“…wonder at discovering what had been unknown or, if known, what was assumed to be irretrievably lost, epitomizes The Tempest’s enduring power..”
Discuss The Tempest with some reference to at least two other plays in terms of loss. In The Tempest, Cymbeline and Pericles, loss and absence as well as discovery and regain, are essential themes. In losing what is valuable, and believing that it is irretrievable, some of the characters reassess their attitudes and behaviour leading to reconciliation and recovery of what was lost, encouraging a kind of self-discovery. These ideas of loss and recovery are explored within families and private relationships, and to some extent in terms of power and leadership.
In all these romances, three leaders, Pericles, Cymbeline and Alfonso, lose and have their children miraculously restored to them (Antonio is also meant to have lost his son in the storm, but this is brought up only once, and seems to be an inconsistency of the plot). Both Pericles and Cymbeline lose children at birth and their children are only regained once they are adults. However, Cymbeline also loses his daughter Innogen for a short while, and for six hours Alonso believes that Ferdinand is dead and that he will never see his daughter Claribel again. Pericles loses his entire family, and when he finally, unwittingly, finds Marina, he tells her,
“I am great with woe, and shall deliver weeping,” (5.1.97)
This image of being “great with woe” and to “deliver weeping”, is suggestive of pregnancy. This scene itself is pregnant with dramatic tension as the audience waits for Pericles and Marina to recongnise who they are, and what they mean to each other. It is also interesting that Pericles’ depression is explored with such feminine imagery – Cymbeline similarly refers to himself as being “a mother to the birth of three”, but then adds “Ne’er mother/ Rejoiced at deliverance more.” Both characters identify with the idea of motherhood in similar ways and Cymbeline’s situation is similar to Pericles; his sons are stolen from him when they were babies and are only restored to him once they have battled against the Romans. But Cymbeline’s plight also echoes that of Alonso, as both leaders lose their rightful heirs for a relatively short period of time, but both consider them irretrievable. For Cymbeline and Alonso, losing their children does lead to a reassessment of their attitudes. Alonso is parted from Ferdinand by Prospero, because Prospero is punishing Alonso for helping Antonio to usurp him, and during the separation Ferdinand and Miranda, as Prospero had hoped. Furthermore Prospero is able to encourage Alonso to identify with him, equating his own loss of a dukedom with Alonso’s loss of a son; when he reunites Ferdinand and Alonso,
“I will requite you with as good a thing,
At least bring forth wonder to content ye
As much me as my dukedom.” (5.1.169-171)
Alonso recognises his own wrongdoing, because he has lost something he valued, just as Prospero did. As for Cymbeline he is part of the reason why Innogen flees. Act 1 Scene 1 opens with two courtiers discussing Innogen and Posthumus’ marriage, in which one courtier says, although Cymbeline is opposed to the match,
“But not a courtier,
Although they wear their faces to the bent
Of the king’s looks have not a heart that is not
Glad at the thing they scowl at.” (1.1.11-15)
It is implicit in this speech that the king is to some extent tyrannical, because the courtiers do “wear their faces to the bent/Of the king’s looks” – if they are sycophantic then surely it is because they don’t feel that they can oppose Cymbeline on this matter (interestingly Pericles has a conversation with Heliacanus about the evils of flatterers 1.2.58-70). Eventually, once his family is restored to him, he accepts the marriage between Posthumus and Innogen. In regaining Innogen, he, like Alonso, has to reassess his behaviour.
