Title: The Tempest
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Published / Performed: 1611
Type of Text: Play
Main Characters: The mage Prospero who rules the island, formerly Duke of Milan, and his slaves: Ariel, a magical spirit, and Caliban, the deformed son of a witch. Miranda, daughter of Prospero, and Ferdinand, son of King Alonso of Naples, who fall in love at first sight. King Alonso, his brother Sebastian, and Prospero’s brother Duke Antonio, as well as servants and others who sailed with them.
Themes & Imagery: Power, servitude and slavery, usupation or invasion and political machinations; nature vs nurture; art (with Prospero’s construction of plot and final soliloquy putting him in the position of playwright); pity and forgiveness.
Synopsis: Prospero, former Duke of Milan, uses the magic of the spirit Ariel to create a tempest that shipwrecks his enemies on the island of his exile. Among them are Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples, who is brought to an encounter with Prospero’s daughter Miranda and, after a period of forced labour in which they each declare their love, allowed to marry her; Antonio and Sebastian, brothers to Prospero and King Alonso respectively, who plot to kill the king; and two drunken servants, who ply Prospero’s slave Caliban with alcohol and then plot with him to oust Prospero from the island. Thanks to Prospero and Ariel, all of these come together – with no harm having been done – to receive Prospero’s forgiveness; from their exile, Prospero shall become Duke of Milan once again, and Miranda’s marriage to Ferdinand means she can one day become Queen of Naples alongside her husband.
Personal Response: I didn’t think I was made for Shakespeare’s Comedies, and I’m afraid that “The Tempest” hasn’t quite managed to convince me otherwise. Although I enjoyed the various strands of this plot of this play, I would have liked to see them developed further. The assassination sub-plot, for example, goes from first conception to final end in less than half a scene. Ferdinand’s marriage to Miranda, on which the happy ending relies, would have been more moving if we had first seen more of the close relationship between Miranda and her father Prospero. That being said, I found Prospero’s character and his relation to Ariel to be compelling, and enjoyed the character of King Alonso and the reconciliation of the two, and the banter between Sebastian and Antonio and between the Italian servants and Caliban is fun, and probably even more entertaining on the stage.
Favourite Part: Act 2 scene 2, the fun and boozy first interaction between Caliban and the Italian servants; I also have a soft spot for the masque of Roman goddesses at the marriage of Miranda and Ferdinand, Act 4 scene 1.
My Top Five Lines & Passages:
Prospero and Caliban curse each other, 1.2.376-387:
Prospero: Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself
Upon thy wicked dam: come forth!
Caliban: As wicked dew as e’er my mother brushed
With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen
Drop on you both! A southwest blow on ye
And blister you all o’er!
Prospero: For this, be sure, tonight thou shalt have cramps,
Side-stitches that shall pen thy breath up: urchins
Shall, for that vast of night that they may work,
All exercise on thee: thou shalt be pinched
As thick as honeycomb, each pinch more stinging
Than bees that made ’em.
Ariel’s lines on the death of Alonso, 1.2.460-468:
Ariel: Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Spirits, within: Ding-dong.
Ariel: Hark! Now hear them: ding-dong, bell.
Sebastian and Antonio plot treason while the others sleep, 2.1.195-211:
Antonio: And yet, methinks I see it in thy face,
What thou shouldst be: th’occasion speaks thee, and
My strong imagination sees a crown
Dropping upon thy head.
Sebastian: What? Are thou waking?
Antonio: Do you not hear me speak?
Sebastian: I do, and surely
It is a sleepy language and thou speak’st
Out of thy sleep. What is it thou didst say?
This is a strange repose, to be asleep
With eyes wide open: standing, speaking, moving,
And yet so fast asleep.
Antonio: Noble Sebastian,
Thou let’st thy fortune sleep – die, rather: wink’st
Whiles thou art waking.
Sebastian: Thou dost snore distinctly:
There’s meaning in thy snores.
Caliban describes his island, 3.2.118-126:
Caliban: Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises.
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not:
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears: and sometime voices,
That if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again, and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.
Prospero forgives his locked-up enemies, 5.1.8-36:
Prospero: How fares the king and’s followers?
Ariel: Confined together
In the same fashion as you gave in charge,
Just as you left them; all prisoners, sir,
In the line-grove which weather-fends your cell:
They cannot budge till your release. The king,
His brother, and yours abide all three distracted,
And the remainder mourning over them,
Brimful of sorrow and dismay: but chiefly
Him that you termed, sir, the good old lord Gonzalo:
His tears run down his beard, like winter’s drops
From eaves of reeds. Your charm so strongly works ’em
That if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.
Prospero: Dost thou think so, spirit?
Ariel: Mine would, sir, were I human.
Prospero: And mine shall.
Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
Passion as they, be kindlier moved than thou art?
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th’quick,
Yet with my nobler reason gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance. They being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further. Go, release them, Ariel:
My charms I’ll break, their senses I’ll restore,
And they shall be themselves.