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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: March 2007

The Tempest’s Forgotten Exile

Summary

But he that cannot abide to live in companie, or through sufficiencie hath need of nothing, is not esteemed a part or member of a Cittie, but is either a beast or a God.

The popularity of Aristotle's maxim in English Renaissance literature seems partly due to its vagueness. Who is Aristotle's solitary man? Can he remain in society and yet be considered an outcast? Is he one who has chosen to live outside society or one who has been forced out? We might also ask who decides whether the subject is beast or God, and consider whether he can occupy those identities simultaneously. Aristotle's riddling definition of the solitary man was repeatedly quoted because it expressed an ambivalence understood by contemporary historians, philosophers, poets and dramatists as central to the experience of exile. In Coriolanus, Shakespeare exploited the dramatic possibilities of this ambivalence. The protagonist's banishment is partly incurred through his virtues; he is both the beast and god of Aristotle's dictum. Perhaps more unexpected is the influence of Aristotle's Politics and other paradigms of exile on The Tempest. Prospero's self-exile in his library allowed Antonio to usurp the kingdom; banishment brought Prospero to the island; alienation dictates his actions there. It is my contention that critics of The Tempest have not taken Prospero's banishment, or the identity crisis that it inspires, seriously enough. The competing discourses surrounding banishment at the time can be seen to shape not only Prospero's posturing as an exile but also, more startlingly, his identity as a magician and colonialist.

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Shakespeare Survey
  • Online ISBN: 9781139052757
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521803411
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