Maze engraving from Francis Quarles' Emblems, divine and moral, together with Hieroglyphicks of the life of man (1634). The image appears as an illustration in David Lindley's recent New Cambridge edition of The Tempest.
It has long been known by Shakespearean scholars that The Tempest has a special (but never fully articulated) connection to the idea of the labyrinth. In the middle ages and up through the age of Shakespeare labyrinths and mazes remained an influential technology and a set of social practices central to the ideals of (the predominantly) Christian culture of Europe. In an era when the idea of pilgrimage was still a living practice, the maze functioned as a microcosm of the pilgrim’s journey.
Visibly central to such holy landmarks as Chartres, as well as found in such nominally secular installations as English turf mazes or the 14th century garden maze or “Daedalus“of Charles the V of France, the labyrinth became an emblem for the twists and turns, the epistemic confusions and blind alleys of the self-reflective life.
As such, the maze is, just under the surface, the play’s central organizing motif, both in terms of dramatic action (plot) and geography (setting). As Vaughan and Vaughan recognize in their Arden Tempest of 1999, the play’s action largely consists of circumscribed
geographic movement writ small. The firsts four acts conclude with an invitation to move on: “Come, follow” (1.2.502); “Lead the way” (2.2.183); “follow, I pray you” (3.3.110); “follow me and do me service” (4.1.266)….The characters perambulate in small groups from one part of the island to another; only at Prospero’s final invitation, “Please you, draw near” (5.1.319), do they join in one place. Although their physical and psychological journeys through the island’s maze have ended, the play concludes with plans for a sea journey back to Milan…(17). (more…)