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"Sweet Power of Music": The Political Magic of "the Miraculous Harp" in Shakespeare's The Tempest Peggy Muñoz Simonds In a recent paper critical of the logical discrepancies between "new historicist" theory and practice, Robin Headlam Wells argues that a true historical approach to The Tempest would focus on the mythological topos of Orpheus as the conventional prototype of Prospero rather than on modern views of colonialism and demonized otherness.1 In response to this important suggestion, I shall discuss here the conflation of two such traditional topoi in Shakespeare's tragicomedy: (1) the benevolent and thus successful ruler as Orpheus, a magician in control of Nature and the poetic civilizer of barbaric peoples, and (2) the ideal commonwealth as a melodious and fruitful garden. Since my iconographie materials will be taken from the political discourses of the Renaissance itself, and not from Foucault orGreenblatt, they will help to historicize Shakespeare's tragicomedy rather than theorize it in the usual postmodern fashion. Moreover, I reject the fallacious either-or logic of Foucault who implies that artistic works like The Tempest must be either for or against state power. Instead I shall suggest that Shakespeare is primarily interested in neither royalist propaganda nor revolution but in reform during an Age of Reformation, and that he indicates in this play precisely those aspects of Renaissance kingship that must be corrected if the monarchy is to survive. Prospero's long exposition in Act I of his personal failure to govern Milan well lists a number of them: negligence, lack of interest in the work of government while immersing himself completely in his hobby, handing over the real power to others, ignoring the ordinary people over whom he rules, and, above all, refusing to consider and provide for the future of his family and his dukedom. It is well known that James I of England was guilty of many of these same faults, 61 62"Sweet Power of Music" especially that of putting his hobby of deer hunting ahead of the welfare of the nation while delegating royal authority to courtiers such as the notorious Duke of Buckingham. In the present iconographie study of The Tempest and its politics , I shall refer to relevant musical imagery in Renaissance emblems and in woodcuts of royal and civic pageants, both of which provide useful analogues but are probably not sources for Shakespeare. I offer visual materials here primarily as evidence of a general cultural interest in the figure of Orpheus and of his political symbolism in Renaissance Europe, and with the hope that these pictures and their verses will supply at least a partial explanation of how an early seventeenth-century English audience might have understood the political aspects of the tragicomedy . Although Orpheus is never directly mentioned in the text, critics often observe that, as Shakespeare's most musical play, The Tempest contains many of his best songs. It also contains a musical masque featuring an elaborate stage dance, numerous poetic references to the techniques of music, and an unusual number of sound effects (from whistles, thunder, roars, barking dogs, and howls of pain contrasted to exquisite serenades from unseen musicians). David Norbrook, brilliantly discussing much of this stage dissonance in terms of political language and rhetoric, has argued that in this play "the boundless voice of the elements and of social transgression is pitted against the name of king, the arbitrary language of power."2 Although Norbrook is quite correct in calling our attention to the political linguistic resonances of the tragicomedy, his analysis glosses over the fact that the magician Prospero controls through his daemon3 Ariel the voice of the elements which drowns out the name of king and contains the comic howls and drinking songs of social transgression that serve as the bass line of the musical composition of The Tempest as a whole. Indeed, from the initial noisy shipwreck to the last scene of the play, the symbolic island in The Tempest (which could be a fantasy version of England itself) resonates with the competing vocal and stringed music of harmonious Apollo, representing rational order and measure, and the irrational pipe and tabor music and sheer racket of discordant Dionysus...


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