Thoughts on Thursday: Shakespeare’s Tempest and Auden

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Why should discourse be limited to a university lecture hall? Without overdoing it, I would love to generate a discussion.

In a 1947 lecture on The Tempest, W.H Auden said:

“[Art] can give people an experience but it cannot dictate the use they make of that experience. Alonso is reminded of his crime against Prospero but he repents himself. Ferdinand and Miranda are tested, but the quality of their love is their own. The bad are exposed and shown that crime doesn’t pay, but they can’t be made to give up their ambition. That Art cannot thus transform men grieves Prospero greatly. His anger at Caliban stems from his consciousness of this failure…you can hold the mirror up to a person, but you may make them worse.” (From W.H Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror. Edited by Arthur Kirsch. xi)

“Art can give people an experience but it cannot dictate the use they make of that experience” – the idea that artists hold a mirror op to the world, but an artist’s power, like Prospero’s, is an illusion.

But the point I am curious about is Prospero’s anger. Is Prospero as aware that his power is but an illusion as Auden makes him out to be? Is his rage at both Ariel and Caliban a result of his frustration?

What do you think of the quote, or of The Tempest? Share your thoughts below.

Valeo amici!

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