Apr 6, 2020 in 

Those with command of language abuse power-how true is this in the Tempest and Our Country's Good

This essay is written in the style necessary to obtain a top grade for a level English coursework. Some key things to consider are ensuring that there is an introduction and conclusion, the footnoting is accurate and a bibliography is included. It is vita

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Both Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ and Wertenbaker’s ‘Our Country’s Good’ present and develop their most articulate characters in a variety of ways. They contrast from being powerful and abusive to knowledgeable, occasionally using their command of language for betterment, and using magic or theatre to enhance their articulation. 

 

In ‘The Tempest’ Shakespeare presents one of the most articulate characters, Prospero, an exiled Duke usurped by his brother, as an abuser of power through language with his brutal treatment of Caliban, the hybrid offspring of a devil and a witch whom Prospero has made his slave. Prospero’s demeaning verbal treatment of Caliban, while harsh, might not have been considered unacceptable given the play was written in 1611, a time when colonial slavery was commonplace. That Caliban earned a measure of Prospero's wrath and disdain through his attempt to rape Prospero's daughter Miranda is valid, however, directing Prospero on which streams to drink from and what berries to pick, helping to ensure his survival on the island, suggests he seeks friendship. Through Prospero’s language, it is clear he regards Caliban as a lower form of life and uses his superior intellect and command of language to abuse and debase Caliban verbally. This mirrors the view of seventeenth century colonialists in the Americas, who deemed the indigenous Indians as inferior. He calls Caliban “Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself.” Prospero’s language here highlights how lowly he regards Caliban. The animalistic connotations and plosive power of the ‘p’ in the word “poisonous” articulates the toxic way Prospero views Caliban, emphasised in the adjective. Through his ability with words, Prospero tortures Caliban. Prospero tries to depict a picture of barbarity and animality from Caliban’s personality. This deliberate use of language as power, using vocabulary and syntax to show position, would resonate with the Jacobean audience, who would see the differentiation between the characters’ lines. One third of the lines is given to Prospero, demonstrating his power. That he teaches Caliban the oral language, but forbids him accessing his books, demonstrates Prospero’s governance over him and supports the theory that he is aware how education is key by intentionally doing this as a means of creating, for himself, authority and superiority. This mirrors the behaviour of European colonialists in the New World. Like them, Prospero uses language as a means of intimidation and domination. Likewise, his harsh physical threats to Caliban with “blister you all over”, and “each pinch more stinging” represents theirs, with the majority of indigenous Indians being wiped out by the settlers’ brutality within thirty years. Shakespeare’s succinct use of the words “all” and “more” demonstrate the severity of these threats.

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The eradication of Caliban’s sovereignty and the disdain with which Prospero is depicted as viewing his native culture, parallels Friel’s three-act play ‘Translations’ where there is a volatile political backdrop due to the tensions between the British and Irish. Stemming from the belief that one language and one culture is superior and trying to suppress their native language, the English have declared cultural war on the Irish. The work explores the devastating effect of the eradication of linguistic culture and traditions. The character Owen says “My job is to translate the quaint, archaic tongue you people persist in speaking into the King's good English". Owen's patronising use of the terms “quaint” and “archaic” when referring to the native Irish Gaelic language shows he believes speaking English is civilised. This compares to Prospero’s derision of Caliban’s native tongue, and reflects the European colonist view. Those who speak English are viewed as having a greater status to those who do not. Collin Meissner constructively discusses the weaponising of language in Friel’s work, writing: “Let us begin by acknowledging that language is often employed as a political, military, and economic resource in cultural, particularly colonial, encounters. Call it a weapon.” His use of the word “employed” emphasises that one purpose of Friel’s work is using articulate characters to subtly convey his political and inner views. Likewise, Brittney Blystone, in an article discussing extremes of power, suitably argues that Prospero is a character who is obsessed with gaining power and uses this power to assert his dominance over the other characters through his persuasive command of language. Indeed, at the end of the play, Prospero says he will leave only on the audience's applause; a final manipulative use of language that induces the audience to approve of Prospero's behaviour even in regards to the harsh treatment of Caliban. Blystone and Meissner agree that both writers present the cruelty of articulate characters through the use of blatant harsh language. This untamed language builds the image of torture and is therefore bold, and effectively vilifies Prospero as a megalomaniac. That Caliban feels powerless in the face of what he perceives as Prospero's superiority, saying “I must obey” Prospero, demonstrates that articulate language is power. The certainty of “must” highlights how Shakespeare portrays the least articulate character being dominated by the most articulate. Indeed, Shakespeare's mindful crafting of Prospero's language and abusive articulations are a continued theme throughout the work that show how the legitimacy of the authority of characters like Prospero is commanded through their use of language. Through Caliban’s line “yield him thee sleep”, Shakespeare demonstrates that regardless of Caliban’s efforts, dominance over Prospero is unattainable. Shakespeare has therefore successfully established language as the central tool of domination in the play, via the most articulate character, to facilitate repression.

