Another recycled VMS-list post, from August of 2009:
I hope I get my across here correctly and understandably. I am not proposing that the VMs IS a prop book, although that was an idea I was working on. I see that idea as being “on the the back burner”. What I am proposing, and have proposed, is that the people I am studying had the talents, motivation, background, and some precedant for creating a work “like the VMs”. I won’t list the reasons here, I’ve listed them before. But I want to add to that list in a way… to show an example, maybe, of how the people in my circle were enthralled by the aura of the hermetic movement… as what they considered a set of ancient, mystical beliefs and practices, they paid homage to the grimore, the hermetic text, as a representative artifact from their own past.
Such a grimore, or the “ancient tome”, is represented in the New Atlantis, as the “Book of Solomon”; and in the Fama, as the “Book M”; and, in this case, as represented in The Tempest, as the books of Prospero. Shakespeare, Bacon, and Andreae, all alike, used the lore of the ancient hermetic text as a vehicle in their works, to represent ancient lore, of a universal nature. Perhaps before thier time, but certainly since and up to today, the romanticism attached to such books/artifacts is undeniable.
Peter Greenaway, the director, was captivated by this aspect of The Tempest, as many have been. He made it the central theme of his 1991 art classic, Prospero’s Books. Here is a commentary on Greenaway’s choice to do so:
“Let me consider the second part of the question first and focus on the points in the text and the film where the books are being introduced. It has been suggested above that the [Prospero’s] speech, stripped of its immediate context, is more apt to trigger various associations and it seems that this quality of the text becomes especially important here. This is because the insertion of the introduction of various books can be argued to be local phenomena; that is, they are associated with the speech that precedes them. The ‘Book of Water’, for example… etc.”, and:
“If this is so, the question might be raised whether the presence of various books contribute to the overall structure at all or remain at the level of mere ornaments. Although not to the Shakespearean plot, but they can be argued to contribute to the world-view expressed by the film. This world-view is expressed by the fact that the books are represented as containing every possible types of knowledge (about the story) already (before the story unfolds itself); and articulated clearly by Prospero when he introduces the ‘Book of Universal Cosmography’ as early as at I/2/184, and describes “a structure of Universe where all things have their [logical] place and […] obligation to be fruitful” (0:28:20). In other words, the world-view of Prospero’s Books mimes that of the Renaissance, which, with the expansion of natural sciences, held that the world is knowable, recordable and well structured. Prospero, by having his books, literally owns the world and is capable of understanding and controlling it.”
Do you see my point by quoting the author of that piece? The person who understands The Tempest, and the place the books have in it, such as the author of the article, Greenaway, and others have, will see the importance of them in the way described above. Some productions have the books as a prop, others do not. But the books are mentioned, and pivotal, to the ideas expressed in the play. And they are similar to the pivotal role the books are given in The New Atlantis, and in the Fama: “…with the expansion of natural sciences, held that the world is knowable, recordable and well structured. Prospero, by having his books, literally owns the world and is capable of understanding and controlling it.”
Now take that line of thought to my theories, that Drebbel, or some related author, created the VMs as an artifact of the New Atlantis, and add to it my previous claim that the people of this circle would have been capable and motivated to do so. The very nature of the VMs reflects exactly the aura they would have attempted to achieve in such a work. In fact, the VMs still does so… it also reflects exactly the aura a modern writer, film-maker, or artist would attempt to evoke in such a work, and has. Look at this clip from Prospero’s Books, and look at the (Shakespeare inspired) choices Greenaway made to represent the books (prolific nudity warning here):
Here you have a Shakespeare character, Prospero, as created in about 1611, being interpreted as having such books more evocative of medieval hermetic knowledge than late Renaissance. Why? Greenaway did not get this wrong, the others did not get this wrong. This was important to these people, it was an aspect which lent power and import to their ideas… by recreating the ancient tome as an artifact of their art and politics and religion, they could trigger a romantic notion of a body of lost knowledge, which held the answers to the situations they faced.
And again, the main problem would be, that any such creation would have to both evoke mystical hermetic traditions, while carefully not actually representing any particular one of them, or any one of their authors. I contend the VMs fits very well into this definition, and could be the very core of it’s enigmatic nature and problem. Rich SantaColoma.