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The Tempest - Through the Lens of Will and Greenblatt

Autor:   •  March 8, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,252 Words (6 Pages)  •  1,731 Views

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In discussions of The Tempest, one controversial issue has been literature's authority and whether or not critics and politicians take away that control. On one hand, George Will argues that critics hinder the average reader and playgoer from being able to fully understand a piece of literature. On the other hand, Stephen Greenblatt contends that relating literature to history and different time periods should not affect the reader but instead help expand their knowledge. However, my own view is a combination of both; some critical and political stances can cause confusion to the average reader, but in that case the reader should just ignore those claims. Despite Will's argument, most of the time, the relations made by critics, or other academia, make it much easier to analyze the text of a piece of literature, especially that of Shakespeare.

Newsweek columnist George Will strongly argues that reinterpreting literature and tying it to other theories makes it all but possible to understand. Though he claims to be speaking for himself, Will indirectly defends the average reader and playgoer. He believes that having critics or academic advisory try to relate literature to things like feminism and colonialism leaves the reader bewildered as to what the text and story line are really trying to say. Will's frustration with the issue pushes him to insist that "by ‘deconstructing,' or politically decoding, or otherwise attacking the meaning of literary works, critics strip literature of its authority" (Will, 112). Literature has the power to make a statement or explain an event in its own manner and style without having to follow any rules or guidelines. Here Will is arguing that when critics make accusations concerning a piece's intentions, they deny that literature of its natural powers. There is much logic to Will's position, however to what extent this happens is questionable.

Every once in a while I come across a situation in which Will's claim makes complete sense. After reading Shakespeare's The Tempest, I though I had a decent understanding of the plot and the characters. However, after hearing a discussion between academia about the character Caliban and the significance of his ethnic background, things became rather ambiguous. These Shakespeare commentators made relations between Caliban and his ethnicity that Shakespeare had probably never even thought of himself. In the play, Prospero reveals "This damned witch Sycorax, for mischiefs manifold and sorceries terrible to enter human hearing, from Argier, thou know'st, was banished" (Shakespear 34). In other words, Sycorax, Caliban's Mother, was kicked out of Algiers, an African country, for witchcraft. Later in the play, Caliban himself claims "this island's mine, by Sycorax my mother, which thou takest from me" (Shakespeare 42). In translation Caliban is telling Prospero that his mother


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