The lovers Miranda and Ferdinand. This is
The Tempest:MasqueWorld LiteratureEssay Question: What is the impact of the masque to the overall structuralunity of the play? How does the masque differ from the rest of the play intheme and poetry?The ‘masque’ scene in The Tempest, in Act IV Scene I, clearly differs fromall other scenes. Many producers of the play have chosen to eliminate thisscene on the grounds that due to its differences it disrupts the overallstructural unity of the play. The theory has in fact been advanced thatthe masque was not a part of Shakespeare’s original text but was added forthe purpose of some celebration where The Tempest was performed. However,others believe that its differences serve a definite purpose to the playand that the masque was a key factor in Shakespeare’s vision.The purpose of the masque within the context of The Tempest is acelebration of Miranda and Ferdinand’s engagement.
The themes of themasque reflect issues that relate to the newly-affianced couple: fertility,chastity, and unity. It represents Prospero’s ideal of a perfect world:one in which nature and civilisation (nurture) are balanced and evil doesnot exist. The masque begins with Iris, the messenger of the gods reputedto travel on a rainbow, praising the bountiful earth over which Ceres, thegoddess of the fertile earth, reigns. Juno, the queen of the heavens, whorepresents love inside the boundaries of marriage, appears. She and Ceresdiscuss the absence of Venus and her son Cupid (patrons of lawless love),and then together sing a blessing on the lovers Miranda and Ferdinand.
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This is followed after a short interlude by a dance of Reapers and Nymphs.The dance is abruptly cut off when Prospero remembers the plot by Caliban,Stephano, and Trinculo against his life.Masques were a common form of entertainment in Elizabethan times.Elaborate costumes were used to create fantastic spectacles for the royalsand nobles at court, involving technicians, poets, and even the courtmembers themselves.
It has been theorised that the masque in The Tempestwas added for a specific celebration: the wedding of King James’ daughterElizabeth to the Elector Palatine in November 1611, the first recordedperformance of the play. This is a fallacious conclusion. While it istrue that the masque is eminently suitable for a celebration such as thewedding of a princess, the masque also contains themes highly relevant tothe play as a whole and echoed elsewhere: chastity, fertility, union, andProspero’s idea of a perfect world.
The theme of chastity in The Tempest is heavily emphasised throughProspero. He bluntly commands Ferdinand “..
.if thou dost break her virgin-knot before all sanctimonious ceremonies may…be ministered..
.barrenhate…shall bestrew the union of your bed” (IV.1.
15-21). Juno was thepatron of weddings, the governor of lawful love, and represents the virtueof chastity in the masque. Fertility (governed by Ceres) is also relevantto the young lovers, especially as Miranda is the only woman in the play.It is interesting to note that when Caliban describes Miranda to Stephano,he says, “She will become thy bed, I warrant, and bring thee forth bravebrood” (III.
2.107-108). Union is another theme echoed elsewhere in theplay: the union of Naples and Milan through the marriage of Ferdinand andMiranda, and the reunion of Prospero and his enemies, forgiveness given andAlonso and Prospero united through the love of their offspring.
In themasque, Iris (associated with the rainbow) unites Juno, queen of theheavens, with Ceres, goddess of the earth. Finally, Prospero’s ideal of aperfect world is presented in the masque. Nature and Nurture are balanced:the goddesses of ordered fertility and marriage are presented, the naturalearth balanced with civilisation and ceremony.
Venus and Cupid, patrons oflawless love, are nowhere to be seen. This perceived balance betweennature and nurture finds resonance in other parts of The Tempest, forexample, the contrast between Caliban and Miranda. Caliban is evil becausehis nature is entirely dominant, and he has received none of the benefitsof Prospero’s nurture.
Prospero says he is, “a devil, a born devil, onwhose nature nurture can never stick” (IV.1.188-189). In contrast,Miranda, another result of Prospero’s tuition, is represented as theperfect balance between nature and nurture.
While she knows nothing butthe nature of the island, she has been trained for civilisation, and isable to fit in perfectly with the sophisticated Ferdinand and the courtparty. “Admired Miranda! Indeed, the top of admiration, worth what’sdearest to the world,” (III.1.37-39) as Ferdinand says.
Another reflectionof Prospero’s perfect world is this: no conflict is present in the masque.The dark side of human nature, greed, uncontrolled lust, and violence, doesnot exist in the context of the masque. Prospero was deposed from hisdukedom due to the greed of his brother and the King of Naples. Calibanand his companions attempt to take over the island kingdom, kill Prospero,and rape Miranda.
These violent emotions have affected Prospero negativelyand so in his masque it is only natural that he presents a world withoutthese passions.Not only do the themes of the masque fit in with the play as a whole, butthe masque immediately leads to Prospero’s famous speech about the brevityof human life. Prospero relates the masque’s unreality and the theatre’sunreality to real life, and states that human lives are like the dreams ofthe masque: all people shall die, “our little lives…rounded with asleep” (IV.
1.158), in the end as insubstantial as any piece of theatre. Themasque directly leads into this speech. “Our revels now are ended.
148) says Prospero, referring to the masque, and this begins hischain of reasoning. As such an important speech must have been part ofShakespeare’s original design for the play, and the masque leads into it,the masque therefore must have been intended by Shakespeare as an integralpart of the play.The language and poetry used in the masque is different to that used in therest of the play.
The language in general is more archaic and formal thanthat used elsewhere. Obscure expressions such as “pioned and twilledbrims” (IV.1.
64) and “spongy April” (IV.1.65) are used. The impressiongained is of a formal, unreal world. The unreality relates to two themesof the play: the perfect world, and life’s unreality. The idea ofProspero’s perfect world is deliberately presented as unrealistic.
Thisidea of a perfect world being unrealistic is repeated through Gonzalo’sideal of a model commonwealth. He gives voice to the idea of a socialistUtopia, where “all things in common nature are produced…tofeed..
.innocent people” (II.1.162-167).
This idea is mocked by Antonio andSebastian: “Yet he would be king on’t…
the latter end of his commonwealthforgets the beginning” (II.1.159-161).
Rulership of the island andkingdoms such as Naples and Milan are coveted by most of the characters inthe play, but it is made clear that no character will be able to bringabout a perfect, unreal world such as is represented in the masque. Thetheme of the unreality of life is also represented in the masque: Prosperorelates the unrealistic masque to theatre performances in general, andthese to our human lives and their inevitable end.Prospero appears throughout the play as a master of magic and commander ofspirits.
The masque, starring Ariel in the role of Ceres, is a naturaloutgrowth of this side of Prospero. While elsewhere he uses his powers inmore negative ways, such as the pursuing of Stephano, Trinculo, and Calibanby spirit hounds, the masque gives him a chance to fully display hismagical powers in a positive and spectacular manner. The formality andunreality of the language contributes to the ‘magical’ impression of themasque, as does the representation of goddesses played by spirits. Themasque is not, then, a patched-on extra added to the play for a royalwedding, but completely fits in with what is observed of Prospero and hismagic island.
While the language of the masque and its differences to the rest of theplay may seem to disrupt The Tempest, the masque actually contributes tothe structural unity of the play. The themes of the masque are themes thatare highly relevant to the play as a whole. The deliberate impression ofunreality created by the language used in the masque relates to severalthemes of the play. Prospero’s command over spirits and benevolent aspectare also presented through the masque. The textual evidence of the playproves that the masque is present for a definite purpose. It is different,but it is also necessary and natural to The Tempest, conveying vital themesand ideas.
It does not disrupt, but enhances.