The Interference of the Past in “Ghosts”
Culture perceives ghosts as apparitions that appear in the dark to petrify the living. Adichie’s interpretation of ghosts, however, transcends the literal. In “Ghosts,” true phantoms are the memories that haunt us. James’ past trauma festers as memories, eventually altering his identity. These memories interrupt his life, moving him to acknowledge the suffering he has repressed. This traps James between the past and present, resulting in a fractured sense of self. James’ changing identity allows him to accept the unreal and deviate from his logically-based beliefs. Through the war and its aftermath, James recognizes his powerlessness. This shift in control changes his approach to corruption. Trauma, regardless of his neglect, transforms James’ perception of culture, power, and spirituality. By interweaving past and present, Adichie illuminates suffering’s effect on identity.
Suffering moves James’ identity to the boundary of the past and present. He does not fully engage in the current moment, nor does he accept the trauma of his past. Adichie constantly shifts between his memories and the present narrative, thereby reinforcing James’ fractured sense of self. When Ikenna asks about Zik, James avoids the consequences of trauma. “‘The war took Zik,’ I said in Igbo. Speaking of death in English has always had for me a disquieting finality” (Adichie 4). James longs for the time before suffering, unable to voice his pain aloud. His differentiation between English and Igbo reinforces this disparity. Just as he feels trapped in the outskirts of two cultures, he becomes stuck between the past and present. As Nkiru, the university, and the townspeople move forward, the past isolates James. He detaches from his community, simultaneously detaching from the present. This detachment lends itself to James’ narrative. A removed sense of self compels James to relate everyday events to the suffering of his past. In this way, detached autobiography allows him to effectively process and reflect. James’ developing identity translates into his spirituality.
Through Ebere’s ghost, Adichie illustrates trauma’s impact on beliefs. Upon experiencing loss, James deviates from rationality to enjoy Ebere’s comforting presence. The role of a professor demands a factual perspective, therefore triggering Ikenna’s doubt. This response mirrors James’ former identity. James reflects, “We are the educated ones, taught to keep tightly rigid our boundaries of what is considered real” (Adichie 6). James takes on a critical tone towards a reason-based ideology. He mocks the assumption that education cannot coexist with spirituality. Through suffering, James’ system of thought evolves past the tangible. His feelings of isolation and loss manifest in the ghost of Ebere. In this sense, she serves as a coping mechanism. James’ detached autobiography seamlessly transitions the reader from the real to the unreal. His reliable narration makes the reader struggle to decide Ebere’s realness. James’ evolving beliefs, supported by his point of view, foster his eventual acceptance.
Although James admits powerlessness, he looks toward the future with hope. He recognizes the futility in fixing a broken system and finds peace in this acceptance. James no longer wants to rebel like he did in the war, but rather accepts corruption as inevitable. Upon seeing the fake drug importer on TV, James is not passive, “But I was not offended, not as egregiously as I would have been if Ebere did not visit” (Adichie 9). He contrasts humanity’s tendency towards corruption against his love for Ebere. In this way, James accepts his lack of control while maintaining hope for the future. Moreover, James proves his readiness to reunite with his wife and daughter. He removes himself from the affairs of the living world to prepare for the afterlife. James tells his story of corruption as his final act of peaceful resistance. By relaying his suffering in detached autobiography, the reader recognizes James’ integrity, untouched by selfish motivations. Ikenna, characterized by his advocacy for change, signifies James’ former self. After experiencing suffering, James’ changing sense of self allows him to accept his lack of control.
“Ghosts” illustrates trauma’s transformation of identity by incorporating the past. As James detaches from the present, he develops a fractured sense of self. He cannot accept the past, so his pain festers in his memories. This suffering compels James’ spirituality to evolve. He chooses to believe in the unreal so Ebere’s ghost can relieve his isolation. After experiencing trauma, James accepts his lack of control. He accepts corruption’s inevitability as he prepares for the afterlife. These shifts in thought, belief, and power transform James’ identity. Through his memories, Adichie forces James to confront the ‘ghosts’ he has chosen to neglect.
