Ishmael Scarlett. You see, this week's edition of our Quotable Rhett Butler series features a literary reference that, until recently, went over my head, completely. Granted, The Tempest was never my favorite among Shakespeare's plays (I am more of a gloom and doom, Macbeth kind of gal), but I was still surprised that not even after reading it twice did I notice the Rhett line staring me in the face. The Rhett line from one of my favorite and most often reread dialogues in the entire book... Oh well, here it is, in all its elusive glory:
"And I fear that when you can afford to fish up the honor and virtue and kindness you've thrown overboard, you'll find they have suffered a sea change and not, I fear, into something rich and strange..."
-- Gone with the Wind, Chapter XLIII
This is from the conversation Scarlett and Rhett have on Aunt Pittypat's porch in December of 1866, after Ella is born. Scarlett sets forth her principles in life, that include acting like a fine honest rogue now and trying to be a lady later, when she could afford it. I've always found it interesting that it's Scarlett who offers the nautical metaphor in the first place, for it seems unlike her to be so eloquent:
"I've felt that I was trying to row a heavily loaded boat in a storm. I've had so much trouble just trying to keep afloat that I couldn't be bothered about things that didn't matter, things I could part with easily and not miss, like good manners and--well, things like that. I've been too afraid my boat would be swamped and so I've dumped overboard the things that seemed least important."-- Gone with the Wind, Chapter XLIII
Her words offer Rhett the perfect opportunity to expand on the metaphor. He talks about the difference between Scarlett and her honorable neighbors who would rather go down with their ships than renounce their principles, and expresses doubt at the idea that a transformation like the one she suffered could be reversed. Both of which, must be said, forebode Scarlett's evolution in the book and the doom of their marriage.
His literary allusion is to Ariel's song from the first act of Shakespeare's The Tempest. It is, I think, one the most famous parts in this play, the one where the airy spirit Ariel, ordered by his master, sings to Fernando to lead him to Miranda. At this point, Fernando is convinced his father drowned in the shipwreck that brought him to the island, and Ariel does nothing to dispel this idea, on the contrary (btw, have I mentioned that I do like Ariel?):
"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 knellHark! now I hear them,--Ding-dong, bell."
(1.2. 451-468; emphasis mine)
So what about you? Do you all love The Tempest and I was alone in my Scarlett-like oblivion to this reference?
|Ariel on a Bat's Back by Henry Singleton (1819)|