“Earth, the chatterer father of all speech”: from Shakespeare’s brave new world! to William Carlos Williams’ Nuevo mundo!

Abstract : As D.H. Lawrence wrote about Shakespeare’s Tempest in 1923: “whatever else you are, be masterless” , he somehow found the perfect motto for William Carlos Williams’ own poetic art. Embarking upon his (con)quest for “THE word” to be the fertile humus on which to found all American literature, William Carlos Williams states: “Oh to hell with Masters and the rest of them. To hell with everything I have myself ever written” . He thus attempts to take Whitman’s “barbaric yawp” further and get rid of the old allegiance to the Crown once and for all. Much like Caliban’s voice in The Tempest, the poet’s speech is unstable, it fumbles around the wilderness and stutters thus mimicking the very babbling of a new continent. Language is therefore mutable in that British words have to be grafted onto a new land, but they are also mutable for they are very often silenced and hesitant. The poetry born in such a land is thus wild and wanders outside the confines of the old world. The words and verses are dented and extravagant in the first acceptation of the term, they are vagabonds attempting to define the contours of an ever-morphing ground whose first mutation was its name, from India to America, so that in the words of Tony Tanner, « if anything, it is the instability of language and society which has more often made itself felt to the American writer » (Tanner, City of Words, 27) Shakespeare’s play provides a fertile ground in the analysis of Williams’ modernist approach to language since it is itself set in a liminal space constantly drifting across many countries and continents. Miranda’s expression of bewilderment is somehow mirrored by Williams’ sailors in The Great American Novel (1923) as they first get visual contact with the shores of the new continent. I propose to observe in this paper the processes by which the poet manages to claim ownership of his land through language in spite of its “nearly universal lack of scale” . I intend to use Shakespeare’s play and particularly the figure of Caliban, not as the Native American enslaved by the colons like it has already been done, but as the allegory of the pilgrimage for THE word sought after by Williams. Like Ahab boarding for the hunt of his life, Williams sets off to capture and tame the brave new American word using his sense of bewilderment in lieu of a harpoon.
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Anna Aublet. “Earth, the chatterer father of all speech”: from Shakespeare’s brave new world! to William Carlos Williams’ Nuevo mundo!. Angles: French Perspectives on the Anglophone World, SAES – Société des Anglicistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur, 2015. ⟨hal-01999455⟩

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