Mrs. Alving’s Monologue on Ghosts in Henrik Ibsen’s play “Ghosts”
Mrs. Alving: “But I’m inclined to think we’re all ghosts, Pastor Manders; it’s not only the things that we’ve inherited from our fathers and mothers that live on in us, but all sorts of old dead ideas and old dead beliefs, and things of that sort. They’re not actually alive in us, but they’re rooted there all the same, and we can’t rid ourselves of them. I’ve only got to pick up a newspaper and when I read it I seem to see ghosts gliding between the lines. I should think there must be ghosts all over the country – as countless as grains of sand. And we are, all of us, so pitifully afraid of the light.”
In this seminal passage from his play “Ghosts”, playwright Henrik Ibsen utilizes the monologue of Mrs. Alving to vividly convey her growing dissent towards the traditions and social norms pervading Norway during the late nineteenth century. The play was written as a social commentary, and Ibsen foresaw some controversy upon its release, and was intent on expressing his views on the human condition at the time. Throughout the play, “Ghosts”, and especially in Mrs. Alving’s memorable monologue, he indicts the dominant ideology of society in Norway for its oppressive atmosphere and ideals.
The clearly obsolete and hypocritical social expectations are still perpetuated and strictly adhered to by the majority, ruining their integrity and morality. Throughout this scene, Mrs. Alving mentions her cowardice several times, emphasizing finally that it is the “ghosts” that make subdue her into hiding the truth from her son. Ibsen defines these ghosts as “all sorts of old dead ideas and old dead beliefs”, using parallelism to stress that current traditions and norms are in fact archaic. The repetition of “dead” highlights the decay of these values, not only implying that these ideas are flawed, but also that they do not fit in the present. However, they continue to haunt and oppress the community. Ibsen extensively uses the binary opposition of “dead” and “alive” to blur the line between the characters and ghosts. Similar to the dominant ideals that are “not actually alive…but…rooted there all the same”, the characters will live in the present, but remain trapped in a repetitive cycle of the past, unable to progress.
The social expectations upheld by the Norwegian public seem to restrict any possibility of freedom and personal contentment. They appear everywhere, as implied when Mrs. Alving states “I seem to see ghosts gliding between the lines” of the newspaper. The motif of the newspaper highlights the constant presence of the conventions in the media, and Ibsen uses the gentle-sounding alliteration of “ghosts gliding” to further emphasize the subconscious oppression of the people. After the monologue, Pastor Manders criticizes any deviation from this restrictive and dominant ideology, exclaiming that Mrs. Alving’s problems stem from the “terrible, subversive, free-thinking books” she reads. Ibsen juxtaposes the harmful connotations of the first two adjectives with that of “free-thinking”, clearly demonstrating that freedom of thought and expression was condemned, while the archaic ideals promoted in mass media are accepted. The gloom of the setting also reinforces the notion that this society is clinging to obsolete beliefs and traditions that discourage openness and change in the community, which leads to their fixation with reputation and lack of honesty.
Ibsen uses Mrs. Alving’s monologue to highlight the gulf between truth and ideals, and the futility of aspiring to society’s ideals. She laments, “we are, all of us, so pitifully afraid of the light”, representing the scarcity of truth and joy through the symbolism of light, emphasized through the constantly gloomy and rainy setting. Ironically, the country is home to ghosts, or flawed ideals, that are “as countless as grains of sand”; Ibsen uses the simile to highlight the extent to which the well-kept yet false beliefs overshadow the people and cause the loss of their integrity and moral values. The highly emotive adjectival clause “pitifully afraid” at the close of the monologue draws attention to the intense pressure of maintaining a proper public reputation, which forces characters to uphold obligations and a righteous image, but sacrifice their integrity. The character’s lamenting tone is reinforced by the author’s rather scathing tone in this line, as they both criticize the cowardice of ostensibly virtuous people, who live in fear of society’s opinion of them and in reality fall prey to many sins. Ibsen satirizes this notion further through the characterization of Pastor Manders, who reassures Mrs. Alving, “You’ve planted a beautiful illusion in your son’s mind…and that’s something to be proud of.” Society seems to force filial piety and the belief in the infallible nature of one’s parents, even though its leaders, including Pastor Manders, are aware of the impurity that afflicts numerous families. They turn a blind eye to reality and foster corrupted ideologies. Even after the truth is revealed and the sun finally starts to emerge, the “inherited” ghosts of the past are unforgiving and persistent, and Osvald dies.
