THE "TEMPEST" LEGACY: SHAKESPEARE, BROWNING, AND AUDEN
FOWLER, JAMES ERIC
Doctor of Philosophy
As imaginatively inviting as The Tempest is, it retains significance in a parable-like manner. The import of Prospero's project is not as manifest as might first be thought. What Shakespeare Romantically dramatizes is man's ongoing attempt to conceive himself as a relational existence. Formally, Shakespeare stages the parabolic mystery of medial man. Historically, he supplies basic imaginative terms for subsequent approaches to the mystery. In examining Shakespeare's precedent along with Robert Browning's "Caliban upon Setebos" and W. H. Auden's The Sea and the Mirror, we come to appreciate the vitality and importance of the Tempest legacy. Shakespearean Romance develops the dialectic potential of pastoral tragicomedy. In The Tempest that potential is realized in concentrated form, as antithetical concepts enter into active exchange across the middle earth of human placement. Poised between the exegetical dialectic of St. Augustine's confessional manner, and the existential dialectic of Soren Kierkegaard's philosophy, the Tempest's vision balances faith and skepticism, concern for authority and acceptance of nescience. "Caliban upon Setebos" is also carefully poised; in the arrested dialectic of its natural speaker we may glimpse the satirically deflected hesitancies of a poet uncomfortable with contemporary positivist enthusiasms. While Browning throughout the 1860's seems to tend toward an equivocation of his Christian faith in human mediacy, Auden in the early 1940's draws on The Tempest to express his emerging conviction of the necessary in the possible, and the self's relational fullness. Among the three works is intimated a middle way between idolatrous superstition and despairing agnosticism, a ground between angry sky and insensate sea. A distinguishing feature of Tempest-related works is the cultivation of a contemporary sense of human proportion. The variety of imaginative experience subsumed within this group might be traced between Milton and Eliot, Pope and Pynchon, Coleridge and Beckett. In a broad perspective, the East-West axis traversing the Tempest complex balances the interchanges between Europe and the American New World against those between Europe and the Levantine/classical Old World. A dialectically indrawn coda to Shakespeare's career, The Tempest is an influential precedent for the wedding of formalist and historicist impulses.