Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Table of Contents
1. The Tempest: Introduction
2. The Tempest: William Shakespeare Biography
3. The Tempest: Summary
4. The Tempest: Reading Shakespeare

5. The Tempest: List of Characters
6. The Tempest: Historical Background
The Tempest: Summary and Analysis
¨ Act I, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act I, Scene 2, lines 1-188 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act I, Scene 2, lines 189-320 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act I, Scene 2, lines 321-374 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act I, Scene 2, lines 375-504 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act II, Scene 1, lines 1-184 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act II, Scene 1, lines 185-328 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act II, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act III, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act III, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act III, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act IV, Scene 1, lines 1-163 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act IV, Scene 1, lines 164-266 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act V, Scene 1, lines 1-87 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act V, Scene 1, 88-171 Summary and Analysis
¨ Act V, Scene 1, 172-255 Summary and Analysis
7.
The Tempest 1
¨ Act V, Scene 1, Lines 256-330 Summary and Analysis
The Tempest: Quizzes
¨ Act I, Scene 1 Questions and Answers
¨ Act I, Scene 2, lines 1-188 Questions and Answers
¨ Act I, Scene 2, lines 189-320 Questions and Answers
¨ Act I, Scene 2, lines 321-374 Questions and Answers
¨ Act I, Scene 2, lines 375-504 Questions and Answers
¨ Act II, Scene 1, lines 1-184 Questions and Answers
¨ Act II, Scene 1, lines 185-328 Questions and Answers
¨ Act II, Scene 2 Questions and Answers
¨ Act III, Scene 1 Questions and Answers
¨ Act III, Scene 2 Questions and Answers
¨ Act III, Scene 3 Questions and Answers
¨ Act IV, Scene 1, lines 1-163 Questions and Answers
¨ Act IV, Scene 1, lines 164-266 Questions and Answers
¨ Act V, Scene 1, lines 1-87 Questions and Answers
¨ Act V, Scene 1, 88-171 Questions and Answers
¨ Act V, Scene 1, 172-255 Questions and Answers
¨ Act V, Scene 1, Lines 256-330 Questions and Answers
8.
The Tempest: Essential Passages
¨ Essential Passage by Character: Caliban
¨ Essential Passage by Character: Prospero
¨ Essential Passage by Theme: Humanity
9.
10. The Tempest: Themes
The Tempest: Character Analysis
¨ Alonso (Character Analysis)
¨ Antonio (Character Analysis)
¨ Ariel (Character Analysis)
¨ Caliban (Character Analysis)
¨ Ferdinand (Character Analysis)
¨ Gonzalo (Character Analysis)
¨ Miranda (Character Analysis)
¨ Prospero (Character Analysis)
¨ Other Characters (Descriptions)
11.
12. The Tempest: Principal Topics
The Tempest: Essays
¨ Does Shakespeare Critique European Colonialism in The Tempest?
¨ Prospero and Shakespeare
¨ Ariel and Allegory in The Tempest
¨ Caliban: A Character Study
¨ Themes in The Tempest
¨ Father-Daughter Relationships in Shakespeare's Pericles, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest
¨ The Tempest: Illusion and Reality
¨ The Tempest: An Overview
¨ The Tempest and Colonialism Revisited
13.
The Tempest: Criticism
¨ Overviews
¨ Magic
¨ Order and Structure
¨ Music and the Masque
¨ Prospero
14.
eNotes: Table of Contents 2
¨ Ariel
¨ Caliban
15. The Tempest: Selected Quotes
16. The Tempest: Suggested Essay Topics
17. The Tempest: Sample Essay Outlines
18. The Tempest: Modern Connections
The Tempest: FAQs
¨ Did Shakespeare intend The Tempest to be his last play?
¨ Where is Miranda's mother?
Why did Shakespeare include the sub-plot of Antonio and Sebastian scheming against King
Alonso?
¨
¨ Does Prospero undergo any character development?
19.
20. The Tempest: Bibliography and Further Reading
21. The Tempest: Pictures
22. Copyright
The Tempest: Introduction
Although some scholars have speculated that Shakespeare wrote portions of The Tempest at an earlier stage in
his career, most literary historians assign the entire play a composition date of 1610 or 1611. And while
Shakespeare may have had a hand in The Two Noble Kinsman (written a decade or so after The Tempest and
assigned to dual authorship), The Tempest is customarily identified as the Bard's last stage piece. These
marginal issues aside, The Tempest is the fourth, final, and the finest of Shakespeare's great and/or late
romances. Along with Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale, The Tempest belongs to the genre of
Elizabethan romance plays. It combines elements of tragedy (Prospero's revenge) with those of romantic
comedy (the young lovers Miranda and Ferdinand), and like one of Shakespeare's problem plays, Measure for
Measure, it poses deeper questions that are not completely resolved at the end. The romance genre is
distinguished by the inclusion (and synthesis) of these tragic, comic, and problematical ingredients and further
marked by a happy ending (usually concluding with a masque or dance) in which all, or most, of the
characters are brought into harmony.
No reading of The Tempest can do it justice: Shakespeare's tale of Prospero's Island is inherently theatrical,
unfolding in a series of spectacles that involve exotic, supra-human, and sometimes invisible characters that
the audience can see but other characters cannot. The play was composed by Shakespeare as a multi-sensory
theater experience, with sound, and especially music, used to complement the sights of the play, and all of it
interwoven by the author with lyrical textual passages that overflow with exotic images, trifling sounds, and a
palpable lushness.
The richness of The Tempest as theater is matched by the extraordinary thematic complexity of its text.
Recognizing that all of the themes and accompanying figurative strands of the play cannot be discussed here,
the play's topical highlights can still be approached by first noting the salience of two themes that arise from
the very theatricality of the play: the opposition between reality and illusion and the tandem subject of the
theater itself. The play challenges our senses and is self-consciously a performance orchestrated by
Shakespeare's effigy in the master illusionist Prospero. There are, in addition, numerous interpenetrating
polarities in the play, most notably between nature and civilization or Art. These thematic strands come
together at multiple points of intersection. Nevertheless, from one angle on the text, The Tempest asks a single
question, one that Shakespeare had posed in many and divers of his other plays: What is a human being? (or,
in Elizabethan terms: What is man?)
The Tempest: Introduction 3
The Tempest: William Shakespeare Biography
The details of William Shakespeare’s life are sketchy, mostly mere surmise based upon court or other clerical
records. His parents, John and Mary (Arden), were married about 1557; she was of the landed gentry, and he
was a yeoman—a glover and commodities merchant. By 1568, John had risen through the ranks of town
government and held the position of high bailiff, which was a position similar to mayor. William, the eldest
son and the third of eight children, was born in 1564, probably on April 23, several days before his baptism on
April 26 in Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare is also believed to have died on the same date—April 23—in
1616.
It is believed that William attended the local grammar school in Stratford where his parents lived, and that he
studied primarily Latin, rhetoric, logic, and literature. Shakespeare probably left school at age 15, which was
the norm, to take a job, especially since this was the period of his father’s financial difficulty. At age 18
(1582), William married Anne Hathaway, a local farmer’s daughter who was eight years his senior. Their
first daughter (Susanna) was born six months later (1583), and twins Judith and Hamnet were born in 1585.
Shakespeare’s life can be divided into three periods: the first 20 years in Stratford, which include his
schooling, early marriage, and fatherhood; the next 25 years as an actor and playwright in London; and the
last five in retirement in Stratford where he enjoyed moderate wealth gained from his theatrical successes. The
years linking the first two periods are marked by a lack of information about Shakespeare, and are often
referred to as the “dark years.”
At some point during the “dark years,” Shakespeare began his career with a London theatrical company,
perhaps in 1589, for he was already an actor and playwright of some note by 1592. Shakespeare apparently
wrote and acted for numerous theatrical companies, including Pembroke’s Men, and Strange’s Men, which
later became the Chamberlain’s Men, with whom he remained for the rest of his career.
In 1592, the Plague closed the theaters for about two years, and Shakespeare turned to writing book-length
narrative poetry. Most notable were “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece,” both of which were
dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, whom scholars accept as Shakespeare’s friend and benefactor despite a
lack of documentation. During this same period, Shakespeare was writing his sonnets, which are more likely
signs of the time’s fashion rather than actual love poems detailing any particular relationship. He returned to
playwriting when theaters reopened in 1594, and did not continue to write poetry. His sonnets were published
without his consent in 1609, shortly before his retirement.
Amid all of his success, Shakespeare suffered the loss of his only son, Hamnet, who died in 1596 at the age of
11. But Shakespeare’s career continued unabated, and in London in 1599, he became one of the partners in
the new Globe Theater, which was built by the Chamberlain’s Men.
Shakespeare wrote very little after 1612, which was the year he completed Henry VIII. It was during a
performance of this play in 1613 that the Globe caught fire and burned to the ground. Sometime between 1610
and 1613, Shakespeare returned to Stratford, where he owned a large house and property, to spend his
remaining years with his family.
William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, and was buried two days later in the chancel of Holy Trinity
Church, where he had been baptized exactly 52 years earlier. His literary legacy included 37 plays, 154
sonnets and five major poems.
Incredibly, most of Shakespeare’s plays had never been published in anything except pamphlet form, and
were simply extant as acting scripts stored at the Globe. Theater scripts were not regarded as literary works of
The Tempest: William Shakespeare Biography 4
art, but only the basis for the performance. Plays were simply a popular form of entertainment for all layers of
society in Shakespeare’s time. Only the efforts of two of Shakespeare’s company, John Heminges and Henry
Condell, preserved his 36 plays (minus Pericles, the thirty-seventh).
The Tempest: Summary
Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, has been living on a primitive island with his fifteen-year-old daughter,
Miranda, for the past 12 years. His dukedom had been usurped by his own brother, Antonio, whom Prospero
had entrusted to manage the affairs of government while he was concentrating on his study of the liberal arts.
With the support of Alonso, the King of Naples, Antonio conspired against his brother to become the new
Duke of Milan. Prospero and his three-year-old daughter were put on “a rotten carcass of a butt” without a
sail. Gonzalo, a member of the king’s council, took pity on them, and stocked the leaky vessel with food,
fresh water, clothing, and Prospero’s books. Providence has now brought his enemies to the shore of the
island, and Prospero must act quickly.
The action begins with a tempestuous storm at sea. Afraid for their lives, Alonso and Gonzalo urge the
Boatswain to do all he can to save the ship, but he rudely orders the royal party to stay in their cabins and
“trouble us not.” They are finally convinced to go below and pray for mercy.
Ariel, an airy spirit, raised the tempest just as he was instructed by Prospero, his master, informing Prospero
that all except the mariners plunged into the sea. Ariel reports that he has left the ship safely docked in the
harbor with the mariners aboard. The rest of the passengers, with garments unblemished, have been dispersed
around the island. Ariel then lures Ferdinand, Prince of Naples, onto the island with his songs, informing him
of his father’s supposed death by drowning. The young prince is led past Prospero’s cave where he meets
Miranda, and they fall in love. To keep Ferdinand from winning his prize (Miranda) too quickly and easily,
Prospero uses his magic to force Ferdinand to yield to the indignity of stacking logs.
Elsewhere on the island, Ariel, with the help of Prospero’s magic, puts Alonso and Gonzalo to sleep. While
they sleep Antonio and Sebastian conspire to kill Alonso and Gonzalo and take over the throne. Just as they
draw their swords, Ariel awakens Gonzalo and he, in turn, rouses the king. The conspirators claim that they
heard wild animals and drew their swords. The king readily accepts their excuse.
Caliban enters, cursing his master, Prospero, for enslaving him. Trinculo, the king’s jester, appears, hiding
under Caliban’s cloak to escape a rainstorm. Stephano approaches them, thinking it is a monster with four
legs. He finally recognizes Trinculo and is surprised to see him alive. Stephano, having drifted ashore on a
barrel of wine, offers Caliban a drink. Unaccustomed to the effects of the alcohol, Caliban kneels to Stephano,
taking him for a god who “bears celestial liquor.” Determined that Stephano should be lord of the island,
Caliban leads the pair to Prospero’s cave where they plan to murder him.
Prospero magically sets a banquet for the royal party, but Ariel, disguised as a harpy, claps his wings over the
table, and it vanishes. Ariel warns the royal party that the storm was a punishment for their foul deeds, and
there is no way out except repentance. In another part of the island, Prospero relieves Ferdinand of his duties,
telling him he has endured the difficult trial of love and has won Miranda’s hand in marriage. Ariel arranges a
masque in honor of the happy couple, but while the masque is in progress, Prospero suddenly remembers
Caliban’s plot to kill him, and the masque vanishes. Ariel has lead the conspirators from the filthy-mantled
pool to Prospero’s “glistering apparel” hanging on a lime tree in front of his cave. Though Caliban is
annoyed, his companions are gleefully sidetracked, stealing the royal robes and forgetting their purpose at
hand which is to murder Prospero. Finally, spirits in the shape of dogs are released, and the thieving trio are
driven out.
The Tempest: Summary 5
The king and his party are brought to Prospero where he charms them in his magic circle, praising Gonzalo
for his kindness, but censuring Alonso for his cruelty and Antonio for his ambition. Removing his magician’s
robe, Prospero gives up his magic powers, presenting himself to Alonso as the “wronged Duke of Milan,”
and the repentant king immediately restores his dukedom. In a sudden spirit of forgiveness, he pardons all of
them for their crimes against him. He then leads Alonso to his cell where Ferdinand and Miranda are making a
pretense of playing chess. Alonso is overjoyed to see his son alive.
Ariel enters with the master and boatswain of the ship. To the king’s amazement the ship is undamaged and
docked in the harbor. The three conspirators, driven by Ariel, appear in their stolen royal apparel. Caliban
calls himself a “thrice-double ass” to have taken Stephano for a god. Prospero invites the king’s entire party
to spend the night in his cell where he will give them an account of his last 12 years on the island. In the
morning they will return to Naples where they will prepare for the marriage of the betrothed pair, Ferdinand
and Miranda.
Prospero rewards Ariel for his services by giving him his freedom and releasing him to the elements. In the
epilogue Prospero tells the audience his magic powers are gone, his dukedom has been restored, and he has
forgiven his enemies. He now asks them to praise his performance with their applause and, thereby, release
him from the illusory world of the island.
Estimated Reading Time
Most Shakespeare plays, written to be viewed by an audience, usually take approximately three hours to
perform on the stage. The Tempest is an unusually short play with a performance time of about two hours. It
would be possible to read it almost as fast the first time around to get the plot of the story. The Tempest is
impressive theater with its magical manipulations, its masque, including spirit-like goddesses, its spirits in the
form of dogs, and, perhaps above all, its songs. For this reason an auditory tape of The Tempest, available at
most university or county libraries, is an excellent device that can be used to follow along with the text,
making the drama more interesting by bringing the characters alive with the use of sound effects. After the
initial reading, it should be read more carefully, taking special note of the difficult words and phrases that are
glossed at the bottom of most Shakespeare texts. This reading would probably take about 4-5 hours for the
entire play, allowing a little less than an hour for each of the five acts. Since the acts of The Tempest vary
from one to three scenes each, the length of reading time for each act will, of course, vary. It should be noted
that the length of the scenes also varies from 63 to 504 lines.
The Tempest: Reading Shakespeare
In this section:
· Shakespeare’s Language
· Shakespeare’s Sentences
· Shakespeare’s Words
· Shakespeare’s Wordplay
· Shakespeare’s Dramatic Verse
· Implied Stage Action
Shakespeare’s Language
Shakespeare’s language can create a strong pang of intimidation, even fear, in a large number of modern-day
readers. Fortunately, however, this need not be the case. All that is needed to master the art of reading
Shakespeare is to practice the techniques of unraveling uncommonly-structured sentences and to become
familiar with the poetic use of uncommon words. We must realize that during the 400-year span between
Shakespeare’s time and our own, both the way we live and speak has changed. Although most of his
The Tempest: Reading Shakespeare 6
vocabulary is in use today, some of it is obsolete, and what may be most confusing is that some of his words
are used today, but with slightly different or totally different meanings. On the stage, actors readily dissolve
these language stumbling blocks. They study Shakespeare’s dialogue and express it dramatically in word and
in action so that its meaning is graphically enacted. If the reader studies Shakespeare’s lines as an actor does,
looking up and reflecting upon the meaning of unfamiliar words until real voice is discovered, he or she will
suddenly experience the excitement, the depth and the sheer poetry of what these characters say.
Shakespeare’s Sentences
In English, or any other language, the meaning of a sentence greatly depends upon where each word is placed
in that sentence. “The child hurt the mother” and “The mother hurt the child” have opposite meanings, even
though the words are the same, simply because the words are arranged differently. Because word position is
so integral to English, the reader will find unfamiliar word arrangements confusing, even difficult to
understand. Since Shakespeare’s plays are poetic dramas, he often shifts from average word arrangements to
the strikingly unusual so that the line will conform to the desired poetic rhythm. Often, too, Shakespeare
employs unusual word order to afford a character his own specific style of speaking.