It is evident that in the play and Mrs. Alving’s monologue, Ibsen is criticizing Norwegian society in the late nineteenth century for upholding defunct ideologies, as they only lead to strife and dishonor for individuals and families. Much of the drama revolves around the haunting past that influences the present, as Ibsen depicts the destructive cycle that continues because of the flawed societal beliefs and expectations. His play “Ghosts” is a microcosm for any society that attempts to defy reality and recede into comfortable ideals, which ultimately leads to hypocrisy and the loss of moral values.
Ibsen’s Characters are Victims of Society’s Expectations
The playwright Henrik Ibsen once stated, “Do you know what we are those of us who count as pillars of society? We are society’s tools, neither more nor less.” Ibsen was a great anti-idealistic writer of the mid to late nineteenth century. His plays were of a new breed, swaying away from the wholesomeness of the Victorian era, and instead attacking personal issues that he, and all those in his native Norway could relate to. This new writing style helped coin Ibsen as the father of modern drama. These modern dramas were very real, and the characters Ibsen created were in fact tools of society. Ibsen uses Halvard and Aline Solness of The Master Builder and Regine Engstrand and Mrs. Helene Alving of Ghosts to show how society’s power to conform negatively influences others. Ibsen’s characters in The Master Builder and Ghosts are victims of an idealistic society’s unrealistic expectations. Aline Solness of The Master Builder is a character who well represents the dangers of trying to meet the expectations of an idealistic society. Aline is married to Halvard Solness, an architect also known as the Master Builder. Throughout the course of their relationship, she struggles to live for herself, instead she tries to fit the mold that society places upon her. Ibsen uses Aline to fit the role of the stereotypical housewife, one who caters to everyone else’s needs and doesn’t have a say in house matters. Although it is unfair, Ibsen is not far from creating the ideal housewife of that time period, since this play was written years before women’s roles were expanded. Aline believes that she is expected to do whatever her husband needs, and in this case it is to stay out of his way and support him in his pursuit to become the most renown architect, or the Master Builder. Aline tries too hard to meet her husband’s needs, and as a result falls into the trap of unrealistic expectations set for her. Society has such an impact on Aline that she completely forgets to live for herself. She has gone through many years with Halvard, and the only substance in their relationship was his career. Ibsen is trying to show that “Aline has nothing to live by but the categorical imperative of duty” (Morgan). Throughout the course of the play, Aline’s obsession with duty becomes more apparent. A first example of this is when Halvard receives a visitor, Hilda. Halvard has not seen Hilda in ten years, and does not have even a slight remembrance of her, yet Aline vaguely does. She notices how Hilda and Halvard are engaged deep in conversation, and how this may be a threat to her relationship, yet she still goes out of her way to help her. Hilda asks if she could stay at their residence until she gets her life back in order, and without asking any questions, Aline responds, “I will do the best I can for you. It’s no more than my duty” (The Master Builder, 111). Aline’s false sense of duty causes her to stop whatever she is doing, and serve others. Several instances of this occur throughout the play, and each time Aline proclaims, “It’s only my duty, and I am so very glad to do it” (The Master Builder, 130). This becomes so evident, that even the eccentric Hilda says, “Oh I can’t bear that ugly, horrid word! It sounds so sharp and stinging. Duty– duty– duty”(The Master Builder, 131). From this, it is quite evident that everyone notices the effects of Aline’s responsibility, yet she still gets nothing in return for it. Hilda’s questioning helps show that something is missing in this so-called ideal husband and wife relationship. Ibsen is described as “deconstructing realism” (Hornby) in The Master Builder. The expectations that Ibsen tears to shreds are the idea that the stereotypical housewife takes care of the house and family, while the husband provides for the family and then comes home and the happiness is shared together. Ibsen is trying to show how this perfection cannot be met; yet Aline is pressured into working for no reward. Aline’s lack of self need is lost in her drive to serve others, and eventually she has to sacrifice her personal