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My Language! Heavens!’: Strange Tongues and the Denial of Mimesis in The Tempest

My Language! Heavens!’ : langues étrangères et déni de la mimesis dans The Tempest
Claire Guéron
p. 231-245

Résumé

The Tempest est la dernière pièce « italienne » de Shakespeare. Cet article se penche sur quelques unes des conséquences poétiques et métaphysiques de la convention qui consiste à faire correspondre l’anglais de la pièce à l’italien que sont sensés parler les personnages. Nous montrerons que cette convention est un paramètre essentiel de l’action dramatique et qu’elle contribue à la mise en évidence du caractère fondamentalement « Autre » de la langue du théâtre. Dans The Tempest, l’imbrication d’une langue inconnue et d’une langue familière débouche par métonymie et par métaphore sur un déni du principe classique de mimesis.

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Texte intégral

  • 1  William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan (Ed.), The Arden Sha (...)

1The first part of my title, “My language! Heavens!”, recalls a phrase from Act I, scene 2 of The Tempest1 Ferdinand, a young Neapolitan prince, after being shipwrecked and washed ashore on Prospero’s island, asks Miranda whether she is a maid “or no”, and expresses surprise at receiving an answer in his own language:

Ferdinand.  My prime request,
Which I do last pronounce, is (O, you wonder!)
If you be maid or no?
Miranda.  No wonder, sir,
But certainly a maid.
Ferdinand. My language? Heavens!
I am the best that speak this speech,
Were I but where ‘tis spoken.
Prospero. How? The best?
What wert thou if the King of Naples heard thee? (1.2.426-434).

2A similar scene can be found in Haklyut’s Principal navigations in which he tells of the shipwreck of “two brethren”, M. Nicholas Zeno and M. Antonio his brother, on the shores of “Friseland” in 1380, after a terrible tempest. They are saved from the belligerent natives by “a prince with armed people”:

  • 2  Richard Hakluyt, The Principal navigations, voyages, traffiques and discoueries of the English Nat (...)

[U]nderstanding that there was even at that present a great ship cast away upon the Island, [the prince] came running at the noyse and outcryes that [the inhabitants of the island] made against our poore Mariners, and dryving away the inhabitants, spake in Latine and asked them what they were and from whence they came, and perceiving that they came from Italy and that they were men of the said Countrey, he was surprised with maruelous great ioy.2

  • 3  The “my language” device is now familiar in dubbed movies and television series.

3Whether or not this passage is the original source for what I will call “The Scene of Encounter” in The Tempest, its status both as narrative and as historical report helps identify an oddity in the fictional exchange between Ferdinand and Miranda. While in Hakluyt’s text, the language in which the encounter takes place is identified as Latin, the language of the play is only referred to as “my language” and then as “this speech”. In fact, in the entire play, no language will ever be referred to by name, although Prospero comes close when he mentions the “King of Naples” in the passage above. In the scene of encounter, the use of “my language” is mandated by the convention that English stands for Italian, or perhaps Neapolitan. “Neapolitan! Heavens!” would have been confusing, as it would have involved the speaker both claiming Neapolitan as his own, and disclaiming it through the use of English3.

  • 4  Pauline Kiernan defines “Shakespeare’s repudiation of the mimesis conception of poetry” as “an arg (...)

4I am going to argue that much of the strange quality of The Tempest lies in the use Shakespeare makes of the convention that the characters are speaking Neapolitan, although the text of the play is in English. Although Shakespeare has used this convention many times before, The Tempest deliberately calls attention to it. This very specific instance of frame-breaking, I will argue, forces us to consider some of the implications of what Pauline Kiernan has called the “repudiation of mimesis”4.

The scene of Encounter and the Poetics of the play

5The “my language” convention is constitutive of the dramatic world of The Tempest. In particular, it helps homogenize the “Italian” spoken by the characters by evading the thorny issue of what in sixteenth-century Italy was referred to as la questione della lingua, the effort to establish a national language. “My language” implies that the characters speak a language that counts as “standard Italian” (since it is spoken both in Milan and Naples) but that is recognizable as Neapolitan (as Prospero’s remark indicates). In the sixteenth century, the language that was in the process of becoming Italy’s lingua franca was a standardized version of Florentine. In the world of The Tempest, Neapolitan is the lingua franca of Italy.

6The convention also affects the plot, in minor but noticeable ways. A side-effect of the shift from “Neapolitan” to “my language” is the double sense of “my language”. “My language” can mean both ‘that language which I speak’, and ‘that language which I own’. Ferdinand’s claim that he is “the best that speaks this speech” (431) combines the two meanings, but tips the scales in favour of the second. Thus the generic reference to Neapolitan contributes to the identification of language as a major player in the power politics that drive the plot. At the very immediate level of dramatic action, it is the claim of ownership contained in Ferdinand’s “my language” that provides Prospero with the excuse he needs to challenge him and to work his “rough magic” on him.

