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Elaborating on The Tempest

In The Tempest Ferdinand says “Where should this music be? I’ th’ air or th’ earth?”  Dr. McCoy provided further elaboration of this sentence by prodding our memory of when Dr. DeFrantz educated the class of how in black culture “getting low” to the earth while dancing is an integral part of the dance. Dr. McCoy not only mentioned this but also mentioned how this line from The Tempest was prompting the mind of the reader/audience to remember that the earth and things apart of the earth are to be dominated while the air is free in its own form and closer to the heavens as some would say.

Dr. McCoy referring to this sparked my memory and brought to mind words from the chamber singers at Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell’s Interview + Community Sing from earlier in the semester. The chamber singers opened the presentation with a rendition of Wade in the Water. The director of the chamber singers emphasised that the although some may approach the song with sadness from hearing other versions due to it historically being a negro spiritual sung when slaves were escaping this version was not intended to be sad, but rather to be heard and for the listener to “have total respect for the power of the water.” It was a beautiful performance. Here the water is to be respected because of the power it withholds. This quote is in contrast to The Tempest where in the play the earth is something conquerable and submissive, while in the Wade in Water song the water close to the earth in proximity is something so powerful it must be respected.

In The Tempest both Caliban and the earth are referred to as slaves by Prospero and are not given respect. Prospero uses earth interchangeably for Caliban within his dialect. An example would be on page 13 when Prospero says “What, ho! Slave! Caliban! Thou earth, thou!” This is a play on our both/and course concept. Both the Caliban and the earth are slaves and they are words used by Prospero to substitute in for one another. The language used by Prospero is forcing Caliban to be conscripted into the role of a slave.

Several examples of language forcing Caliban to be treated as Prospero’s subordinate include and are not limited to:

“Thou tortoise”

“A thing most brutish”

“Savage”

By calling Caliban these things other than his name it’s important we realize it further

diminishes his role as a character and gives him a nonconsensual status of a slave. We have discussed many times the importance of naming throughout the course, and how names can be very limiting.

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