Today, English sentence structure follows a sequence of subject first, verb second, and an optional object
third. Shakespeare, however, often places the verb before the subject, which reads, “Speaks he” rather than
“He speaks.” Solanio speaks with this inverted structure in The Merchant of Venice stating, “I should be
still/Plucking the grass to know where sits the wind” (Bevington edition, I, i, ll.17-19), while today’s
standard English word order would have the clause at the end of this line read, “where the wind sits.”
“Wind” is the subject of this clause, and “sits” is the verb. Bassanio’s words in Act Two also exemplify this
inversion: “And in such eyes as ours appear not faults” (II, ii, l. 184). In our normal word order, we would
say, “Faults do not appear in eyes such as ours,” with “faults” as the subject in both Shakespeare’s word
order and ours.
Inversions like these are not troublesome, but when Shakes–peare positions the predicate adjective or the
object before the subject and verb, we are sometimes surprised. For example, rather than “I saw him,”
Shakespeare may use a structure such as “Him I saw.” Similarly, “Cold the morning is” would be used for
our “The morning is cold.” Lady Macbeth demonstrates this inversion as she speaks of her husband: “Glamis
thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be/What thou art promised” (Macbeth, I, v, ll. 14-15). In current English word
order, this quote would begin, “Thou art Glamis, and Cawdor.”
In addition to inversions, Shakespeare purposefully keeps words apart that we generally keep together. To
illustrate, consider Bassanio’s humble admission in The Merchant of Venice: “I owe you much, and, like a
wilful youth,/That which I owe is lost” (I, i, ll. 146-147). The phrase, “like a wilful youth,” separates the
regular sequence of “I owe you much” and “That which I owe is lost.” To understand more clearly this type
of passage, the reader could rearrange these word groups into our conventional order: I owe you much and I
wasted what you gave me because I was young and impulsive. While these rearranged clauses will sound like
normal English, and will be simpler to understand, they will no longer have the desired poetic rhythm, and the
emphasis will now be on the wrong words.
As we read Shakespeare, we will find words that are separated by long, interruptive statements. Often subjects
are separated from verbs, and verbs are separated from objects. These long interruptions can be used to give a
character dimension or to add an element of suspense. For example, in Romeo and Juliet Benvolio describes
both Romeo’s moodiness and his own sensitive and thoughtful nature:
I, measuring his affections by my own,
Which then most sought, where most might not be found,
Being one too many by my weary self,
Pursu’d my humour, not pursuing his,
The Tempest: Reading Shakespeare 7
And gladly shunn’d who gladly fled from me. (I, i, ll. 126-130)
In this passage, the subject “I” is distanced from its verb “Pursu’d.” The long interruption serves to provide
information which is integral to the plot. Another example, taken from Hamlet, is the ghost, Hamlet’s father,
who describes Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, as
…that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts—
O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power
So to seduce—won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming virtuous queen. (I, v, ll. 43-47)
From this we learn that Prince Hamlet’s mother is the victim of an evil seduction and deception. The delay
between the subject, “beast,” and the verb, “won,” creates a moment of tension filled with the image of a
cunning predator waiting for the right moment to spring into attack. This interruptive passage allows the play
to unfold crucial information and thus to build the tension necessary to produce a riveting drama.
While at times these long delays are merely for decorative purposes, they are often used to narrate a particular
situation or to enhance character development. As Antony and Cleopatra opens, an interruptive passage
occurs in the first few lines. Although the delay is not lengthy, Philo’s words vividly portray Antony’s
military prowess while they also reveal the immediate concern of the drama. Antony is distracted from his
career, and is now focused on Cleopatra:
…those goodly eyes,
That o’er the files and musters of the war
Have glow’d like plated Mars, now bend, now turn
The office and devotion of their view
Upon a tawny front…. (I, i, ll. 2-6)
Whereas Shakespeare sometimes heaps detail upon detail, his sentences are often elliptical, that is, they omit
words we expect in written English sentences. In fact, we often do this in our spoken conversations. For
instance, we say, “You see that?” when we really mean, “Did you see that?” Reading poetry or listening to
lyrics in music conditions us to supply the omitted words and it makes us more comfortable reading this type
of dialogue. Consider one passage in The Merchant of Venice where Antonio’s friends ask him why he seems
so sad and Solanio tells Antonio, “Why, then you are in love” (I, i, l. 46). When Antonio denies this, Solanio
responds, “Not in love neither?” (I, i, l. 47). The word “you” is omitted but understood despite the confusing
double negative.
In addition to leaving out words, Shakespeare often uses intentionally vague language, a strategy which taxes
the reader’s attentiveness. In Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra, upset that Antony is leaving for Rome after
learning that his wife died in battle, convinces him to stay in Egypt:
Sir, you and I must part, but that’s not it:
Sir you and I have lov’d, but there’s not it;
That you know well, something it is I would—
O, my oblivion is a very Antony,
And I am all forgotten. (I, iii, ll. 87-91)
In line 89, “…something it is I would” suggests that there is something that she would want to say, do, or have
done. The intentional vagueness leaves us, and certainly Antony, to wonder. Though this sort of writing may
appear lackadaisical for all that it leaves out, here the vagueness functions to portray Cleopatra as rhetorically
The Tempest: Reading Shakespeare 8
sophisticated. Similarly, when asked what thing a crocodile is (meaning Antony himself who is being
compared to a crocodile), Antony slyly evades the question by giving a vague reply:
It is shap’d, sir, like itself, and it is as broad as it hath breadth.
It is just so high as it is, and moves with it own organs.
It lives by that which nourisheth it, and, the elements once out of it, it transmigrates. (II, vii,
ll. 43-46)
This kind of evasiveness, or doubletalk, occurs often in Shakespeare’s writing and requires extra patience on
the part of the reader.
Shakespeare’s Words
As we read Shakespeare’s plays, we will encounter uncommon words. Many of these words are not in use
today. As Romeo and Juliet opens, we notice words like “shrift” (confession) and “holidame” (a holy relic).
Words like these should be explained in notes to the text. Shakespeare also employs words which we still use,
though with different meaning. For example, in The Merchant of Venice “caskets” refer to small, decorative
chests for holding jewels. However, modern readers may think of a large cask instead of the smaller,
diminutive casket.
Another trouble modern readers will have with Shakespeare’s English is with words that are still in use today,
but which mean something different in Elizabethan use. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare uses the
word “straight” (as in “straight away”) where we would say “immediately.” Here, the modern reader is
unlikely to carry away the wrong message, however, since the modern meaning will simply make no sense. In
this case, textual notes will clarify a phrase’s meaning. To cite another example, in Romeo and Juliet, after
Mercutio dies, Romeo states that the “black fate on moe days doth depend” (emphasis added). In this case,
“depend” really means “impend.”
Shakespeare’s Wordplay
All of Shakespeare’s works exhibit his mastery of playing with language and with such variety that many
people have authored entire books on this subject alone. Shakespeare’s most frequently used types of
wordplay are common: metaphors, similes, synecdoche and metonymy, personification, allusion, and puns. It
is when Shakespeare violates the normal use of these devices, or rhetorical figures, that the language becomes
confusing.
A metaphor is a comparison in which an object or idea is replaced by another object or idea with common
attributes. For example, in Macbeth a murderer tells Macbeth that Banquo has been murdered, as directed, but
that his son, Fleance, escaped, having witnessed his father’s murder. Fleance, now a threat to Macbeth, is
described as a serpent:
There the grown serpent lies, the worm that’s fled
Hath nature that in time will venom breed,
No teeth for the present. (III, iv, ll. 29-31)
Similes, on the other hand, compare objects or ideas while using the words “like” or “as.” In Romeo and
Juliet, Romeo tells Juliet that “Love goes toward love as schoolboys from their books” (II, ii, l. 156). Such
similes often give way to more involved comparisons, “extended similes.” For example, Juliet tells Romeo:
‘Tis almost morning,
I would have thee gone,
And yet no farther than a wonton’s bird,
That lets it hop a little from his hand
The Tempest: Reading Shakespeare 9
Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,
And with silken thread plucks it back again,
So loving-jealous of his liberty. (II, ii, ll. 176-181)
An epic simile, a device borrowed from heroic poetry, is an extended simile that builds into an even more
elaborate comparison. In Macbeth, Macbeth describes King Duncan’s virtues with an angelic, celestial simile
and then drives immediately into another simile that redirects us into a vision of warfare and destruction:
…Besides this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind…. (I, vii, ll. 16-25)
Shakespeare employs other devices, like synecdoche and metonymy, to achieve “verbal economy,” or using
one or two words to express more than one thought. Synecdoche is a figure of speech using a part for the
whole. An example of synecdoche is using the word boards to imply a stage. Boards are only a small part of
the materials that make up a stage, however, the term boards has become a colloquial synonym for stage.
Metonymy is a figure of speech using the name of one thing for that of another which it is associated. An
example of metonymy is using crown to mean the king (as used in the sentence “These lands belong to the
crown”). Since a crown is associated with or an attribute of the king, the word crown has become a
metonymy for the king. It is important to understand that every metonymy is a synecdoche, but not every
synecdoche is a metonymy. This is rule is true because a metonymy must not only be a part of the root word,
making a synecdoche, but also be a unique attribute of or associated with the root word.
Synecdoche and metonymy in Shakespeare’s works is often very confusing to a new student because he
creates uses for words that they usually do not perform. This technique is often complicated and yet very
subtle, which makes it difficult of a new student to dissect and understand. An example of these devices in
one of Shakespeare’s plays can be found in The Merchant of Venice . In warning his daughter, Jessica, to
ignore the Christian revelries in the streets below, Shylock says:
Lock up my doors; and when you hear the drum
And the vile squealing of the wry-necked fife,
Clamber not you up to the casements then… (I, v, ll. 30-32)
The phrase of importance in this quote is “the wry-necked fife.” When a reader examines this phrase it does
not seem to make sense; a fife is a cylinder-shaped instrument, there is no part of it that can be called a neck.
The phrase then must be taken to refer to the fife-player, who has to twist his or her neck to play the fife. Fife,
therefore, is a synecdoche for fife-player, much as boards is for stage. The trouble with understanding this
phrase is that “vile squealing” logically refers to the sound of the fife, not the fife-player, and the reader
might be led to take fife as the instrument because of the parallel reference to “drum” in the previous line.
The best solution to this quandary is that Shakespeare uses the word fife to refer to both the instrument and the
player. Both the player and the instrument are needed to complete the wordplay in this phrase, which, though
difficult to understand to new readers, cannot be seen as a flaw since Shakespeare manages to convey two
meanings with one word. This remarkable example of synecdoche illuminates Shakespeare’s mastery of
“verbal economy.”
The Tempest: Reading Shakespeare 10
Shakespeare also uses vivid and imagistic wordplay through personification, in which human capacities and
behaviors are attributed to inanimate objects. Bassanio, in The Merchant of Venice, almost speechless when
Portia promises to marry him and share all her worldly wealth, states “my blood speaks to you in my veins…”
(III, ii, l. 176). How deeply he must feel since even his blood can speak. Similarly, Portia, learning of the
penalty that Antonio must pay for defaulting on his debt, tells Salerio, “There are some shrewd contents in
yond same paper/That steals the color from Bassanio’s cheek” (III, ii, ll. 243-244).
Another important facet of Shakespeare’s rhetorical repertoire is his use of allusion. An allusion is a
reference to another author or to an historical figure or event. Very often Shakespeare alludes to the heroes
and heroines of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. For example, in Cymbeline an entire room is decorated with images
illustrating the stories from this classical work, and the heroine, Imogen, has been reading from this text.
Similarly, in Titus Andronicus characters not only read directly from the Metamorphoses, but a subplot
re-enacts one of the Metamorphoses’s most famous stories, the rape and mutilation of Philomel. Another way
Shakespeare uses allusion is to drop names of mythological, historical and literary figures. In The Taming of
the Shrew, for instance, Petruchio compares Katharina, the woman whom he is courting, to Diana (II, i, l. 55),
the virgin goddess, in order to suggest that Katharina is a man-hater. At times, Shakespeare will allude to
well-known figures without so much as mentioning their names. In Twelfth Night, for example, though the
Duke and Valentine are ostensibly interested in Olivia, a rich countess, Shakespeare asks his audience to
compare the Duke’s emotional turmoil to the plight of Acteon, whom the goddess Diana transforms into a
deer to be hunted and killed by Acteon’s own dogs:
Duke:
That instant was I turn’d into a hart,
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E’er since pursue me. […]
Valentine:
But like a cloistress she will veiled walk,
And water once a day her chamber round…. (I, i, l. 20 ff.)
Shakespeare’s use of puns spotlights his exceptional wit. His comedies in particular are loaded with puns,
usually of a sexual nature. Puns work through the ambiguity that results when multiple senses of a word are
evoked; homophones often cause this sort of ambiguity. In Antony and Cleopatra, Enobarbus believes “there
is mettle in death” (I, ii, l. 146), meaning that there is “courage” in death; at the same time, mettle suggests
the homophone metal, referring to swords made of metal causing death. In early editions of Shakespeare’s
work there was no distinction made between the two words. Antony puns on the word “earing,” (I, ii, ll.
112-114) meaning both plowing (as in rooting out weeds) and hearing: he angrily sends away a messenger,
not wishing to hear the message from his wife, Fulvia: “…O then we bring forth weeds,/when our quick minds
lie still, and our ills told us/Is as our earing.” If ill-natured news is planted in one’s “hearing,” it will render
an “earing” (harvest) of ill-natured thoughts. A particularly clever pun, also in Antony and Cleopatra, stands
out after Antony’s troops have fought Octavius’s men in Egypt: “We have beat him to his camp. Run one
before,/And let the queen know of our gests” (IV, viii, ll. 1-2). Here “gests” means deeds (in this case, deeds
of battle); it is also a pun on “guests,” as though Octavius’ slain soldiers were to be guests when buried in
Egypt.
One should note that Elizabethan pronunciation was in several cases different from our own. Thus, modern
readers, especially Americans, will miss out on the many puns based on homophones. The textual notes will
point up many of these “lost” puns, however.
Shakespeare’s sexual innuendoes can be either clever or tedious depending upon the speaker and situation.
The modern reader should recall that sexuality in Shakespeare’s time was far more complex than in ours and
The Tempest: Reading Shakespeare 11
that characters may refer to such things as masturbation and homosexual activity. Textual notes in some
editions will point out these puns but rarely explain them. An example of a sexual pun or innuendo can be
found in The Merchant of Venice when Portia and Nerissa are discussing Portia’s past suitors using innuendo
to tell of their sexual prowess:
Portia:
I pray thee, overname them, and as thou namest them, I will describe them, and according to
my description level at my affection.
Nerrisa:
First, there is the Neapolitan prince.
Portia:
Ay, that’s a colt indeed, for he doth nothing but talk of his horse, and he makes it a great
appropriation to his own good parts that he can shoe him himself. I am much afeard my lady
his mother played false with the smith. (I, ii, ll. 35-45)
The “Neapolitan prince” is given a grade of an inexperienced youth when Portia describes him as a “colt.”
The prince is thought to be inexperienced because he did nothing but “talk of his horse” (a pun for his penis)
and his other great attributes. Portia goes on to say that the prince boasted that he could “shoe him [his horse]
himself,” a possible pun meaning that the prince was very proud that he could masturbate. Finally, Portia
makes an attack upon the prince’s mother, saying that “my lady his mother played false with the smith,” a
pun to say his mother must have committed adultery with a blacksmith to give birth to such a vulgar man
having an obsession with “shoeing his horse.”
It is worth mentioning that Shakespeare gives the reader hints when his characters might be using puns and
innuendoes. In The Merchant of Venice, Portia’s lines are given in prose when she is joking, or engaged in
bawdy conversations. Later on the reader will notice that Portia’s lines are rhymed in poetry, such as when
she is talking in court or to Bassanio. This is Shakespeare’s way of letting the reader know when Portia is
jesting and when she is serious.
Shakespeare’s Dramatic Verse
Finally, the reader will notice that some lines are actually rhymed verse while others are in verse without
rhyme; and much of Shakespeare’s drama is in prose. Shakespeare usually has his lovers speak in the
language of love poetry which uses rhymed couplets. The archetypal example of this comes, of course, from
Romeo and Juliet:
The grey-ey’d morn smiles on the frowning night,
Check’ring the eastern clouds with streaks of light,
And fleckled darkness like a drunkard reels
From forth day’s path and Titan’s fiery wheels.
(II, iii, ll. 1-4)
Here it is ironic that Friar Lawrence should speak these lines since he is not the one in love. He, therefore,
appears buffoonish and out of touch with reality. Shakespeare often has his characters speak in rhymed verse
to let the reader know that the character is acting in jest, and vice-versa.