7On a broader and more thematic scale, the generic “my language” lends itself, in a way that “Italian” or “English” would not, to a metaphorical extension, by which private understandings are symbolized by linguistic agreement. Examples range from Miranda and Ferdinand redefining the meaning of such words as “slavery”, “freedom”, “cheating” and “fair play”, to Antonio speaking the “sleepy language” of conspiracy and murder to Sebastian (2.1.211-212).

8Contrasting with the generic use of “my language”, The Tempest also plays upon the English-as-Italian convention by including two cases of insertion of foreign words in English-language sentences. Both are spoken by low characters, the sailors, and both are addressed to Caliban. Stephano addresses Caliban as “Monsieur Monster” (3.2.17) and then near the end of the play urges him on with the words “Corragio bully monster, corragio” (5.1.258). The two phrases are morphologically similar, but ontologically different. This is simply because the Italian “Corragio”, unlike the French “Monsieur”, is supposed to be in the language the characters have been speaking all along. The word “corragio” has two functions in the play, the first being related to its familiarity for the characters, the second to its strangeness in the context of an English-language sentence. Thus the word “corragio” both provides a pseudo-realistic touch of local colour (an Italian sailor speaking Italian), and evokes the facetious jocularity produced when someone borrows a word from a different language. The jocular tone also contributes to the parodic value of the episode. The word “Corragio”, derived from the latin cuer, or ‘heart’ recalls the boatswain’s cries to the crew in the first scene, “Heigh, my hearts; cheerly, cheerly my hearts” (1.1.5-6) and “Cheerily good hearts” (1.1.26). In Stephano’s line, the ludicrous juxtaposition of Italian and English is in keeping with the comic downgrading of the Boatswain’s heroic cry, part of the generic shift from tragedy to comedy that is the underpinning of the plot of this tragicomedy. In the same way, the comic force of Trinculo’s satirical asides about England, “where he once was”, relies on the audience’s awareness that the speaker is in England now, and that he is speaking English.

9Thus a particular poetics unfolds in the space between Italian and English. If the dramatic world, dramatic action, tone, and semantics of The Tempest are premised on the dramatic convention that English counts as Italian, then the ontological status of the dramatic world becomes problematic. The Tempest, I am now going to argue, uses the linguistic convention to call attention to its fictional status and thereby break the mimetic illusion.

Breaking the mimetic illusion

10David Norbrook has pointed to the following oddity in the scene of encounter:

  • 5  David Norbrook, “‘What care these roarers for the name of king?’: Language and Utopia in The Tempe (...)

Arriving on the island makes all conventional codes unfamiliar. [...] having asked Miranda a question, Ferdinand is none the less astonished when she answers it in his own language. 5

  • 6  For the poetic and political significance of “preposterous” ordering, see Patricia Parker, Shakesp (...)

11I believe that what is at stake in this scene is less the breaking of a conventional social code than the defamiliarization of a dramatic one. Shakespeare may be trying to shake the audience out of its easy acceptance that English counts as Italian here. Unlike Ferdinand and Trinculo who are amazed upon hearing their own language coming out of strange mouths, the English playgoer in the audience is perfectly willing to admit that the Italian nobleman on the stage is speaking his or her language, English. After all, the playgoer has already sat or stood through Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and many other of Shakespeare’s “Italian” plays. In The Tempest, though the “my language” device, to some extent, serves to gloss over the difference between Italian and English, the passage paradoxically also draws attention to its very glossing over of the language gap. This occurs on lines 426-428, when Ferdinand refers to the preposterous6 order of his questions.

  • 7  Daniel Vanderveken, “Self-defeating Speech Acts”, in John R. Searle, Ferenc Kiefer, and Manfred Bi (...)

12This deliberate emphasis on disorder hints at a missing question, the first question any real person in Ferdinand’s position would ask is: “Lei Parla Italiano?”, “Do you speak Italian?”. If we refer to the passage from Hakluyt, we notice that the first questions the two Italians meeting on the island ask each other is “What are you?” and “Where are you from?”. This question is missing, not just because Shakespeare has decided that Ferdinand’s confusion should be registered through incoherent conversation, or even because any question in a given language counts as asking the listener whether he or she speaks that language, but because there is truly no way for such a question to make sense, given the linguistic conventions of the play. “Do you speak Italian?” would be confusing, “Do you speak English?”, inaccurate, “Do you speak my language?”, circular and stilted. What Shakespeare is avoiding here is more than a clumsy turn of phrase; it is what Daniel Vanderveken has defined as a “self-defeating speech act”7. Any one of the three questions would imply both the foreignness and the familiarity of the language it is spoken in. If I say ‘I am now speaking Italian’, I am not just lying. I am uttering a contradictory statement, and one that is immediately recognizable as such. Thus the question is eluded, but it leaves a notable gap in the text.

