Allen Ginsberg’s analysis of William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest continues
AG: Well, envy – the biggest envier in the whole play is Caliban. who’s always at the bottom, envying everybody, you know, wanting everybody’s power.
Student: There’s that great line, “well, I taught you how to speak”, and he says, “yeah, I know how to curse..” [Prospero: “…I pitied thee/Took pains to make you speak, taught thee each hour/One thing or other. When thou didst not, savage/Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like/A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes/With words that made them known…..Caliban: You taught me language, and my profit on’t/Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you/For learning me your language.”]
AG: ….. (how to) curse you, yeah. So the first…the first thing he does when he yells for Caliban. Caliban’s first line in the play is “There’s wood enough within”. You know, he did his work. What we were coming down to was that maybe the.. one of the keys of The Tempest is envy. Caliban was pure envy, the witch Sycorax with.. “who with age and envy was grown into a hoop” (so that the characteristic (place here) that’s being dealt with is envy (including Prospero’s envy for magical mystery tour, and envy for getting.. envy after spiritual materialist accomplishment when he was king and not paying attention to his kingdom, and so he was ashamed of that a little bit in his explanation to Miranda, because he’d envied spiritual accomplishment, or (envied, in the sense of wanted or grabbed for), and neglected his worldly business. So perhaps some of the theme of the magic, the theme of the magic renounced, is envy renounced, in the long run, or the complications of having had envy and then having had to use the imagination to get out of that, and having finally to clean up envy is the ultimate.. the sin in the play that’s being dealt with. Has anybody commented on that before do you know? Philip (sic)?
Philip Whalen [sitting in]: I don’t know, I haven’t read any of the commentaries for many years now.
AG: Well, neither have I, but I kept seeing that coming on. We just got to Caliban now, (and) Caliban is always envying, in the sense of always wanting to take Prospero’s power and wanting to populate the island with a race of Calibans. When he first made a move, when he first tried to violate Miranda’s honor, Miranda says (or Prospero mentions) that, Caliban tried to violate her honor. What he wanted was an isle full of Calibans instead of an isle full of humans. However, then we got to this point where Prospero is saying, “We cannot miss him, he does make our fire,/Fetch in our wood and serves in offices/That profit us./ What, ho! slave! Caliban!/ Thou earth, thou! speak”“ – Caliban – “There’s wood enough within” – (He says: ”I’ve done it”)
And then, the envy of possessiveness is announced specifically by Caliban, Act I, Scene 1,
line 430 or so. Caliban:” I must eat my dinner/This island’s mine by Sycorax my mother/Which thou takest from me” – So Prospero stole the island (so that would make us wonder, what is the island, again. Is it a symbolic thing? Is it you know, like that Prospero stole the island that actually belonged to the.. or was forced to steal (like the Jews in Jerusalem! that was “forced to steal”! ) – (the island that belonged to “the darkies” or something..)
I must eat my dinner/This island’s mine by Scycorax my mother/Which thou takest from me”
Now, then there follows that speech about .. Prospero says, “Thou most lying slave,/Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,/ Filth as thou art, with human care and lodged thee/In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate/The honour of my child”, and then Caliban says, “O ho, O ho! would’t had been done!/Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else/This isle with Calibans” – (he knew what he wanted! yeah) – then the line that you (sic) like – “You taught me language, and my profit on’t/Is I know how to curse“
But, then, we get further on. See, it actually gets interesting, who is Scycorax? and who is Caliban? and who does Shakespeare think they are? and what’s he setting up as the sort of, like, the brutality or the earth that Caliban’s sooner or later got to acknowledge and got to take care of – Caliban (aside) “I must obey, His art is of such power/It would control my dam’s god Setebos,/ and make a vasal of him” (and I don’t see any footnotes on Setebos, does anybody have anything on that? – Who would be? his mother? his mother’s god, Setebos? Does anybody have any idea what that is? from any other…? [to Student] -They didn’t teach you that in Warwick (University) who Setebos was?
Student: (We didn’t have that explained, no)
AG: No, it seems to be crucial but nobody..there’s not even a footnote
AG: Uh-huh. That’s right. It’s called “Caliban upon Setebos”. I guess this point must have attracted Browning then to decipher Shakespeare’s conception of foolishness, through this phrase?, through this name, Setebos – I haven’t… I don’t remember..I don’t remember the Browning and I’ve never seen.. there’s no footnote in any book that I’ve got around. Does anybody have a footnote on Setebos in any of their books? [to Student] Could you look at it? – I don’t think there’s one in yours.. you’ve got the ..
Student: (I can see here. I haven’t got the line tho’…)
AG: Oh I’m sorry, it’s Act 1, Scene 2, line 373 – Yes –His art is of such power/It would control my dam’s god Setebos,/ and make a vasal of him”. In any case, Prospero’s art is sufficiently strong to control the god of Sycorax and make a slave of the god of Sycorax too. (So he’s mad) And Prospero does seem a little bit irritable with Caliban, constantly insulting him and calling him slave and insulting him with words. There is something.. I don’t know whether (or) how it looks on the stage but it does look intemperate.
Student: Wystan Auden had some naughty story about how Caliban was actually the son to (him)
AG: Yeah, that was what I was talking about just before you came in that, when Prospero.. That’s where I got it – That was Auden”s idea?
Student: It’s in The Sea and The Mirror..
AG: Right, Because there’s a great commentary on this by Auden called The Sea and The Mirror, in which Auden does have that proposition that Caliban arrives on the island so horny that he was fucking Sycorax, and that’s…
Student: Prospero was..
AG: That Prospero was screwing Scycorax, and that’s how Caliban got born
Student: He already had his three-year-old daughter with him
AG: Yeah. Actually, I mentioned that idea before but I didn’t remember where I heard it ever.