Perhaps the majority of Shakespeare’s lines are in blank verse, a form of poetry which does not use rhyme
(hence the name blank) but still employs a rhythm native to the English language, iambic pentameter, where
every second syllable in a line of ten syllables receives stress. Consider the following verses from Hamlet, and
note the accents and the lack of end-rhyme:
The Tempest: Reading Shakespeare 12
The síngle ánd pecúliar lífe is bóund
With áll the stréngth and ármor óf the mínd (III, iii, ll. 12-13)
The final syllable of these verses receives stress and is said to have a hard, or “strong,” ending. A soft ending,
also said to be “weak,” receives no stress. In The Tempest, Shakespeare uses a soft ending to shape a verse
that demonstrates through both sound (meter) and sense the capacity of the feminine to propagate:
and thén I lóv’d thee
And shów’d thee áll the quálitíes o’ th’ ísle,
The frésh spríngs, bríne-pits, bárren pláce and fértile. (I, ii, ll. 338-40)
The first and third of these lines here have soft endings.
In general, Shakespeare saves blank verse for his characters of noble birth. Therefore, it is significant when
his lofty characters speak in prose. Prose holds a special place in Shakespeare’s dialogues; he uses it to
represent the speech habits of the common people. Not only do lowly servants and common citizens speak in
prose, but important, lower class figures also use this fun, at times ribald variety of speech. Though
Shakespeare crafts some very ornate lines in verse, his prose can be equally daunting, for some of his
characters may speechify and break into doubletalk in their attempts to show sophistication. A clever instance
of this comes when the Third Citizen in Coriolanus refers to the people’s paradoxical lack of power when
they must elect Coriolanus as their new leader once Coriolanus has orated how he has courageously fought for
them in battle:
We have power in ourselves to do it, but it is a power that we have no power to do; for if he
show us his wounds and tell us his deeds, we are to put our tongues into those wounds and
speak for them; so, if he tell us his noble deeds, we must also tell him our noble acceptance of
them. Ingratitude is monstrous, and for the multitude to be ingrateful were to make a monster
of the multitude, of the which we, being members, should bring ourselves to be monstrous
members. (II, ii, ll. 3-13)
Notice that this passage contains as many metaphors, hideous though they be, as any other passage in
Shakespeare’s dramatic verse.
When reading Shakespeare, paying attention to characters who suddenly break into rhymed verse, or who slip
into prose after speaking in blank verse, will heighten your awareness of a character’s mood and personal
development. For instance, in Antony and Cleopatra, the famous military leader Marcus Antony usually
speaks in blank verse, but also speaks in fits of prose (II, iii, ll. 43-46) once his masculinity and authority have
been questioned. Similarly, in Timon of Athens, after the wealthy lord Timon abandons the city of Athens to
live in a cave, he harangues anyone whom he encounters in prose (IV, iii, l. 331 ff.). In contrast, the reader
should wonder why the bestial Caliban in The Tempest speaks in blank verse rather than in prose.
Implied Stage Action
When we read a Shakespearean play, we are reading a performance text. Actors interact through dialogue, but
at the same time these actors cry, gesticulate, throw tantrums, pick up daggers, and compulsively wash
murderous “blood” from their hands. Some of the action that takes place on stage is explicitly stated in stage
directions. However, some of the stage activity is couched within the dialogue itself. Attentiveness to these
cues is important as one conceives how to visualize the action. When Iago in Othello feigns concern for
Cassio whom he himself has stabbed, he calls to the surrounding men, “Come, come:/Lend me a light” (V, i,
ll. 86-87). It is almost sure that one of the actors involved will bring him a torch or lantern. In the same play,
Emilia, Desdemona’s maidservant, asks if she should fetch her lady’s nightgown and Desdemona replies,
“No, unpin me here” (IV, iii, l. 37). In Macbeth, after killing Duncan, Macbeth brings the murder weapon
The Tempest: Reading Shakespeare 13
back with him. When he tells his wife that he cannot return to the scene and place the daggers to suggest that
the king’s guards murdered Duncan, she castigates him: “Infirm of purpose/Give me the daggers. The
sleeping and the dead are but as pictures” (II, ii, ll. 50-52). As she exits, it is easy to visualize Lady Macbeth
grabbing the daggers from her husband.
For 400 years, readers have found it greatly satisfying to work with all aspects of Shakespeare’s
language—the implied stage action, word choice, sentence structure, and wordplay—until all aspects come to
life. Just as seeing a fine performance of a Shakespearean play is exciting, staging the play in one’s own
mind’s eye, and revisiting lines to enrich the sense of the action, will enhance one’s appreciation of
Shakespeare’s extraordinary literary and dramatic achievements.
The Tempest: List of Characters
Prospero—the rightful Duke of Milan whose dukedom has been usurped by his brother Antonio. Prospero
controls the island and its inhabitants with a God-like power.
Miranda—Prospero’s fifteen-year-old daughter who has been living with him on the island since their
banishment from Milan when she was only three years old. Her father and Caliban are the only humans she
remembers. When she meets Ferdinand, she falls in love with him almost immediately and innocently ffers
herself to him as his wife.
Ferdinand—He is the son of Alonso, King of Naples. Though he is a man of royal blood, he must endure the
dishonor of carrying logs for Prospero as a trial of his love for Miranda.
Ariel—an airy spirit who has suffered a twelve-year imprisonment in a “cloven pine” for refusing the “earthy
and abhorr’d commands” of the evil witch, Sycorax. Prospero releases Ariel, only to subject him to further
servitude. With the aid of Prospero, Ariel conjures up the tempest and performs other acts of magic
throughout the play. Prospero finally gives him his freedom at the end.
Caliban—Prospero refers to him as a “born devil” whose mother was the evil witch, Sycorax. He is a
deformed monster whose bestial nature cannot be changed, though he has been taught to speak a language.
Paradoxically, Caliban usually speaks in verse and is given some of the most poetic lines in the play.
Alonso—Ferdinand’s father, the King of Naples, who grieves over the supposed loss of his son. He is bearing
a double loss since he recently lost his daughter, Claribel, in marriage to the King of Tunis. He has been
instrumental in the usurpation of Prospero’s Dukedom but is repentant and, thereby, regenerated by the end
of the play.
Antonio—Prospero’s brother, the usurping Duke of Milan, who helps Sebastian plot the death of his own
brother, the King of Naples.
Sebastian—Alonso’s brother whose gullibility leads him to look up to Antonio as his model. Just as Antonio
has usurped his brother Prospero as the rightful Duke of Milan, Sebastian also wishes to take Alonso’s place
as the King of Naples.
Gonzalo—An old councilor whose loyalty to the king poses a threat to Antonio and Sebastian in their plot of
regicide.
Stephano—Alonso’s “drunken butler” who considers himself superior to Trinculo. Electing Stephano as his
own “noble lord” and the new king of the island, Caliban kneels at Stephano’s feet. Adding to the
The Tempest: List of Characters 14
incongruity, Caliban helps to plot Prospero’s death so that Stephano can take his place as king of the island.
Trinculo—the king’s jester who is Stephano’s constant companion. He jeers at Caliban’s newly-acquired
devotion to Stephano as the future lord of the island.
Adrian and Francisco—two lords who are in attendance with Alonso’s royal party but are given little
characterization by Shakespeare.
Boatswain—the ship’s officer in charge of the deck crew, the rigging, and the cables. He is efficient and
confident as he orders the king to stay out of his way and “keep below” in the cabins.
Iris, Ceres, Juno, Nymphs, and Reapers—spirits who perform the wedding masque for Ferdinand and Miranda.
The Tempest: Historical Background
Most of Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, and tragedies were written during England’s “golden age” under
the celebrated 45-year reign (1558-1603) of Queen Elizabeth I. Historically, the Elizabethan era took place in
the wake of the Protestant Reformation when the English Renaissance was ushered in and the arts flourished.
When King James I succeeded Elizabeth to the throne after her death in 1603, he continued, at least to some
extent, the rich cultural legacy left by the late queen. The new king, a patron of the arts, agreed to sponsor the
King’s Men, Shakespeare’s theatrical group.
By 1608, after an illustrious career as a playwright, Shakespeare turned away from the great tragedies
(Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear) and directed his creative energies toward the romances or tragi-comedies
(The Tempest, Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter’s Tale).
The romances involve improbable and fanciful events that border on imagination rather than fact. Prospero’s
magic is typical of the genre. Characters are often drawn in opposing categories of black and white and
include the idealized heroine. In The Tempest, for example, Miranda is portrayed as the pure image of
chastity. Love in the romances is characteristically subjected to great difficulty. Miranda stands by anxiously
as she watches Ferdinand bear the “trials of love” imposed upon him by Prospero.
The Tempest is tragi-comic with a serious plot that could be suitable for tragedy but ends happily like a
comedy. The usurpation of Prospero’s dukedom and the plot of Antonio and Sebastian to kill Alonso and
Gonzalo carry potential tragic elements, but the evil plans are eventually thwarted, and all ends happily.
The Tempest was first published in the Folio edition of 1623 where it was placed as the opening work.
According to an account book at the Revel’s Office in Somerset House, the play was first performed at
Whitehall on Hallowmas night, November 1, 1611. It was produced in court for the second time to celebrate
the marriage of the daughter of James I, Princess Elizabeth, to the Elector Palatine in the winter of 1612-13.
There are no known sources for the main plot, but it is believed that Shakespeare used Strachey’s True
Repertory of the Wrack and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates (dated July 15, 1610 and later published in
Purchas His Pilgrims in 1625), Jourdain’s A Discovery of the Bermudas (published 1610), and the Virginia
Council’s True Declaration of the Estate of the Colony in Virginia (published 1610). These publications are
an account of the Virginia Company Expedition from Plymouth to Jamestown. News reached England that all
except the flagship, The Sea Adventure, had arrived safely. It was rumored that the admiral, Sir George
Somers, and the future governor of Virginia, Sir Thomas Gates, had drowned in a storm at sea. To everyone’s
surprise, the two men miraculously appeared in Jamestown with the story that they had run aground on the
isle of Bermuda. For the character of Caliban, Shakespeare also used Montaigne’s essay, “Of the Cannibals,”
The Tempest: Historical Background 15
which praised the savage of the New World as the natural man. Since these sources are dated as late as 1610,
Shakespeare could not have written the play much before it was performed in 1611.
Shakespeare’s new genre in his last plays was well-received by his early seventeenth-century audience and
the public’s new interest did, in fact, reach far beyond to the end of the century with Shadwell’s
tragi-comedy, Royal Shepherdess, and Dryden’s Secret Love.
The abundance of literary criticism on The Tempest dates back to the eighteenth century when Dr. Samuel
Johnson apologizes for Shakespeare’s use of song. He feels that Ariel’s songs “express nothing great.”
Coleridge praises the play for its morality, though he feels that Shakespeare “may sometimes be gross.” G.
Wilson Knight approaches the play with a theme of immortality which is metaphorically expressed in terms of
victorious love. Bordering on the allegorical, Knight’s view equates the sea to fortune, the tempests to
children and birth, and gentleness to royal blood. For W. L. Godschalk, the central thrust of the play lies in the
problems of government rather than the progress of the soul toward redemption.
Kermode’s thematic approach to The Tempest concerns the opposition between the worlds of Prospero’s art
and Caliban’s nature. Zimbardo deals with the universal conflict between order and chaos, asserting that
Prospero’s art is an attempt at imposing form on the formless. She places Caliban at the center of disorder,
conceding, however, that he too feels the effect of the harmony or order of the island but just for a moment.
Reflecting the literary criticism of the nineteenth century, James Russell Lowell sees the play as an allegory in
which Prospero represents imagination, Ariel is seen as fancy, and Caliban as brute understanding. Nutall,
though an allegorist, rejects Lowell’s nineteenth-century view. He sees The Tempest as a metaphysical
allegory in which Ariel and Caliban could be the psychic processes.
In contrast to the allegorists who have idealized Prospero as Shakespeare himself, Cutts would have us believe
that Prospero is out for revenge, selfishly seeking his own end which is the restoration of his power. Unlike
Cutts, Northrop Frye contrasts Prospero’s “white magic” with the “black magic” of Sycorax. Prospero’s
motives are good, he reasons, and in tune with the higher order of nature. Sisson also feels that in view of
Parliament’s statute against witchcraft and the conjuration of evil spirits, Shakespeare would have been
careful to make a sharp distinction between the evil powers of Sycorax representing “black magic” and the
“white magic” of Prospero which does not deal with incantations in the performance of magic.
The Tempest: Summary and Analysis
Act I, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis
New Characters
Alonso: king of Naples who has conspired to usurp Prospero’s dukedom
Gonzalo: an old councilor who has shown compassion to Prospero and Miranda
Antonio: Prospero’s brother, the usurping Duke of Milan
Sebastian: Alonso’s brother
Ship–master: master or captain of the ship
Boatswain: the ship’s officer in charge of the crew and the rigging of the sails
Mariners: the ship’s crew who take orders from the Boatswain
The Tempest: Summary and Analysis 16
Summary
The play begins with flashes of lightning, the cracking of thunder, and the urgent shouts of the Ship–master,
ordering the Boatswain to mobilize his crew and prevent the ship from running aground. The Boatswain
responds promptly, commanding his men to “take in the topsail” and prepare for the storm at sea. The
swaying of the ship drives its royal passengers to the top deck in fear. Alonso and Antonio do not immediately
see the master of the ship and assume he is shirking his duty. They urge the Boatswain to prod his men into
action. The scurrilous Boatswain minces no words, ordering the royal party to stay in their cabins. He reminds
Alonso that even the king has no authority over the raging sea, and he is only hindering them from doing their
job.
Gonzalo finds comfort in his belief that the Boatswain is the kind of impudent fellow who was born to be
hanged and, consequently, will not drown. Sebastian and Antonio curse the Boatswain, but he rudely
challenges them to do the job themselves if they are not satisfied. Alonso and Ferdinand finally go below and
the rest of the royal party join them to pray for mercy after the mariners arrive with news that all is lost.
Analysis
It has been suggested that the title of the play should be The Island rather than The Tempest since the storm at
sea takes place only in the first scene. Some critics believe, however, that the tempest pervades the entire play,
having caused the suffering of Prospero’s enemies which continues long after the storm has abated. Alonso
suffers grief for his lost son throughout most of the play. By the end, Ferdinand has been found, Alonso’s sin
against Prospero has been forgiven, and his inner tempest subsides. He has been purified through his
suffering. The storm at sea is brought about by Prospero’s magic which permeates the actions of the
characters until Act V when he removes his magician’s robe. It is only then that its purpose has been
accomplished. His dukedom has been restored and his enemies forgiven.
In the opening scene, set aboard a ship in a storm-tossed sea, it is immediately apparent that a hierarchy exists
among the ship’s officers and crew consisting of the Ship-master, the Boatswain, and the mariners. This
maritime society is a microcosm of the larger hierarchical society made up of the king, the noblemen, and the
common people. In a social and political society the king would normally exercise his authority over all of his
people, but on the ship at sea he has entered the domain of the Ship-master and Boatswain and must now
succumb to their authority. They are the ones who hold the king’s very life in their hands. As the Boatswain
so aptly puts it: “What cares these roarers for the name of king?” The king is not more powerful than the
roaring sea. This idea foreshadows the image in Ariel’s song, “Full Fadom Five,”in Act I, Scene 2 in which
he asserts that Alonso “doth suffer a sea-change.” Though Alonso does not actually die as the song suggests,
the image is symbolic of the change he will go through on the island.
In retaliation for the Boatswain’s rude manners, Gonzalo persists in repeating a joke about him. The old
councilor finds comfort in the fact that he “sees no drowning mark upon him (the Boatswain)” since he is
destined to be hanged. Gonzalo insists that the passengers “make the rope of his destiny our cable.” If the
Boatswain’s destiny points to the gallows, it is reasonable that he will not meet his death by drowning at sea
and, in that case, neither will any of the other passengers. Neil H. Wright has noted that the symbolic “rope is
a hangman’s noose for the Boatswain but a saving cable for the crew and passengers” (Neil H. Wright,
“Reality and Illusion as a Philosophical Pattern in The Tempest,” 249). Ironically, Gonzalo’s joke is a
prophetic statement since everyone on the ship eventually reaches the shore safely.
When the mariners report that all is lost, Sebastian, Antonio, and Gonzalo are finally convinced of the
seriousness of the situation. They decide to go below and join Alonso and Ferdinand in their prayers. Soon a
confusing noise is heard, and Gonzalo, thinking they have run aground on a rock, shouts “We split, we split,
we split.” Antonio suggests that they “sink wi’ th’ king,” but Sebastian would rather “take leave of him.”
Sebastian’s statement foreshadows his conspiracy to kill his brother, the king, later in the play.
Act I, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis 17
Act I, Scene 2, lines 1-188 Summary and Analysis
New Characters
Prospero: the rightful Duke of Milan whose dukedom has been usurped by his brother, Antonio
Miranda: Prospero’s fifteen-year-old daughter
Summary
The scene is set on an island at the mouth of Prospero’s cave where he and Miranda have been living for the
past 12 years. From the shore they have been watching the sinking ship and listening to the heartrending cries
of the people on board. Aware that her father has raised the tempest with his magic, Miranda begs him to calm
the “wild waters” and end the suffering. Prospero assures her that no harm has been done, and that he has
acted solely on her behalf.
