Monday, December 3, 2012

Water everywhere


Water is no doubt a central image in Shakespeare’s, The Tempest. In fact the play begins with a shipwreck at sea. But, aside from the cliché representation of water as a cleanser or baptismal, Shakespeare uses the image of water to represent the cycles of rebirth. Prospero, who was usurped, summoned the sea storm by threatening Ariel. The storm and the restlessness of the ocean, represents the chaos, the anger and the problems that are to come with the less than merry crew.  In fact Miranda’s fear for the lives of the sailors in the “wild waters” (I.ii.2) causes her to weep, which further signifies and foreshadows of the future tears that will be shed. It also represents the beginning of birth. Birth is (not from personal experience) supposed to be painful and unpleasant. There are many complications that can develop and fears that doctors and patients have alike during a birth. When the Mariners entered wet and bothered by the others, who did not know how to help prevent the ship from sinking, were given almost a blessing from the sea to be the, “doctors” that try to reassure the family that everything is going to be okay, but they need to do their jobs. They, (the mariners) at that one moment, were able to speak down to the nobles and do whatever they can to stop the problem and bring, “peace” back to the ship. But aside from the birthing imagery, the water also represents rebirth through death.
When first exiled with Miranda, Prospero suggests that he could have drowned the sea with his own tears when he cried over his lost dukedom and his past.  "When I have deck'd the sea with drops full salt" (1.2.18). Again, his past is dead and with the past threat of him almost dying Prospero, must find another life and identity. The death of the past Miranda and Prospero, gave birth to the new versions of the characters. Furthermore Ferdinand, upon hearing Ariel's song, knows it refers to his father's certain drowning:
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 (1.2.20)
Ariel's song leads Ferdinand to believe that his father has drowned and is lost to him forever. Not only that, but the song suggests that his body has been transformed into something unrecognizable. Giving  the further image that now that everyone and everything is dead, you must renew yourself. The water is no longer just a symbol of death, it had renewed them to find something different about themselves and to continue to live. Each of the characters are slowly learning that their fate in the island cannot be relied upon the fact that their past will eventually help them. Instead each of the characters must learn to find their own lives and their own ways to live through this tragedy and become something better.

4 comments:

Sam Montagna said...

I really like your post and I agree with you about water being a central image. That never even occurred to me. It can also be said that after Prospero almost drowned in his own tears, he created a plan (or birthed a plan) to regain his title which would also be a renewal for him and the title. What you said about the the birth of the new versions of the characters is a very good way of putting their new attitudes.

Samantha Grove said...

I think this is very interesting. Like the other Sam, I hadn't thought of these things at all until I read your post. I definitely can see water as a symbol of death and rebirth and now that I'm thinking about it its interesting that everyone in the play goes through some form of it. Even Caliban can be seen as re-birthed through wine as he is powerless before he is baptized by it and gains power after he drinks it. I wonder what that means?

Christina Lee said...

I agree with both of your analysis, I also think that with Caliban, wine is a muddled version of water. It is not pure water. His loss and gain of power through wine is a great form to see water in other objects. I think that is a great way to see it. I also love the imagery that you Sam Montago had pointed out even further.

Cyrus Mulready said...

I'm glad you called our attention to Ariel's song, Christina, which is a kind of central metaphor for the play as a whole. The transformation of the plot from death to life, from a shipwreck to something "rich and strange" is an important idea to this play. If we think of Prospero's "rarer action" speech at the opening of act five, he is essentially acting this out--a "sea-change" that turns the entire plot of the play on its head.