 

 

Similarly, in Wertenbaker’s ‘Our Country's Good’, the most articulate characters, such as Officer Ross, are presented as cruel abusers of power through their greater command of language compared to the convicts they preside over. Ross offends the female convict Dabby by saying “wag your tail.” The zoomorphism of Ross's language emphasises his power over Dabby as he tries to subdue her into compliant submission. Correspondingly, in ‘Translations’ English Officer Lancey’s arrogance is prevalent in his threats to cause devastation to the native Irish for what could be a loss of discipline over his own officer and therefore his own fault. Nevertheless, Lancey is depicted as so assured in his authority as an English-speaking officer that he feels justified in his behaviour. He threatens to destroy homes, evict residents and kill livestock if Yolland was not found within a day. Given the volatile contemporary political tensions of both setting and performance, the kind of rhetoric Lancey uses, where vital property and livestock are threatened by an Englishman, is highly inflammatory to the fictional and real-life native Irish populace rebellious against English rule. Susan Carlson, discussing language and identity in Wertenbaker’s work, concisely states that ‘Our Country's Good’ is a play “very interested in the use and abuse of power.” Carlson aptly uses the intensifier “very” to stress the significance of the theme of power in accordance with articulation.  Furthermore, Sara Freeman says “the play carefully builds an accumulation of subtextual clues that erupt into terse verbal admissions or brief confrontations which highlight the difficulty of trying to live with moral integrity and some sense of authentic identity in the face of fear, jealousy, or the pull of power.” Freeman draws on the pure effect of “power” and its dependence and “pull’ on the articulate characters, leading to abrupt dialogue. Both Carlson and Freeman agree on the corruption that absolute power can bring to the most articulate.

 

Both Wertenbaker and Shakespeare develop their particularly articulate characters as the most and least knowledgeable in different situations. In ‘The Tempest’, Shakespeare achieves this by giving Prospero the greatest jurisdiction over language reflecting his education and aristocratic past. Gender causes Miranda to be perceived as naïve when she feels aggrieved by her father Prospero’s treatment of her potential suitor, Ferdinand. Likewise, life experience is deemed as having greater authority, such as Prospero in comparison to Ferdinand. This depiction of females as sheltered is a common theme of Seventeenth Century English literary works. Accordingly, the innocent, unknowing, less articulate than her male counterparts, depiction of Miranda parallels ‘Translations’ when the young native Irish girl Maire is told by the English officer Yolland that he wants to “always” be with her. Maire kisses Yolland implying with her actions that she too wishes the same. However, she does not understand English and is unaware of what the word “always” means. Much like Miranda, Maire is portrayed as blinded by love and lacking the intelligence to seek immediate awareness to factors that will impact her future. Prospero, however, is astute, knowing Miranda's worth is enhanced by making her difficult for Ferdinand to obtain, referring to Miranda as a “rich gift” and a “winning.” Prospero's language objectifies his daughter by describing her as a conquest worthy and desirable of the chase, but only if the result is marriage. Prospero tells Ferdinand to resist his inevitable sexual urges and “be more abstemious” until marriage or “else good night your vow.” Prospero uses his knowledge of Ferdinand’s intentions to control his behaviour and ensure Miranda’s chastity, and by definition of the time, her worth is maintained until the matrimonial sale is successfully bartered. This is typical behaviour of 17th century fathers, towards their maiden daughters who were treated as commodities. Blystone convincingly argues that “Gender determines the degree of one’s power.” Therefore, Miranda is perceived as powerless, less intelligent and inarticulate due to being a woman. Blystone’s use of the word “determines” fittingly accentuates the virtue of being male in regards to power and articulation. When discussing Prospero, Gonzalez Miguel says he is “isolated from the rest of mankind” and so devoted his life to the “study of some books” which gave him “supernatural power.” Blystone and Miguel strikingly point out the juxtaposition between the characterisation of Prospero and Miranda. Prospero, who is articulate, is both academically intellectual and shrewd in seeing Ferdinand’s interest in Miranda and seeks a path most beneficial to his purpose, whereas Miranda is intellectually inarticulate, and sees nor understands little of her situation even though she is educated and of high social standing.