  • 8  John Searle, Speech Acts, an Essay in the Philosophy of Language, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970, 7 (...)
  • 9  “The axiom of existence holds across the board: in real world talk one can refer only to what exis (...)

13The missing question foregrounds what we had begun to suspect, which is that the text of the play cannot be considered a translation from a hypothetical Italian, or from any language at all for that matter. Ferdinand’s language has no ontological status, simply because it cannot refer to itself by name. The problem, which originates in an aporia of translation, affects the ontological status of the dramatic world as a whole. If we take John Searle’s “axiom of reference”, which stipulates that “whatever can be referred to must exist”8, we are brought up against the realisation that the world of The Tempest is one with very peculiar rules of reference. In the dramatic world, Ferdinand’s language is referred to as “my language”, but it does not exist. Contradicting Searle’s statement that referring in fiction is analogous to referring in real life9, we are here in a fictional world whose ontological rules are different from those of the real world. Thus the absence of an original Italian from which the play might have been translated constitutes a departure from the Aristotelian and Sidneyan concept of mimesis: the fictional world is neither an imitation of, nor an improvement upon, the real world: it belongs to a radically different species.

  • 10   Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis, Boston: Northeastern U P, 1986, 142-143. [New York: Harper and Ro (...)

14In several metadramatic illustrations of the missing “imaginable original”10, to quote from Erving Goffman, the “baseless fabric” of the dramatic world is foregrounded by a systematic emphasis on speech that does not, or cannot, refer to contradictory statements. Gonzalo’s commonwealth, as a sardonic Antonio points out, is premised on an ontological impossibility, i.e. being king of an island that admits no sovereignty (2.1.146-159). Or one might mention Antonio’s vouching for the truth of travellers’ tales, a speech-act that is invalidated by Antonio’s being a character in a play based on those very tales (3.2.24-27). As an example of a self-defeating speech-act, we can mention Miranda’s promise to be Ferdinand’s servant, “whether [he] will or no” (3.2.85-86), a logical oxymoron.

15Shakespeare’s undermining of the “mimetic illusion” has been widely discussed, in particular by James Calderwood and Pauline Kiernan. These authors have focussed on such self-reflexive devices as plays-within-the play and metadramatic references to the stage. There are several such passages in The Tempest of course, including the vanishing banquet (3.3) and the mask (4.1). Yet by grounding the breakdown of mimesis in the aporia of translation, Shakespeare expresses a concern with anatomizing dramatic speech and exposing its mechanics to view.

16Let us now, then, attempt to define some of the features of the “strange tongue” that passes for language in the world of The Tempest.

Monstrous Speech

17Shakespeare’s characterization of the “strange tongue” spoken in the dramatic world can be inferred from the network of associations connecting strange speech, monstrosity, and fiction in the play. In the light of the hybrid genre of tragicomedy, it is significant that the only two sentences in the play that combine two languages should both contain the word “monster”. Time and again, strange speech is related to monstrous or composite creatures. These range from the “adders, who hiss Caliban into madness with their cloven tongues” (2.2.13-14), to the monstrous Caliban/Trinculo composite with its “four legs and two voices” (2.2.88). At the level of the main plot, the Antonio/Sebastian pair constitutes a metaphorical two-tongued monster, a doubling of one sarcastic and evil-minded spirit.

18Conflating monsters, demonic possession and hybrid speech is an epistemic feature of sixteenth-century thought. In “Language, Duality, and Bastardy in Renaissance Drama”, Nicholas Crawford refers to, and quotes from Ambroise Paré’s Animaux, monstres et prodiges. He writes:

  • 11  Nicholas Crawford, “Language, Duality, and Bastardy in Renaissance Drama”, in English Literary Ren (...)

In another section Paré’s example serves to show how language is understood to be essentially inseparable from corporeality, and how a corrupted, monstrous body is sometimes associated with corrupted, monstrous (illegitimate and bastard) language […]11.

  • 12  Ambroise Paré, Œuvres d’Ambroise Paré — Animaux, Monstres et Prodiges, Paris: Le Club Français du (...)

