Shakespeare's Labored Art: Stir, Work, and the Late Plays

By Maurice Hunt | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
The Tempest

Critics have often considered the opening scene of The Tempest to be a paradigm of the perilous state of existence and the range of moral reactions to sudden trial and threatened death.1 Shakespeare presents timely labor not only as the difference between life and death but also as the means for winnowing courage from cowardice and self-conceit. "Bestir, bestir" are the Master's first words to sailors afflicted by the raging tempest. Desperate noblemen bursting forth from their place below deck interrupt disciplined work, ordered by the Master's whistle and necessary for survival during storm at sea. "You mar our labor," the Master pointedly tells them. "Keep your cabins; you do assist the storm" ( I. i. 13-14), he commands. His words focus a dramatic conflict--natural disorder, assisted by passion, versus redemptive work. The first term of this opposition is familiar because it appears in virtually every Shakespeare play. The second term is special to the last plays, representing a principal means by which they avert tragedy and attain the relative harmony of dramatic romance.

At the beginning of The Tempest, disorder proves stronger than the sailors' labored attempt to contain it. Admittedly, Prospero's magical storm would defeat the navigational skills of any group of well-trained sailors. Nevertheless, Shakespeare chooses not to stress that fact in this brief episode. Instead, he creates the impression that the aristocrats' physical interference with the carefully disciplined labor of the mariners causes the ship to sink. Furthermore, he suggests that this interference proceeds from the uselessness of the noblemen in a context in which manual work is required. "What cares these roarers for the name of king?" the angry Boatswain asks frightened Alonso and his company; "To cabin! silence! trouble us not" ( I. i. 16-

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Shakespeare's Labored Art: Stir, Work, and the Late Plays
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter 1 - Work and Shakespeare's Age 1
  • Notes 22
  • Chapter 2 - From Hamlet to Timon of Athens: Work in Shakespeare's Later Plays 27
  • Notes 63
  • Chapter 3 - Pericles 71
  • Notes 91
  • Chapter 4 - Cymbeline 95
  • Notes 130
  • Chapter 5 - The Winter's Tale 135
  • Notes 159
  • Chapter 6 - The Tempest 163
  • Notes 193
  • Chapter 7 - King Henry VIII 199
  • Notes 227
  • Chapter 8 - The Two Noble Kinsmen 231
  • Notes 255
  • Chapter 9 - Shakespeare's Labored Art 259
  • Notes 276
  • Works Cited 279
  • Index 305
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