and get thee wood enough.
A plague upon the tyrant that I serve!
I'll bear him no more sticks, but follow thee,
Thou wondrous man.
TRINCULO A most ridiculous monster, to make a wonder
Show thee a jay's nest and instruct thee how
To snare the nimble marmoset; I'll bring thee
To clustering filberts and sometimes I'll get thee
Young scamels from the rock. Wilt thou go with me? 168
STEPHANO I prithee now, lead the way without any more
talking. Trinculo, the King and all our company else
Caliban sings drunkenly
CALIBAN Farewell master; farewell, farewell!
TRINCULO A howling monster! a drunken monster!
Nor fetch in firing
Nor scrape trencher, nor wash dish 178
'Ban, 'Ban, Ca—Caliban
Has a new master: get a new man.
Freedom, high-day! high-day, freedom! freedom,
STEPHANO O brave monster! Lead the way.