I will switch to French for the actual quote, in which Paré lends his voice to the popular belief that those possessed by Satan or his minions have the ability to speak languages they have never learned: “Ceux qui sont possédés par des demons parlent la langue tirée hors de la bouche, par le ventre, par les parties naturelles, et parlent divers langages inconneus. 12


  

19Time and again, the play hints at demonic possession whenever strange and familiar tongues combine. An example is the comic scene in which the drunken sailor Trinculo, in a parody of Ferdinand wondering at Miranda’s command of his language, expresses surprise at Caliban’s use of that same language. Instead of saying “Heavens”, as Ferdinand does, Trinculo says “where the devil should he learn our language!” (2.2.65-66). The possession motif is strengthened by the scene of mock-exorcism that follows, a possible parody of Christ’s casting out of the devils (Luke, 8:23-28). Stephano’s splitting up of the Trinculo/Caliban composite amounts to the expulsion of the succubus speaking through the body of his friend. This comic scene, in which Caliban “vent[s] Trinculos” (2.2.105) takes up the darker moments in which Caliban vents his hatred of the language that is rolling off his own tongue: “The red plague rid you for learning me your language” (1.2.365-366). Caliban cursing in an alien language is almost as close a representation of demonic possession as that of Edgar as “Poor Tom” in King Lear, plagued by the evil spirits Mohu, Mobo, etc.. Prospero’s often disembodied speech is directly associated with possession when Antonio responds to his indirect accusations by saying: “the devil speaks in him” (5.1.129). Something of the kind is also suggested when Alonso, hearing Prospero’s disembodied words, through the “organ” of nature itself, whispers:  

O, it is monstrous, monstrous!
Methought the billows spoke and told me of it;
The winds did sing it to me, and the thunder-
That deep and dreadful organpipe – pronounced
The name of Prosper.                   (3.3.95-99).

  • 13  Stephen Greenblatt, “Shakespeare and the Exorcists”, in Shakespearean negotiations: the circulatio (...)

20Even before this, a hint at Prospero’s similarity to Satan possessing the souls of his victims has been suggested by the frequent iteration of the word “to roar”, a word that Samuel Harsnett often uses to describe the (fake) symptoms of the possessed. Prospero causes the waves to “roar”, and threatens to make Caliban “roar” (1.2.371) if he disobeys. On the contrary, Miranda acts as an exorcist, ridding Ferdinand of the harmonious but deceptive tongues he was bewitched by (3.1.39-146). The connection is strengthened by the term Stephen Greenblatt reports exorcists used to describe their art: “mirandum et nonmiraculum” a wonder, but not a miracle13.

21The metadramatic implications of the two-tongued monster are bound up in the ontological doubts raised by this figure. Attempts to account for the monster often lead to nonsense, as when Trinculo says to Caliban: “wilt thou tell a monstrous lie, being but half a fish and half a monster?” (3.2.27-28). “Half a monster”, of course, is itself a “monstrous lie”, or rather an ontologically empty category, a nominalist game with non-referring universals. Another failed attempt to create an ontological space for the monstrous is Sebastian and Antonio’s response to the “shapes” conjured up by Prospero, which I mentioned in the previous section. The veracity of travellers’ reports of unicorns and men with heads growing out of their chests is vouched for by characters who exist only in a play based on those same reports. This circular and self-referential connecting of monsters and lies reflects the Renaissance preoccupation with the monstrous and the marvellous, a preoccupation which often involved a metaphorical or metaphysical identification of the stage with the monstrous and the unholy.

  • 14  Samuel Harsnett, A Declaration of egregious Popish Impostures, to with-draw the harts of her Maies (...)

22If we compare Samuel Harsnett’s “Declaration against Popish Impostures”14 with Paré’s Démons et Prodiges, we may notice that both associate demonic possession with make-believe. In Paré’s text, the possessed are credited with an uncanny ability to counterfeit reality. After the passage quoted above, Paré goes on to say of the possessed:

  • 15  Ambroise Paré, op. cit.., 151.

Ils font trembler la terre, tonner, éclairer, venter: desracinent et arrachent les arbres, tant gros et forts soient-ils: ils font marcher une montagne d’un lieu en un autre, souslèvent en l’air un chasteau, et le remettent en sa place: fascinent les yeux et les éblouissent, en sorte qu’ils font voir souvent ce qui n’est point.15

  • 16  Stephen Greenblatt, op. cit., 94-128.

23Harsnett’s possessed are literally actors, as Stephen Greenblatt has pointed out in “Shakespeare and the Exorcists”16, since his pamphlet claims to expose exorcism as a hoax. The language of the stage is put to satirical use in Harsnett’s first chapter, in which he introduces the participants in the ritual of exorcism conducted by “Father Edmunds, alias Weston, a principal Iesuit of his order in those times, & twelue secular Priests, his reuerend assistants”:

  • 17  Samuel Harsnett, op. cit., 1-2.

[...] The names of the Actors in this holy Comedie, were these, Edmund, alias Weston, rector chori, of whom you have heard afore, [...]. This play of sacred miracles, was performed in sundry houses [...] And because the gentle Invitator of vs to come, and see his wonders, when wee come to see them, himselfe, and his actors doe play least to be seene, it hath beene thought meete, to send for him, and as many of his playfellowes, as Tiburne will give leaue to come, to conferre farther with them, touching this mysticall play; whether the parts have been handled handsomelie, and cunningly, or no: what the scope of the Author Edmunds, and his associates was in this wonderful pageant, and whether good decorum haue beene kept in acting the same [...].17

  • 18  Stephen Gosson, Plays Confuted in Five Actions (c.1582), cited in Edmund K. Chambers, The Elizabet (...)
  • 19  Stephen Greenblatt, op. cit., 114.

