Shakespeare's Tempest and Eliot's Waste Land: “What the Thunder Said”

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English (Scripps)

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Arts and Humanities | Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory | English Language and Literature


An exploration of the theme of art in Shakespeare's Tempest casts light on Eliot's use of the play in The Waste Land. Art has powers of redemption because it involves qualities of restraint, balance, timing - of “government” in the broadest sense - which are analogous to those required in the control of a life, a state, or a destiny. A further analogy is suggested between receptivity to the harmonious and healing effects of art and a character's capacity for compassion. the qualities of control and compassion involved in the creation of and response to art are those necessary to attaining a “clear life”: art is a means of redemption because it teaches us to “give, sympathize, and control.” the key to releasing the curse on the modern Waste Land, the means to the feeling and remembrance that might revitalize it, are precisely those actions and attitudes which Shakespeare's last play affirms as central. Correspondences exist between the play and poem of which Eliot was no doubt aware, as he wove allusions to the play throughout his work: “What the Thunder Says” is, in the deepest sense, what The Tempest says - “give, sympathize, control.”

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© 1979 Munksgaard, Copenhagen

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