 

In ‘Our Country’s Good’ Wertenbaker also develops characters into greater articulators through the gaining of knowledge. The convict Liz is initially presented as an unsociable weak articulator, unable to form connections with her fellow convicts, and continuously haunted by the threat of being hanged for stealing, a crime she did not commit, yet feels she cannot defend herself against as she would not be believed. Prisoners of the Australian colonial era, in both the play and real life, had no legal protection to ensure humane treatment. Consequently, the death penalty was a genuine threat.  In contrast to Liz, fellow convict Duckling is articulate enough to manipulate the initially unwanted attention of the low-ranking officer Harry Brewer, whose jealousy, pursuit, and desire to possess her initially, stifles her. In reality, female prisoners ‘sent down’ to British-ruled Australia were often the victims of sexual exploitation and assault. Duckling, understanding she has little recourse, chooses to manipulate Harry's interest through the clever use of seductive language, saying “Why are you so angry with your Duckling, Harry? Don’t you like it when I open my legs wide to you?… first the left nipple and then the right.” Duckling uses her knowledge of men’s sexual cravings to improve her position and shield herself from exploitation by multiple officers; however, the word “your” emphasises her acknowledgement of submission to becoming Harry’s possession. Thomas Keneally suggests the work portrays “the healing power of the theatre through each of these people and how they overcome their differences.”  Liz’s development is achieved using theatre as a means of rehabilitation instead of constant punishment with no higher aim. This mirrors the real-life British cultural and societal shift towards rehabilitation and clemency for convicts in the 17th Century. Through participation in the play, Duckling explores her feelings and develops the ability to overcome her cynicism towards Harry. She is never able to articulate this to Harry during his life, yet she is genuinely grief-stricken upon his death. Herein lies the explicit use of the power of theatre that Wertenbaker has so succinctly exhibited. It changes the lives, loves, and perceptions of many of the characters in the play, and cleverly invites the audience to witness the constructive power of art to change real lives for the better through articulation. Contrastingly, ‘Translations’, written during conflict, has no such hopeful message. In it, the Irish headmaster and educator Hugh is a heavy drinker, but despite having his authority constantly undermined by the encroaching British forces, he remains articulate and knowledgeable. In ‘Our Country’s Good’ Campbell is a captain of authority, nevertheless, he squanders his position by choosing to do little more than be amused at the very concept of convicts performing a play, and is inarticulate to the extent that others believe he is an inebriated mumbler. Campbell is not particularly knowledgeable, nor worthy of his position as captain, simply agreeing with Ross. However, by virtue of being a high-ranking officer among the ruling class, unlike Hugh, Campbell answers to no oppressive force. This reflects the 18th Century British military structure with high-ranking officers having great authority. 

 

 