24He goes on in this vein for two more pages. If Harsnett was discrediting demonic possession by using a theatrical metaphor, several puritan preachers of Shakespeare’s day argued the converse, i.e., that the devil spoke through the players. Stephen Greenblatt quotes Stephen Gosson as writing: “The Devil is the efficient cause of plays”18. Greenblatt adds: “the theater itself is by its nature bound up in possession19”.

25Obviously, I am not arguing that in his declining years Shakespeare came to see the player as a demonic figure or the stage as the instrument of the devil. What I am suggesting is that, along with the tropes of monstrosity and bastardy, demonic possession is used as a tool of investigation into the ontological status of dramatic speech and the dramatic world. In a shift from the metaphysical to the metadramatic, Shakespeare makes the monster a trope of dramatic speech.

The dramatic speaker as two-tongued monster

26I would argue that in what Pauline Kiernan calls “Shakespeare’s Theory of Drama”, dramatic utterances have not one speaker, but two, i.e. the character and the player. The character is speaking Neapolitan, the player is speaking English, but the dramatic speaker, a composite of the two, no language at all. Most of the time, this double origin is compatible with the mimetic illusion, but now and again, the composite creature that is the actor/character strains at the seams, offering a glimpse of the two-tongued monster within.

27In The Tempest, the need to posit a “dramatic speaker” between the character and the player is illustrated by the increasingly metadramatic use of the word “spirit”. When Miranda first sees Ferdinand, she calls him a “spirit” and refers to him as “it”. The term “spirit” becomes loaded when the “true” spirits of the island perform a court masque for the young couple. When Prospero identifies the actors as spirits in Act 4 scene 1, he exposes the “dramatic speaker’s” lack of substance. These speakers are not really the Greek Goddesses they play, nor are they human. Thus the mask metadramatically suggests the appropriateness of positing a creature between the actor and the character, an unsubstantial being that speaks a language proper to the stage. Maybe the best representation of this creature is the ambiguously-gendered spirit Ariel, Prospero’s second mouth, performing the part of the harpy without “abating one word of what [he] has to say”, (3.3.85-86).

  • 20  Jon-K Adams, Pragmatics and Fiction, Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins Publishing Company, 198 (...)

28The play’s implicit characterization of the “dramatic speaker” as an unsubstantial being anticipates and illustrates recent work in the pragmatics of drama. Jon-K Adams, in Pragmatics and Fiction makes similar claims based on the premise that a dramatic performance involves a “pragmatic structure”, which he defines as “the relationships among all the language users of the text”20. Having made the point that in fiction, there is always a speaker, and that the speaker is always fictional, Adams goes on to argue that in a dramatic soliloquy, the speaker is not the character, because the communicative context mandates that a speaker always have a hearer. Adducing the example of Hamlet’s soliloquy, he writes:

  • 21 Ibid., 24.

So the communicative context is not located at the level of Hamlet’s soliloquy but at a higher level in which a speaker talks about Hamlet within the world of the drama, and as a fictional speaker, he addresses a fictional hearer (my italics)21.

Adams goes on to make that the point that the pragmatic structure of drama is analogous to that of narrative fiction, and that the “fictional speaker” of drama, the one responsible for both stage directions and speech content, resembles a narrator. This analogy suggests that the dramatic speaker’s “strange tongue” is a much broader phenomenon than the English-as-Italian oddity we have already discussed. The dramatic speaker, in addition to being a composite of character and player, shoulders some of the burden of narration. Unlike narrative fiction, which involves the mediation of a narrator, and classical tragedy, in which the chorus and the messengers act as go-betweens, early modern plays do not include an explicit narrative voice. In some cases, as Nicholas Crawford has argued, a choric role is played by “the stage bastard”:

  • 22  Nicholas Crawford, op. cit., 258.

The stage bastard’s function is almost choric, operating somewhere between the audience and the players, between the bodily reality of the audience and the more illusory bodily reality of the scene-entrenched actors. 22

29In “Shakespeare’s theory of drama”, there is a stage bastard in every character. More simply put, this means that narration and description are worked into the actors’ lines. As Erving Goffman has pointed out:

  • 23  Erving Goffman, op. cit., 142-143.