freedoms as a result of being victimized by the expectations set upon her. One of the biggest things Aline loses is her desire to live. She may have seemed content, but Ibsen wanted to portray her as someone who was stripped of her livsglede, or joy of living (Morgan). From the moment of her introduction, Ibsen is trying to show that her quality of life has slowly been deteriorating. Ibsen says, “She looks thin and wasted with grief, but shows traces of bygone beauty. Blonde ringlets, dressed with good taste, wholly in black. Speaks somewhat slowly and in a plaintive voice” (The Master Builder, 99). From this initial description, Ibsen is trying to show the audience how far this once beautiful woman has fallen. Her black dress helps solidify the bleakness and gloom that surrounds her life, and the tone of her unassertive voice indicates that her word is of very little importance. Aline has gotten older over the years, but her aging is purely a numerical process. Because of her lack of inner progress, “Aline has grown old without growing up” (Morgan), and she never achieves anything during the later part of her life. Aline devotes herself to others but forgets herself, and thus she lets the unrealistic expectations cast upon her consume her life. Halvard Solness, Aline’s Husband, is another character that struggles trying to meet the needs of an unrealistic idealistic society. Known as the Master Builder, Solness has developed a reputation for being one of the best architects around. Halvard is under constant pressure to be the best builder, and he will stop at nothing until that is the case. Unfortunately, his path to success involves many sacrifices, most importantly the well being of those around him. Halvard was very concerned with his standing in society, and it was his personal pride that played the largest role in him becoming The Master Builder. Halvard is a supposed master at building homes, yet the home he lives in is hardly a home for people. Instead, his home houses his workroom and his office. These details are found in the opening stage directions, and immediately help the audience identify that there will be a struggle for Halvard to separate his work from his personal life. Halvard is influenced by society into thinking that a man will provide for his wife, and thus be loved in return. The problem is that while Halvard may be a symbol of love and provide for Aline financially, there is no real love exchanged between the two of them. Society inflates Halvard’s ego, and leads him to believe he is someone he is not. Unfortunately for Halvard, things do not work out the way he has planned. Unforeseen events that he cannot account for haunt his past, and new problems arise each day. These miniature roadblocks accumulate over time and prove to him that his dream of being the best and living in a perfect world is not going to come true. Trouble arises for Halvard when Hilda arrives at their home. Hilda is a distortion of reality. She arrives during a time of gloom. Before this, Halvard is quoted, “Oh, but this is hopeless, hopeless! Never a ray of sunlight! Not so much a gleam of brightness to light up our home!” (The Master Builder, 127). Halvard is beginning to experience troubles, but her far-fetched ideas fascinate him and give him a false sense of hope. Ibsen uses Hilda to push Halvard to his limits, making sure that he never feels comfortable. Throughout the play, Hilda influences Halvard into doing things that are beyond his capabilities, forcing him to make tough choices. Of course, when put in these situations, Halvard makes all the wrong decisions, showing that he cannot handle society’s great idea of perfection. In his pursuit of the perfect life, Halvard is forced to sacrifice things that were once important to him, and as a result he becomes a victim of society. Richard Hornby sums up Halvard by saying, “perfection of the work seems to have blocked perfection of the life.” One single mistake he made that ended up having the largest ramifications involved a fire in the Solness’s first home. Halvard had noticed a crack in the chimney of the house, but did nothing to fix it. Selfishly, “he sensed, even then, that if the house were to burn down, he would be given a wonderful opportunity to advance his career” (Hornby). He thought if the house burnt down he could subdivide the land and build houses on it, and this move would end up establishing him as an architect. Thanks to this thought process, he never fixed the crack, and this is where the fire allegedly started. Tragically, the couple’s two infant sons died as a result of the fire. The whole family escaped the fire safely, but Aline became ill and the sickness affected her milk. Driven