In ‘The Tempest’, Shakespeare presents and develops his most articulate character Prospero as possessing the command of language to manipulate and overly control others. In parallel, the educator Hugh in ‘Translations’ promises to teach the young woman Maire English, but when she enquires the meaning of English officer Yolland’s word  “always” Hugh responds that it is a “silly word”,  intentionally manipulating the meaning to prevent her from thinking about the Englishman. In the contemporary historical context, women were discouraged from possessing opinions. As in Shakespearian England, women had limited rights and men played their roles in plays, as actresses were forbidden at the time. Women simply were of little importance and therefore could not be the most articulate character in the play as they were subservient to men.  Shakespeare's Miranda is a paradigm of such women. Furthermore, the queen of the Island Sycorax, a powerful witch, is dead at the beginning of the play highlighting the insignificance of female characters in the work and their inability to possess control over language. Blystone appropriately emphasises how “Sycorax exists only in male character’s accounts; nevertheless, Sycorax influences the men’s perception of power because she is absent.” This is a bold and accurate opinion, as it stresses male manipulation through their depiction of females via articulation. Blystone states that “as a powerful woman, Sycorax exemplifies anti- patriarchal ideas in early modern England when patriarchy was the norm.” Shakespeare effectively drives this concept by creating this parallel between love and the power of articulate characters. However, this control is undermined by the meta-theatrical nature of the play, allowing the audience’s understanding of Prospero’s plans, and acknowledgment of  male dominance, when it comes to articulation. Moreover, Prospero uses his articulation to be manipulative when he defamiliarises Sycorax from Caliban and Ariel by belittling her black magic. This results in a negative view of her by referring to her as a “hag.”  This language of misogyny was Prospero’s intent. Arguably though, this opinion was already established as Ariel had refused to work for her. In essence, Prospero has ultimate control. He speaks approximately one third of the lines and as Melissa Sanchez states, “Prospero’s own manipulation of his daughter’s marriage for political ends would seem  to  liken  him  not  only  to  Caliban  but  also  to  his  enemies,  Alonso  and Antonio, who have achieved their rule by violence.” Sanchez deliberately focuses on how shrewd Prospero develops into this schemer, at any extreme, through his superior articulation honed in his “psychological manipulation”. Shakespeare further affirms that his key articulator Prospero possesses the ultimate knowledge to manipulate and abuse his power, both magical and physical, through his mastery of language as he uses language manipulation to control what everyone hears. Moreover, Michael Neill briefly argues that it is “as though advertising the superior power of hearing over seeing.” This meticulously maintains the view that the characters succumb to the words they are “hearing” from Prospero. Evidently, Prospero uses the power of language to keep people dependent and oppressed and when rebuking Caliban for cursing, he laments “You taught me language, and my profit on’t/ Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you/ For learning me your language!” Ironically here, Caliban attempts to use language as a weapon against Prospero just as Prospero has used it against Caliban. Caliban's response is not only an accusation, but also an act of linguistic rebellion. He uses the power of the speech he has acquired to curse and therefore rebel against Prospero's tyranny.

 

In ‘Our Country’s Good’, however, Wertenbaker presents some articulate characters as using their power and authority for the better. Ralph Clark is developed as understanding, considerate and using his authority for the betterment of the convicts. Furthermore, officer Phillip appreciates culture, growth and renewal and is especially good towards Liz Morden. He overrules decisions that would abuse the less articulate characters such as Officer Tench, who does not believe in rehabilitation. Phillip says, if you “treat the slave boy as a rational human being the boy becomes one, he loses his fear, and he becomes a competent mathematician. A little more encouragement and he might become an extraordinary mathematician. Who knows? You must see your actors in that light.” This analogy challenges Tench’s view and highlights Phillip’s encouragement and promotion of using the play to enrich the convicts. The use of the rhetorical tag “who knows” emphasises Phillip’s hopeful nature that his efforts could be worthwhile. By being optimistic and sure of good things, he believes it will help achieve them. This is the Pygmalion effect that Wertenbaker promotes. Wertenbaker scrupulously uses Phillip’s apt articulation skills to develop the storyline of improving the prisoners’ lives. Phillip is knowledgeable and educated, and therefore he is powerful and articulate. Wertenbaker calculatedly conveys a direct correlation between these attributes. In some ways, Phillip's attitude mirrors the thinking at the time of writing ‘Our Country’s Good’, when Prime Minister Thatcher's government saw the privately-educated held in higher social standing than the publicly-educated.

 

On balance, it is evident from the study of the three texts that the authors have presented and developed their most articulate characters in a compelling and thought-provoking variety of ways. Though not the reason for their acquisition of power, the characters – such as Prospero and Ross – use their superior ability to articulate to control and humiliate their inferiors to the point that they become victims. Prospero has a supreme ability to articulate and Ross possesses a more brutal power. Both characters, through their language, are able to facilitate the submission of the lower characters, mirroring the contemporary timeframes in which they are set, when the ability to verbalise power was seen as superior. Likewise, Friel uses the English officers’ insistence of the use of English as a way of selection and control over the native Irish population. Through an ability to articulate, a new way of measuring education and ability is forced upon the aborigines. However, although it is to Prospero that Shakespeare awards the majority of articulate prose, it is Caliban who speaks the eloquent poetic lines. Perhaps it is through this movement to a new form of speech, that of poetry, that Shakespeare is indicating Caliban wishes to throw off the language he has learned from his oppressor, Prospero. 

 

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