What is done, and done systematically, is that the audience is given the information it needs covertly, so the fiction can be sustained that it has indeed entered into a world not its own. (In fact, special devices are available, such as asides, soliloquies, a more than normal amount of interrogation, self-confession and confidence-giving all to ease the task of incidentally providing information needed by the onlookers.)Thus, staged interaction must be systematically managed in this incidentally informing manner. 23

30In the Semiotics of Drama and Theater, Keir Elam shows that the information is worked into the very grammar of dramatic speech. He emphasizes the world-creating function of “deictic shifters”, such as “my” in “my language” or the “this” in “this speech” in dramatic utterances. Elaborating on the work of Jindrich Honzl, he writes:

  • 24  Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theater and Drama, London and New York: Routledge, 2002 [1980], 127.

Deixis, therefore, is what allows language an ‘active’ and dialogic function rather than a descriptive and choric role: it is instituted at the origins of the drama as the necessary condition of a non-narrative form of world-creating discourse24.

As an example of this phenomenon, in which the only strange thing about the tongue we are looking at is its theatricality, let us take the end of the first scene, in which the ship carrying the King of Naples and his followers splits asunder and the people inside call out anguished “farewells” to their loved ones: “Farewell my wife and children! Farewell brother!” (1.1.61). The use of the generic “wife and children” and “brother” is an instance of the breaking or denial of mimesis. In a real-life situation, we would expect names, or terms of endearment, instead of the generic nouns. The line would sound something like: “Farewell, Bess!” or “Addio, Giuseppe!” While the doubleness in Ferdinand’s line came from the speaker’s being a composite of character and actor, in this case the shift from the particular to the generic comes from the speaker being a composite of character and narrator. The change from proper to generic name is required to satisfy the dramatic convention whereby the audience knows who and what the characters are talking about. Yet, as in the case of the English-as-Italian convention, the implications of the shift are far-ranging and cut deep into the very fabric of the play. The use of “my brother” instead of “Giuseppe”, lends pathos to the scene, and adds a universal or emblematic dimension to it. What’s more, the shift to “my brother” connects the scene to the thematic of brotherly love and betrayal that runs through the play.

  • 25  Eric Cheyfitz, The Poetics of Imperialism – Translation and Colonization from The Tempest to Tarza (...)

31An illustration of the need for a narrative component in dramatic speech appears in Miranda’s account of her attempts to teach Caliban her language. Eric Cheyfitz points out that it is unclear in the play whether Caliban spoke an actual language before the Europeans arrived25. Miranda’s contention that Caliban, before he was taught Neapolitan “gabbled like a thing most brutish” (1.2.357-358) and “did not know his own meaning” (1.2.357) is an obvious fallacy. It is ontologically impossible to tell whether or not someone is making sense to himself in a language one does not understand, or even to tell whether or not the person is speaking an actual language. Prospero and Miranda, upon arriving on the Island, are in the position of members of the audience who have arrived late, after the play has already begun. They are forced to ask other members of the audience (Ariel) what happened before and do not understand what the players are talking about (Caliban gabbling). What is being hinted at here is that the actor/character’s language is not a natural or realistic one, but a “strange tongue”, one which contains its own translation into terms an audience can make sense of. Miranda’s confusion comes from the absence of any such mediation between Caliban’s language and her own.

Conclusion

32Shakespeare’s use of the linguistic oddity in The Tempest is both poetic and self-reflexive. We have seen that much of the distinctive flavour of The Tempest derives from the English-as-Italian convention, and that this fact generates a meta-discourse, resulting in a denial of mimesis, and in something that feels like the first stirrings of a pragmatic theory of fiction.

33It could be objected that in rooting the denial of mimesis in a few obscure linguistic oddities, I have been wilfully oblivious of the illusion-shattering effect of the wildly improbable magical feats performed on the stage, such as magical storms, flying spirits, vanishing banquets and dissolving masks.

34I would argue that the two forms of mimesis-denial are not interchangeable. The staging of Prospero’s explicitly dramatic form of magic functions as a celebration of the playwright’s magic hold over his audience. On the other hand, the language-based denial of mimesis I have been discussing tends to diffuse the origin of artistic creation, diverting some of the authorship away from the playwright.

35In Shakespeare’s Theory of Drama, Pauline Kiernan argues that the self-reflexive passages in Shakespeare amount to Ovidian boasts of the artist’s ability to make the audience believe whatever he chooses. She writes:

  • 26  Pauline Kiernan, Shakespeare’s Theory of Drama, Cambridge, New York, and Melbourne: Cambridge U P, (...)

When we are reminded that we are sitting in a theatre and have been, in the words of one contemporary spectator at Julius Caesar, “ravish’d”* by events on the stage, it merely reinforces the power of the fiction to coerce our belief – in the fiction. The illusion, far from being shattered, is given renewed force. It is a boast; not an apology for being ‘only’ a play, a mere imitation of life. There is nothing ‘life-like’ about it. It is not supposed to be life.26

36Though Pauline Kiernan’s argument is compelling, I believe that in The Tempest, Shakespeare, is doing more –and less– than boasting of his abilities. In locating some of the world-creating features of drama in the pragmatic requirements of dramatic speech, he is also acknowledging that much of the creative power of the playwright lies in channelling the energies already contained in his raw material, i.e., language, and the communicative situation. In keeping with Prospero’s humble leave-taking, he is acknowledging that part of the magic, ultimately, lies in the presence of those who must be pleased, “to wit”, the audience.

