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This review is taken from PN Review 135, Volume 27 Number 1, September - October 2000.

THE VOICE OF ARIEL JONATHAN BATE, The Song of the Earth (Picador) £18.00

You can tell a lot about a critic by the way he or she reads The Tempest. It is a play which seems to encourage formulaic pronouncements. At one extreme, there is the serene, archetypal approach: identifying the motif of death by water and the pattern of mystical initiation. On the other hand, there is the outraged, political perspective: asserting the rights of Caliban, as the dispossessed inhabitant of the island. Perhaps what unites the extremes is the heavy-handedness with which they treat a text of such delicacy and diversity. Above all, neither has much to say about Ariel. In effect, they leave him con- fined to the terms of Prospero's plan, whether we situate it in gnostic or in postcolonial limits. But surely, being given some of the best lines about those forces which are deeper and finer than 'This rough magic', he should not be dismissed as a mere dramatic device. Jonathan Bate's remarkable reading of the play, in the third chapter of a remarkable book, demonstrates his extraordinary flair as an interpreter of Shakespeare by in effect liberating Ariel from the condescension of conventional criticism. Now we can see that the play, and indeed a good deal of other literature, is about him. For the voice of Ariel is 'the song of the earth'.

Bate has already written at length on Shakespeare, in two previous books; but his reputation is mainly that of an advocate of ecological literary criticism. He prefers the term 'ecopoetics' ...


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