The loss of wives in these plays is another aspect to the theme of loss and discovery. However the changes it brings about in the characters are quite different. In Pericles and Cymbeline, both Pericles and Posthumus lose and recover their wives, whilst Cymbeline’s queen dies. Pericles is sent by Diana to give thanks at her temple for finding Marina, and in doing so finds Thaisa. Although the main source of dramatic tension in the play is in waiting for Pericles to recover his wife and child, for Pericles, it does seem as though his fortunes change, as opposed to his actually being responsible for what happens to him. For Posthumus it is quite different. In making a bet on his wife’s faithfulness, he is taken advantage of (his circumstances are reminiscent of Othello and of the story of Caudelis and Gyges in Herodotus’ The Histories). For Postuhumus, the consequences of his lack of faith in Innogen are far less severe than those for Othello. He recognises that Innogen should not die, even if she has committed adultery, (which she hasn’t), and so regrets ordering Pisanio to kill her that he tries to get himself killed, addressing the Gods,
“For Innogen’s dear life take mine, and though
‘Tis not so dear yet ‘tis a life; you coined it” (4.5.116-117)
Posthumus, though he still doubts Innogen, realises that life without her is not worth living, and that even if she had committed adultery death was too harsh a punishment, and sets out to get himself killed. However, he does (albeit unwittingly) take out his aggression on Innogen, knocking her down in Act 5, Scene 4, having said earlier, when he thought she has committed adultery,
“O that I had her here to tear her limb-meal!
I will go there and do’t, i’th’court, before
Her father. I’ll do something.” (2.4.147-149)
Posthumus seems to be almost beside himself with rage. He seems to be almost incoherent; he is furious, but he doesn’t know how to control it, all he knows is he must “do something”. But he does unknowingly knock her down in the court in front of her father, just as he wished to. This echoes Cloten’s plan to rape Innogen and drag her back to her father and it is not the only way in which the two characters are paralleled. Both see Innogen as the perfect combination of female characteristics (which is how Ferdinand sees Miranda), both at one time or another both love and hate her, and whilst everyone but Cymbeline and the Queen has respect for Posthumus, the opposite is true for Posthumus – in fact in the Production at the Globe Theatre (2001), London, these parts were played by the same actor. The difference regarding these aspects of these characters is that Posthumus is able to recognise and repent of his cruelty to Innogen, whereas Cloten does not. Similarly it is only when the Queen dies and reveals her true nature that Cymbeline is able to repent of his treatment of Innogen and reassess his behaviour.
“It had been vicious
To have mistrusted her. Yet, O my daughter,
That it was folly in me thou mayst say,
And prove it in thy feeling.” (5.4.65-68)
It is interesting how for Cymbeline it would have been “vicious/To have mistrusted her” (the Queen), whereas Posthumus is quick to test and judge Innogen; in the end, however, both men, in part through losing Innogen, are able to recognise how they have wronged her.
Alongside the loss of wives, the absence of mothers, and their replacement figures is influential in these plays. Marina, Innogen and Miranda are all motherless, but Marina and Innogen have step-mothers, both of whom fulfil the role of the stereotypical evil step-mother. The Queen in Cymbeline speculates over killing Innogen and Dionyza actually attempts to have Marina killed. Interestingly, both Innogen and Marina a quite strong-willed. Innogen answers back to her father in Act 1, Scene1 and defends her choice of husband (she gets married without her father’s consent in the first place), and Marina refuses give up her morals when she is sold to the brothel, and has such conviction that she leads the customers to repent their past actions and start afresh. In contrast Miranda is quite obedient to her father – although in a sense this is true for all the characters in The Tempest as Prospero controls the plot with magic. Perhaps it is because Marina and Innogen have to endure opposition from a woman who should really be a nurturing figure that they are strong characters, whereas Miranda does not encounter the same kind of malice. In these plays it does suggest an imbalance, and that on some level, the virtuous female characters, in Pericles and Cymbeline, have to thwart their malicious counterparts.
The idea of loss of control is particularly powerful in The Tempest because Prospero is in control of all the other characters to some extent. His life was overturned by this brother Antonio and in order to redress the balance he uses magic to bring the characters that wronged him to the island he is stranded on. Ultimately he relinquishes his power over the others, but only in order to take up his place as the rightful Duke of Milan. When telling Miranda about how they ended up on the island he tells her of Gonzalo’s kindness,
“Knowing of my love of books, he furnished me
From mine own library with volumes that
I prize above my dukedom.”
