Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ad Fontes in the Tempest

My main focus for my first look at the theme of Ad Fontes in the Tempest was on Prospero. The plot of this story depends on Prospero, his supernatural powers, and how he uses them to bring about his justification. Our introduction to Prospero comes from the self-told narrative, detailing his fall from social power and rise into supernatural power. In Act I, Scene II, line 72, Prospero explains that he was a dignified for his unparalleled knowledge of the liberal arts. He is so consumed with his study his brother is able to overthrow him. This study however, is the beginning of his “secret study.” This secret study and his library are what give Prospero his control over Ariel, Calaban, Maranda, and the tempest.

This discovery of a long forgotten power through the study of the liberal arts parallels some of the key elements of the Ad Fontes theme. Petrarch too found a source of rhetorical power from an in depth study of the liberal arts. What interests me is the way the Tempest empowers the texts themselves. Though Prospero is the conduit of the magic, it ultimately resides in the books.

Calaban demonstrates this in his plot to overthrow Prospero the magician. In act III, scene II, line 90, Calaban emphasizes the importance of Prospero’s books to the plan, “First to posses his books, for without them he’s but a sot, as I am, not hath not one spirit to command. They all do hate him as rootedly as I. Burn but his books.”

Prospero himself reveals how necessary the books are to his success. In act V, scene 1, line 56, Prospero’s plan to relinquish is supernatural control hinges on drowning his books. This clear restriction of power to the literature allows the concept of Ad Fontes to say something interesting. I want to better explore how this treatment of primary texts informed by Petrarch’s movement to return to the sources.

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