The Renaissance commonplace of the storm at sea: Rabelais, Camoes and Shakespeare

This paper will attempt to reconsider the topos of the tempest as portrayed in the writings of the 16th and early 17th centuries as an archetypal figure of the unexpected event which befalls mere mortals and about which they can do very little. Such a chance event can be neither anticipated nor mastered : by subjecting its victims to the possibility of imminent death, it exposes the very core of human nature. What then is the right attitude to adopt in the face of such overwhelming natural and (perhaps) supernatural power ? Action or prayer? And to whom should the prayers be addressed? The onus is placed on the response of the suffering subject. Rabelais (in the Quart Livre), Camoes (in Os Lusiadas) and Shakespeare (in The Tempest) all expoit the topos as a means of delineating character. However the religious dimension – and especially the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism – is never far from the surface: the virtues of a true Christian are never more apparent than during a storm at sea.

Jonathan Pollock (Université de Perpignan Via Domitia)

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