Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Ariel’s song from The Tempest Act I, scene 2
Creepy, but beautiful images all the same. And the English-geek reason why I love using pearls and fossil coral elements together.
I finally found a copy of Rackham’s illustrated Tempest! I found a lead online in the wee hours of the morning and sped out on the hunt the next day. Found a great bookshop, oggled many books, picked up a few. I enjoy the old fairytale illustrators a great deal more than I do their contemporary storytellers… Hence the hunt for Shakespeare editions from those eras.
I read The Tempest my senior year in high school after my teacher vetoed every other option I’d put forward. (This was after we got into an argument over the meaning of Frankenstein- she insisted that I missed the point and that it was all about Shelley’s anxieties attending motherhood; I thought it was more a fear of science outpacing humanity’s ability to deal with it…)
I remember discussing the play with a woman while we were waiting in line at a book signing. She told me how it was sometimes considered a problem play, since it didn’t fall into the normal divisions of histories, tragedies and comedies. The Tempest is fantasy and romance with elements of tragedy and comedy as well.
It was fun my freshman year in college, because all of my English major friends were having serious issues with the play and I was able to help them. (And lend out my Shakespeare for Dummies book-those scorecards were useful.)
The Tempest is terribly quotable. You can practically trip over references to it. I’ve a print of the painting by Amy Brown called Something Rich and Strange, there’s a beautiful comic towards the end of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman using The Tempest as a chance for Shakespeare to look back at his life. Gaiman also uses it more subtly in his short story Sea Change.
“Those are pearls that were his eyes:” Pearls are one of the birthstones of June, so this part of the Tempest seemed particularly appropriate. Pearls are one of the few organic materials considered to be gems. They’re formed when something gets into a mollusk and it secrets a fluid called nacre to coat the irritant. The traditional example is a grain of sand, but more commonly pearls form around internal damage or parasites sucked in during the mollusk’s feeding. The more (and thinner) layers of slightly translucent nacre, the better the sheen and color of the pearl. Luster and iridescence are created by light breaking up as it goes through or bounces back on the layers of nacre. Most pearls nowadays are cultured, with large irritants being ‘seeded’ into species most likely to produce pearls. So they are yet one more thing that is quite beautiful, but a little creepy upon closer examination…
Filed under Art, Gems, Poetry