Academic journal article Comparative Drama

Purging the Jesting Spirit in the Tempest

Academic journal article Comparative Drama

Purging the Jesting Spirit in the Tempest

Article excerpt

Shakespeare evokes the essence of punning in The Tempest so that he can portray its retarding effect upon good understanding and communication. The emphasis in this sentence falls upon the word essence. Once certain hazards inherent in punning are apparent, not only in this play but also in the playwright's earlier drama, audiences can better comprehend why Shakespeare performs a catharsis upon the punning spirit in this late dramatic romance. That this purging occurs with reference to Caliban is important, for it amounts to a hitherto unnoticed part of Shakespeare's subtle construction of this character's worth. Major characters in the other late romances rarely, if ever, engage in the labored wit that marks act 2, scene 1, of The Tempest. Gonzalo humanely tries to cheer up his king, Alonso, over the likely death of his son Ferdinand during the sea storm off Prospero's isle. "But for the miracle, / I mean our preservation," Gonzalo asserts, "few in millions / Can speak like us." (1) "Prithee, peace," Alonso commands (2.1.9). "He receives comfort like cold porridge," the king's brother, Sebastian, jests, capitalizing on the homonym peace/peas (2.1.10). "The visitor will not give him o'er so" (2.1.11), Prospero's wicked brother, Antonio, replies, after which follow these exchanges:

Sebastian: Look, he's winding up the watch of his wit. By and by it will strike.

Gonzalo [to Alonso]: Sir--

Sebastian [to Antonio]: One: tell.

Gonzalo [to Alonso]: When every grief is entertained that's offered,

Comes to th'entertainer--

Sebastian: A dollar.

Gonzalo: Dolour comes to him indeed. You have spoken truer than you purposed.

Antonio: Which of he or Adrian, for a good wager, first begins to crow?

Sebastian: The old cock.

Antonio: The cockerel.

Sebastian: Done. The wager?

Antonio: A laughter.

Sebastian: A match!

Adrian [to Gonzalo]: Though this island seem to be desert--

Antonio [to Sebastian]: Ha, ha, ha!

Sebastian: So, you're paid.

Adrian: Uninhabitable, and almost inaccessible--

Sebastian [to Antonio]: Yet--

Adrian: Yet--

Antonio [to Sebastian]: He could not miss't.

Adrian: It must needs be of subtle, tender, and delicate temperance.

Antonio [to Sebastian]: Temperance was a delicate wench.

Sebastian: Ay, and a subtle, as he most learnedly delivered.

Adrian [to Gonzalo]: The air breathes upon us here most sweetly.

Sebastian [to Antonio]: As if it had lungs, and rotten ones.

Antonio: Or as 'twere perfumed by a fen.

Gonzalo [to Adrian]: But the rarity of it is, which is indeed almost beyond credit--

Sebastian [to Antonio]: As many vouched rarities are.

Gonzalo [to Adrian]: That our garments being, as they were, drenched in the sea, hold notwithstanding their freshness and glosses, being rather new-dyed than stained with salt water.

Antonio [to Sebastian]: If but one of his pockets could speak, would it not say he lies?

Sebastian: Ay, or very falsely pocket up his report. (2.1.12-20, 28-49, 59-67)

The puns in these speeches are classical in form. Sister Miriam Jose ph defines "[a]ntanaclasis [as] a figure which in repeating a word shifts from one of its meanings to another," while "[a]steismus is a figure of reply in which the answerer catches a certain word and throws it back to the first speaker with an unexpected twist, an unlooked formeaning." (2) Shakespeare's puns in the preceding dialogue upon entertainer, temperance, delicate, and subtle are excellent examples of the former rhetorical trope, while those on dolour and pocket nicely illustrate the latter figure. (The puns on entertainer and dolour are glossed below; Temperance was both a woman's name and a word for "climate"; subtle could mean both "pleasant" and "given to pleasure," "voluptuous. …

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