The Island Removed from Time
In Barbara Fuchs’s article, “Conquering Islands: Contextualizing The Tempest”, the concept of multi faceted perception is addressed, and she argues that The Tempest can not simply be representational for England’s colonization in the Americas, but rather, that it is an encompassment for numerous English attempts at colonization (i.e. England’s colonization of Ireland).
My aim is, first, to provide descriptions of the contemporary colonial contexts in both Ireland and the Mediterranean, which I believe shed light on the play, and, second, to suggest the advantages for political criticism of considering all the relevant colonial contexts simultaneously. Fuchs 45
While this reading of The Tempest is obviously helpful in providing scholars with more material on Shakespeare’s text, I find it interesting that Fuchs is arguing for an approach that does not view the reading from an isolated singular instances, but rather, from a multi contextual lens becoming somewhat of a metaphor for an island versus an archipelago. In fact, that became a running theme that I noticed while I was reading The Tempest. This idea that no one on the island is singular and that they all have intertwining lives. It also became apparent that, at least in this particular text, the island can not become a metaphor for “new beginnings”, but rather, works as a place for the past to get sorted out as all of the characters have their back stories follow them onto the island. This idea of a time stand still is apparent when Antonio attempts to convince Sebastian to murder Alonso:
Antonio: Ay, sir; where lies that? if ‘twere a kibe,
‘Twould put me to my slipper: but I feel not
This deity in my bosom: twenty consciences,
That stand ‘twixt me and Milan, candied be they
And melt ere they molest! Here lies your brother,
No better than the earth he lies upon,
If he were that which now he’s like, that’s dead;
Whom I, with this obedient steel, three inches of it,
Can lay to bed for ever; whiles you, doing thus,
To the perpetual wink for aye might put
This ancient morsel, this Sir Prudence, who
Should not upbraid our course. For all the rest,
They’ll take suggestion as a cat laps milk;
They’ll tell the clock to any business that
We say befits the hour. 34
Antonio’s attempt proves to be unsuccessful, however, when Ariel wakes up Gonzalo. The island space does not seem to allow for future prospects to be developed until the past has been dealt with. Because of this, it becomes very apparent in the beginning of the play that many of these characters have intertwining plot lines. Much of the narrative centers on what has happened to these characters off the island, and the audience member is given much of the plays information through a retelling, i.e. Miranda’s past, how Prospero found Ariel, how Prospero came to be on the island, Caliban’s past, what happened to Alonso’s daughter, etc.
This idea of interconnection is reiterated in Steve Mentz’s beginning paragraphs in his chapter, “Isle of Tempests”:
The pressure to connect that characterizes maritime space, which Mediterranean historians Peregrin Horden and Nicholas Purcell describes through the term “ready connectivity”, helps reimagine oceanic vastness as a system of nodes and spokes. Mentz 51
Mentz quotes John Donne when he says, “no man is an island”, and I think that that is very much what The Tempest is about. Though the set is on a seemingly isolated island, the characters all end up interconnecting to varying degrees making this a play about community rather than isolation.