Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ceres and fun with *The Tempest*

In Act 4, scene 1 of The Tempest, Prospero shows his daughter Miranda and her soon-to-be husband a show, a masque of sorts put on by Ariel and the spirits under his control. I love teaching this bit of the play because it's crystalizes for students how important Miranda's virginity at marriage is to Prospero and helps them see that love (yeah, say it in that hot voice so it really means "sex" and not "emotional attachment") can be scarily dangerous, at least to protective parents.

We did 4.1 in Shakepeare class the other day. I always start out getting students to identify the basic players: Iris (Juno's messenger; hey, it says so in the notes), Ceres (Think Cereal! That works well in an area where lots of students grow up around serious farming), Juno (I weirdly imagine Miranda Richardson asking, "Who's queen?" What can I say?), Venus, and her arrow-enabled son, Cupid. We read a bit of the masque section aloud, focusing on the part where Ceres asks Iris if Venus is in attendance because she does not want to deal with Venus.

I ask my class why Ceres doesn't want to see Venus? The other day, one of my students actually knew the story of how Proserpina, Ceres' daughter, was raped by "dusky Dis" and taken down to Hades, where she made the mistake of eating pomegranate seeds. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or rather, back up above ground, Ceres got upset that her daughter was nowhere to be found. My student did a good job telling the basics.

So how do Venus and Cupid fit in? Dis takes Proserpina because Cupid hits him in the eye with one of his golden arrows, and when Cupid hits, people and gods get stupid.

Then I jumped in a bit to remind students that an upset Mom is nothing to mess with, and an upset goddess Mom is even more dangerous. (I assume my students know about dealing with upset Moms.) When Ceres gets upset, things get BAD here on earth. I waved toward the outside, recalling their attention to the snow and cold. THAT'S what happens when a goddess Mom is upset!

Then, the gods started getting worried because it was winter, and even they didn't like hockey THAT much, so they made a bit of a deal: half the year, Proserpina gets to hang out with her Mom, and during that half of the year, the world is full of growth and crop fertility. And during the other half of the year, Proserpina has to go back to Hades, and Ceres is upset. And when Ceres is upset, WINTER. (Winter makes a big impact here, even this early in the season.)

Your physics profs tell you that it's all about the rotation and tilt of the earth relative to the sun, but they are WRONG! It's a goddess Mom being upset! Ok, not really, but it IS a great story!

And Shakespeare gets it all in there by allusion in about five lines, probably knowing that any early modern English(wo)man with a basic education would know the whole story and get it completely, and that if someone didn't have much education, those five lines would go fast enough not to be a bother. The play'd be less rich and fun for them, but it wouldn't be unintelligible or overly confusing.

This guy, you know, he's darned good at this playwrighting gig.

Ceres is as much of a mother as we get in the play. Otherwise, we get a comment to Miranda that her mother told Prospero that he was her father, and he believed her because she was "a thing of virtue." And we hear about Sycorax, Caliban's Mom, mostly via Prospero and Ariel's nastiness, with a few complaints from Caliban that he inherited the island from her.

So it's really interesting that the one mother who actually appears AS a mother is the one most famous for having a daughter raped and taken from her. And she's the one Prospero has his spirits represent. (And then there's the fun of the metatheatricality involved and all, which is its own delight.)

It's like textgasm!

PS. Some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Well, not really, and I'm not trying to protect anyone's identity here, so I'm going to tell you the REAL names!

Here goes, Bardiac blogger names names!


(Pretty exciting stuff, eh?)

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