The Wise Patriarch- Exploring Prospero and Big Daddy

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Professor D.

English 1001

The Wise Patriarch- Exploring Prospero and Big Daddy

The concept of a wise patriarch has been around since ancient times; the title was given to some Old Testament male leaders that held autocratic authority. The definition of a wise patriarch has certainly changed from the holy and prestigious title given to Religious heroes- to a universally accepted title used to describe a father during the Renaissance era and continuing into the Modernism era. To explore two very contrast fathers emerging out of these era's, Prospero from The Tempest, and Big Daddy from Cat on a Hot tin Roof; we'll examine each one as a Father figure, and the role they have in society, as a wise patriarch. Prospero is the optimistic father whom strives to obtain peace and happiness.

Prospero was a Duke in Europe, and possesses traits and character to confirm his status as a wise patriarch.

He is a proud father and has only one daughter whom he truly loves. "I have done nothing but in care of thee, / Of thee my dear one, thee my daughter (The Tempest 1.2.16-17). Prospero is a very informed man and has remarkable knowledge, that he discovered through books, compared to the average patriarch of the Renaissance time. "Here in this island we arriv'd; and here / Have I, thy schoolmaster, made thee more profit than other princess can, that have more time / For vainer hours, and tutors not so careful" (The Tempest 1.2.171-174). Although Prospero has been exiled to an island by his own brother, he still regards it as a positive situation as he now has lots of time to be with his daughter and can help pass his love of knowledge onto her. During Renaissance time a woman was the ultimate pure living organism, Prospero conforms to this Renaissance value as he waits for fifteen years before explaining to his daughter any aspects of his or her own existence. She was not even aware of her own mother; Miranda is Prospero's virgin child. "Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year since, / Thy father was the Duke of Milan / and a prince of power (The Tempest 1.2.54-56). "Thy mother was a piece of virtue, and / She said thou wast my daughter; and thy father / Was Duke of Milan; and his only heir / A princess-no worse issued (The Tempest 1.2.58-61). The position of a father's role takes a flip upside down when the character of Big Daddy is explored.

Big Daddy is a patriarchal father emerging out of the Modernism era; his moral and ethical judgments as a father are anything but respected, and almost demean the title of a wise patriarch. Big Daddy does not give his affection and love to his children in a typical patriarch way, he is often very blunt and simply a grumpy old man. He holds onto grudges and treats his two sons with complete opposite spectrums of respect. "Crap!--Them two [Gooper & Mae]--drips…" "Yes, son. Brick, boy.--I'm-happy! I'm happy, son, I'm happy! (Cat on a Hot tin Roof 2.531-532). Big Daddy is self-centered and has only the lens to look at life from his own perspective: "That's right, boy, they look like a couple of cats on a hot tin roof. / It's funny that you and Gooper being so different would pick out the / same type of woman" (Cat on a Hot tin Roof 2.241-243). This ignorance of Big Daddy to only see his daughters-in-law as two nervous cats, without ever pausing for half a second to consider how he influences their behavior, makes him anything but wise. There is not anything in the world that Big Daddy can tolerate less than someone with false emotions, or god forbid, lie to him. Big Daddy has only made a decent relationship with his son Brick, because he believes Brick is most like himself and has never lied to him; that is merely as far as their relationship goes. "[Brick] I never lied to you, Big Daddy." "[Big Daddy] Did I ever to you?" "[Brick] No, sir…" "[Big Daddy] Then there is at least two people that never lied to each other." (Cat on a Hot tin Roof 2.745-748). Another aspect to the "wise patriarch" is a father's outlook and role in society.

A wise patriarch cannot just be a family man; he must have a social aspect- For Prospero it is respect in community and faith in people. It is fundamental to understand that Prospero did not acquire his social status through ambitions and treason, but because he was respected by society for his knowledge and understanding during a humanistic dark time (Stanivukovic). Prospero was over thrown by, "My brother, and thy uncle, call'd Antonio", he seemed to have gotten lost in his position as Duke and was oblivious to, "my brother / And to my state grew stranger, being transported / And rapt in secret studies" (The Tempest 1.2.66,75-76). Prospero appeared to be a fairly good Duke, and respected by many people, but was blindsided by his own family; surprisingly he does not blame them- but himself.

"I thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated

To closeness, and the bettering of my mind

With that which, but by being so retir'd,

O'er-priz'd all popular rate, in my false brother

Awak'd an evil nature, and my trust,

Like a good parent, did beget of him

A falsehood in its contrary as great

As my trust was, which had indeed no limit." (The Tempest 1.2.89-96)

Prospero is considered a wise patriarch for his remarkable collectiveness in "understanding" why he was usurped and exiled. Prospero, with his magical powers, could have easily gotten revenge on his brother and the supporting cast who dethroned him; but instead he uses it as a lever to help teach adequate judgment. In Renaissance time it was common for folk to give up on society in a scary situation like this and spiral into a dark downfall (Stanivukovic). Prospero does not give up on society and is intrigued to use his magic to positively manipulate his enemies and teach them good morals. "Do not infest your mind with beating on / The strangeness of this business… These happen'd accidents; till when, be cheerful / And think of each thing as well. / [to Ariel] Set Caliban and his companions free. " (The Tempest 5.1.248-249,252-254). In contrary to Prospero's highly sociable and publicly active life, comes almost the complete opposite in Big Daddy's life.

From the transfer into the Modernist era, Big Daddy goes through life with little or no care of how people and society perceive him; contrasting the role of a wise patriarch. Big Daddy has a major problem with communication within his family, and simply would not fit well into society. He would not be respected, purely because he has a lack of respect for anything else besides himself. His foul and offense language, along with degrading ways of addressing persons make it impossible to compare to Prospero: "Fuck the goddam preacher! / Did you hear what I said? I said fuck the goddam preacher!" (Cat on a Hot tin Roof 2.192-193). Big Daddy can be extremely offensive and has a sole passion, to not "take crap" from everyone and anyone: "I went through all that laboratory and operation and all just so I would know if you or me was the boss here! Well, now it turns out that I am and you aint" (Cat on a Hot tin Roof 2.196-197). Big Daddy views the title of, a wise patriarch, as something given to him for the sake of being married and having children, both of whom he does not love. In his own perspective, that gives him almighty power to boss and manipulate whomever he wishes to. The change of a wise patriarch over time has had a significant shift through examining Prospero and Big Daddy.

The two different dramas, one written during the Renaissance era, and the other written in the Modernism era, have shed light on the change of the wise patriarch over time. Looking at Prospero, in The Tempest and Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot tin Roof, to explore both patriarchs as a Father figure, and the role they play in society, has verified the change of the wise patriarch over time. Today, the term patriarch may be attached to any father, but it remains clear that; it is individually personal to fulfill the role of a wise patriarch, and the concept will continue to change with time.

Works Cited

Stanivukovic, Goran. The Tempest and the discontents of Humanism, Philological Quarterly. 2006.

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Shakespeare, William. The Tempest, Harbrace Anthology of Literature. 4th ed. Toronto: Nelson,


Williams, Tennessee. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Harbrace Anthology of Literature. 4th ed. Toronto:

Nelson, 2006.

After revising and working with the peer review comments I felt that making unobvious confusion on my behalf can be fixed and clarified sometimes without drastic change and revision. I worked on making each paragraph much more clear how it relates back to the original idea and not running contradictory material amongst quality facts.