Essay On The Importance Of Language In The Tempest

1357 words - 5 pages

The Importance of Language in The Tempest

   In discussing Derrida's view of Western literature, Geoffrey Hartman writes that "Western tradition has been marked . . . by a metaphysics of light, by the violence of light itself, from Apollonian cults to Cartesian philosophies. In the light of this emphatic light everything else appears obscure; especially the Hebraic development of aniconic writing and self-effacing commentary of textuality" (xix). This point is well illustrated by the nature of Prospero's power in The Tempest for his control of natural and supernatural forces is achieved through book-learning the bringing to life of Logos. That which Prospero does not control completely is the vilified character of Caliban. The denigrated and unwilling servant seems to represent Prospero's shadow, and in light of the above statement, perhaps Caliban represents the shadow of our light-infused Greco-Roman style of domination of the material world. The text tells us that when Prospero first arrives on the island Caliban willingly reveals its secrets to him. Only when Caliban threatens the chastity of Prospero's daughter, Miranda, does the relationship turn into one of master and slave. Prospero thus draws the line between the shadow realm and purity. His action suggests that sexuality, too, must be kept in a role of servitude if one is to retain control of one's kingdom. In affirming this schism, Prospero simply enforces the dualistic nature of the Western tradition. In heaping scorn upon Caliban, Prospero embodies the West's extreme dualistic nature vis-a-vis its perceived schisms existent between light and dark, mortal and immortal, good and evil.


Caliban's transgression is thus never effaced and brings the diametrically opposed forces of the light of consciousness and darkness of the shadow into sharp dramatic relief. Although the text suggests that Prospero is aware of what he needs to integrate when he states "That this thing of darkness is mine," it is simply an implied movement towards assuming responsibility for all he has done to cause his shadow to fester a true integration does not occur (Shakespeare V, i, 275-76). Certainly the thrust of the Prospero/Caliban relationship connotes that the Greek "metaphysics of light" can succeed only by dominating darkness; it does not successfully integrate it. Perhaps Hartman's comments regarding the healing power of the word may shed some light on the West's apparent incapacity to integrate the shadow. It may also provide a clue as to how a healing relationship with the word can be achieved by transcending the dualism inherent to our Western culture.


Hartman points out the fact "that words can wound is a much clearer fact than their healing virtue" (Hartman 122). His perspective lends itself nicely to the medium of theater where the text's words are spoken aloud and thus may affect the member of an audience to a greater degree than the same words would affect a reader of...

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