History Films, Women, and Freud's Uncanny

By Susan E. Linville | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Missing History

Near the beginning of William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, Prospero instructs his daughter Miranda for the first time about his past and, in passing, about her own. She has been watching a harrowing sea storm and shipwreck, a physically harmless piece of magic that Prospero has created to rectify history, but one so overwhelming that Miranda is quick with sympathy for its human victims. The tempest and Prospero’s inquiries about what Miranda remembers of her early childhood, what “house or person,” prompt the young woman to ask two questions, queries which Carol Gilligan astutely paraphrases as “Why all the suffering?” and “Where are the women?”1 Prospero’s reply reflects his interest in justifying his present actions as remedies for past injustices—“what’s past is prologue,” as his traitorous brother Antonio will later say—but as Gilligan notes, Prospero’s account fails to do justice to Miranda’s curiosity, memory, and desire. In the course of the play, Miranda herself learns to forget her own initial questions, and her education about her father’s past forms the groundwork of her forgetting. Her future marriage (and, extradiegetically, that of ill-fated Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I) is celebrated in another illusion staged by Prospero, a wedding masque that dramatizes Miranda’s regenerative role through fertility imagery of the goddess Ceres while stressing her function as the ligature binding feuding political factions. Yet the marriage that Prospero arranges, though it recaptures and consolidates political power and identity, comes at the expense of Miranda’s grasp of a history that encompasses women, their sense of home, and their ties to each other. In a similar fashion, the narration of U.S. history through cinematic illusion was a paramount interest of Hollywood moviemakers in the closing

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