Critics have offered varying evaluations of the characters in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Some consider Prospero to be magnanimous for forgiving his enemies, for freeing Ariel from the confines of a tree, and for treating Caliban with great sympathy until the monster’s attempted rape of Miranda. Others view Prospero as an oppressive colonizer and consider both Caliban and Ariel to be his innocent and mistreated subjects. In his article “Reading The Tempest,” Russ McDonald argues that the new orthodox interpretation of The Tempest, “which exalts the colonized, is as narrow as the old, which idealizes and excuses the colonizer” (117). He argues that the actual status of the characters is considerably more ambiguous, and he supports his view by analyzing the rhetorical devices present in the play. However, a close examination of the various sounds disbursed throughout the work–including speech, silence, and music–tends to support a less ambiguous view of the characters. Indeed, it tends to lend support to the new orthodox view that Prospero is an oppressive colonizer, for he often threatens his enemies and servants with unpleasant sounds and demands silence from others, including his daughter.
The play begins with a ship’s crew being subject to terrifying sounds that Prospero has ordered Ariel to produce. The sounds are all loud: “whistle,” “storm,” “cry,” “thunderclaps,” “fire and cracks,” and “roaring” (1.1.7, 14; 1.2.203-5; 2.1.2). The terror that these sounds and the accompanying storm inflict upon the mariners is evidenced by their cries: “All lost! To prayers! To prayers! All lost!” (1.1.52). The infliction of these sounds is also made to appear unjust when Miranda pleads with her father: “If . . . you have / Put these wild waters in this roar, allay them. / . . . O, the cry did knock / Against my very heart. Poor souls, they perished!” (2.1.1-9).
Indeed, Prospero often refers to unpleasant sounds as a means of threatening others. “I will plague them all, / Even to roaring,” he says of Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano (4.1.188-214). When Prospero believes Ariel is not providing an eager and willful service, he threatens the spirit with imprisonment in a tree, reminding Ariel that when he was previously trapped, his “groans / Did make wolves howl” (1.2.289-90). Prospero also tells him, “Thou hast howled away twelve winters” (1.2.298). Similarly, Prospero threatens Caliban, carrying out his threats and subjecting the monster to tortures accompanied by unpleasant sounds.
Careful Manipulation in Coleridge’s Kubla Khan
Careful Manipulation in Coleridge’s Kubla Khan
In his preface to “Kubla Khan,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge makes the claim that his poem is a virtual recording of something given to him in a drug-induced reverie, “if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things . . . without any sensation or consciousness of effort.” As spontaneous and as much a product of the unconscious or dreaming world as the poem might seem on first reading, however, it is also a finely structured, well wrought device that suggests the careful manipulation by the conscious mind.
The first verse paragraph of Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” is the most ornately patterned part of the poem. Coleridge gives us end-rhymes that are repetitive and yet slightly “off”: “Khan” is not an exact match with “man” or “ran.” End-rhymes will be carried throughout the poem, but within these lines, we discover similar sounds, the “Xan-” and “Khan,” again; the “Xan-” and “a” sound of “Alph” get picked up again in “sacred” and “cav-,” before being played out, finally, in “ran” and “man.” The intricacy of sounds being repeated and modulated and repeated again creates the poem’s energy, playful here, but also exceedingly musical and incantatory.
The paradise that Kubla Khan creates is a delightful playscape. At first, it seems a bit compulsively arranged, a bit overly luxurious, a bit too Disney. The “sinuous rills” adds a slightly ominous element to the Edenic paradise, a hint of what’s to come. Already, though, there is a distinction implied between what is natural — the “sinuous rills” and the “forests ancient as the hills” — and what is clearly man-made, nature bent to mankind’s service: the enfolded “sunny spots of…
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… a private matter: “all who heard” and “all should cry.” It is a collective enchantment with the poet at the center of it. The magic of the final spellbinding lines — beyond explication — is based partly on abracadabra incantation (“Weave a circle round him thrice”) and our corporate recollections of holy visionaries. The poet compels the vision of the public, but at the same time he is an outcast among them — untouchable and even cursed (“his flashing eyes, his floating hair!”) by his gift. The lines become completely suggestive in their wild blend of holiness, sensuality, prophecy, and danger. The poet and poem have have become their own “miracle of rare device,” and the reader has borne witness to the creative miracle.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “Kubla Khan.” Literature: A Pocket Anthology. Ed. R. S. Gwynn. New York: Addison-Wesley. 2002.