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"noises, / Sounds, and sweet airs": The Burden of Shakespeare's Tempest


When Caliban reassures the terrified Stephano and Trinculo about the nature of the sounds that fill his island world, he draws attention to the fact that The Tempest, uniquely among Shakespeare’s plays, is equipped with an elaborate soundtrack. Although Caliban seems not to distinguish between them, two kinds of sound—noise, introduced by the chaotic racket of the opening storm, and music, introduced by the exquisite harmony of Ariel’s songs—alternate throughout the play. This article explores how this pattern contributes to the dramatic meaning of the play, emphasizing the way in which, by a network of delicate wordplay, it is linked to the burdens, both physical and emotional, from which its characters seek to be freed. The essay ends by indicating how such a reading might help to reconcile current postcolonial readings with the seemingly incompatible philosophical, biographical, and metadramatic approaches favored by previous critics.

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