He expresses his regret that she is ignorant of her true station in life. Moreover, she does not know that he is a
man of high rank. She admits that the idea has not occurred to her. Convinced that the time is now right,
Prospero begins the account of their precarious voyage to the island when she was not quite three years old.
He asks her whether she has any memory of her life before she came to the island. She replies that she can
remember four or five women who tended her, but has no recollection of her arrival at the island with her
father. He goes on to explain that he is the rightful Duke of Milan whose dukedom had been usurped by his
own brother, Antonio, who had been entrusted to manage the affairs of state so that Prospero could be free to
concentrate on his “secret studies.” With both money and power at his constant disposal, Antonio began to
believe that he was actually the duke.
Interspersed into his lengthy exposition are Prospero’s occasional accusations against Miranda for not
listening. He then goes on to explain that the King of Naples had been his long-lasting enemy. In exchange for
Antonio’s homage and tribute, the king levied an army, removed Prospero from his rightful position as duke
and replaced him with Antonio, the new Duke of Milan. At midnight, Prospero and Miranda were hurried
aboard a rotten tub without a sail and left alone on the roaring sea. Miranda asks her father why Alonso and
Antonio did not have them killed immediately. Prospero explains that they did not dare because of his
people’s love for him as Duke of Milan. The conspirators decided instead to make Prospero’s death look like
an accident. Out of compassion for Prospero and Miranda, Gonzalo packed the rotting vessel with food, water,
clothing, and an ample supply of books from Prospero’s library. He tells Miranda that, with her own father as
her tutor, she has been fortunate to have a better schoolmaster than most princesses.
Prospero’s long discourse has solved many mysteries for Miranda, but she still wonders why her father has
raised the storm at sea. He tells her it has been his good fortune that his enemies have accidentally wandered
to the shore of this island, and he must act now, or he might never be given another chance. Dressing in his
magic robe, he puts Miranda into a deep sleep and signals Ariel to approach.
Analysis
One of the major themes in The Tempest is illusion versus reality as it relates to the opposing worlds of a
primitive island and the civilized culture of Milan. The storm at sea seems to be endangering the lives of its
passengers and crew, but when Miranda begs her father to allay the “wild waters,” he calms her fears, telling
her there has been “no harm done.” We learn later that the “brave vessel” has not been “dash’d all to
pieces,” as Miranda had feared, but rests safely in the harbor.
The magical atmosphere of the island, with its primeval surroundings, is Prospero’s realm. While he was still
in Milan, he became increasingly “transported and rapt in secret studies.” He kept moving further into his
illusory world of books which was in stark contrast to the management of his dukedom in the real world of
Act I, Scene 2, lines 1-188 Summary and Analysis 18
Milan. Ironically, Antonio, who had been entrusted to administer the affairs of government for Prospero, also
lived under the illusion that “he was indeed the duke.” His royalty was only an “outward face,” but his
ambition grew, and, with the help of Alonso, the king, he conspired against Prospero to become the Duke of
Milan.
Writing in the consciousness of his own age, Shakespeare’s view of the natural order was based on the
hierarchy of all beings and things. The idea had its beginnings with Plato and Aristotle and influenced the
ethics of medieval thought which extended well into the sixteenth century and beyond. In the hierarchy, God
was supreme and all other beings had a superior to whom they owed obedience and an inferior whom they
ruled. It extended from God to the lowest animals and even to inanimate objects. When the hierarchy was
destroyed, disorder and chaos reigned. All would go well as long as individuals in families and the larger
society knew their place. Antonio’s selfish refusal to recognize his particular place in the social and political
hierarchy resulted in the overthrow of Prospero’s dukedom and the consequent corruption of the natural
harmony. Antonio’s subversiveness led to anarchy in the state and violated the trust between brothers as well.
Prospero expresses his disappointment and loss when he says, “that a brother should/ Be so perfidious! – he
whom next thyself/ Of all the world I loved.”
The natural hierarchy, often referred to as degree, had been a major theme throughout Shakespeare’s great
tragedies. In Troilus and Cressida, Ulysses warns about the dire consequences of breaking the natural law
(Act I, Scene 3). “Take but degree away, untune that string/ And hark what discord follows.” We see this
discord immediately in the evil nature of Prospero’s expulsion from his dukedom in Milan. The sinister and
hurried act of putting him and his three-year-old daughter out to sea to drown was committed at midnight “i’
th’ dead of darkness.” Further discord that is a direct result of the overthrow of Prospero’s dukedom is
gradually revealed as the play progresses.
The magic of Prospero is an all-pervasive dramatic element of The Tempest. Its success with the audiences of
Shakespeare’s day depended to some degree upon their belief in magic. Dryden’s “Prologue to The
Tempest,” written in 1667, sheds some light on Shakespeare’s use of magic in relation to his audience.
But Shakespeare’s magic could not copied be;
Within that circle none durst walk but he.
I must confess ‘twas bold, nor would you now
That liberty to vulgar wits allow,
Which works by magic supernatural things;
But Shakespeare’s power is sacred as a king’s.
Those legends from old priesthood were received,
And he then writ, as people then believed.
Dryden/ Davenant “Prologue to The Tempest,” 1354-55
Dryden is implying that theater audiences of Shakespeare’s day believed in magic. By Dryden’s time people
had developed a skepticism about magic. Consequently, Dryden and Davenant collaborated in adapting The
Tempest for audiences of their own time.
Parliament’s statute against the practice of witchcraft and the conjuration of evil spirits was enacted in 1563
under Queen Elizabeth and confirmed again in 1604 under the rule of James I. It has been noted by
commentators that in the light of these sixteenth and early seventeenth-century laws, Shakespeare was careful
to make a distinction between the “white magic” of Prospero and the “black magic” of Sycorax, an evil
witch who had ruled the island before Prospero’s arrival. It was believed that she relied on the devil for her
magical powers. Some critics feel that Prospero used his magic to protect the good characters and punish the
evil ones; hence the name, white magic.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 1-188 Summary and Analysis 19
In Prospero’s long discourse on the loss of his dukedom and his subsequent arrival on the island, he
frequently addresses Miranda with questions like “Dost thou attend me?” to make sure she is still listening.
Her short and insignificant responses are a dramatic device, changing Prospero’s monologue into a dialogue
appropriate for the stage.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 189-320 Summary and Analysis
New Character
Ariel: an airy spirit under Prospero’s servitude who performs acts of magic for him
Summary
Prospero calls forth his spirit, Ariel, who appears, reporting that he has created the tempest just as he was
instructed to do. Moreover, he has created quite a spectacle on board ship. He has caused the lightning and
thunder claps while the mighty sea roared and the “bold waves trembled.” Prospero praises him for
maintaining his composure in spite of the uproar. Ariel continues, telling him that all except the mariners
plunged into the foaming sea in fear and desperation. They have all landed, safe and unblemished, on the
shore. He has dispersed them in troops around the island, but left Ferdinand, the king’s son, by himself. The
king’s ship has been stowed in a deep inlet of the harbor with the mariners sleeping under the hatches. The
passengers on the other ships of the fleet, thinking the king is dead, are on their way back to Naples.
Prospero again commends Ariel for an excellent performance but tells him there is still more work to be done.
Ariel complains, reminding Prospero of his promise to give him his liberty. Prospero tells him to remember
what he has done for him. He has saved Ariel from the “foul witch Sycorax” who had imprisoned him in a
“cloven pine.” Meanwhile, she died and left him in torment for 12 years. When Prospero arrived on the
island, he heard Ariel’s painful cries and used his art of magic to release him from the pine.
Though Ariel thanks him, Prospero, nevertheless, threatens to peg him into an oak tree to howl away for 12
more years if he continues to grumble. Apologizing, Ariel promises to follow his master’s orders. Prospero
rewards him by telling him he will be free in two days. This is good news for Ariel, and he is eager to
cooperate. He is then sent to disguise himself as a “nymph o’ th’ sea” and appear invisible to all except
Prospero. Ariel quickly obeys.
While Ariel is gone, Prospero awakens Miranda whom he has put into a deep sleep. Together they prepare a
visit to Caliban, Prospero’s slave. Miranda calls him a villain, but Prospero assures her they could not do
without him. He makes their fires, fetches their wood, and does other odd jobs around their cell. Just as he
summons Caliban, Ariel appears dressed like a water-nymph. Prospero whispers in Ariel’s ear, and he is sent
off to do his master’s bidding.
Analysis
On the island, Prospero’s magic is, in most cases, performed by Ariel. It is Ariel who raises the tempest under
Prospero’s direction. After the tempest, Ariel’s greeting to Prospero appropriately represents the elements of
air, water, and fire from which he is derived. As a spirit, Ariel can fly, swim, or “dive into the fire.” In
ancient times it was believed that the elements of air, water, and fire were the fundamental constituents of the
universe. As a spirit of the island, Ariel embodies these elements that emanate from him at various times. He
can divide himself and become fire as he does on the king’s ship during the course of the tempest.
I flam’d amazement. Sometime I’ld divide
And burn in many places; on the topmast,
The yards and boresprit, would I flame distinctly,
Then meet and join.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 189-320 Summary and Analysis 20
Act I, Scene 2, ll. 198-201
Ariel “flam’d amazement” or terrorized the passengers and crew by burning “on the topmast.” This alludes
to a well-known phenomenon in Shakespeare’s day called corposant or St. Elmo’s fire, a bluish, luminous
glow that would appear on the mast of a ship during an electrical storm at sea. St. Elmo was the patron saint of
sailors.
During the storm Ariel mingles with the air, causing Jove’s lightning, and with the water, making
“Neptune’s...bold waves tremble.” It is through Ariel’s poetic description of the storm that we sense the
paradox of this light, airy spirit who was “too delicate/ To act her (Sycorax’s) earthy and abhorr’d
commands,” but could raise a spectacular storm at sea that would strike terror into the passengers and crew.
The magic of the “foul witch Sycorax” is set in stark contrast to the magic of Prospero. In her “unmitigable
rage,” Sycorax had, with her evil powers, imprisoned Ariel in a “cloven pine” and left him there to groan in
agony for 12 years. Prospero, in his benevolence, took pity on him and used his magic to set him free. Sycorax
had been banished from Argier (Algiers) because of her “sorceries terrible.” It was believed that she relied on
devils or evil spirits of the underworld to assist her in these magic acts. Before she died, she had bore a son,
Caliban, who was described by Prospero as “a freckled whelp, hag-born,” his shape is less than human.
In The Tempest Shakespeare observed all three of the Aristotelian unities of action, time, and place. Unity of
action requires that the plot must be a unified whole with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Unity of time
confined the action to one day only. In this scene Prospero suddenly becomes aware of the time which is
“past the mid season./ At least two glasses,” or two o’clock in the afternoon. He realizes they must
accomplish their work on the island “‘twixt six and now.” Unity of place limits the action to a single place
which is, in the case of The Tempest, the island and the sea near the shore. Many of the great playwrights,
including Shakespeare (The Tempest being an exception), violate at least some of the unities. Modern
dramatists put little stress on the importance of the traditional unities but emphasize instead, the single
emotional effect of the action.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 321-374 Summary and Analysis
New Character
Caliban: a deformed, subhuman monster; born from the union of the evil witch Sycorax and a devil
Summary
With harsh and abusive language, Prospero rudely calls for Caliban, his slave. Caliban, in turn, curses his
master and Miranda for subjecting him to the hard labor of carrying logs. Prospero threatens to punish Caliban
for his show of disrespect by having urchins or goblins in the form of hedgehogs trouble him all night long
with their painful pinches.
Caliban retaliates further by declaring that the island really belongs to him since he has inherited it from his
mother, Sycorax. Before Prospero took it from him, Caliban was his own king, but now he has been relegated
to the position of Prospero’s only subject on the island. Reminiscing about better days, Caliban remembers
the time when Prospero and Miranda had just arrived on the island. Prospero treated him with kindness then,
giving him food to eat and teaching him the names of the sun and moon. Out of love for Prospero, Caliban
had shown him where to find fresh water and land fertile enough to grow food. He regrets his former show of
kindness because he is now forced to stay imprisoned in a rock and engage in hard labor for Prospero. He
curses himself for what he has done, calling upon the magic of Sycorax to bombard Prospero with toads,
beetles, and bats.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 321-374 Summary and Analysis 21
Prospero is furious, calling him a “lying slave” who can only be made to understand with harsh beatings
rather than with kindness. Prospero reminds Caliban of the care he has bestowed on him, lodging him in his
own cell until his attempted rape of Miranda, his own daughter. Showing no remorse, Caliban only wishes
Prospero would not have prevented him from populating the island with Calibans.
Miranda chastises Caliban for being capable of doing only evil. When he was an ignorant savage, she took
pity on him, teaching him to speak her language. Though he was able to learn, it was his “vild race” that
made it impossible for good people to tolerate his presence. Caliban rebukes Miranda, hoping the
“red-plague” will destroy her as a retribution for teaching him language. His only benefit has been that he
now knows “how to curse.” Prospero warns Caliban not to neglect his duties, or he will be given such severe
cramps and aching bones that his cries of pain will frighten the beasts. In an aside, Caliban finally decides to
obey, realizing the power of Prospero’s magic which would control even his mother’s god, Setebos.
Analysis
When Prospero summons Caliban from the rock where he is imprisoned, he refers to him as earth. “What ho!
slave! Caliban!/ Thou earth, thou! speak (Act I, Scene 2, l. 314). Just as Ariel embodies the elements of air,
water, and fire, which was reviewed elsewhere in the text, Caliban represents the element of earth. The
spirituality of Ariel is seen in contrast to the earthiness of Caliban. He was the son of the witch, Sycorax,
whose “earthy and abhorr’d commands” (Act I, Scene 2, l. 273) were too much to bear for Ariel, a delicate
spirit.
It is generally agreed by critics that the character of Caliban is based on the primitive savage of the New
World. For The Tempest, Shakespeare used Montaigne’s essay “Of the Canniballes” which examines the life
of the cannibal inhabitants of what would be present-day Brazil. Montaigne describes the lives of the savages
as uncorrupted and natural in contrast to those of the corrupt and civilized Europeans. In the case of Caliban,
Shakespeare would have it the other way around. Caliban is portrayed as a subhuman monster “got by the
devil himself” (Act I, Scene 2, l. 319). He has tried to violate the honor of Prospero’s daughter, and although
he has been taught their language, all he has learned is “how to curse.”
In the “Riverside Shakespeare’s Names of the Actors” Caliban is described as “a savage and deformed
slave.” Caliban is an anagram of “cannibal” which is a derivative of “Carib,” a savage race of the West
Indies or the New World. Caliban’s deformity is described later in the play when he is first seen by Trinculo
who wonders what kind of monster he has run across on the island. He is “legg’d like a man; and his fins like
arms” (Act II, Scene 2, ll. 33-34). Bewildered, Trinculo thinks he is some “strange fish.” This is reminiscent
of another reference to a fish-like monster in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. It is what Ajax is called
when he mistakes the deformed and scurrilous Thersites for Agamemnon, the general. “He’s (Ajax) grown a
very land-fish, languageless, a monster” (Act III, Scene 3, l. 263).
It was not uncommon to hear stories about deformed, fish-like monsters inhabiting the territories of the New
World in Shakespeare’s day. Monsters too occupied a “position in the moral scale, below man, just as the
angels were above him…they are the link between…the settled and the wild, the moral and the unmoral” (cited
by L. Edwards in “The Historical and Legendary Background of the Wodehouse and Peacock Feast Motif in
the Walsokne and Braunche Brasses.” Monumental Brass Society Transactions, VIII. Pt. vii, 300-11. This
quotation raken from Kermode’s “Introduction to the Arden Shakespeare, p XXXIX). Explorers were
coming back from their travels with stories of savage, beast-like creatures with no language, living in the
forests without the benefit of the civilizing influences. By the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries,
even before the days of Darwin, the issues of these savage races as the “missing link” were being raised
among the general public.
The tension between the two worlds of the play centers around the issue of natural man versus civilized man.
Caliban represents nature without the benefit of nurture (Act IV, Scene 1, i. 188). When Caliban attempts to
Act I, Scene 2, lines 321-374 Summary and Analysis 22
violate Miranda’s honor, he cannot do otherwise because he is a natural man without the benefit of societal
restraints. To Miranda, a civilized woman, Caliban is “a thing most brutish” who is “capable of all ill.”
