Midpoint: really?

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at The Tempest.

There are 2039 lines in in the play, which means the midpoint is at line 1020, or at Act Two, Scene Two, line 30. According to Dr. Rodes’ theory, you could find at this midpoint–or within twenty lines either way–a speech that perfectly sums up a major theme of the play (the 20-line leeway was to help remove the differences in prose line lengths between individual editions).

And if you’ve been following along in The Project, you’ll know that In most cases, it’s worked pretty well. But it hasn’t quite been as successful here in the Romances/Tragicomedies.

And here, my friends, it runs off the rails pretty much completely.

You see, Act Two, Scene Two is the scene in which Trinculo and Stephano meet Caliban. Drunken buffoonery. Worse, the midpoint comes during this section of Trinculo’s discovery of the hiding Caliban:

What have we here, a man or a fish? Dead or alive? A fish, he smells like a fish—a very ancient and fishlike smell, a kind of not-of-the-newest poor-John. A strange fish. Were I in England now, as once I was, and had but this fish painted, not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver. There would this monster make a man. Any strange beast there makes a man. When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian. Legged like a man, and his fins like arms! Warm, o’ my troth! I do now let loose my opinion, hold it no longer: this is no fish, but an islander that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt.
  • II.ii.24-35

I mean, really? This is the pivotal moment? The best spin I can put on it is that at its center the speech makes a joke about the English, who will pay to see any kind of freak (kinda like the joke Shakespeare makes in Hamlet about the English being crazy, so Hamlet’s madness will not be noticed there). If so, so what?

Well, maybe this is not just a joke, but a kind of meta-reference. Maybe the freak in question–one that is not quite a man, not quite a fish, not quite dead, not quite alive–isn’t Caliban, but rather The Tempest itself. Generically, it’s neither man nor fish, dead nor alive. It’s this weird theatrical experiment. And you sad lot, Shakespeare seems to be giggling, are paying to watch this.

But that’s thin.

Paper thin.

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