to duty, Aline insisted on nursing them, and unfortunately both children died. Despite this tragic situation, Halvard, who believes that society expects him to be the best, says, “Thanks to the fire… I laid out almost the whole garden [into new lots]; and there I was able to build my own heart. So I came to the front with a rush” (The Master Builder, 136). Sadly, in the midst of such terrible events, Halvard feels compelled to be making a personal gain. Halvard’s ego is so inflated that he considered the happiness people get from his work more important than the joy of human life. He says, “I have to make up for, to pay for– not in money, but in human happiness. And not in my own happiness, but with other people’s too… That is the price, which my position as an artist has cost me– and others. And every single day I have to look on while the price is paid for me anew. Over again, and over again– and over again for ever!” (The Master Builder, 138). He thinks that he is being a noble person, and that it is his duty to contribute to society through his art. In reality, his carelessness and selfishness contributed to the death of two young children, and sent his wife into a derangement that she never could recover from. On the outside, it appears as if Halvard’s struggle is quite different from his wives; for he has too much pride, and she suffers from an abundance of humility. This may be true upon first glance, but after delving deeper into their lives, it is obvious that they both are dragged down by unrealistic expectations that neither can live up to. Ibsen uses another play, Ghosts, to show how society victimizes people by placing unrealistic expectations upon them. Regine Engstrand is a character who struggles with her identity, is forced to make difficult choices, and eventually has her life ruined because of society’s burdens. Regine is the Alving family maid, and is believed to be the daughter of Jakob Engstrand, a carpenter, and the Alving’s previous maid, the late Johanna. Unknown to Regine, and a fact that is not revealed until the end of the play, is that Engstrand is not her father. Her father is the late Captain Alving, the deceased husband of Mrs. Helene Alving. This information is important, because it shapes the way Regine is raised as a child, and it is an influence in many of the choices that she makes. Regine embraces her position as maid because she considers it a chance for her to mix with the upper class. Considered a “social displacement” (Taylor), she has first hand experience with both ends of the social spectrum. Of course, the upscale life of the Alving family is much more appealing than a lower class life with her alcoholic and deceptive father. This puts Regine in a difficult spot, for she wants to pursue the best life possible, but in the back of her mind she feels the guilt that she cannot leave her father behind. When her father asks her to come home with him, Regine tells him with attitude that it will never happen. “You’ll see all right! After being brought up here by Mrs. Alving– treated almost like one of the family– do you suppose I’d go home with you– back to that kind of house? You’re crazy!” (Ghosts, 63). Regine is trying to forge a new identity, looking for a chance to start over because she knows that if she goes with him, she will end up similar to him. She is influenced by society, for she has seen how the upper class lives, and how they are viewed in such high regard, and she does not want to relinquish that feeling. Because of these expectations, Regine puts pressure on herself to be someone that she is not. As hard as Regine tries to succeed, the odds are stacked against her since the expectations are so unrealistic that they are insurmountable. Society is asking Regine to be two different people. Regine feels the need to please everyone, and thus she is pressured into acting one way around the Alvings and their Pastor, and another around her father. Desperate to leave her life of necessity, she will do anything to find a place to fit in with the upper class. She tells Pastor Manders, I’d gladly live in town again– for I’m very often very lonely here– and you know yourself, Mr. Manders, what it is to be alone in the world. And I’m capable and willing– though I say it myself as shouldn’t. Mr. Manders – I suppose you couldn’t find me a position of that sort? (65). She knows there are many possibilities for her, but she does not have a clue where she fits in. In a final attempt to find her place, Regine tries to form a relationship with the Alving’s son, Oswald. Oswald was sent to France as a child, and Regine is filled with the hope that one day she will move off to Paris with him. In order to impress him, she learns