Act III Scene 2 – The Tempest
“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.”
COMMENTARY | On July 27 a gargantuan 27-ton bell will toll for the opening of the Olympic Games in London. Besides the 20,000 participants, there will be 80,000 spectators who will hear the bell with the aid of a one million watt sound system and a live television broadcast to an expected one billion-plus viewers. Does that sound like a lot of hoopla to you? Why then is the bell inscribed with a quotation from a monster named Caliban? In the Tempest, Caliban is part man and part beast. He is the son of the Devil himself. It’s all part of the “Isles of Wonder” celebration.
John Donne wrote a poem in 1624 that was clearly inspiring to many people. It starts off with “No man is an island.” Later in the poem comes the often repeated line “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Poor John had a hard life, having 10 surviving children with a wife he had secretly married. Many of those did not survive long and he suffered from poor health and devastating illnesses. The final lines of his poem are a meditation on the mortality of humanity. When we are young , we might thump our chests like Tarzan, but eventually the mighty grindstone of time itself brings humility to us all.
Ernest Hemingway was wounded severely as an ambulance driver in Italy. He was only 19 at the time and the experience was an emotional awakening that informed much of his writing, including “The Sun Also Rises” (1926) and “A Farewell to Arms” (1929). After covering the Spanish Civil War as a journalist, he returned to writing novels and made his most indelible mark with “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in 1940. This stood as his most famous work, at least until the early 1950s with “The Old Man and the Sea.”
Poor Ernest suffered more than his share of illness, injury and heartbreak . He was married four times and had a family tradition of suicide which included his father, himself, and his grandchild, Margaux. The novel “Bell” was a nihilistic exercise where the hero dies in the end after coming so close to accomplishing his goals.
Still, the book was a page-turner that burst on the literary scene and attracted the attention of Hollywood.
Hemingway picked veteran actor Gary Cooper to play the leading man and Ingrid Bergman as the love interest. The film was the top grossing box office winner of 1943 and was nominated for nine Oscars.
Despite winning one Oscar and being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, Hemingway was unhappy about the gutting of the political content which he felt was so important. He had wanted to warn the world of an impending crises.The focus was diverted to the love story between Maria and Robert Jordan, the American demolition expert who aids the rebels against the Fascist Franco regime.
Much later, the novel was an inspiration for James Hetfield of the heavy speed metal rock band known as Metallica. As a Vietnam veteran, he had his own axe to grind about the injustice and futility of war.
As a first hand observer of death and mutilation, his song stands as an indictment against war, even as the violent and sense numbing music shares that scenario with the listener.
So all of these interpretations came to mind when I heard about the mighty bell that will peal at the Olympic Games. The artistic director of the opening ceremony is Danny Boyle, who also directed “Trainspotting” and “Slum Dog Millionaire.” Remember those happy films about heroine addicts and the blinding of children so they can be more effective beggars? He has arranged for 900 children, ages 7 to 13 to be marching as part of the opening parade. What do they signify?
Boyle has a budget of 27 million pounds to stage the sporting event and to hear him tell it, there is all kinds of bubbly, happy idealism being put on display. I question this and point out that it all seems very gloomy for an event that most people would assume to be a joyous celebration. Scrutiny of the complete quotation, of which only the first line appears on the bell, casts a more sinister light on the whole affair. That business about dreaming of riches and upon awakening to cry to return to dreamland sounds very much like the premise of “The Matrix.” Does the tolling of the bell signify a spell of mass hypnosis that grips the world in a trance? Is the whole silly, spectacular production some enormous pagan ritual? At a time when Europe is in the grip of a crippling financial crises with austerity programs pinching the pennies in many countries, is this pomp and circumstance really appropriate?
Similar issues were raised at the most recent Super Bowl 46 when Madonna performed a blatant tribute to secret societies. The audience was duped into participating in a satanic ritual of goddess worship starring the Material Girl. I think Danny Boyle and his featured musical act, “The Underworld” have got some explaining to do. Probably the taxpayers of London, who are not so silent partners for this extravaganza, wish they had a little more input too. They are footing at least half of the budget which has multiplied several times in the course of preparation.