Shakespeare's Tempest - A Tired and Dated Work?

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The Tempest: Immortal Classic or Tired and Dated Work?  

 

Why do educators hold the works of Shakespeare in such high regard? Should The Tempest be considered an "immortal classic"?  Indeed Shakespeare's works had great significance in the evolution of English literature, but these works, including The Tempest are mostly devoid of significance and literary value in the present day.  One can expect to gain little appreciation for fine literature from the reading of Shakespeare's works for reasons enumerate.  First of all, the colorful and sophisticated metaphoric vernacular style of the language utilized is archaic; even the speech of intellectually refined individuals and other respected literary works do not imploy of this rich style of speech.   The poemic composition of The Tempest does not increase one's ability to appreciate distinguished literature because the refined and respected works of most other classical writers are in novel form and thus differ highly from Shakesperian works in the literary devices and mannerisms from which they are comprised.   

            The Tempest was written in early seventeeth century England.  At this period of history and country the English language was quite different from what it is today in many ways.  First, standard, formal vocabulary was different at this time.  An great example is found in the line "...you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog!" (act 1 sc. 1, p. 9).  In this line, the word incharitable is the modern equivalent of the word uncharitable.  The standard dictionary word has changed prefixes somewhere througout the centuries.  Another thing that would have made a further gap between the vernacular in the play and modern English is Shakespeare's deployment of common language,or slang (although I have no proof because I don't speak  sixteenth century slang).  "A pox o' your throught..." (act 1 sc.1, p. 9) and "...give o'er..."(act 1 sc. 1, p. 9).  These phrases seem to be slang therms because they are so deviant from there modern english equvalents, "curses on" and "give up", respectiveley. What value does learning the archaic vernacular give to the reader.  Surely it does not increase thier word power or sophisticate their vocabulary, for nowhere, not even in among people of high intellectual refinement such as venerable college professers, is this dead language used.

            Another distinctive trait of the vernacular used in The Tempest is the heavy use of metaphor.  This use of metaphor is so heavy and outlandish that it becomes extrodinarily difficult to interpret and causes the words to fall into chaotic ambiguity.

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  In fact, it is not unreasonable to define the language of the text as sophistry.  A great example of heavy metaphor in The Tempest is the line "O heaven , O earth, bear witness to this sound, / and crown what I profess with kind event / If I speak true; if hollowly, invert / What best is boded me to mischief.  I,  / Beyond all limit of what else  I' th' world, /  Do love, prize honor you" (Act 3 sc. 1, p. 95).  In modern terms, this means:  "Lord, bear witness to what I say, and bless my claim (to this woman).  Let me be damned if I lie when I say that I love honor, prize and honor you above anything else in the world."  The learning of this type of heavy usage of metaphor would be justified if it were imployed in many other respected classic works or in modern eloquent speech, but it is not. Metaphoric speech outside of literature and informal speech is reguarded as crude and unsophisticated in modern speech.    This is so because people have come to reguard refined speech as being characteristic with the use of a large vocabulary consisting of concise and sophisticated words. 

            Even if the argument is made that one cannot gain much benefit in refining their speech by reading The Tempest, Shakespeare aficianados claim that there is value in the mechanics and devices common in literature which can be learned from his works.  This is exaggerated, however.  The most valuble literary device that can be learned from The Tempest is the metaphor.  However, as I said before, Shakespeare over uses this so much that his words fall into sophistry.  A good example is the line "Or that there were such men / Whose head stood in their breasts?" (act 3 sc. 3, p.113).  I can make no sense out of this whatsoever.  Another outlandish metaphor is "Which now we find / Each putter-out of five for one will bring us / Good warrant of" (act 3 sc. 3, p. 113).  However, a foot note explains that line makes reference to the fact that because of the danger involved in travel at the time, a traveler could give a sum of money to a broker and collect five times hisdeposit if he could successfully return from his voyage.  However, this is out of context with the preceeding lines in which Gonzalo is lamenting on the immoratlity of the others.   As you can see, Shakespeares use of metaphor is not as exemplary as it is claimed to be.  As for respecting The Tempest for its’ brilliant use of other literary devices, one might as well proclaim a high-school text book as a great classic piece of literature.  The Tempest is an epic poem, and not a novel.  There is no great comparison with the usage of elements of this drama which was intended to be performed, not read.  For starters, the characters of the play are one dimensional.  For example, Prospero is an all powerful sorcerer who is bent only on retribution for Antonio, the usurper of his thrown.  There are no other aspects of Prospero's personality seen in the play, and very little about his intimate thoughts and feelings which is so common in many classic pieces of literature. 

            If The Tempest is still viewed in the twentieth century to be a great piece of literature by so many respectable authorities of literature, then theymight as well go ahead and indiscriminately label other works devoid ofliterary merit as "immortal classics" - including the owners manual to my1989 Ford Taurus.  Yes, Shakespeare did play a vital role in the evolution ofliterature, but the greatness of his work has been surpassed by otherauthors - authors which perhaps should be given more credit for their endevours than they have been.

 

 


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