Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sycorax: "She's a Witch!"

Despite what you know about Doctor Who and his dealings with an alien race called Sycorax. He wasn't the person that inspired Shakespeare to include that name for one of his plays. Sorry Whovians... but I will tell you who Sycorax is, and where her name came from.

Like my previous post regarding Queen Mab, Sycorax is first mentioned in literature by William Shakespeare, in his last play "The Tempest".

Sycorax is only mentioned in flashbacks described by Prospero(the main character) and Caliban(the deformed slave to Prospero and son of Sycorax). We learn form scholars that Prospero and Sycorax actually had a history together. Meaning that before the play was initiated, they both were at war with each other to claim the island that they were on. They were exact opposites of each other. Prospero was a "great sorcerer" that dealt with white magic, he had a daughter named Miranda, and was of royal descent. Sycorax on the other hand was a witch who practiced black magic, had a son with The Devil and named the child Caliban, and she was from Algeria. The only thing they had in common was that they were both banished for witchcraft.

Within this back-story, Sycorax had Ariel as a slave, because of Ariel's misbehavior, Sycorax placed Ariel in a pine tree(where Ariel was moaning and groaning for everybody to hear, including Prospero). Later on, Prospero obviously defeated Sycorax, freed Ariel and gained Caliban as a slave.

This flashback would be interesting to see portrayed on the big screen. It would make the play "The Tempest" more epic! Since Shakespeare didn't write a part of Sycorax, the whole back-story could just be inaudible, with awesome instrumentals in the background and non-stop action of witchcraft duels! I'd pay to see that!

I touched on earlier that Sycorax is from Algeria, but what I failed to mention was the description of her ethnicity. Prospero described her as being a "... blue eyed hag." Schoolars have argued that it was another way of saying that she had blueish rings around her eyes due to tiredness or pregnancy(possibly with Caliban), while others have said that she was a race that could not be defined.
I however, I have come up with a theory to those opinions. Knowing that Sycorax is from Algeria, historically and geographically she would be black, but why would an African woman be described having "blue eyes"? It is highly possible that Sycorax's distant relatives were Caucasians on both sides of her family, making her eyes appear "blue". She could have even been an Albino African for all we know. With Sycorax's detailed illustration in Shakespeare, and limited knowledge regarding cases like that back then, it makes more sense.

Going back to the possibility that Sycorax was pregnant with Caliban while on the island with Prospero. It says in the play she "... was banish'd: for one thing she did They would not take her life." What was that "one thing"? And why did they(the Algerians) "not take her life"? Scholars have said that she either defended her people from an invasion of Charles V to escape being put to death, or she was pregnant with Caliban. At that time, if you were a female criminal and happened to be pregnant, you basically have a "get out of  execution card". Let's take a step back on this. Sycorax avoided execution by her own people, because she defended them from an invasion. I'm sorry, that doesn't make any sense. I mean why was she still banished to an unknown island for such a heroic act? Here's my theory that is more logical. Sycorax did witchcraft among the people in Algeria, due to that act, she was forced to face execution, but she became pregnant with The Devil's child, which changed the situation by having her banished instead. It doesn't specify what island she was banished on with Prospero, but it is evident that he knew Sycorax after she had the child, meaning Prospero's description of her being a "blue eyed hag", didn't mean that she was pregnant, it meant that she was an African woman with blue eyes.

 Now let's get to the meaning and origin behind Sycprax's name. Shakespeare got most of his unusual names from Greek. In that language the name is a combination of two words sus ("pig") and korax ("crow"). In a loose translation it's from a Greek phrase "the Scythian raven". It also appears again in the Greek word for "heartbreaker" psychorrhax, it might even be a play on words with the word psychoraggia "death struggle". In Hebrew the closest word they have that resembles Sycorax is Shokereth which means "deceiver". One thing that I found interesting is that scholars have pointed out that the name Sycorax resembles the magical Circe from Greek mythology as well as perhaps a version of "Circe" found in the mythology of the "Coraxi" tribe in what is now Georgia(the country not the state). Interesting... "Circe" and "Coraxi", if you say it fast it sounds like... "Sycorax!"

Another fictional character that has some historical proofs to separate fact and fiction!

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