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"All eyes": Prospero's Inverted Masque

  • Ernest B. Gilman (a1)


For Theatre audiences the central moment in The Tempest is more likely to be Prospero's revels than the "revels" speech long anthologized for readers as one of the beauties of Shakespeare. In performance die nuptial masque for Ferdinand and Miranda, suddenly resplendent and suddenly dissolved, displays Shakespeare's most elaborate stage spectacle, and it is on the force of that moment that the more famous speech reflects.



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1 All quotations from Shakespeare are taken from the Pelican edition of The Complete Works, gen. ed. Alfred Harbage (Baltimore, 1969). For their careful criticism of an earlier draft of this essay I am indebted to Genie Barton and Gary Schmidgall.

2 Ben Jonson: Selected Masques, ed. Stephen Orgel (New Haven and London, 197°). PP- 51-52-

3 Orgel, Selected Masques, pp. 84, 92.

4 Ernest Law, Shakespeare's Tempest as Originally Produced at Court ‘(London, 1920); J. C. Adams, “The Staging of The Tempest III.iii,” RES,14 (1938) 404-419; Enid Welsford, The Court Masque (Cambridge, 1927); Stephen Orgel, Thejonsonian Masque (Cambridge, 1965), and The Illusion of Power (Berkeley, 1975). See also Mary S. Steele, Plays and Masques at Court During the Reigns of Elizabeth, James and Charles (New York, 1926), Allardyce Nicoll, Stuart Masques and the Renaissance Stage (London, 1937), and Richard Southern, Changeable Scenery (London, 1959).

5 Orgel, Selected Masques, p. 118

6 Orgel, Selected Masques, p. 68.

7 Life and Work of Shakespeare, cited in the New Variorum ed. of The Tempest, ed. H. H. Furness (Philadelphia, 1892), pp. 194, 210.

8 Capell, cited in the New Variorum, p. 193. Martin Scriblerus offers Prospero's lines, “The fringed curtains of thine eye advance/And say what thou seest yond,” as an instance of “Bathos in Perfection” and suggests as a substitute: “See who is there” (The Art of Sinking in Poetry, ed. Edna L. Steeves [New York, 1952]). See also Daniel Seltzer, “The Staging of the Late Plays,” Later Shakespeare, Stratford-Upon-Avon Studies, 8 (London, 1966), p. 160.

9 The Tempest, ed. Frank Kermode (London, 1954), p. lxxv. 10 Oberon, in Orgel, Selected Masques, p. m .

11 The Masque of Queens, in Orgel, Selected Masques, p. 95.

12 Marsilio Ficino, Five Questions Concerning the Mind, in The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, ed. Ernst Cassirer et al. (Chicago, 1948), p. 200; Sir Philip Sidney, An ApologieforPoetrie, in English Literary Criticism: The Renaissance, ed. O. B. liardison, Jr. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1963), pp. 104-105.

13 See Stephen Orgel and Roy Strong, Inigo Jones, 2 vols. (Berkeley, 1973), I, 1-15.

14 See Clifford Leech, “Masking and Unmasking in die Last Plays,” in Shakespeare's Romances Reconsidered, ed. Carol McGinnis Kay and Henry E. Jacobs (Lincoln, Nebr., and London, 1978), pp. 40-59.

15 Beaumont and Fletcher, The Maid's Tragedy, I.i.6—11. See Shakespeare and the Courtly Aesthetic, a forthcoming book by Gary Schmidgall (University of Pennsylvania), esp. Chapter 7, from which I have drawn this example.

16 Orgel, Selected Masques, pp. 124-126,122, 118. See also Ernest B. Gilman, The Curious Perspective (New Haven and London, 1978), pp. 60-66.

17 Northrop Frye, A Natural Perspective (New York and London, 1965), pp. 157-158; also, Frye's “Romance as Masque,” in Kay and Jacobs, pp. 11-39.

18 Orgel, The Illusion of Power, pp. 46-47.

19 Bonamy Dobree, “The Tempest,” in Essays and Studies, 5, ed. Arundell Esdaile (London: Murray, 1952), pp. 13-25, rpt. in Twentieth-Century Interpretations of The Tempest, ed. Hallett Smith (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1969), pp. 47-59; p. 51.

20 Jackson I. Cope, The Theater and the Dream (Baltimore and London, 1973), p. 243-

21 Howard Felperin, “Romance and Romanticism: Some Reflections on The Tempest and Heart of Darkness, Or When Is Romance No Longer Romance?” in Kay and Jacobs, pp. 60-76; p. 67. In this vein see A. D. Nuttall, Two Concepts of Allegory (New York, 1967), pp. 154-160; Harry Berger, Jr., “Miraculous Harp: A Reading of Shakespeare's Tempest,” Shakespeare Studies, 5 (1969), 253-283; and Robert Egan, Drama Within Drama (New York and London, 1975), pp. 97—110.

22 Orgel, Selected Masques, p. 171.

23 Kermode, ed., The Tempest, pp. xi—xiiii.

24 Egan, Drama Within Drama, p. 97.

25 C.J. Sisson, “The Magic of Prospero,” Shakespeare Survey, 2 (1958), 76.

26 Samuel Johnson on Shakespeare, ed. W. K. Wimsatt, Jr. (New York, 1960), pp. 71-72. See also Robert H. West, “Ceremonial Magic in The Tempest,” in Shakespearean Essays, ed. Alwin Thaler and Norman Sanders (Knoxville, Term., 1964), pp. 63-78.

27 D. C. Allen, Image and Meaning (Baltimore, 1960), pp. 60-62.

28 Wolfgang Iser, “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach,” in New Directions in Literary History, ed. Ralph Cohen (Baltimore, 1974), pp. 129, 131, 132.

29 For the idea of suspended endings elsewhere in Shakespeare, see Gilman, The Curious Perspective, pp. 122-128

30 See Edward W. Said, Beginnings: Intention and Method (New York, 1975): “ … beginning is basically an activity which ultimately implies return and repetition rather than simple linear accomplishment…. beginning is making or producing difference: but—and here is the great fascination in the subject—difference which is the result of combining the already-familiar with the fertile novelty of human work in language…. [an] interplay between the new and the customary without which (ex nihilo nihil fit) a beginning cannot really take place” (p. xiii).


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