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Harvey Sham February 14, 2007 EN 220 Professor Lee Deception: The Art of Illusion in The Tempest and “Benito Cereno” Writers of great texts often employ literary devices of diction and symbolism to allure the reader into the world of the literary piece. The reader then faces the task of analyzing the different words and metaphors in order to fully comprehend the text’s true meaning. However, the person who explores the text often unknowingly submits to the author’s ploy by submersing himself too deeply into the story. In a sense, the reader finds himself critiquing the text from the author’s fictitious world rather than from his own reality. Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Melville’s “Benito Cereno” ingeniously lures the reader into the world of its respective stories by using illusionary imagery and symbols (especially in The Tempest) and narrative techniques (exemplified in “Benito Cereno”). The reader finds himself in a fantastical dream; he is unable to decipher the underlying effects of the text and as a result struggles to determine the intended moral lesson of the author. The tales of The Tempest and “Benito Cereno” are told with such ambiguity that ultimately only the reader alone can determine whether or not the text justifies its intended themes regarding society. Within the five acts of The Tempest , one struggles in determining which scenes are valid and which scenes are not. The term valid is employed here only to suggest that the events on (and off) the island appears to be wrapped around the mysterious magic of Prospero. The opening scene of the play involves a magically conjured windstorm that grounds a boat and separates a group of men on a strange island that acts as Prospero’s magical kingdom. The artificial tempest serves as a major factor in creating the genuine hierarchical chaos that ensues in the play. However, the reader has no knowledge of this fact. Instead, he can only deduce that a 1
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terrible storm of nature has stranded a ship with a king and his court as passengers on some unfamiliar island. When Ferdinand is introduced into the play, he becomes immediately smitten with Prospero’s daughter Miranda. Love appears in many literary texts as something that cannot be broken, a paragon of an existing idea that overcomes all odds. However, the old magician states that “At the first sight / They have changed eyes” (Act 1.2.441-3), and later decides that “this swift business I must uneasy make, lest too light winning / Make the prize light” (Act 1.2.451-4). Prospero does not hesitate to manipulate this unexpected event to his benefit; he is completely willing to deceive even his own daughter and interfere with love in order to justify the injustices that were done to him. Even though the couple finally becomes married with the blessings of Ferdinand’s father King Alonso, the reader has to contemplate whether or not the actual love of the two was tampered with by Prospero. In one scene, Miranda proposes her
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