Now, let’s see what we’ve got here.
Then we have a pretty little song coming – “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” )”Come unto these yellow sands,/And then take hands;/Courtsied when you have and kiss’d/The wild waves whist..” – “The wild waves whist“? – does anybody know what that means? There’s a little footnote, but I never.. yeah?.. so that the way that would sound is that, while you are kissing me…while the waves have hushed, or in-between the waves, or in-between the noise of the waves. So there’s a kind of silence invoked – that’s Act 1, Scene 2, line 378 – “the wild waves whist” – I had never figured that out before I read it this time around.
Then we have Ferdinand’s speech, which is quoted by (T.S.) Eliot, you know, “Sitting on a bank, weeping again the king my father’s wreck,/This music crept by me upon the waters” (Ariel’s music) – Everybody read The Waste Land?
Well, back in the (19)40’s when everybody read “The Waste Land” this weeping.. the king my father’s wreck”… (and the king, his father before him, I think, Eliot adds) and, “This music crept by me upon the.waters” – that was, sort of, very magical phrasing, quoted from Shakespeare by Eliot , sounding very mysterious in the Eliot context in turning on all the Eliot, modern Eliot, students to go back and read The Tempest actually (that’s why I read The Tempest, because I saw those phrases quoted from Shakespeare, and since Eliot’s “Waste Land” was taught the first.. when you got to Shakespeare, actually, well, The Tempest anyway, the Eliot quote lead to reading this)
Then the great song of transformation and mutability, Ariel’s Song – “Full fathom five thy father lies/Of his bones are coral made;/ Those were pearls that were his eyes;/Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea-change/Into something rich and strange/Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell (Ding-dong)..” – I hear them now – or “Hark, now I hear them” – That”s… the “Burthen” is chorus taken by others on the stage, or outside the stage, dispersively, but “Hark.. I hear them”, “Hark, now I hear them”, is Ariel again. So that actually would be very pretty if it were sung by Ariel, so that, all of a sudden, there’d be a ringing knell and there’d be all these “ding dongs” from outside, and then “Hark, I hear them now” – and more ding-dong bell – Does everybody understand that song? (Is) that song baffling to (anyone)? You’ve read it before? “Full Fathom Five”? You know what it means? What? [to one Student] explain it? You’re the youngest, explain it?
Student: It just means, maybe, the change or transformation..
AG: But what does “Full Fathom Five” mean?
Student: Five thousand fathoms?
AG: Right. Five full fathoms down?
Student: Fathoms deep..
Student: Fathoms deep, that sounds very beautiful (something like thirty) feet underwater?
AG: Yes. it’s sort of a nice translucent space,. You can probably… It’s about the sea..
Student (2) : Can you find anything by Gregory Corso as good as that..?
Student (3): That’s an unfair..
AG: Almost. Actually I was comparing Gregory’s.. for those who came in late, I read (earlier) Gregory Corso’s poem., “Clown” for its Shakesperean language, (and) comparing the condensation and swiftness of Gregory’s line to Shakespeare. Nothing as melodious.
Student: That’s what it is. It’s so melodious.
AG: It’s very melodious, yes. Well, of course, this is also considered by some to be the great mysterious beautiful magical most exquisite lines of Shakespeare, the most philosophic lines but at the same time the most poetical. And when I was a kid this was the ideal.. the ideal Shakespeare was “Full Fathom Five”, this little song, those..what?, seven lines? – were the most valued and treasured and magical in all of Shakespeare, and you’d find it framed on walls, and, like knitted.. and you’d hear it on the radio with great baritone basso-voiced radio-announcers, a guy named Steven…
Student: (On the coast?)
AG: No, New Jersey, New York, on WNYC there was a guy from the Poetry Society of America named… Steven Ross?.. some guy, a friend of Harold Vinal, who had a very deep radio-announcer’s throat voice and he”d go “Full Fathom Five”. That, and “And the night shall be filled with music,/ And the cares, that infest the day,/Shall fold their ents like the Arabs,/ And as silently steal away.” – [Editorial note – Allenis quoting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow here] – But there was something very strange about this, like it belonged, in my youth, it belonged with Theda Bara (sic), and The Arabian Nights , and all sorts of magical mystery tours. (It got) the full imagination, because you know it actually did invoke, for a kid, a sudden.. for a child, you know, at the age of eight or nine, hearing this. invokes the.. a comprehension of the whole universe of change, you know, an inkling of it in the most mysterious nursery-rhyme-ish form. that.. I mean the most mysterious, you know, chiming little melodious rhymed form.
Student: And it opened up the whole world of poetry too, for a child…
AG: Yeah. “Those were pearls that were his eyes”- That’s.. I guess that’s the most meaning of the lines there -“Those were pearls that were his eyes”-
Student: Eliot took that didn’t he? – “Those were pearls that were his eyes”?
AG: Yeah, yeah…What we’re doing is.. I’m going over little hot-spots, little delicacies of the language. I’m not reviewing the philosophy of the play so much, but just.. Actually, it’s time, so.. Well, the last one was Prospero looking at Ferdinand, the beautiful unstained spotless youth, Ferdinand, and Shakespeare, looking through Prospero’s eyes, has a very sweet notion – “..he’s something stain’d/With grief that’s beauty’s canker; thou mightst call him a goodly person..”– he’s admiring the beauty, Shakespeare’s admiring the beauty of this, Prospero’s admiring the beauty of Ferdinand, noticing that it is stained with “beauty’s canker“, which is grief – it’s just a very sweet notion.
Okay, so we’ll continue from here but go more swiftly., moving now through.. less through little delicacies of phrasing, but the big speeches and philosophy…
to be continued
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-three-and-a-half minutes in, and concluding at the end of the tape]