In this scene we are introduced to the subplot of the play which is not immediately obvious. In subsequent
scenes we will see Caliban’s conspiracy to murder Prospero and repossess the island. Caliban voices his
rightful claim when he says, “This island’s mine by Sycorax, my mother.” Ironically, Prospero usurped
Caliban’s position as king of the island just as Antonio usurped his brother’s dukedom in Milan.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 375-504 Summary and Analysis
New Character
Ferdinand: the son of Alonso, the King of Naples; the prince is later betrothed to Miranda
Summary
Ariel, invisible to all except Prospero, appears as a “nymph o’ th’ sea,” playing and singing as he leads
Ferdinand, the king’s son, onto the shore of the island. Addressing his invisible attendant spirits, Ariel
instructs them to hush the “wild waves” into silence as they imitate the dance. He welcomes Ferdinand onto
the island of domestic habitation with its sounds of dogs and roosters in the distance and the graces of music
and harmony to soothe his troubled spirit. The music seems like a supernatural presence to Ferdinand who is
unable to locate its source. Drawing him out of the water, the song has had a soothing influence on him,
allaying both the fury of the tempest and his grief over his drowned father.
For a while the music stops, but then it begins again. This time in “Full Fadom Five thy Father Lies,” Ariel,
still invisible, addresses Ferdinand directly to confirm his fears that his father has drowned. He is lying at the
bottom of the sea where each part of his body, otherwise doomed to decay, is being transformed into a rich sea
substance. Ferdinand is convinced that the music that honors the memory of his drowned father must have
some ethereal quality.
As Ferdinand appears on the island, Miranda perceives him as a spirit, but Prospero informs her that he is
human. He has survived the tempest, but, although he has a pleasing appearance, he has been misshapen with
grief for his lost friends. Still not convinced, Miranda feels he must be a divine being. When Ferdinand first
meets Miranda, he is sure she is the goddess who has been singing the songs that led him to the shore.
Ferdinand questions Miranda, and she affirms that she is, indeed, human. Prospero promises Ariel his freedom
within two days for working his magic on the young couple. Ferdinand then tells Prospero and Miranda that
his father, the King of Naples, and all his lords, including the Duke of Milan and his son, disappeared during
the storm at sea. He thinks they have drowned since he personally saw their perilous struggle in the raging
storm.
In another aside Prospero again addresses Ariel, telling him how pleased he is that, with the help of his magic,
the young couple has fallen in love at first sight. For this, Ariel will be rewarded. All is going according to
Prospero’s plan, but he decides to break off the speedy development of their romantic love to prevent
Ferdinand from feeling that Miranda is too easily won. Carrying out a devious plan, Prospero decides to
accuse Ferdinand of coming as a spy in order to snatch the lordship of the island from him. Ferdinand denies
the charge and Miranda defends him. Prospero quickly censures her for standing up for a traitor. Ferdinand
draws his sword, but Prospero uses his magic to freeze his movements. Miranda repeatedly pleads in
Ferdinand’s behalf, but her father silences her for being “an advocate for an imposter.” He tells her it is
because of her inexperience that she does not realize there are many men better than Ferdinand. The young
prince resolves to endure, in spite of all that has happened to him, if only once a day he will be allowed to see
Miranda from his prison. Leading Ferdinand away, Prospero addresses Ariel with words of praise and further
plans for still more work to be done.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 375-504 Summary and Analysis 23
Analysis
The two songs, “Come unto These Yellow Sands” and “Full Fadom Five thy Father Lies” are set in
juxtaposition to enhance their dramatic unity within the context of the play. Both songs assist the dramatic
action of the play by ushering Ferdinand onto the shore of the island for the first time and by simultaneously
calming the tempest at sea and Ferdinand’s grief over his supposedly drowned father.
The mesmerizing power of music in The Tempest is analogous to that of the Orpheus myth in Ovid’s
Metamorphoses. Just as “Orpheus sang; and drew wild beasts along,/And rocks and trees, submissive to his
song”(Book II, II. 1-2), Ariel’s singing and playing leads Ferdinand onto the island. In both cases music has
the power to draw or lead its subjects, whether they be beasts or humans, to a desired place. Shakespeare’s
audiences were familiar with the Orpheus myth and would have easily understood the dramatic function of the
music in this part of the play.
Ariel’s literal invitation to the dance, eventually leading Ferdinand to Miranda, has symbolic overtones. He
will take her hands and together they will kiss “the wild waves whist” or, in other words, still the tempest of
the play which represents the hatreds and political rivalries of the past. Their union will bring the opposing
sides together and, thereby, offer a peaceful solution to their former conflicts. Symbolically, Ferdinand is
being invited to the dance of life which is the fulfillment of love, marriage, and fruition.
Aesthetically the songs function in the dramatic context as lyric poems set apart, by the language, meter, and
rhyme scheme, from the blank verse of the rest of the poetic drama. The elements of poetry are evident in the
alliteration of “wild waves whist, Foot it featly, sweet sprites, strain of strutting chanticleer,” and in the
onomatopoeic effects of “Bow-wow” and “Cock-a-diddle-dow.” To the song’s sense of sound is added the
cheerful color of the “yellow sands” and the rhythm of the dance performed by the spirits. “Burthen”
indicates the bass to be sung by the spirits but also dispersed by the barking of dogs coming from all corners
of the island with chanticleer, the rooster, added to the sound effects of the pastoral scene.
Ferdinand refers to the song as a “sweet air.” “Ayre” or “air” was a word used for song in Shakespeare’s
day, but the word originated with the ancient Greeks. In their operas, the Italians have substituted the word
“aria” for “air” in reference to the solos, but etymologically aria came from the word air.
In “Full Fadom Five thy Father Lies” Ariel’s song creates the illusion that Ferdinand’s father has drowned.
This illusory scene is filled with spirits singing and dancing and Prospero’s magic controlling the actions of
many of the characters. Ferdinand would have us believe it is “no mortal business.” Even Miranda engages in
the illusion when she sees Ferdinand’s “brave form” and thinks he must be a spirit. As if in a trance, she
hardly hears Prospero’s explanation but goes on to say, “I might call him/A thing divine, for nothing natural/
I ever saw so noble.” For Prospero, who knows the truth, however, the illusory world he is creating with his
magic is merely practical reality. Commentators have observed that Prospero has separated Ferdinand from
his father on the island so that he can bring Ferdinand and Miranda together, and, thereby, accomplish his
purpose which is to restore his dukedom through the marriage of his daughter to Alonso’s son.
Further analysis of the aesthetically beautiful lyrics in “Full Fadom Five thy Father Lies” reveals an imagery
that substitutes coral for bones and pearls for eyes, lending detachment and perspective to Alonso’s
supposedly recent death and, in this way, reducing Ferdinand’s pain. The heavy alliteration of “Full Fadom
Five thy Father Lies” is not picked up again until the fifth line of the song with “suffer a sea-change.” The
image of Alonso’s sea-change, with its beautiful pearl and coral, is symbolic of the change Alonso goes
through on the island and reflects the central theme of the play which is repentance, forgiveness, and
reconciliation. Alonso’s supposed loss of his son in the storm leads him to an acknowledgement of his guilt.
By the end of the play Alonso’s suffering has changed him. He asks Prospero for forgiveness and restores his
dukedom.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 375-504 Summary and Analysis 24
Some of the songs can still be sung just as they were written for Shakespeare’s audiences. Robert Johnson’s
setting of “Full Fadom Five thy Father Lies,” and “Where the Bee Sucks,” appearing later in the play, are
both extant settings that were found in John Wilson’s Cheerful Ayres published in 1660. The original music
for “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” has not survived but Long has set it to the music of The Frog Galliard
by John Dowland, written in 1610. (Both songs can be found in Shakespeare’s Use of Music by John H.
Long. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, 1961.) It is believed that Robert Johnson wrote all the original
music for The Tempest which has more songs than any other Shakespearean play.
Act II, Scene 1, lines 1-184 Summary and Analysis
New Characters
Adrian and Francisco: lords who accompany Alonso’s royal party
Summary
The scene is set on another part of the island, some distance from Prospero’s cell, where Alonso is grieving
the supposed loss of his son, Ferdinand. Gonzalo attempts to offer words of comfort by pointing out that
losing someone at sea is a common occurrence. It is a miracle that they have survived, considering the odds
against them, and he advises Alonso to weigh that comforting thought against his sorrow. In a mood of
pensive reflection, Alonso is unable to receive comfort and quietly pleads to be left alone. Insensitive to
Alonso’s grief, Sebastian and Antonio begin baiting the king about his inability to engage in conversation and
even go so far as to make a wager about who will break the silence, Alonso or Adrian. When Adrian speaks,
Sebastian bursts out in raucous laughter for having won the wager. Adrian continues, commenting about the
sweetness of the air on the island, but Sebastian and Antonio only jeer, muttering about the “rotten” air that is
“perfumed by a fen.” Conversely, Gonzalo observes the lush, green grass on the island where everything is
advantageous to life, but Sebastian tells him he has completely missed the truth.
Gonzalo then points out an unusual phenomenon. Though their clothes have been drenched in the storm at
sea, they look as fresh and new as they did the day they put them on in Africa for the wedding of the king’s
daughter, Claribel, to the King of Tunis.
The conversation shifts to the marriage of Alonso’s daughter. Gonzalo swears there has not been such a
queen in Tunis since “Widow Dido’s” time. Sebastian brusquely refutes his use of the term “Widow Dido”
for Aeneas’ lover, and Adrian, sure that the Widow Dido lived in Carthage instead of Tunis, questions
Gonzalo’s error. In a humorous exchange Sebastian and Antonio ridicule Gonzalo’s preposterous claim that
Tunis is, indeed, Carthage. “This Tunis, sir, was Carthage.”
Alonso suddenly becomes extremely annoyed at their conversation and regrets giving consent for his
daughter’s marriage in Tunis which has resulted in the death of his son. Afraid he might never see his
daughter again, since Tunis is so far from Italy, he grieves the loss of both a son and a daughter. Francisco
tries to comfort the king, assuring him that he saw Ferdinand swimming to shore with “lusty strokes” during
the tempest and feels that he must still be alive. Alonso immediately responds with the certainty that his son is
gone.
Sebastian tells Alonso he has himself to blame for the loss of Ferdinand. If only he had not given his daughter
in marriage to an African instead of a European, Ferdinand would still be alive. Sebastian claims that her
unwillingness to marry outside of her country was outweighed by her obedience to her father. Gonzalo
reprimands Sebastian for being insensitive at a time like this.
Gonzalo then ruminates about the island, expressing his dream of the ideal commonwealth. He would keep the
island in its natural state where everyone would be equal with no riches or poverty. He would govern so
Act II, Scene 1, lines 1-184 Summary and Analysis 25
perfectly that the time would “excel the golden age.” Alonso stops Gonzalo, since his talk means nothing to
him. Gonzalo tells the king he was only entertaining the other gentlemen, giving them occasion to laugh at
nothing like they always do. When they tell him they were laughing at him, he replies that he is nothing to
them so, therefore, they were still laughing at nothing.
Analysis
At the opening of the play, we first meet Sebastian and Antonio during the storm at sea. They find themselves
at odds with the Boatswain, cursing him for not doing what they consider a proper job. Sebastian calls him a
“bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog”, and Antonio follows these expletives with “you whoreson,
insolent noisemaker!’ (Act I, Scene 1, lines 40-44). They have met their match in the Boatswain, however,
who has no time for the social graces, nor does he care about social position during the storm as he rudely
orders them out of his way. The characterization of Sebastian and Antonio in Act II is consistent with our first
impressions of them. They are generally insensitive, cynical, and destructive. Gonzalo’s attempts to comfort
Alonso in his grief for his lost son are immediately thwarted with the sarcastic jeering of Sebastian and
Antonio. The coarseness of both of their natures comes into bold relief when their speeches concerning the
island are set in juxtaposition to those of Adrian and Gonzalo.
Adrian: The air breathes upon us here most sweetly.
Sebastian: As if it had lungs, and rotten ones.
Antonio: Or, as ‘twere perfum’d by a fen.
Gonzalo: Here is every thing advantageous to life...How lush
and lusty the grass looks! How green!
Antonio: The ground indeed is tawny.
Though he is generally insignificant to the action of the play, Adrian represents the true courtly gentleman
who functions primarily as a foil to Sebastian and Antonio in this scene.
Alonso’s grief for Ferdinand overwhelms him and brings with it feelings of guilt which will eventually lead
him to repentance, forgiveness, and regeneration by the end of the play. For Sebastian and Antonio, who
cannot even feel sympathy for a grieving father nor any remorse for their actions, forgiveness and
reconciliation will be out of reach.
Gonzalo’s speech in which he expounds on his idea of the ideal commonwealth alludes heavily to
Montaigne’s essay “Of the Canniballes” which has been discussed elsewhere in the text. In idealizing the
natural society, untouched by the civilized European, Montaigne describes “A nation...that hath no kinde of
traffike, no knowledge of Letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate, nor of politike
superioritie; no use of service, of riches or of povertie; no contracts, no successions, no partitions, no
occupation but idle; no respect of kindred, but common, no apparell but naturall, no manuring of lands, no use
of wine, corne, or mettle...How dissonant would hee finde his imaginarie common-wealth from this
perfection?” (Montaigne, “Of the Canniballes” translated by John Florio, 1603. This extract taken from
Kermode’s “Introduction to the Arden Shakespeare, The Tempest.” Appendix C 146)
Montaigne’s idea of a natural society versus a civilized society dates back to the time of Plato. It was of
particular significance to the sixteenth century, however, in the light of the New World discoveries. European
explorers were constantly encountering people living in a primeval state of nature without the benefit of
civilization as the Europeans knew it. The attractive simplicity of the lifestyle drew many followers who
idealized the natural society and the natural man. The myth of the “noble savage” grew out of these
beginnings. In The Tempest Shakespeare addressed the contemporary issues of Montaigne’s ideal society.
Compare Gonzalo’s speech in this scene to Montaigne’s essay on the ideal commonwealth.
Act II, Scene 1, lines 1-184 Summary and Analysis 26
I’ th’ commonwealth I would, by contraries,
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation, all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty-
Though the similarity to Montaigne’s commonwealth is readily apparent, the irony is clear. Gonzalo would
still be the king. It is Antonio who points out that “The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the
beginning.” At the end of his speech, Gonzalo would have “no sovereignty” but at the beginning he says he
would be the king who establishes the ideal commonwealth.
Gonzalo’s reference to “Widow Dido” alludes to Virgil’s The Aeneid in which Aeneas sails from Carthage
to Cumae just as Alonso and his royal court have sailed from Naples to Tunis. Aeneas, a widower, falls in
love with Dido, who is a widow, when he arrives at Carthage. She later commits suicide when Aeneas deserts
her. Antonio reacts violently to Gonzalo’s term “Widow Dido” probably because she was, in fact, Aeneas’
lover, not his wife. Antonio is ridiculing Gonzalo’s propriety in referring to her as a widow rather than a
lover.
Act II, Scene 1, lines 185-328 Summary and Analysis
Summary
Sebastian and Antonio are bantering with Gonzalo when Ariel arrives, playing his somber music. The
soothing sound quickly works its magical effects, lulling all except Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio to sleep.
Longing for sleep to shut out his depressing thoughts, Alonso soon feels unusually tired. Antonio assures him
that they will stand guard, keeping him safe while he takes his rest.
Sebastian and Antonio are puzzled about the “strange drowsiness” that has suddenly come over the royal
party. After the king is asleep, Antonio wastes no time trying to persuade Sebastian that this is his opportunity
to replace his brother as king on the throne. With Ferdinand dead and Claribel, his sister, living in the distant
land of Tunis, Sebastian is next in line as heir to the throne of Naples. This has not occurred to Sebastian,
however, and he is stunned by Antonio’s suggestion. Sebastian later admits that, where his political ambition
is concerned, he is “standing water.” Responding to his metaphor, Antonio tells Sebastian he will teach him
“how to flow.”
As Sebastian struggles indecisively, he questions Antonio about his conscience regarding the usurpation of his
brother’s dukedom, but Antonio tells him he feels no guilt. Finally convinced, Sebastian gives Antonio his
consent to kill the king. Antonio will draw his sword on Alonso while Sebastian does the same to Gonzalo
who would be an obstacle to them if he were allowed to live. The rest of the royal court would obediently
follow the new king. Just as they draw their swords, Ariel enters, invisible, to awaken Gonzalo by singing in
his ear. Prospero has sent Ariel to stop the conspiracy and save the king’s life. Seeing the conspirators with
their swords drawn, Gonzalo quickly awakens the king who is shocked at the ghastly sight and asks why they
are drawn. Antonio and Sebastian concoct a story about hearing a frightful bellowing that sounded like bulls
or lions. Consequently, they drew their swords to protect the sleeping king. Alonso readily accepts their
excuse and turns his thoughts to the continuing search for his son. Ariel vows that he will tell Prospero it was
his aerial spirit who saved the king’s life.
