Boyd Tonkin: Shakespeare? Naturally. But Caliban? This sounds exciting
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Saturday 28 January 2012
For anyone who feared a feast of kitsch at the Olympic opening ceremony, Danny Boyle's choice of text for the inscription on his giant bell strikes a promising note.
He may just have missed the 400th anniversary of The Tempest, first performed in November 1611, but no matter: Shakespeare's most overtly "colonial" play manages to intrigue and stimulate writers and artists like never before.
In his late-period tragi-comic romance, the exiled magician-duke Prospero rules an enchanted island with a spirit servant (Ariel) and an earthbound slave (Caliban). When he speaks these gorgeous lines, Caliban has joined a revolt of drunken sailors against Prospero; Ariel, invisible, bewitches them with offstage music.
For many later artists, especially in the Third World, Caliban has come to represent the rebellion of colonised peoples against their paternalistic overlords. Treated as a brute, a "monster", Caliban still – in a stroke of Shakespearean genius – speaks some of the play's most ravishingly lovely poetry; and no more so than in the speech on Boyle's bell.
At the Olympics, where poetry in motion by athletes from marginal places and peoples have so often humbled the powerful, no message could better suit the spirit of the Games.
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