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jSfc Prospero as a Renaissance Therapist Winfried Schleiner In Shakespeare's play The Tempest, Ariel tells Alonso that for his crime "the pow'rs, delaying (not forgetting)" have "bereft" the king of his son.1 Ariel is doing more than equivocating; he is lying. Presumably, he is doing so at Prospero's behest, for Prospero triumphantly remarks a little later: "My high charms work, / And these, mine enemies, are all knit up / In their distractions" (3.3.88-90). Their "distractions" - Prospero might have said their "melancholy" — put them into Prospero's power. Since the troubled persons include those who have wronged him, we sense the triumph of the avenger who through "high charms" or "rough magic" (as he will put it in 3.3.88 and 5.1.50), that is, by having Ariel appear in the monstrous guise of a harpy, has succeeded in terrifying his enemies. But since the audience instantly realizes that Ariel is lying, that Alonso has not been "bereft" of Ferdinand though the prince's life was certainly in Prospero's power, it is also evident that vengeance and the mere exertion of magic power are notions too limited to characterize Prospero's purpose: his large design is felt to be moral and curative. In fact, in these scenes Prospero is conceived of as a therapist in the Renaissance medical understanding of someone working on a subject's imagination with all possible means, including shrewd pretenses and subtle ruses. The Tempest has not been a favorite of readers with medical or psychiatric interests.2 Directing people by make-believe, which defines die action of this play, has been seen the province of the magician rather than of the medical doctor. While I would not, of course, deny die role of magic here, on which Frances Yates among others has written learnedly and sometimes convincingly,3 it is notable that Prospero keeps on manipulating the characters around him by working on their imaginations even after he expressly renounces magic. By magic he has driven Alonso to the verge of despondency — but then it takes all of Prospero's ingenious efforts as a psychologist to keep Alonso from distraction and lead him to moral and psychological health. My contention is that certain scenes reveal their full significance only against the background of Renaissance psychology. Literature and Medicine 6 (1987) 54-60 © 1987 by The Johns Hopkins University Press Winfried Schleiner 55 When one of the most learned and stimulating readers of this play writes that "in Prospero's artistic manipulation of human life lies a danger that besets the modern psychotherapist as much as the Renaissance magician: the danger of playing God,"4 he omits to tell us, perhaps in the interest of the analogy's clarity, that the modern psychotherapist has a Renaissance analogue. This is the physician subtly and ingeniously working on the patient 's imagination through the imagination, that is, through make-believe, and dierefore also working in a morally ambiguous realm, sometimes on the verge of playing God. According to the fifteenth-century physician Marco Gatinaria, often cited for his account of the forces of the imagination, the doctor can treat a person suffering from an injured imagination with direats but also with slights, for instance by applauding his conceit; as a result Gatinaria records, as do the medical treatises by Marcello Donati (1586) and André Du Laurens (1598; English translation, 1599), examples of such medical ruses.5 Antonio Ponce de Santa Cruz (1622) compares the doctor's procedure to the resourceful strategy of a military leader in which nothing is barred if it serves the purpose of defeating the enemy.6 Ponce is full of admiration for the treatment of a man believing himself to have a body of glass: the doctor by a ruse induced him to sleep on straw, which die doctor then surreptitiously set afire; the patient, frantically beating against his door, locked from outside, was not released until he admitted diat his limbs were not of glass. For the Renaissance, I have elsewhere distinguished between a psychiatric approach that fights anxieties or fears by means of new fears or terrors (novus terror, as Johannes Cravelius says in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6571
Print ISSN
0278-9671
Pages
pp. 54-60
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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