Act II, Scene 1, lines 185-328 Summary and Analysis 27
Analysis
In this scene Alonso is finally able to shut out his thoughts about his son’s death with the soothing comfort of
sleep. Sebastian tells Alonso that sleep “seldom visits sorrow; when it doth,/ it is a comforter.” This is
reminiscent of an earlier passage in which the visitor is analogous to a minister who would visit a bereaved
person. Speaking of Alonso, Sebastian says “He receives comfort like cold porridge” and Antonio responds
“The visitor will not give him o’er so” (Act II, Scene 1, lines 10-11). The visitor is the comforter and, in this
case, that visitor is sleep. Alonso is finally able to submit to the “heavy offer” of sleep which is his comfort,
foreshadowing relief for his sorrow and, ultimately, the healing process of repentance and forgiveness later in
the play.
Images of sleep abound in the conversation between Antonio and Sebastian in this scene. When Antonio says
that he “sees a crown dropping on thy head,” Sebastian wonders whether Antonio is asleep. Antonio points
out that if he were asleep, he could not be speaking. Though Sebastian agrees, he argues, nevertheless, that it
is a “sleepy language” he is hearing. For Sebastian it is a language that has no purpose and not even a remote
possibility. Being the King of Naples has never been his dream. He has simply accepted the fact that Alonso is
the king and his children the heirs to the throne. The idea of becoming king is preposterous to Sebastian at
first, and he thinks Antonio must be “standing, speaking, moving -/ And yet fast asleep.” Antonio responds
with yet another sleep image, warning Sebastian that he is letting his fortune or opportunity sleep since he is
closing his eyes to it while he is awake.
Critics often compare the character of Antonio to that of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello. Antonio will stop at
nothing, even the killing of his own brother, to achieve the dukedom of Milan. In comparison, Iago subtly and
skillfully plots the destruction of Cassio and Desdemona by falsely accusing them of adultery in order to
further his own advancement under the military leadership of Othello. Antonio and Iago can both be described
as villains who seek their own ends no matter who pays the price.
When Antonio speaks of the way he has usurped his brother’s dukedom, Sebastian reminds him of his
conscience. Antonio replies “Ay sir; where lies that?/ ... Twenty consciences/ That stand twixt me and Milan,
candied be they,/ And melt ere they molest.” Antonio recognizes his guilt, but his conscience is like candy
that melts and disappears. Since the usurpation of Prospero’s dukedom, Antonio’s conscience has been
hardened beyond the point of no return. He has lost complete respect for the king’s place in the hierarchy.
This is strikingly evident in his comment to Sebastian. “Here lies your brother,/ No better than the earth he
lies upon.” On the issues of kingship, Traversi observes that “once the accepted bonds of conscience and
kingship have been broken by an act of usurpation, once the moral foundations of ‘degree’ have been
undermined ... what is to prevent Antonio ... from turning upon the creation of his will. Once he has given his
consent Sebastian is as likely as Alonso to be in danger” (Derek Traversi, Shakespeare: The Last Phase,
219-20). Whatever the dangers might be, Sebastian decides conclusively to join Antonio in plotting the
king’s death. Their plot is thwarted, however, when Ariel awakens Gonzalo, singing in his ear, before the
conspirators can carry out their evil designs.
Ariel’s song seems to be a relatively simple lyric, introduced mainly for its dramatic function which is to
incite the characters to act. The song carries a deeper meaning, however, suggesting that as we sleep or are
unaware of the evil around us, conspiracy takes over our lives. Drowsiness makes a person vulnerable to
conspiracy. In a broader sense, this idea can be applied to Prospero’s deposition from his dukedom in Milan.
If he would have tended to the business of being a duke, he would have seen that Alonso and Antonio were
conspiring against him. Instead, he was wrapped up in his books, unaware of their evil designs.
The imagery of the song suggests a personification of “open-ey’d conspiracy,” ready to take Gonzalo’s and
Alonso’s lives unless they “shake off slumber.” The alliteration of this line, along with Ariel’s admonition
to “Awake, awake” are sounds that quickly awaken Gonzalo. Prospero has sent Ariel to awaken the king so
that his project, which is the restoration of his dukedom, will not die. The project of restoring Prospero’s
Act II, Scene 1, lines 185-328 Summary and Analysis 28
position as Duke of Milan is, of course, in Alonso’s hands and he must, therefore, be kept alive.
Act II, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis
New Characters
Trinculo: the king’s jester; companion to Stephano
Stephano: the king’s drunken butler; Caliban worships him as lord of the island
Summary
Amidst the noise of thunder, Caliban enters, burdened with wood he is carrying for Prospero, who has
enslaved him to his service. Cursing Prospero for the way he is being treated, Caliban delivers a long
blustering diatribe describing his torment. When Trinculo enters, Caliban mistakes him for another spirit who
has been sent by Prospero to torture him further. Trinculo is wandering around, trying to find shelter from the
storm that is brewing when he stumbles onto Caliban. Thinking he has run across a fish-like monster, he
decides that someone in England who would exhibit him and charge admission could make a fortune. Just
then he hears the rumbling of thunder again and decides to find shelter under Caliban’s cloak.
Stephano staggers onto the island in his drunkenness, singing a raucous and bawdy tune. He is happy to be
ashore since he has just escaped drowning in the storm at sea and never wants to go to sea again but wishes to
live out his life on dry ground. He then discovers Caliban and Trinculo, both sheltered under one cloak, and
thinks it is a monster with four legs. Moreover, this strange creature has, somehow, learned his language. If he
can “keep him tame,” he will take him back to Naples with him and sell him for whatever he can get. Caliban
mistakes Stephano for one of Prospero’s spirits who has come to torment him. Thinking Caliban is
incoherent, Stephano tries to recover him with the wine he has brought ashore. As Caliban drinks, Trinculo’s
voice is heard under Caliban’s cloak. Stephano then decides the monster has four legs and two voices, and he
will pour some of the wine into the creature’s other mouth. Trinculo calls Stephano’s name, and he thinks
the monster must be a devil.
Happy to see that Stephano has not drowned, Trinculo emerges from his hiding place under Caliban’s cloak
and explains that he was trying to escape from the storm. The liquor is now beginning to show its effects on
Caliban, and he kneels to Stephano whom he takes for a god bearing “celestial liquor.” Stephano and
Trinculo exchange stories about their escape. Stephano says he floated ashore on a barrel of wine that had
been thrown overboard during the tempest, and Trinculo swears that he swam to shore like a duck.
Caliban, now quite drunk, begs Stephano to be his god, and he will kiss his foot and swear to be his subject.
Stephano invites him to do so as Trinculo laughs at a “ridiculous monster” who would “make a wonder of a
poor drunkard.” Caliban promises to show them the natural wonders of the island, and Stephano tells him to
lead the way. Caliban joyously sings his freedom song as he staggers along in the lead. He has found a new
master and is finally free of Prospero.
Analysis
As in the case of Ferdinand, our first introduction to Stephano is accompanied by song, but it is a song of a
very different nature, revealing the vulgarity of Stephano’s character. Critics have commented on the
likelihood of Stephano’s first song, “I shall no more to sea, to sea,” being set to the tune of a funeral song
which accounts for Stephano’s remark that it is “a scurvy tune to sing at a man’s funeral.” Shakespeare
often alluded to the current popular songs of his day that are unfamiliar to a modern audience.
Stephano has just escaped death by floating to shore on the “butt of sack,” which he uses as a comfort from
thoughts of his own death. He gives up his attempt at the funeral song and picks up the sea-chantey that he
Act II, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis 29
probably learned from the sailors on the ship. Stephano’s lusty voice pierces the air with a song about the
ship’s crew who loved all those women in the song except Kate. She preferred the tailor. The Elizabethans
knew well the inferior status of a tailor who is also alluded to in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Kent, angry with
Oswald for his disrespect shown to the king, calls Oswald a cowardly rascal who was made by a tailor. He is
certain “a stone-cutter or a painter could not have made him so ill” (King Lear, Act II, Scene 2, lines 59-60).
In the first song the heavy alliteration of “shall ... sea, sea/ shall ... ashore” adds to the comic effect. It is
heightened further when it reaches “Mall, Meg, and Marian and Margery” which is suggestive of Stephano’s
view of the sameness of women. “Itch” and “scratch” are tied together in an alliterative bawdy unity. The
sensual tone of the song is appropriate to Stephano’s character and portrays him as an element of discord on
the island.
Permeated with illusory images, this scene is beset with a strange four-legged, two-voiced monster, a god who
“bears celestial liquor,” and visions of spirits who, in Caliban’s imagination, threaten to torment him. When
Caliban takes Stephano for a “brave god,” he readily accepts this new power which is based on the illusion of
a bottle of wine. It is Trinculo who is, perhaps, the most realistic of the three when he sees Caliban as “A
most ridiculous monster, to make a wonder/ of a poor drunkard.” Together the three of them, with Caliban in
the lead, begin their tour of the island which will soon be Stephano’s kingdom. Though it is an illusion, it is
in the light of his new-found freedom from his service to Prospero that Caliban sings his song.
The song functions dramatically as a turning point for Caliban. Stephano is Caliban’s new master, and he will
no longer need to work for Prospero who forced him to make dams or weirs for fish, gather wood, scrape
trenchers or cut boards for food, and wash dishes. The alliteration is evident in “for fish, fetch in firing, wash
dish.” The tone of the song is one of abandoned joyousness, expressing Caliban’s rebellion against
Prospero’s oppression. The song is symbolic of freedom, but that freedom is an illusion based on the effects
of the “celestial liquor” and a god who is an imposter. Caliban realizes by the end of the play “What a
thrice-double ass/ Was I to take this drunkard for a god” (Act V, Scene 1, pages 296-7).
Commentators generally agree that Caliban is superior to Stephano and Trinculo. Caliban’s superiority is
clearly seen in the poetry of his expression. He usually speaks in the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare’s
poetic drama, whereas Stephano and Trinculo speak in the mundane prose assigned to the servants or working
class in Shakespeare’s plays. Even when Caliban curses Prospero for his severe treatment of him, his
catalogue of complaints lend full advantage to the beauty of the language.
Though Caliban has found a new master, ironically he will do the same for Stephano and Trinculo as he had
done for Prospero 12 years earlier when he showed him “all the qualities o’ th’ isle,/ The fresh springs,
brine-pits, barren place and fertile” (Act I, Scene 2, lines 337-38). Compare the promises he gives to
Stephano and Trinculo. “I’ll show thee the best springs, I’ll pluck thee berries/ I’ll fish for thee.” He even
promises to “get thee wood enough,” a service he had detested when he was Prospero’s slave.
Act III, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis
Summary
As the scene opens, Ferdinand is carrying logs under the command of Prospero who has enslaved him with his
magic. Though he is forced to stack thousands of logs, “sweet thoughts” of Miranda refresh his labors.
Miranda enters, pleading with him to take a rest. Unaware of Prospero’s presence, she reasons that her father
will be busy with his books for the next three hours, and it would be safe for Ferdinand to sit down for a
while. He argues that the sun might set before he finishes his work. In desperation she begs him to relax while
she takes over his log-carrying, but he refuses to subject her to such dishonor.
Act III, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis 30
In an aside Prospero speaks of Miranda’s romantic love for Ferdinand as if it were an infectious disease.
Ferdinand then asks Miranda her name in case he might decide to use it in his prayers. Despite her father’s
previous warning, she divulges her name to Ferdinand. He goes on to tell her he has known several other
women in the past, but each one has had some defect. Miranda is perfect, however, possessing the best virtues
of these women all rolled into one. Miranda admits she has known no other women and no men besides
Ferdinand and her father. The jewel in her dowry is modesty, and her desire is for Ferdinand alone. He
informs her that he is a prince and possibly a king, though he wishes the latter were not true. He tells her that
the minute he saw her, his heart became a slave to her services. He assures her that it is for her sake that he
bears the burden of carrying logs. She asks him whether he loves her, and he calls out to heaven and earth to
hear his declaration of love for her. Overwhelmed with emotion, Miranda begins to cry and immediately
chides herself for weeping, because she is happy.
Prospero, still on the sidelines, calls on the heavens to bless the young couple’s rare love for each other.
Ferdinand asks Miranda why she is crying, and she replies that she is unworthy to offer her love to him and
also to expect to receive love in return. Speaking plainly, she asks to become his wife if he would marry her.
Whether he marries her or not, she will be his maid or servant until she dies. Reaching out, Ferdinand extends
his hand to Miranda and, with a willing heart, agrees to become her husband. She bids him farewell, telling
him she will be back in half an hour, and he responds exuberantly with a “thousand” farewells as they both
exit.
Left alone, Prospero rejoices at the prospect of his daughter’s marriage to the king’s son. He hurries back to
his studies since there is much to be done before supper.
Analysis
In the opening of this scene, Ferdinand is bearing the burden of carrying logs for Prospero which is
comparable to the previous scene where Caliban also carries logs for his master. Both are acting under
Prospero’s coercive powers, but Ferdinand’s reaction to his duties is set in stark contrast to Caliban’s.
Though his “mean task” would ordinarily be “odious,” Ferdinand feels he is bearing logs in the service of
his mistress which makes his “labors pleasures.” Kermode observes that Ferdinand “quickly understands the
purpose of his suffering because he has the power properly to estimate the value of the reward” (Frank
Kermode, “Introduction to The Arden Shakespeare,” page LVIII). That reward will be Miranda’s hand in
marriage, and it is this anticipation that gives Ferdinand’s log-bearing a special purpose.
Conversely, Caliban sees Prospero’s magical powers over him as an instrument of fear. As Caliban
increasingly opposes Prospero’s designs on him, he is punished with spirit-like apes and hedgehogs that bite
and pinch, never giving him any peace. Caliban did, of course, violate the honor of Miranda (Act I, Scene 2,
lines 347-48) and now suffers, according to Miranda, a well-deserved punishment which he brought upon
himself by following the uncivilized instincts of his savage nature. By contrast Ferdinand’s treatment of
Miranda constitutes a polite restraint which is in keeping with his courtly manner. Both are given a soliloquy
in the opening of the scene. Caliban’s verse, distinctly more poetic than Ferdinand’s, shows that he has,
indeed, learned how to curse as he has told Miranda earlier in the play.
Characteristic of the romance tradition, Ferdinand and Miranda’s love is subjected to great difficulty.
Miranda watches anxiously as Ferdinand bears the trial of log-bearing, imposed upon him by Prospero, which
is, as we learn later, a trial of love for Miranda. In a subsequent scene Prospero explains to Ferdinand, “All
thy vexations/ Were but my trials of thy love, and thou/ Has strangely stood the test” (Act IV, Scene 1, lines
5-7). As is also typical of the romances, Ferdinand’s idealized love for Miranda is based on the illusion that
she is a pure image of chastity who far outranks any of the other women he has known previously. The
hyperbole in Ferdinand’s expressions of love for Miranda raises her to the level of the ideal woman. “But
you, O you,/ So perfect and so peerless, are created/ Of every creature’s best.”
Act III, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis 31
When he first meets her, Ferdinand is sure she must be a goddess. Miranda, who has never seen any other men
besides Prospero and Caliban, thinks Ferdinand is a divine spirit who has just arrived on the island. It is
clearly love at first sight, and he barely knows her name when they decide to marry.
At the close of the scene, Prospero is left on the stage to reflect on the progress of his overall plan which is to
restore his dukedom in Milan. It is in his design to marry his daughter to the prince of Naples (Ferdinand)
which would be an expedient political move for the former duke since it would join the two royal families.
With his magic he has brought Ferdinand and Miranda together on the island and he is now rejoicing because
everything is going according to his plan.
Act III, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis
Summary
Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo are now quite drunk, and they are concerned about what they will do when
they run out of wine. Stephano announces that they will simply “drink water” when the time comes, but not a
minute before. Stephano relishes the attentions from Caliban, his servant-monster, and Trinculo ridicules both
of them, reasoning that if their group represents three out of the five people on the island, and the intellect of
the other two is as low as theirs, the island government must be on the verge of collapse. Ignoring Trinculo’s
remark, Stephano continues to focus his thoughts on Caliban, proclaiming that, when he becomes king, he
will either appoint the monster as his lieutenant or his standard-bearer. At this point Caliban is too drunk to
walk or even stand, but he feebly salutes Stephano as his king. Trinculo mocks Caliban, calling him an
“ignorant monster” who tells “monstrous lies.” Responding to Caliban’s appeal, Stephano threatens to hang
Trinculo on the “next tree” if he engages in mutiny. Declaring that the monster is his subject, Stephano
swears that he deserves to be treated with dignity. Caliban thanks Stephano and asks him to listen to his
proposal. Stephano agrees, instructing Caliban to kneel.
On his knees Caliban begins by explaining that he serves a tyrant who has cheated him out of the island. Ariel,
who is invisible, is heard in the background, mimicking Trinculo’s voice with “Thou liest.” Caliban angrily
asserts that he does not lie, and Stephano threatens to supplant Trinculo’s teeth with his fist if he continues to
trouble the monster. Trinculo swears he said nothing, and finally Caliban continues with a plea to Stephano to
avenge Prospero’s injustice. If Stephano will dare to reclaim the island, Caliban will serve him as lord on it.
Stephano is willing, but as they plot to kill Prospero, Ariel, still imitating Trinculo’s voice, repeatedly
interferes with the accusation that Caliban is lying. After several warnings, Stephano finally beats Trinculo
and asks him to stand back.