small bits of French because she believes in his childish promise to take her to Paris with him. Once again, Regine makes choices that are influenced by the expectations on her. Despite doing everything in her power, Regine still cannot meet the expectations she believes she must meet. Regine’s stubbornness and inability to accept her place in society end up leaving her with nothing, becoming a true victim of unrealistic expectations. Throughout the play, she is in constant pursuit of happiness, and to achieve happiness, so believes that she needs to be viewed as a member of the highest social class. Unfortunately, she finds herself in trouble as the play unfolds. In a terrible turn of events, Regine finds out who were real father is. This adds to the legend of Captain Alving and is a black eye for the Alving family, but more importantly it crushes any hopes Regine has with Oswald, since they would be half brother and sister. As the play ends, Regine finds herself with no place to go. She can no longer live a life of luxury with Oswald in Paris, and she wonders what could have been of her child hood. She cries to Mrs. Alving, “It seems to me I also had the right to a decent upbringing– one suited to a gentleman’s daughter” (Ghosts, 84). Mrs. Alving feels the guilt too, and extends the message that she is welcome in their home anytime. Regine tells her that she would feel more welcome working as a prostitute than she would returning to the Alving household. The recognition of her fall lets the audience know that Regine has been victimized, and the fact that there are no options for her shows that she been overwhelmed by society’s expectations. Mrs. Alving is Ibsen’s final victim of an idealistic society’s unrealistic expectations. From the onset of the play, Mrs. Alving is constantly covering things up to protect the family’s image, and making choices because she is afraid of what others may think, not ones from her heart. The first example of this is Mrs. Alving marrying Captain Alving. She was not attracted to the free-spirited sailor, but she did it at the suggestion of her family members. To an outsider, it looked like Mrs. Alving provided the perfect balance for the captain, changing him from a sailor to husband, but that was not the case. Because of the captain’s wild life, Mrs. Alving had to “lock herself up in the house in the country, giving in to the captain’s ‘secret orgies’ and preserving his bogus reputation, in quest for the truth” (Kelly). One of the efforts she makes is creating an Orphanage in Captain Alving’s name. She hopes that “Captain’s false image as a humanitarian [takes] on a life of its own, so that it can leave her alone to pursue her own interests; instead, her acceptance of this fraud destroys her, proving that a future of truthfulness cannot be built upon a past of lies” (Kelly). The events earlier in Mrs. Alving’s life surface as ghosts, and haunt her throughout the rest of the play. Concerned with the image of herself and her family, Mrs. Alving is forced to create the illusion that they are the happy family that everyone perceives them to be. Unfortunately for Mrs. Alving, there is no way she can overcome these expectations, because they are unrealistic. The outside world thinks that the Alving family is perfect, but Mrs. Alving is aware that once you go beyond the surface, the family is far from perfect. The expectations set upon her are also unfair because some things are out of her control. Troubles with Oswald could have been avoided had he not been sick from complications of syphilis, a disease he contracted at birth from his father. Once again, the so-called ghosts are coming back to haunt her, and there is little she can do about it. Thanks to external factors and the fact that she recognizes the family’s lies, the expectations become even harder to escape. Most importantly, Ghosts shows what sacrifices must be made when one tries to mold to the unrealistic expectations of an idealistic society. Besides facing her own everyday issues, Mrs. Alving is also plagued with the horrors of her husbands past. These horrors, also referred to as ghosts, are responsible for victimizing the Alving family, in a manner in which they never recover from. The orphanage mysteriously burns down just before its opening, and it is the first sign of many hardships that strike Mrs. Alving and her family. The family is under much stress, when finally they believe they have hope. Before any healing can take place, they find out that the orphanage is ablaze, and before they can do anything to save it, the orphanage has turned to ash. The idea that is that it “reduces to ash, the very foundations upon which Mrs. Alving has maintained appearances of