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Bibliographie

Primary sources

HAKLUYT, Richard, The Principal navigations, voyages, traffiques and discoueries of the English Nation, made by Sea or ouer-land, to the remote and distant quarters of the Earth, at any time within the compass of these 1500 yeeres, London:George Bishop, Ralph Newberrie & Robert Barker, 1598-1600, vol. 3, [1589].

HARSNETT Samuel, A Declaration of egregious Popish Impostures, to with-draw the harts of her Maiesties Subjects from their allegeance, and from the truth of Christian Religion professed in England, under the pretence of casting out deuils, London: James Roberts, 1603, <http://eebo.chadwyck.com>.

PARÉ Ambroise, Œuvres d’Ambroise Paré - Monstres et Prodiges, 1573, Paris: Le Club Français du Livre, 1954.

SHAKESPEARE William, The Tempest, « The Arden Shakespeare », Virginia Mason Vaughan et Alden T. Vaughan (Ed.), Walton-on-Thames: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1999.

Secondary sources

ADAMS Jon-K, Pragmatics and Fiction, Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins Publishing Company, 1985.

CHAMBERS Edmund K., The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923, vol. 4.

CHEYFITZ Eric, The Poetics of Imperialism – Translation and Colonization from The Tempest to Tarzan- Expanded edition – Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1997, [Oxford UP, 1991].

CRAWFORD Nicholas, « Language, Duality, and Bastardy in Renaissance Drama », English Literary Renaissance, Spring 2004, vol. 34, n°2.

ELAM Keir, The Semiotics of Theater and Drama, London and New York: Routledge, 2002, [1980].

GOFFMAN Erving, Frame Analysis, Boston: Northeastern UP, 1986, [New York: Harper and Rowe, 1974].

GREENBLATT Stephen, « Shakespeare and the Exorcists », inShakespearean Negotiations: the Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England, Berkeley: U of California P, 1988.

KIERNAN Pauline, Shakespeare’s Theory of Drama, Cambridge, New York, and Melbourne: Cambridge UP, 1996.

NORBROOK David, “ ’What care these roarers for the name of king?’: Language and Utopia in The Tempest”, in Gordon McMullan and Jonathan Hope (Ed.), The Politics of Tragicomedy – Shakespeare and After, London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

PARKER Patricia, Shakespeare from the Margins, Language, Culture, Context, Chicago and London: The Chicago UP, 1996.

_______________, “Preposterous Events”, inShakespeare Quarterly, Summer 1992, Vol. 43 n°2, Washington D.C.: The Folger Library, 186-213.

SEARLE John, Speech Acts, an Essay in the Philosophy of Language, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970.

VANDERVEKEN Daniel, “Self-defeating Speech Acts”, in John R. Searle, Ferenc Kiefer and Manfred Bierwish (Ed.), Speech Act Theory and Pragmatics, Dodrecht, Boston, and London: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1980.

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Notes

1  William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan (Ed.), The Arden Shakespeare, Walton-on-Thames: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1999.

2  Richard Hakluyt, The Principal navigations, voyages, traffiques and discoueries of the English Nation, made by Sea or ouer-land, to the remote and distant quarters of the Earth, at any time within the compass of these 1500 yeeres, Imprinted at London by George Bishop, Ralph Newberrie and Robert Barker, 1598-1600, vol. 3 [1589], 1.

3  The “my language” device is now familiar in dubbed movies and television series.

4  Pauline Kiernan defines “Shakespeare’s repudiation of the mimesis conception of poetry” as “an argument against [the] idea of the poet’s strife against nature to achieve, by means of rhetoric, a skilled imitation, or to construct ‘a more perfect world’; what Sidney described as growing ‘in effect another nature, in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or quite anew, forms such as never were in nature’”. See Pauline Kiernan, Shakespeare’s Theory of Drama, Cambridge, New York, and Melbourne: Cambridge UP, 1996, 16-17. I will be using “mimesis” in the same sense of imitating nature or imitating the work of the Creator.

5  David Norbrook, “‘What care these roarers for the name of king?’: Language and Utopia in The Tempest”, in Gordon McMullan and Jonathan Hope (Ed.), The Politics of Tragicomedy – Shakespeare and After, London and New York: Routledge, 1992, 21-54, 26-27.

6  For the poetic and political significance of “preposterous” ordering, see Patricia Parker, Shakespeare from the Margins, Language, Culture, Context, Chicago and London: The Chicago UP, 1996, 20-55 and “Preposterous Events”, in Shakespeare Quarterly, Summer 1992, Vol. 43 n°2, Washington D.C: The Folger Library, 186-213.