Caliban suggests that they catch Prospero in the afternoon while he is napping and seize his books first.
Without his books, Prospero is powerless. After that they can either stab him, beat his skull, or cut his throat.
Caliban also informs Stephano that Prospero has a beautiful daughter who would “become thy bed” and give
him many children. Stephano immediately decides he will kill Prospero. His daughter and Stephano will then
reign as king and queen on the island and Trinculo and Caliban will be viceroys. Shaking Trinculo’s hand,
Stephano apologizes for beating him. Ariel hurries away to his master with news of the conspiracy.
Within a half hour Prospero will be asleep. Filled with joy at the prospect of his new-found freedom, Caliban
asks Stephano to sing the song he had taught him earlier. They sing but Caliban notices it is not the right tune.
Ariel then assists them on tabor and pipe or, in other words, drum and flute.
Stephano and Trinculo are afraid of the mysterious presence of the music played by invisible Ariel, a “picture
of Nobody,” but Caliban tells them not to be afraid. He assures them the island is full of “noises, sounds, and
sweet airs” that will not hurt them. The music fades away, but its mesmerizing sound leads them, and they
decide to follow it.
Act III, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis 32
Analysis
The subplot of the play has been reviewed elsewhere in the text, but it bears repeating in relation to this scene
where we see the beginnings of Caliban’s conspiracy to murder Prospero and reclaim the island. Caliban had
stated earlier that “This island’s mine by Sycorax my mother” (Act I, Scene 2, line 331). Formerly he had
been his own king, but now he says he is “subject to a tyrant” who has “cheated me of the island.” With the
help of Stephano and Trinculo, Caliban is now conspiring to repossess the island. This parallels Prospero’s
plans to repossess his dukedom in Milan. It is ironic that Prospero usurped Caliban’s rightful place on the
island just as Antonio usurped his brother Prospero’s dukedom.
Much has been said about Caliban’s thoughts of violence in this scene which have been checked by Prospero
thus far in the play. When they are left unchecked, Caliban’s natural instincts prompt him to batter
Prospero’s skull with a log, “paunch him with a stake,/ Or cut his wezand (windpipe) with a knife.” Caliban
also demonstrates a more subtle and, consequently, a more deadly violence, however, in his implications
about Prospero’s daughter. She is considered Prospero’s possession to be had for Stephano’s pleasure and,
as a by-product, to populate his kingdom on the island. Earlier, Caliban attempted to rape Prospero’s
daughter Miranda. When confronted by Prospero, he showed no remorse for his act of violence but simply
responds with “O ho, O ho, would’t had been done!/ Thou didst prevent me” (Act I, Scene 2, lines 349-50).
To celebrate their decision to murder Prospero and overthrow his kingdom on the island, Stephano, with
Trinculo’s help, attempts to sing a catch. An Elizabethan catch was equivalent to a modern round song with
each singer alternating the beginning to produce a three-part harmony from a single melody. Stephano and
Trinculo cannot get the tune, so Ariel comes to their assistance with tabor and pipe. They are awed by the
power of Ariel’s harmonious music played by the “picture of Nobody” since Ariel is still invisible. Stephano
and Trinculo are afraid of the mysterious power of Ariel’s music but Caliban, who has a natural appreciation
for all the sounds of the island, reassures them. “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises,/ Sounds, and sweet
airs, that give delight and hurt not.” It is significant that Caliban is the one to notice that Stephano and
Trinculo are not getting the tune of the catch. Caliban seems to be more in tune with the natural harmony of
the island than Stephano and Trinculo.
There is also a dramatic function in their inability to sing the song. When Ariel assists them with tabor and
pipe, they follow the music which eventually leads them to the “filthy-mantled pool” (Act IV, Scene 1, line
182).
“Thought is free” was a proverbial expression in Shakespeare’s day with the negative connotation of
unfavorable or feigned thought. In this catch it not only applies to Stephano and Trinculo, but also to Caliban
whose thoughts of freedom from the servitude of Prospero are illusory and lead him into an association with
irresponsible and rebellious characters. Thought is certainly not free for these three and the irony of it is clear.
Their plot to murder Prospero not only leads them into the bondage of the “filthy-mantled pool” in a
subsequent scene but also into the bondage of their moral, intellectual, and spiritual natures. They are not free
at all, but bound to their “butt of sack” which is their only “comfort.” The irony goes even further than that,
however. The island is now Prospero’s kingdom and although thought might be free for a while, the
consequences of free thinking only lead to a greater bondage.
Act III, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis
Summary
The king and his royal party, still searching for Alonso’s son, are completely exhausted. Gonzalo suggests
that they sit down to rest since his old aching bones cannot go any farther. Having lost hope that his son is
alive, Alonso too has become weary and decides to rest. Antonio and Sebastian quickly catch Alonso’s mood
of despair and decide to use it to their advantage. In hushed tones they conspire to murder the king that same
Act III, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis 33
night when he and Gonzalo, tired and filled with sorrow, will not be as vigilant as usual.
Prospero appears, invisible, to the tune of “solemn and strange music.” Several of Ariel’s spirits enter with a
banquet, and dance around it. They invite the king to partake of the food as they quickly withdraw from the
scene. The members of the royal court are filled with amazement, agreeing that this gives credence to the
exotic stories that travelers bring back from their journeys to distant lands. Gonzalo declares that people in
Naples would never believe him if he told them of these islanders whose manners are gentler and kinder than
those of most humans. In an aside Prospero, applauding Gonzalo’s opinion, declares that some people in
Naples are, in fact, “worse than devils.” Alonso is reluctant to eat, but Gonzalo finally convinces him. The
king, in turn, invites Antonio to join him. Just as they reach for the food, Ariel, in the guise of a harpy, enters
to the sounds of thunder and the flashes of lightning. He covers the table with his wings and the banquet
disappears. No longer invisible, Ariel speaks to the “three men of sin,” Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian,
indicting them for their crimes against Prospero 12 years ago. In an attempt to defend themselves, Alonso and
Sebastian draw their swords, but Ariel uses his magic to weaken their movements which makes their swords
too heavy to lift. Ariel rebukes them for supplanting Prospero from Milan and exposing him and his innocent
child to the sea. Now the powers have “incens’d the seas” against them and have taken Alonso’s son. The
king’s only escape from further wrath that might fall on his head is repentance for his past deeds.
Ariel vanishes to the sound of thunder and his spirits return, dancing to soft music as they remove the banquet
table. Prospero praises Ariel for following his instructions explicitly. All three men are under Prospero’s
power now, and he will leave them entangled in their fits of madness while he pays another visit to Ferdinand
and Miranda. Gonzalo, who has not heard Ariel speak, wonders why the men are staring into space. Still in a
stupor, the king imagines that the dreadful thunder had pronounced the name of Prospero. Suddenly realizing
that Ferdinand’s death is a retri¬bution for the king’s sin against the rightful duke of Milan, Alonso leaves,
vowing to join his dead son at the bottom of the sea. Sebastian and Antonio hurry off, threatening violence to
Ariel and his legions. Gonzalo sends Adrian and Francisco to follow them and prevent them from committing
suicide or other acts of violence they may be provoked to do.
Analysis
The banquet, set before the royal party, is brought “with gentle actions of salutations” by Ariel’s spirits. It
disappears in quite another way, however. With the sound of thunder and flash of lightning, Ariel appears
disguised as a harpy, spreading his wings over the table as the banquet vanishes. In Greek mythology the
harpies were represented as birds with the faces of women. Virgil imitates the classic Greek myth in The
Aeneid. In their travels Aeneas and his men, losing their way in a storm at sea, land on the Strophades, the
islands of the harpies. Tired and hungry, they slaughter the oxen and goats and begin to eat.
Then we spread couches on the winding shore
And fall a-feasting on the dainty meat.
But suddenly, with awe-inspiring swoop
The harpies from the mountains are at hand,
And with loud flappings shake their wings, and snatch
Our banquet from us.
Virgil, The Aeneid, Book III, lines 231-36
Calaeno, the chief harpy, appears on a high rock to tell Aeneas that Jupiter pronounces judgement on them for
slaughtering the harpies’ oxen and goats. Calaeno imposes hunger upon them as a punishment for their crime
which brings about a consciousness of their guilt. The analogy to the “three men of sin” is clear. Alonso,
Sebastian, and Antonio must suffer hunger in order to reach a consciousness of their guilt in the supposed
murder of Prospero and his daughter twelve years ago. Ariel’s speech is a clear indictment of their crime of
supplanting Prospero from Milan and exposing him and his innocent daughter to the sea. For this, Alonso has
Act III, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis 34
lost his son, and there is no other way to escape his doom, except by repentance and a sinless life thereafter.
The image of the vanishing banquet is also seen by critics as a symbol of the Eucharist where God sends down
the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove (rather than a harpy) to bless the communion table. In the case of the
“three men of sin” their guilt and sin must be purged by means of repentance before they can partake of the
meal or the sacrificial bread and wine; hence the disappearance of the banquet.
In this scene, critics often interpret Ariel’s speech as an affirmation of the Christian concept of recognition of
sin and guilt followed by repentance or “heart’s sorrow,” with a sinless or “clear life ensuing.” Alonso
immediately recognizes his guilt and is filled with remorse. “The thunder ... pronounced /The name of
Prosper; it did base my trespass./ Therefore my son i’ th’ ooze is bedded.” Suffering, brought about by the
supposed loss of his son, has led Alonso to a recognition of his sin against Prospero for which he takes full
responsibility.
Conversely, Antonio feels no guilt and, therefore, he cannot be purified or regenerated. Earlier in the play, he
clearly denies that he has a conscience. “If he does, it simply melts like candy before it bothers him” (Act II,
Scene 1, lines 275-280). Though Sebastian’s conscience troubles him, he is gullible and eventually agrees to
do what is expedient, even if he must kill his own brother in order to become king of Naples. After Ariel’s
indictment of them, Antonio and Sebastian leave the stage ready to fight legions of an unknown enemy.
Images of the sea abound in the play and many of them are found in this scene. Alonso’s “sea-change” in
“Full Fadom Five” (Act I, Scene 2) is a symbol of his change throughout the play. His change has already
begun with the recognition of his guilt in the crime of Prospero’s deposition and the supposed deaths of the
former duke and his daughter. Alonso personifies the sea that “mocks” their search for Ferdinand on land.
Ariel refers to the “never-surfeited sea” that belched up the “three men of sin,” and later he speaks of the
powers that “incens’d the seas” against the peace of the royal party. Alonso’s image of the sea is seen as the
mud at the bottom where “my son i’ th’ ooze is bedded.” In view of the personification of the sea and the
fact that it frequently assists the dramatic action, it would seem plausible to list “the sea” as another character
in the play.
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 1-163 Summary and Analysis
New Characters
Iris: goddess of the rainbow; Juno’s messenger
Ceres: goddess of agriculture
Juno: goddess of the Pantheon; patroness of marriage; wife of Jupiter
Nymphs and Reapers: spirits of the dance
Summary
The scene begins with Ferdinand culminating his trial of log-bearing. Prospero assures him that his austere
punishment has simply been a trial of his love for Miranda, and he has “stood the test.” As a reward,
Prospero presents him with a “rich gift,” his daughter Miranda. He tells Ferdinand that he will soon realize
she will be everything her father says she is and more. She now belongs to Ferdinand, but Prospero warns him
that if he breaks “her virgin-knot” before they have taken their sacred vows of marriage, hate and discord will
accompany their union. Ferdinand vows his honor will never give way to lust even under the strongest
temptation. Prospero is satisfied, and he turns his attentions to Ariel, instructing him to gather his lesser spirits
for the presentation of the betrothal masque in honor of the young couple. Ariel promises to bring them back
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 1-163 Summary and Analysis 35
in the twinkling of an eye.
Prospero again warns Ferdinand that even the “strongest oaths” can be weakened by one’s passions, but the
young prince assures him he will keep his passions under control. Prospero directs Ariel to bring an extra
spirit in case they need one and then hushes everyone to silence as Iris enters to soft background music. As a
messenger of Juno, Iris summons Ceres, goddess of the earth’s fertility, to celebrate a “contract of true love.”
Ceres is concerned that Venus and her son Cupid will be present at the masque. She has avoided their
company ever since they helped Pluto plot the abduction of Ceres’ daughter, Proserpine, who became his
queen in the underworld. Iris assures Ceres that Venus and Cupid will not attend the masque. Having failed in
her attempt to cast a licentious spell on Ferdinand and Miranda, Venus’ chariot is now headed for Paphos.
Juno arrives and, with the help of Ceres, blesses the honored couple with a song. Juno’s blessing carries
wishes for a long and happy union in the first part of the song, and Ceres follows with the assurance of a
fertile life for the betrothed couple. Ferdinand reacts enthusiastically and joyously to the vision and wishes he
could live on the island forever. He thinks that Prospero has the power to create a heaven on earth. Prospero
again calls for silence so the spirits will not vanish. Continuing the masque, Iris summons the pastoral
Nymphs and Reapers to celebrate the love of the betrothed pair with graceful dancing.
In the midst of the dance, Prospero speaks and the spirits vanish with a “strange, hollow, and confused
noise.” Prospero has dismissed the spirits, suddenly remembering the conspirators’ threats against his life.
Ferdinand and Miranda are puzzled at Prospero’s strange behavior. Aware of Ferdinand’s look of dismay,
Prospero explains that the festivities have ended, and the spirits have vanished into the air. Prospero asks
Ferdinand to bear with him in his infirmity. Instructing Ferdinand and Miranda to retire to his cell, Prospero
tells them he will take a short walk to ease his troubled mind.
Analysis
In this scene Ferdinand has endured his trial of log-bearing, and has, in a sense, reached a purification that
prepares him for his union with Miranda and the establishment of the new order that their union represents.
Although we never really know the true nature of Ferdinand’s guilt, it is probable that Prospero holds
Ferdinand responsible, at least in part, for his father’s crime, the usurpation of Prospero’s dukedom. We
know, of course, that Prospero is trying to restrain the passion between Ferdinand and Miranda which
represents the processes of nature and fertility that he wishes to control, but, whatever the guilt might be,
Ferdinand is forced to pay for it. He endures the harsh treatment for the prize, Miranda.
Prospero orders Ariel to perform the masque for the young couple because “they expect it” from him. The
masque song functions mainly to lift the action out of the present and into the future “brave new world” (Act
V, Scene 1, line 183) which will be built on the love of Ferdinand and Miranda. Their love and marriage
represents a hope for order and harmony where there has been chaos and discord due to the hatred and strife
of their fathers.
Although the masque existed in medieval times, it grew in popularity at the end of the reign of Elizabeth I and
lasted well into the seventeenth century during the reigns of James I and Charles I. The masque in The
Tempest includes all the traditional elements: instrumental music, vocal music sung by Juno and Ceres, the
dialogue of Juno, Ceres, and Iris, and a “graceful dance” by the Reapers and the Nymphs. We can only
conjecture about the costuming and stage setting which was, in the case of the court masques, elaborate and
expensive. We know that The Tempest was performed at court in February 1613 to celebrate the marriage of
the daughter of James I, Princess Elizabeth, to Frederick, Count Palatine. Though appropriate to the occasion
of their marriage, the masque is specifically relevant to The Tempest and was given increased importance in
many of Shakespeare’s later plays, such as Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale.
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 1-163 Summary and Analysis 36
The masque begins with “soft music” lending an air of solemnity to its formal tone. The pastoral imagery
throughout the dialogue and song and the costumes of the Nymphs, with their “rye-straw hats” is in keeping
with the naturalism of the island. The purpose of the masque, which is to celebrate the betrothal, is set forth in
the dialogue of Ceres and Iris. Juno, with Ceres’ assistance, appropriately sings the song in the masque to
bless the marriage and honor the children that are to be born from the union. “Earth’s increase” is a reference
to everything the earth produces and “foison plenty” is the abundant harvest depicted in the pastoral imagery
of this ideal, natural world with its full barns and granaries, clusters of grapes on the vine, and plants that are
weighted down with heavy fruits or vegetables.
The abstract language of the masque portrays the abundance that the earth will yield, not only to Ferdinand
and Miranda, but also, universally, to men and women who will base their lives and actions on love and
harmony rather than hatred and dissonance. The song is a universal statement of love, harmony, fruition,
peace, and serenity. It is an ideal to be hoped for, but it takes responsible action, a rare commodity in the
power-hungry world Ferdinand and Miranda have inherited.
This ideal world is, after all, only a vision and quickly vanishes into thin air. Prospero explains the nature of
this fleeting vision to Ferdinand. The illusory vision of this pageant is compared to life in which all of the
palaces, temples, and even “the great globe itself” will eventually dissolve. Our lives too will soon end in
death.
Many commentators have seen Prospero’s famous speech as Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage and to the
Globe Theater.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors
(As I foretold you) were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air.”
