Prosperos’s Retrospection and Anticipation

People like to hate on Shakespeare for many reasons – the most common being the poetic style of his chosen diction and how the density of his syntax lacks proper clarity at a surface level. It is only when you read between the lines and look up the context of his colloquialisms that we are able to fully understand the style of his writing. I know that when I was in high school, I severely disliked reading works written by the main man of the canon; and even now, as a sophomore in college, I still shudder at the thought of analyzing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare may not be for everyone to enjoy per say, but it is a fact that without him, my understanding of the English language and Renaissance would be much less – he is necessary. As previously stated, his language lacks clarity on the surface; however, in doing so he successfully conveys more than one theme on each individual line. In the context of our class, “The Tempest” is representative of a contemporary lens of the performance of memory and forgetting given to us by Roach.

In Act I, Scene II, during Prosperos’s dialogue with his daughter, he is finally willing to share the history of his life, but first he asks the question, “[c]anst thou remember a time before we came unto this cell?[,]” in which his daughter replies, with confidence, an example of remembering her nursemaids during childhood, saying “[a]nd rather like a dream than an assurance [t]hat my remembrance warrants.” Her answer to her father’s question puzzles him, and he responds, “But how is it [t]hat this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else [i]n the dark backward and abysm of time?” Shakespeare is using this dialogue to convey the importance and malleability of time, and in doing so, the audience is convinced that Prospero understands his daughter’s selective memory. Roach is quoted as saying, “[u]nder the seductive linearity of its influence, memory operates as an alteration between retrospection and anticipation that is itself, for better or worse, a work of art.[,]” which is important to remember in this context. Her memory alluding to childhood serves to the retrospective aspect of memory as a performance and as their conversation continues, and Prosperos explains his history, he realizes that something else lies deep within his daughter’s mind, as indicated when he asks, “[b]ut how is it [t]hat this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else [i]n the dark backward and abysm of time?” His awareness of his daughter’s selective memory alludes to the anticipatory aspect of the performance of memory, and he wonders what else his daughter remembers. He is anticipating her answer as she beings to speak.

“The Tempest,” from what we have read in class, covers the theme of memory and forgetting, as well as forgiveness. In order to properly forgive, Prosperos must recount his history, evoking an element of catharsis when he does so. His memory and hers both serve to different aspects of the performance of memory, but in doing so, they complete this “work of art” that is ultimately forgiveness.

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