Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Of his bones are coral made

I saw these skulls carved of white coral on Tumblr:


And thought of that verse from The Tempest:

    Full fathom five thy father lies.
Of his bones are coral made.
Those are 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
(In Elizabethan and modern English on No Fear Shakespeare)

Is that not a perfect reconstruction of what the King of Naples' skull might look like?  Years and years after the shipwreck.  What are you talking about Ariel, nobody's corpse becomes a baroque artificial reef in one day unless magic is involved.  (Was magic involved?  In that play, could be). (I know coral doesn't work that way.  It's a fantasy).

I originally read The Tempest because of how much I loved that verse and the image it conjures up.  I'm very slowly re-reading it on breaks from work and I can't help but think that Prospero shouldn't have been Duke of Milan because as he says, 'my library / was dukedom large enough.'  Of his own accord he gave over the government of Milan to his brother, who was clearly successful in politics and actually wanted the role.  Why didn't Prospero just abdicate in favour of his brother and concentrate on his studies? (Because then there would have been no plot).  Then his brother wouldn't have gone to the King of Naples for help usurping the throne, wouldn't have cast Prospero and Miranda out to sea in a derelict boat (with food and water and fancy clothes and books, provided by Gonzalo, who was in charge of that part of the plan):
Prospero didn't want the dukedom, and his brother wasn't really trying to kill him very hard.  If he was, he could have quietly assassinated him and told the people of Milan whom Prospero claims loved him so much (really, Prospero?  When you were involved with nothing but your books?) that the old duke had 'gone on a trip' or to study somewhere.  It wouldn't have been hard, and by the time people figured out that the previous duke wasn't coming back and was perhaps dead, welp, too late, Antonio's been established as duke for some time and has the support of the king and is probably an effective ruler.

So why didn't Prospero and Antonio just solve this with negotiation instead of a coup?  I don't think the play ever addresses that and 'because power, popularity, and Prospero's inattention made Antonio evil' isn't a very good reason.  Antonio was good at politicking: he could have either killed Prospero or pressured him into doing the sensible thing and saved himself a lot of intrigue and tribute paid to the King of Naples.

The narrative seems to think that what Antonio did was wrong because Prospero was the legitimate ruler, even if he wasn't doing his job and Antonio was.  Legitimacy is considered a big deal by rulers who want to cement their right to rule with reasons other than 'I'm the best person for this job because I'm better at it than that other person would be,' but it doesn't hold any water with me.  I would be firmly on Antonio's side, except that the final stage of his coup was so ineffective - for which oversight I blame the author, because it would be out of character for someone who is as conniving as Prospero describes Antonio being.  As Arthurian legend taught us, if you cast your rivals into the sea in little boats instead of doing the necessary but unpleasant and killing them (or finding another solution, ffs), they will eventually return and kill you and take your throne.  Especially if they're related to you.  If you really want to be in power and stay there, you're going to have to be a certain amount of either ruthless or persuasive.  Preferably both.  (I forget what happens at the end of this play.  Don't spoil me, please).

If the plot could be solved/would never have happened if characters just talked about their problem or at least tried to solve it by talking about it, it's a pretty weak plot.  I still like The Tempest a lot.


  1. I had honestly never thought serriously about the holes in the plot of this play:)

    1. I hadn't thought about it before either, but I last read the play *before* I started writing fiction and having to think about my own plotholes. Some readers will put up with them if the story's good enough, but I am not Shakespeare and it's better not to commit them in the first place, if possible.

      And I was doing work writing and my mind wandered to fictional politicking and wouldn't wander back until I'd written this post because lol, my brain.

      We will see which characters I'm siding with when I finish reading the play! I'm already rolling my eyes at Ferdinand and Miranda. I'm pretty sure he asked her if she was a virgin *the moment he met her* wtf that is jumping on the horse a little fast there, those two are already insufferable.

      I think I might read Machiavelli next.