happy family life” (Taylor). Once again, the only source of happiness found in the Alving household falls back to its true state of nothingness. The final blow, from which Mrs. Alving can never recover, is realizing that her son has come to terms with his illness. Oswald has been suffering his inherited syphilis, and the tremors he experiences begin to increase in intensity. His next attack is expected to be his last, so he gives his mother 12 morphine capsules, a lethal dose. Mrs. Alving is thrown into the most desperate situation a parent can face. She wants her son to live, but she also knows that shall he survive, he will live the rest of his life in agony. Before the predicament can eat away at her conscience any longer, Oswald asks for the pills. Ibsen leaves the audience to wonder whether the pills were administered, but either way it is obvious that Mrs. Alving has crumbled under the pressure placed upon her. Overall, the characters in Ibsen’s plays Ghosts and The Master Builder do an excellent job showing how an idealistic society with unrealistic expectations can victimize a person. Aline and Halvard Solness let society impact them in the ways of duty and arrogance, respectively, while Regine and Mrs. Alving are influenced by the luxuries of upper class life and self-image. All of these characters have their own hopes and dreams, but unfortunately they let society re-shape them. The idealistic society of their time skews the dreams so that they are not attainable, and thus the characters become victims. Ibsen had the ability to manipulate his characters into doing whatever he wanted, similarly to how society uses us as tools to create whatever it may like. Works Cited Hornby, Richard, “Deconstructing Realism in Ibsen’s The Master Builder.” Essays in Theatre 21.1 (1984): 34-40.Kelly, David, “Critical Essay on Ghosts.” Drama for Students 11 (2001) Morgan, Margery, “The Master Builder.” International Dictionary of Theatre-1: Plays. 15 (1992): 493-494.Taylor, Anna-Marie, “Ghosts: Overview.” Reference Guide to World Literature. (1995). Taylor, Anna-Marie, “The Master Builder: Overview.” Reference Guide to World Literature. (1995).
Process of discovery in The Tempest and Ghosts
Both William Shakespeare and Eamon Flack cleverly invite us to experience and explore discovery through their texts, the tempest and ghosts, respectively. It appears common in both texts that a discovery of family betrayal prompts both Prospero in the Tempest and Mrs Alving in ghosts to create a false reality whereby through a process of discovery both come to embrace their realities. Both composers, through the construction of false realities, invite us to understand that we too are about to embark on a journey and watch a false reality.
Shakespeare makes it evident to us in The Tempest that Prospero’s process of discovery begins as he discovers he too may be to blame for his brothers betrayal. He represents this through Prospero expressing his arts were ‘Without a parallel…all my study’. The high modality of ‘all’ and the juxtaposing of ‘neglecting worldly ends… bettering of my mind’ suggests Prospero’s mind was completely preoccupied by his pursuit of magic. This further highlights the beginning of his understanding that this world where he is ‘rapt in secret studies’ contradicts his responsibilities and is in fact, an artificially created reality. This reminds us, that we too are embarking on a ‘false’ journey in watching the play. The two present participle verbs ‘neglecting’ and ‘bettering’ are juxtaposed against each other to suggest his acceptance of some self-blame for the neglect of his duties. This discovery within himself ultimately foreshadows what he is going to come to discover through his discovery process.
Much like how Shakespeare invites us to experience Prospero’s discovery process, Flack introduces Mrs Alvings’ through her discovery of her husbands infidelity that ultimately leads to construct her artificial world. We may interpret this as Flack expressing that we too are embarking on an artificial journey. Flack presents this through the set design; ‘the gloomy fiord landscape veiled in a steady rain’. This element of the set design symbolizes and invites us to understand the constant veil over the truth she has created to conceal the truth of her husband. This ‘steady rain’ further impacts the lighting of the set in creating a dark tone which we may interpret as a symbolic expression of the oppressive nature she has endured in being shrouded in the secrets of her unfaithful husband. This is much like how Shakespeare invites us to understand how Prospero constructed an artificial world and through his process of discovery he too comes to embrace his reality.