It does seem that when Prospero was Duke of Milan he allowed Antonio to have too much power, and his own admission here, that there are “volumes” that are more important to him that his “dukedom” suggests that he was in part responsible for his loss of control over Milan, that he was inattentive to affairs of state. As he has lost power, it is only by drawing his enemies and peers into a world were he is in control that he can assert himself and regain his dukedom. In Cymbeline the issue of power is quite different – the characters compete for power over two things: Britain and Innogen, and the fight for Britain is resolved at the same time as Innogen’s troubles. Cymbeline, his Queen, Cloten, Posthumus and Giacomo all try to gain some kind of control over her. Likewise this issues are only resolved when the characters that are evil or are meant to be villainous, Cloten and the Queen, are dead. The Queen relinquishes her power over Cymbeline, and Cloten can no longer pose a threat to Innogen. In Pericles many characters try to gain control over Marina, as the characters in Cymbeline try to control Innogen, but ultimately power seems to lie with fate. Pericles does get the wife and heir that he wants, but only once they have been separated for fourteen years. Dionyza’s plan to kill Marina is thwarted by pirates kidnapping Marina. Although Pericles does escape being killed by Thaliard, Antiochus’ servant, it is only by running away – he is defensive rather than active, and so does not seem to be in control. He even gives up his power, as Prince of Tyre to Heliacanus in order to escape being killed. The basic idea, the loss of power, pervades each play, but there are few similarities in the ways in which it is explored.
The other clear theme concerning loss and recovery is loss of identity, which occurs in all these plays in some form or another. In Pericles, aside from giving up his power as Prince of Tyre (for a short while), when he is washed ashore at Pentapolis, he does not reveal his identity until he is sure he is safe to return to Tyre. Likewise, Thaisa rejects her identity as Pericles’ wife whilst she is stranded and instead stays with the Vestal Virgins. Marina’s identity is not revealed to any of the characters until the final act of the play, and she is sold to the brothel under the mistaken belief that she can be made to give up what she believes in. In Cymbeline, many characters reject their identities as a means to an end. Cloten dresses as Posthumus in order to conquer Innogen, who dresses as a boy (Fidele) to escape the court and get to Posthumus, who pretends to be a Roman in order to get himself killed. Furthermore, the identity of the two sons, like Marina, is not revealed to the majority of the characters until the final act. But in the end, all truths, from the Queen’s evil and Cloten’s murder to the identities of the sons, are discovered. Finally in The Tempest, the only character in complete control is Prospero. Stephano and Trinculo reject their former positions, seeing the island as an opportunity to be in charge instead of being servants. Although Alonso is politically the most powerful of the survivors in his group, he does not so much lead the survivors as Gonzalo tries to; Alonso is lethargic with grief. Despite believing that he is King of Naples, Ferdinand has no choice but to follow Prospero’s orders (Act 3, Scene1), and do the job of a servant, carrying logs. There is a sense that whilst on this island, shipwrecked, stranded and helpless, all the characters lose themselves to some extent. As Prospero says to Ariel, when he is ready to end his control over the other characters,
“My charms I’ll break; their senses I’ll restore;
And they shall be themselves.”
“Their senses” are controlled by Prospero, as these characters cannot find each other until Prospero allows them to. But in this situation the truth about Antonio’s usurpation is revealed (at least to Miranda), the balance is redressed, Prospero’s status is restored, and love is discovered. All truths are revealed in the end, and harmony is found, which is basically how each of these romances is resolved.
The idea that in losing something valuable we discover its value is explored in all three plays, although certainly to a lesser extent in Pericles compared to Cymbeline and The Tempest. Also there is a sense that it is only through loss of various values, and in part rejecting one’s own identity that the characters can recognise their own follies and mistakes and try to correct them. It is only by going through these situations, by suffering these losses that the truth can be discovered and that which is precious and was lost can be regained.