A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Tempest, Islam and the West


The first bad guy in the Tempest, actually a gal, remains off-stage. Sycorax, which sounds like a bad trademark idea, is a foul witch, indeed a witch so foul that she had been banished from her native land to the forgotten island where the play takes place. And banished not from any native land but from Algiers. Whatever one has to do to get banished from Algiers, Sycorax did (actually "mischiefs manifold and sorceries terrible / to enter human hearing.")

She arrived on the island pregnant and gave birth to Caliban, a character Shakespeare turns into a watchword for beastliness. Here's an exchange between Caliban and Prospero, the Duke of Milan, also exiled onto the island with his daughter Miranda:

Pros: "….I have used thee,
Filth as thou art, with humane care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child."

Cal: "Oho! Oho! Would 't had been done!
Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans."

Now, recalling Arthur C. Clarke's dictum – any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic – it becomes obvious what Shakespeare is really talking about. Prospero is meant to stand for western civilization, and his magic book represents western technology. And Sycorax, of course - why am I the only person who sees it? - represents radical Islam, unless all of Islam is radical (an open question). We can divine Shakespeare's intent by noting that Sycorax had a god of her own, Setebos:

Cal: "I must obey. His art is of such power
It would control my dam's god, Setebos,
And make a vassal of him."

Well, Setebos is of course Allah, as interpreted by the Prophet. Caliban regards Prospero's (the West's) advanced technology as so powerful that it could control not only his potent mother Sycorax (Radical Islam, or we can just say Osama) but even her god Setebos (The Prophet's Allah). It is obvious that Sycorax would have coveted Prospero's magic book and its ultimate magical power (a nuclear bomb).

But Prospero uses his book - modern technology - only for good; he may enslave Caliban (occupy Iraq and Afghanistan), but only after Caliban attempted to rape his daughter Miranda (only after 9/11, the harboring of the Taliban and the flouting of UN sanctions by Sadman Insane).

See how clear it all becomes?

Caliban's mother, if not Caliban himself, had powers of witchcraft, which she herself used, just as Prospero later did, to take over the island. (Two colonial powers vie for control of a native third world nation! Can't you see it? No? Only me?) A lithe sprite named Ariel was already there, and when he refused to perform Sycorax's "abhorred commands," she froze him into a pine tree. She then died, leaving it to Prospero, when he arrived, to free Ariel from the tree (hests means behests, or commands; ministers means magical powers):

Pros: "……..Dost thou forget
From what a torment I did free thee?

Ari: "No."
Pros: "Thou liest, malignant thing! Hast thou forgot
The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy
Was grown into a hoop? Hast thou forget her?"

Ari: "No, sir."
Pros: "This blue-eyed hag was hither brought with child
And here was left by the sailors. Thou, my slave,
As thou report'st thyself, was then her servant;
And, for thou wast a spirit too delicate
To act her earthy and abhorred commands,
Refusing her grand hests, she did confine thee,
By help of her more potent ministers,
And in her most unmitigable rage,
Into a cloven pine, within which rift
Imprisoned thou didst painfully remain
A dozen years; within which space she died
And left thee there, where thou didst vent thy groans
As fast as mill wheels strike. Then was the island –
Save for the son that she did litter here,
A freckled whelp, hag-born – not honored with

A human shape."

Prospero frees the Iraqi Shia, I mean Ariel, from Sycorax/Saddam, and he frees the Afghans from the Caliban/Taliban, and what thanks does he get? The natives – that's Ariel – merely regard themselves as enslaved to new colonial masters, even though the Americans (Prospero) consider themselves liberators, not colonizers ("Thou, my slave, as thou report'st thyself,…") . True, the Prospericans need some lessons in cultural sensitivity ("Thou liest, malignant thing..."), but their efforts in freeing the natives from Sycorax, from the Soviets, from the Taliban, from Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam, Milosevic and more, could be better appreciated as well.

Alas, no good deed goes unpunished for the tolerant, freedom-loving West.

* * * * *

And here's a recommendable post from the political teen.

And here's one from the recommendable Joe's cafe.

And here's one from the recommendable A Blog for All.

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