Shakespeare continues to invite us to experience Prospero’s process of discovery as he progresses towards the realization of the meaningless of his magic. During the masque, Shakespeare’s use of a self-referential metaphor of the theatre; ‘our actors…were all spirits…insubstantial pageant’ presents to us Prospero’s moving forward from an artificial magical realm to a grounded earthly one: ‘melted into air… gorgeous palaces, solemn temples…’. Despite his mournful tone, he is accepting both the meaninglessness of his magic and embracing the reality of the impermanence of his existence: ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on…our little life is rounded with a sleep.’ Additionally, it is the acceptance of the meaninglessness of his magic that leads him to dispel both our fascination with the false reality of the play and Ferdinand’s fascination with the magic by metaphorically deriding its nature as ‘the baseless fabric of this vision’; that this is something he has conjured and it will melt ‘into thin air’. Just as the play we are watching is not real, we must reflect on the idea that it will melt ‘into thin air’ and we will return to reality. This particularly shows Prospero’s process of discovery in determining that his magic is meaningless and his values must lie in the real world.
Whilst in ghosts, Flack continues to cleverly present Mrs Alving’s process of discovery through her willingness go beyond the illusory world she has constructed. Flack intrinsically represents this idea through the prop of the round table in the living room which carries Mrs Alving’s books; “Labour and capital…Woman in the World…No Chattel, I.” which come to symbolize her personal growth and new ideas; that she is advancing towards becoming fully aware that there are worlds beyond her narrowly constructed one. Whilst this also reminds us, that in watching the play we must reflect on our own personal growth and understand the play will conclude. These books come to be a metaphor for how her process of discovery has led her to a more cohesive understanding and acceptance of the truth of her husband and promote her eventual understanding of the hollowness of her duty, strengthening her desire to embrace reality.
As Shakespeare concludes Prospero’s process of discovery, he presents to us, just as Flack does, the idea that falsely generated worlds cannot remain permanent. He concludes Prospero’s process of discovery of his own authentic and moral existence by affirming in present tense his rejection of his ‘potent art’ This shift in his values is signified in his intentions to: ’break my staff, bury it certain fathoms… drown my book’ to ‘abjure’ ‘this rough magic’. The finality of the verb ‘abjure’ is strengthened by the equally strong plosive sounding verbs of ‘break’ and ‘drown’ which create a sustained echo of his magic being irrevocably broken. These verbs are accompanied by the verb ‘bury’ which possesses violent connotations of death. Thus, in being symbolic representations of Prospero as the mage, the rejection of his ‘potent art’ symbolically represents the death of his old self that irrevocably leads to the rediscovery of the new. Additionally, Prospero’s concluding epilogue serves as a transition to ease us back into reality. In crossing the fourth wall, he is reminding us of the magic he has sacrificed. The past tense of ‘o’erthrown’ in contrast with the present tense ‘what strength I have’s mine own’ serves as a reminder to us of his mortality given his magic is now ‘most faint’. He then invites us to applaud him; ‘Let your indulgence set me free’ to allow him to return to the real world so that we too may be freed to return to our worlds beyond the theatre.
Furthermore, Flack makes evident to us that the conclusion of Mrs Alving’s process of discovery is, in many respects, similar to Prospero’s, as she ultimately accepts the truth and no longer relies on her false world. Flack, through the stage directions, portrays this acceptance; “The light engulfs them. They are gone. The room is empty.” where here the constant rain on the set and the metaphorical veil over the truth is eradicated from the set and the sun breaks into the room. The eradication of the rain from the set design and the change in lighting through the sun symbolizes both the finality of her process of discovery and ours. That it serves as a reminder for us, that the play has concluded, and we must return to our lives beyond the theatre. Her acceptance of this is almost identical to Prospero’s acceptance that his magic was meaningless.
Therefore, both William Shakespeare and Eamon Flack cleverly invite us to experience and explore discovery through their texts, the tempest and ghosts, respectively.