Consorting with foreign powers! (1.2.107-116) #StormTossed

PROSPERO     To have no screen between this part he played

And him he played it for, he needs will be

Absolute Milan. Me, poor man, my library

Was dukedom large enough. Of temporal royalties

He thinks me now incapable; confederates,

So dry he was for sway, wi’th’ King of Naples

To give him annual tribute, do him homage,

Subject his coronet to his crown, and bed

The dukedom yet unbowed (alas, poor Milan)

To most ignoble stooping.

MIRANDA                                                      O, the heavens! (1.2.107-116)


This is heavy-going. Prospero’s just interrupted himself to ask Miranda if she’s listening, she’s assured him that she is, and he’s now keeping going with the rest of the sentence he had begun: his ambition growing… Antonio sought to do away with any distinction between standing in for the duke – this part he played – and being the duke; he wanted the official title and status and everything, not just the money and the power. He wanted to be absolute Milan, completely and totally its duke. Screen here is interesting: it might refer to something protective or defensive, as in fire screen, or to the kind of large, portable folding screen which was just coming into use (eg. for changing one’s clothes behind) – but it could also refer to an architectural feature, a partition dividing a large space into two (as in the ‘screens passages’ which are still found in some early modern houses and some Oxbridge colleges, dividing the dining hall from the kitchens). If it’s this latter, then it’s not just about no longer being concealed or cut off, it’s about being openly in control of everything, in public and in private, master of the whole building. By contrast, Prospero’s library was the only place and space he sought to rule (this is why I think that the metaphor could be explicitly spatial, because of the contrast with the library). Antonio decided that his brother was incapable of rule, at least in worldly terms, and accordingly did a deal with the King of Naples, so dry he was for sway, so thirsty, avid, eager, he was to be in control (drinking will be important in this play): he promised the King of Naples his allegiance (and that of Milan more generally) in return for his support. Antonio’s ambition was all for himself; he had no problem in giving away the proudly-maintained independence, of Milan, a duchy ruled by a duke (dukes wear coronets) to a king (who wears a crown), and hence making Milan, yet unbowed, for the first time, a vassal state. Antonio’s ambition thus went beyond personal ambition or sibling rivalry: he betrayed Milan and its people as much as he betrayed Prospero. No wonder Miranda is shocked…


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