Saturday, 28 January 2012

Thoughts on "Isles of Wonder" - the Olympic Opening Ceremony

I was half expecting Sir Paul McCartney to open the 2012 London Olympics, this July, with "All you need is love". This would be a diplomatic message - but it lacks a certain "je ne sais quoi". Instead the inspiration will come from William Shakespeare who has that much influence 496 years after his death. Such is the enduring power of his powerful imagination and words ("The power of my pen").

The Olympics Opening Ceremony will start with a peal from a huge bell, cast in Whitechapel, London, inscribed around the edge with words from Caliban, a character in "The Tempest".

Caliban's Speech
Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
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.
William Shakespeare: The Tempest

In fact, the magical island of "voices" that Caliban loves is based on contemporary descriptions of Bermuda and the island's location is in the Mediterranean, en route from Tunis to Milan (Sardinia?).

The lines describe a kind of opium-eaters' dream of 'isles of wonder'.  This will be followed by 15,000 participants, making much hullabaloo - singing, dancing and, no doubt, synchronising themselves a lot. The Olympic torch will be lit and an appropriately attired Queen Elizabeth II will pronounce:

"The Games of the 30th Olympiad - open".

I am in two minds about the artistic director's decision to focus on Caliban, a barbarous, pagan monster, "extra-fallen man" - a criminal who attempts to rape Miranda. He is a living "appetite".

His name is a near anagram of "Cannibal". He is a base character, an "unpolished hind" in the Bard's vocabulary. I hope the event soon shifts focus to more noble British-born personalities.

Nevetheless, I still prefer dark Caliban to half an hour of silver-haired rock stars because the better part of Caliban is "Shakespeare", because Propero is supposed to represent Shakespeare himself. Prospero finally admits:

"This thing of darkness (Caliban) - I call mine own."

Caliban is thought to be Propero-Shakespeare's own sin, portrayed as a living, raping, possessive, controlling, enslaving appetite. Carnal, cunning Caliban, the human-devouring cannibal, portrays Prospero-Shakespeare's sinful "spots" and "flaws" (Shakespeare's words for sin), his share in our mixed nature - deeply capable of evil - as well as of greatness.

In a sense, Caliban is an appropriate image for Britain, Europe, and the world, today. "Caliban" = "sinners". As a Christian, I see Caliban as the part of all of us that Jesus Christ died to rescue us from.

We can look forward to a huge, noisy, dramatized tempest at the beginning - which always starts this play with a terrifying "bang", possibly accompanied by a thunderstorm and terrential rain over London - i.e. typical English summer weather.

See a resume of the plot of The Tempest.
See further details here about this event.

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