Scholarly seclusion and misplaced trust (1.2.89-97) #StormTossed

PROSPERO     I thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated

To closeness and the bettering of my mind

With that which, but by being so retired,

O’er-prized all popular rate, in my false brother

Awaked an evil nature, and my trust,

Like a good parent, did beget of him

A falsehood in its contrary as great

As my trust was, which had indeed no limit,

A confidence sans bound. (1.2.89-97)

Prospero is both explaining and making excuses. Politics, government, is worldly; scholarship is not. (Ah, the enduring stereotype of the ivory tower… What is this so-called real world of which you speak?) He set himself apart, bettering his mind, yes, but also dedicated to closeness; solitude, perhaps, but also secrecy. And what he was doing, retired from the his people, in seclusion, was indeed important. (Prospero was very busy and important; people just didn’t understand.) But he concedes that they never saw him. (In the histories and in the Roman plays, the degree to which the ruler is seen by the people is often controversial. Richard II and Coriolanus particularly spring to mind.) And in this perceived, and actual, power vacuum, Antonio made his move. He wasn’t innately evil, Prospero suggests, taking at least some of the blame, but he was opportunistic. And Prospero’s biggest mistake was to trust him. He trusted his brother completely, and Antonio took advantage of that.

Prospero often returns to language that is concerned with parenting and creating. He spoke of his courtiers as his creatures, whom his brother new created; here he thinks of his trust as the begetter, the father, of Antonio’s falsehood. Here, too, the language of closeness, retirement, confinement, imprisonment, is set against no limit, sans bound. This freedom/restraint binary is one that indelibly marks the play.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *