Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tempest: Memories of Those We Killed


In most versions of the Tempest, the nobles seem to be the most "random" group of refugees on the island.  They arrive, often they're all male and all dressed/bearded similarly, their names sound alike, two of them are scheming but not against Prospero, the sprites keep making them impotent and then going weird on them....  And yet, this is the group against whom Prospero's vengeance should work the most.

So, in rehearsal, we worked out our backstory for who these people are, and what especial "wrongs" these "men of sin" did against Prospero.

Or, as we learnt, Prospero also perpetrated against them.


I'll sketch out at another time the nobles' convoluted story.  But what I'd like to remind you, is that we're placing our Tempest almost entirely in Prospero's mind: his memory, his imagination.  In reality, the nobles are long dead; they can neither forgive nor change anymore.

But Prospero remembers them as he last knew them, before his banishment.  (Think of someone you haven't seen in forever - they look like how you last left them, although you know they're much older, or no longer on this earth).

He animates them, sometimes according to how he remembers they were, sometimes according to his anger, or according to his love.  (Think of all the imaginary conversations you've had with someone - especially someone you'd really like to verbally beat up...or reconcile with.  It's not happening except in your brain, but you still invest all of yourself into something that isn't happening.  Except, within you, it really is.)

And sometimes, they take control and are simply who they were in the last moments before they died.

When I taught theology, and we got to the Ten Commandments, the students would often scoff at the "Thou shalt not murder" and congratulate themselves that they'd gotten that one right.  (Well, that, and they were pretty sure they'd never coveted an ox in their life.)  But sometimes we murder people in our hearts; we're too judgmental, too unwilling to forgive.  We hold grudges.  We say of our own siblings: "Oh, I haven't spoken to them in years."  We murder all our memories.

So, no, it's not as bad as actually plunging a dagger in someone (like Prospero tries to force his sister Antonia to do in the above picture), but it's a living death.  It's a death of a part of you.

But, what I love about the Tempest is that things don't stop just there.  Prospero does go wild: he tries repeatedly to murder, frighten, madden the ghosts of those he's killed, the memories of those who wronged him...but something keeps him back from carving these people he once loved out of his heart forever.  And by the end of the play, Prospero forgives each of them in turn.

Some accept his forgiveness.  Some reject it.  Some forgive him in turn.  Some wish him damned.

This also is true.  We can only control our own hearts; not those around us.

November is a month of remembrance.  We have the feast of All Saints (those in Heaven) and All Souls (those who've passed away, those whom we need to forgive).  I hope that this November you, and I, can choose to reach out to someone whom we've put beyond our reach: through good thoughts, good prayer, good words, and good actions.

And may the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Amen.



To see the whole album, click here.  Or to see other posts on the Tempest, click here.

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