Leszek H. Ward
The relationship between knowing and seeing is an essential component of any attempt to make meaning of the world around us. The fact that others create much of what we see leads to the reality that our knowledge of the world is largely constructed from the artistic work of others. This dynamic led Percy Bysshe Shelley to declare that "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." In their ability to both manufacture (and limit) the images we see, artists wield a powerful, invisible, and almost magical ability to control our perceptions of reality. This is undoubtedly true once the definition of "artist" is expanded to include the producers of cultural media; it is difficult to deny that what we see in the news, films, magazines, and Internet drastically influences how we understand the world. I believe that awakening students to this dynamic is a fundamental responsibility of those who teach literature and that studying Shakespeare's The Tempest provides an opportunity to do so.
One of the dangers and difficulties in teaching plays in a school setting is the loss of the experience of seeing the play performed. For this reason, an emphasis on the visual nature of Shakespeare's work is a necessary component of any such study. I believe that The Tempest allows for such an emphasis; due to its particularly visual and auditory nature, it requires one to especially consider the experience of the audience.
The focus of this study is on the ways in which the play addresses issues of perspective, knowledge, culture, and forgiveness. Knowledge is closely tied to perspective in the play, and what different characters see dramatically influences what they know, to the point that seeing in The Tempest can be considered a metaphor for understanding. This is evident when one considers how the idea of culture manifests itself in the play. Because The Tempest was written at a time when much of Europe was coming into contact with different cultures, the play provides a valuable lens through which to consider Europeans' understanding of themselves and the other peoples they encountered. Sight and knowledge are also directly tied to one's ability to forgive. How one sees or understands another largely determines one's capacity for empathy and forgiveness. This is perhaps one of the clearest examples of an artist's power: by causing us to see another differently, the artist can change our perceptions and allow us to conceive a previously unthinkable course of action.