7  Daniel Vanderveken, “Self-defeating Speech Acts”, in John R. Searle, Ferenc Kiefer, and Manfred Bierwish (Ed.), Speech Act Theory and Pragmatics, Dodrecht, Boston, and London: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1980, 247-272. The relevant problem here is “the impossibility of presupposing the preparatory conditions” (266). Saying “Do you speak Italian?” in this context requires presupposing that the sentence is being spoken in Italian, which it is not.

8  John Searle, Speech Acts, an Essay in the Philosophy of Language, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970, 77.

9  “The axiom of existence holds across the board: in real world talk one can refer only to what exists; in fictional talk one can refer to what exists in fiction [...]”, Ibid., 79.

10   Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis, Boston: Northeastern U P, 1986, 142-143. [New York: Harper and Rowe, 1974], 145: “In any case, here is the first illustration of what will be stressed throughout: the very remarkable capacity of viewers to engross themselves in a transcription that departs radically and systematically from an imaginable original. An automatic and systematic correction is involved, and it seems to be made without its makers’ consciously appreciating the transformation conventions they have employed”.

11  Nicholas Crawford, “Language, Duality, and Bastardy in Renaissance Drama”, in English Literary Renaissance , Spring 2004, vol.34, n°2, 256.

12  Ambroise Paré, Œuvres d’Ambroise Paré — Animaux, Monstres et Prodiges, Paris: Le Club Français du Livre, 1954 [1573], 151.

13  Stephen Greenblatt, “Shakespeare and the Exorcists”, in Shakespearean negotiations: the circulation of social energy in Renaissance England, Berkeley: U of California P, 1988, 100.

14  Samuel Harsnett, A Declaration of egregious Popish Impostures, to with-draw the harts of her Maiesties Subjects from their allegeance, and from the truth of Christian Religion professed in England, under the pretence of casting out deuils, printed by Iames Roberts, dwelling in Barbican, at London, 1603, <http://eebo.chadwyck.com>.

15  Ambroise Paré, op. cit.., 151.

16  Stephen Greenblatt, op. cit., 94-128.

17  Samuel Harsnett, op. cit., 1-2.

18  Stephen Gosson, Plays Confuted in Five Actions (c.1582), cited in Edmund K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols., Oxford: Clarendon, 1923, 4:215 and in Stephen Greenblatt, op. cit., 116.

19  Stephen Greenblatt, op. cit., 114.

20  Jon-K Adams, Pragmatics and Fiction, Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins Publishing Company, 1985, 12.

21 Ibid., 24.

22  Nicholas Crawford, op. cit., 258.

23  Erving Goffman, op. cit., 142-143.

24  Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theater and Drama, London and New York: Routledge, 2002 [1980], 127.

25  Eric Cheyfitz, The Poetics of Imperialism – Translation and Colonization from The Tempest to Tarzan- Expanded edition – Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1997, 164 [1991, Oxford UP].

26  Pauline Kiernan, Shakespeare’s Theory of Drama, Cambridge, New York, and Melbourne: Cambridge U P, 1996, 120.

* The word “ravish’d” is quoted by Pauline Kiernan from Leonard Digges, Commendatory verses to Shakespeare’s Poems, 1640, quoted in Edmund K. Chambers, William Shakespeare, a Study of Facts and Problems, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923, II, 233.

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Claire Guéron, « ‘My Language! Heavens!’: Strange Tongues and the Denial of Mimesis in The Tempest »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. VI – n° 3 | 2008, 231-245.

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Claire Guéron, « ‘My Language! Heavens!’: Strange Tongues and the Denial of Mimesis in The Tempest »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. VI – n° 3 | 2008, mis en ligne le 04 juin 2009, consulté le 28 février 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/401 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.401

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Auteur

Claire Guéron

(Paris, France)
Claire Guéron est professeur agrégée à l’Université de Marne-la-Vallée où elle enseigne la littérature anglaise et la critique littéraire. Membre du centre de recherche PEARL de Paris III, elle rédige une thèse sur le déracinement dans le théâtre de Shakespeare et a publié deux articles intitulés respectivement : « Potins et Calomnie dans Beaucoup de bruit pour rien et La Nuit des rois », Nathalie Solomon et Anne Chamayou (Dir.), Potins, cancans et littérature, P U de Perpignan, 2006, et « Fellowship in Coriolanus », Delphine Lemonier-Texier et Guillaume Winter (Dir.), Lectures de Coriolan de William Shakespeare, P U de Rennes, 2006. Elle a également participé à la préparation d’une mise en scène de Roméo et Juliette au Théâtre Jeune Public de Strasbourg (Laurent Contamin, 2004) en tant que conseillère à la dramaturgie.

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