From “The Professor” comes this awesome bit of comparatives:
Another episode, another literary reference, but this time one that Lost fans have long-suspected was connected to the show. The Tempest has many analogous images with Lost, none more prominent than a vessel (ship, or plane) crash-landing on a mysterious, magical island. But some insight into the characters might help shape your opinion of not only this episode, “The Other Woman,” but also the entire show.
The Tempest was first performed in 1612-13, and published as a Folio in 1623. (16, 23. Just pointing that out.) It stands apart from other Shakespeare plays in that abides by the unities thought to make for good drama: Time, Place, and Action. The three plot lines of the play take place over a little more than a few hours and all happen on the same island. Lost, of course, breaks apart all of these unities. At the same time, one of the play’s most famous passages returns to a favorite Shakespearean metaphor, life as a play:
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors
(As I foretold you) were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
The words above are spoken by Prospero, the island’s ruler and a magician who, curiously, wishes to finally “drown [his] book” of magic and quit the biz. During the course of the play, he creates a maelstrom to bring his enemies’ ship to the island, manipulates them toward him, arranges the marriage of his daughter Miranda to the Prince of Naples, and puts down an insurrection by one of his servants, the half-monster Caliban.
What connects Lost to Prospero for me is an interesting distinction Shakespeare had to make in his time. Magic was controversial, and so Shakespeare emphasized Prospero’s use of “white magic,” which relies on the natural, which we might think of today as science. Prospero is contrasted with the evil witch Sycorax, the only former inhabitant of the Island, who bore her son Caliban there. She worshipped and made pacts with the devil, and thus was a conjurer of “black magic.”
The natural assumption from the episode is that Ben is the Prospero analogue. He arranges the appearance of Harper, who would be the equivalent of Ariel, another of Prospero’s servants, this time a faerie imprisoned by Sycorax. (In fact, at one point in The Tempest, Ariel presents himself as a Harpie to frighten some of the ship’s crew.) He continues to manipulate Locke and even though he gives up some knowledge, retains the upper hand. Juliet would appear to be a somewhat twisted version of Miranda, whom at first Prospero seems to want to keep from Ferdinand, her suitor (ie. Goodwin, or even Jack). Of course, Ben has romantic designs of his own, doesn’t he?
But what if that insurrection by Caliban I mentioned earlier had succeeded? What if the grotesque servant had become the master? What if Ben had found a way to control Jacob, if only nominally and without learning all of Jacob’s secrets?
Perhaps Prospero = Jacob, and Ben is a kind of Caliban. Jacob’s power still rules the Island, but is hampered by Ben, though he claims to serve the greater good of the Island. Is the “white magic” used by Jacob tainted when used by Ben?
This theory also supports Ben’s attraction to Juliet and his manipulations to keep other men away from her. In The Tempest, though he was freed by Prospero, Caliban has once attempted to rape Miranda, and for this his freedom has been taken away, and both Prospero and Miranda scorn him. While Juliet would clearly be the modern-day analogue of Miranda, the more intriguing question might be: who was the original Miranda? Was it the “her” Harper mentions? Was it, perhaps, Annie?
Caliban looks up to those men from the shipwreck, taking them to be gods with whom he can rebel against his master; this would seem to suggest the original Hostiles were anti-Jacob, yet they don’t seem to be. In any case, Caliban is at peace on the island, as he tells the other men:
“Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises,
sounds, and sweet airs that delight and hurt not.”
These same relationships can be applied elsewhere in Lost, with the newly-revealed Island-addict Charles Widmore as his own kind of Prospero, or perhaps even Sycorax, or even the greedy brother Antonio. That’s par for the course in the way that Lost uses these allusions – they’re meant to deepen and widen, not completely explain away, our views of the show.
For me, what has been deepened and widened in this episode? The idea of who is good and who is evil. The connection between the Island’s powers as some redeeming source of “white magic” that could be easily turned to “black,” itself an echo of mankind’s fall from grace, his perversion of the natural workings of the world. The question of wielding this magic’s responsibility and the burden of vengeance – remember, at the end, Prospero begs the audience to release him by way of their applause. Is this why Jacob asks Locke to help him? Will Ben ever reach this limit? And finally, the issue of the illusions we see having, always, a rational explanation, a reason, driven by man.
Two other bits of trivia: 1) The Tempest also contains Alduous Huxley’s title source for his famous novel, Brave New World:
Miranda: “How man godly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in’t!”
Prospero: “‘Tis new to thee.”
2) Jack Bender directed a TV version of The Tempest set in Mississippi during the Civil War. It featured Harold Perrineau.
Your comments and theories are welcomed!!