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
These were prophetic words since Shakespeare died in 1616, only a few years after The Tempest was written,
and Prospero’s speech reflects the influence of the approaching end to his career.
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 164-266 Summary and Analysis
Summary
Prospero anxiously summons Ariel, informing him that they must prepare for the coming of Caliban. Ariel
then discloses the latest information about the whereabouts of Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo. With tabor
and pipe Ariel had charmed the three conspirators into following him and left them neck deep in the
“filthy-mantled pool” beyond the cell. Prospero praises Ariel, instructing him to remain invisible as he
gathers the former duke’s royal wardrobe to use as bait to catch the would-be murderers.
Ariel leaves promptly. Left alone, Prospero reflects on the pains he has taken to civilize Caliban. He decides it
has all been in vain, considering the fact that Caliban is, after all, a “born devil” who cannot be reformed. His
body grows uglier with age, and his
actions are becoming more malevolent. Prospero is determined to afflict harsh punishment on all three of the
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 164-266 Summary and Analysis 37
conspirators.
Ariel returns with his arms full of Prospero’s wearing apparel and hangs it on a lime tree next to the cell.
Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo enter, wet and reeking with odor from the “filthy-mantled pool.”
Disgruntled and humiliated, Stephano censures Caliban for assuring him that Ariel is a “harmless fairy.” He
has, in fact, done nothing but mislead them so far. Caliban pleads with them to “speak softly” to keep from
waking Prospero. He promises them that the prize that goes with the kingship, which is Miranda, will make it
all worthwhile. Trinculo and Stephano, still distracted by the loss of their bottles in the scum-covered pool,
refuse to be comforted.
Hushing them to silence, Caliban signals their approach to the cell where Stephano will murder Prospero and
take possession of the island forever. Just as Stephano begins to “have bloody thoughts,” Trinculo spots the
wardrobe on the lime tree, and Stephano too is drawn to the kingly gowns. Caliban tries to divert their
attention, warning them that if Prospero awakes, he will punish them with pinches. Nervously, he implores
them to murder Prospero first, or they will surely lose their chance. Ignoring his pleas, Stephano and Trinculo
pile his arms with the finery and tell him to help them carry it away. Their thievery ends abruptly, however,
when Ariel and Prospero, both invisible, turn spirit-like dogs on them, driving the three away from
Prospero’s cave. Prospero reminds Ariel he will soon be free, but the enemy is at his mercy this very hour,
and he still needs Ariel’s services for a little while.
Analysis
In this scene Prospero refers to Caliban as “A devil, a born devil.” This is reminiscent of Prospero’s earlier
words when he calls forth his slave who was “got by the devil himself,” (Act I, Scene 2, line 319) and whose
mother was the wicked witch Sycorax. Prospero and Miranda had attempted to educate and civilize Caliban,
but their humane treatment of him had been fruitless. Being born to evil parents, Caliban’s “vild race had that
in’t which good natures/ Could not abide to be with” (Act I, Scene 2, lines 359-60). Caliban “on whose
nature/ Nurture can never stick,” had been taught language, but, as he so aptly puts it, his only profit has been
that he has learned how to curse. Taking pains to treat him humanely, Prospero has allowed him to live in his
cell, but that has only led to Caliban’s attempt to violate Miranda’s honor for which he is now being
punished.
In escaping his servitude under Prospero, Caliban has now enslaved himself to a worse fate, however, by
serving a drunken god whom he worships. He has based his new-found freedom on an illusion which
disappears as soon as the effect of the liquor wears off. He later admits, “What a thrice-double ass/ Was I to
take this drunkard for a god” (Act V, Scene 1, lines 295-96).
At first sight of Prospero’s wardrobe, hanging on the lime tree, Trinculo, imagining Stephano in these kingly
robes, bursts out with “O King Stephano! O peer! O worthy Stephano! look what a wardrobe here is for
thee!” This alludes to a popular ballad in Shakespeare’s day which is also found in Othello.
King Stephen was and-a worthy peer,
His breeches cost him but a crown;
He held them sixpence all too dear,
With that he call’d the tailor lown;
He was a wight of high renown,
And thou art but of low degree.
Othello, Act II, Scene 3, lines 89-94
Stephano’s lack of responsible action as the new king on the island can readily be seen in this episode where
he is under the illusion that being king is nothing but dressing in expensive kingly robes and ruling over
subjects who are willing, like Caliban, to lick his feet. Easily distracted by the “glistering apparel” that will
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 164-266 Summary and Analysis 38
be his if he becomes king, Stephano fails to see the reality of their precarious situation. It is Caliban who
reminds Stephano that “we shall lose our time” if Prospero awakes.
Inheriting the island from Sycorax, his mother, Caliban had been his own king before Prospero came. As lord
of it, Caliban had been free to roam the whole island then, and he does not associate his sovereignty of the
natural world around him with costly royal robes. Born on the island, Caliban is the natural man who looks at
Prospero’s wardrobe as “trash” and cannot understand why Stephano and Trinculo “dote thus on such
luggage.” Stephano threatens to turn him out of his kingdom, however, if he does not assist them in their
thievery.
Act V, Scene 1, lines 1-87 Summary and Analysis
Summary
Act V opens with Prospero’s declaration that the final resolution of his project is at hand. Ariel informs him
the time is approaching the sixth hour when Prospero had promised their work would end. Ariel apprises him
of the condition of the king and his followers, reporting that they are still confined, by Prospero’s magic, to
the grove of trees that acts as a windbreak to his cell. Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio are completely
distraught and the rest, particularly Gonzalo, can do nothing but mourn for them. Ariel is sure Prospero would
sympathize with them in their afflictions if he could see them now. Prospero concedes that if Ariel, who is
only air, has even a hint of feeling for them, surely he, who is human, would be more sympathetic to his own
kind. Though he has been hurt by their “high wrongs,” Prospero is ready to forgive them now if they are
penitent. He instructs Ariel to release them, and he will break the magic spell and restore them to their senses.
After Ariel leaves, Prospero uses his staff to draw a magic circle on the ground. In a soliloquy he addresses
the elves, demi-puppets, and fairies whose help he has engaged to perform such magic as dimming the
noonday sun, calling forth the wind, thunder, and lightning, plucking up trees, and raising people from the
dead. Ready now to renounce his magic, Prospero declares that he will break his magic staff, burying it far
under the earth, and drop his magic book into the deepest region of the sea.
Ariel enters, ushering the frantic king and his royal court into Prospero’s magic circle where they are held
spellbound. Prospero has called for some “heavenly music” to soothe and comfort them in their present state
of confusion. As the magic slowly wears off, their minds begin to develop a clearer comprehension of their
surroundings. Prospero addresses Gonzalo, his “true preserver,” assuring him that when they arrive home he
will be fully rewarded for his past loyalty to him. He rebukes Alonso for his cruelty to him and his daughter
and censures Sebastian for being an accomplice in the crime. Without remorse, Antonio, Prospero’s own
flesh and blood, has conspired with Sebastian to kill their king. Prospero promises forgiveness in spite of their
unnatural deeds. Thus far none of the royal party has recognized Prospero, so he decides to remove his
magician’s robe and reveal his true identity as the former Duke of Milan.
Analysis
In the beginning of the scene, Ariel reminds Prospero that they are approaching the sixth hour when “you said
our work should cease.” This is a reminder of their conversation in Act 1 when Prospero “first raised the
tempest.” Ariel and Prospero are discussing the time of day which is “past the mid season/ At least two
glasses” (2:00 o’clock). Prospero warns Ariel that “the time ‘twixt six and now/ Must by us both be spent
most preciously” (Act I, Scene 2, lines 240-41). As was noted elsewhere in the text, Shakespeare was
observing the Aristotelian unity of time in which the action of the play takes place within the timespan of one
day. Anxiously awaiting his freedom from his servitude to Prospero, Ariel reminds him that the time is
running out.
Act V, Scene 1, lines 1-87 Summary and Analysis 39
Commentators have long recognized the Christian theological concept of sin and suffering followed by
repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation as an inherent idea in The Tempest. In Act III Alonso, Sebastian,
and Antonio, cognizant of their sins, are warned by Ariel that repentance is their only means of escaping
further doom. At that point in the play, Alonso acknowledges his sin against Prospero and feels he is suffering
because he is to blame for his son’s supposed death. The thunder “did bass my trespass./ Therefore my son in
the ooze is bedded” (Act III, Scene 3, lines 99-100). He has, however, not yet reached an awareness of the
need for repentance but entertains thoughts of suicide instead. It is not until later (Act V, Scene 1) when
Prospero decides that “the rarer action is/ In virtue than in vengeance” that the scene is set for forgiveness
and repentance in the play. It has been debated that perhaps Prospero himself needed to make the conclusive
choice between “virtue” and “vengeance” before Alonso could be truly repentant. Whatever the case may
be, the Christian principle of redemption through repentance and forgiveness would have been a universally
recognized truth to the audiences in Shakespeare’s day and has been carried over to our modern times as
well.
In Prospero’s speech beginning with “Ye elves of hills,” he invokes the elves, demi-puppets, and fairies to
fill the air with some “heavenly music” which will assist him in working his “end upon their senses that/ This
airy charm is for.” Prospero repeatedly uses music to usher in his magic powers. He refers to the “solemn
air,” or song, as a comforter to the king and his royal court in their demented condition. Prospero then
announces to his airy spirits that after this last act of magic in which he will forgive his enemies and restore
his dukedom in Milan, he will abjure this “rough magic” by breaking his staff and drowning his book. His
reference to “rough magic” is noteworthy since it leans toward the “black magic” of the foul witch Sycorax
whose evil powers he has condemned earlier in the play. It is common knowledge that Prospero’s speech
contains ideas and language from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. One of Medea’s powers, for example, was to open
graves and raise people from the dead. Sisson feels that “Shakespeare has been unwary in his borrowing from
Ovid, and has read too much of Medea into Prospero’s speech” (C. J. Sisson, The Magic of Prospero, 76).
Much of Prospero’s speech conflicts with his past adherence to his so-called “white magic.” In referring to
Prospero’s spirits as “weak masters,” Shakespeare was, perhaps, attempting to moderate the evil
connotations of Prospero’s strong magical powers in this scene.
In abjuring his magic, Prospero vows that he will bury his magic staff far beneath the earth, “and deeper than
did ever plummet sound/ I’ll drown my book.” This is reminiscent of another passage where Alonso,
grieving the loss of his son, vows that he will “seek him deeper than e’er plummet sounded/ And with him
there lie bedded” (Act III, Scene 3, ll. 101-2). The idea of the two passages is comparable, as is the obvious
verbal imagery. Alonso’s death is associated with the death of Prospero’s magic. He must relinquish his
magic if he hopes to regain his dukedom in Milan.
Act V, Scene 1, 88-171 Summary and Analysis
Summary
Prospero has taken off his magician’s robe so that the king and his royal party will be able to recognize him
as the former Duke of Milan. After he disrobes, he promises Ariel that he will soon be free. While Ariel helps
to attire Prospero in his duke’s clothing, he sings his freedom song. Identifying with the bee that gets its
nectar from the flowers of the fields, he looks forward to his freedom when he will live “merrily” in the
summer, making his home “under a blossom” hanging on the bough. Prospero tells him he will be missed,
but he will, nevertheless, be given his freedom. Ariel is then instructed to remain invisible as he hurries to the
king’s ship to bring back the master and the boatswain who will be awake. He will, however, find the
mariners asleep under the hatches. Ariel cheerfully tells him he will be back before his pulse beats twice.
Prospero then reveals himself to the king as the “wronged Duke of Milan.” To prove he is really alive, he
embraces Alonso and then Gonzalo and bids the others welcome. Filled with regret for his past deeds, Alonso
Act V, Scene 1, 88-171 Summary and Analysis 40
immediately asks his forgiveness and restores his rightful title as the Duke of Milan. He wonders, however,
how Prospero could possibly be alive and what he is doing here on this island. In an aside to Sebastian and
Antonio, Prospero warns them that he could tell the king they are traitors, but, for now, he will remain silent.
Cold and unrepentant, Sebastian simply replies that the devil speaks through Prospero. The former duke
condemns his wicked brother Antonio but still forgives all of his faults. Though he requires his brother to
restore his dukedom, Prospero knows he cannot do otherwise. Still puzzled, Alonso requests that Prospero
relate the story of his survival this past 12 years and how he met them here on this island.
Alonso is suddenly reminded of the irreparable loss of his son Ferdinand, and Prospero consoles him with the
news that he has also lost a daughter. Alonso responds spontaneously with the wish that his son and
Prospero’s daughter were both living in Naples as king and queen, and he could take his son’s place at the
bottom of the sea.
Prospero then notices the astonishment of the royal court who still cannot believe he is actually alive. He
assures them he is Prospero who was deposed from Milan and landed on this island “to be the lord on’t.” He
changes the subject since his story is too long to be told in one day and inappropriate for their first meeting.
He invites the king to step into his cell which is his royal court, though he has few attendants and no subjects
on the rest of the island.
Analysis
Ariel’s song, “Where the Bee Sucks,” functions to lift the action out of the present and into a world of
freedom beyond the play. For Ariel that will not be the “brave new world” of Milan and Naples as the
masque song suggests but the natural world instead. The tone of the song is joyful, but “dainty Ariel” does
not display the unrestrained raucousness that Caliban does in his freedom song. Ariel’s song exudes a
joyfulness that comes from a well-earned freedom and demonstrates a restraint that is lacking in Caliban’s
song. The joyful, lazy freedom of summertime is suggested in the imagery. Ariel happily identifies with the
bee that sucks nectar from the flowers and sleeps in a cowslip at night when the owls are hooting. A cowslip is
a primrose with fragrant yellow flowers common to cow pastures in the sixteenth century. “Merrily, merrily”
demonstrates Ariel’s joyfulness at the prospect of freedom.
Ariel’s future freedom on the island leads us to consider the future political world of Milan and Naples. The
carefree, ideal world of eternal summer that the song portrays is a natural freedom that only spirits can
possess, but for the leaders of Milan and Naples responsibility and freedom go hand in hand. Though Alonso,
through his suffering, has now become repentant of his sins against Prospero and has willingly restored his
dukedom, all the leaders must learn from their political mistakes of the past and take responsible action in the
future if they are to maintain a sense of order. Ariel has warned the “three men of sin” earlier that their
repentance must include “a clear (or sinless) life ensuing” (Act III, Scene 3, l. 82). When we consider their
past record of governmental corruption and their obsession with their own power, even to the point of
attempted murder of their fellow accomplices, Prospero’s “brave new world” seems, somehow, fraught with
uncertainty.
Recognizing his guilt, Alonso is purified or regenerated through repentance, and, consequently, reconciliation
with Prospero follows, but for Antonio and Sebastian there is no repentance and no similar reconciliation.
When Prospero censures them for their plot against the king, Sebastian can only respond with “the devil
speaks in him.” Though Prospero forgives his brother Antonio for the usurpation of his dukedom, he
condemns him in the same breath.
“For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother/ Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive/ Thy rankest fault
- all of them.” Antonio, and Sebastian have already opted to be excluded from the new order that is being
established in Milan and Naples.
Act V, Scene 1, 88-171 Summary and Analysis 41
Alonso’s deep regret for his son’s death and his desire for reconciliation is seen in his response to
Prospero’s comment that he too has lost a daughter. With spontaneous enthusiasm Alonso expresses his wish
that his son and Prospero’s daughter could be king and queen of Naples, and that he, remembering his past
sin against Prospero, could be “mudded in that oozy bed” where his son now lies. With Alonso’s willingness
to unite the two families politically, Prospero has accomplished his purpose in bringing the young couple
together and is now ready to reunite father and son.
Act V, Scene 1, 172-255 Summary and Analysis
Summary
As Prospero pulls aside the curtain to the opening of his cave, he discloses Ferdinand and Miranda pretending
to play chess but engaging in a lovers’ conversation instead. Alonso thinks they are a vision of the island, and
even Sebastian sees it as a “most high miracle” that Ferdinand has at last been found. When Ferdinand sees
his father alive, he realizes that the threatening sea is merciful after all. Miranda is impressed with the
handsome men of the royal court who come from the “brave new world” that she and Ferdinand will soon
inhabit. Prospero simply replies that all this is new to her.
Alonso then inquires about Miranda whom Ferdinand could not have known for more than three hours.
Ferdinand tells Alonso that he chose her to be his wife before he knew that he had a father who could have
advised him. She is the daughter of the Duke of Milan about whom he has heard so much. Alonso knows he
has sinned against Miranda as well as against her father. Realizing that Miranda will now be his
daughter-in-law, Alonso is concerned about how it will sound for a father to ask forgiveness of his own child,
but Prospero stops him, telling him not to dwell on past remembrances. Gonzalo invokes the gods to bless the
young couple. He rejoices that in only one voyage, Alonso’s daughter, Claribel, found her husband in Tunis;
Ferdinand found a wife, Prospero found his dukedom; and they all found their true identity on this poor
island. Alonso takes the hands of the young couple and pronounces a blessing upon them.
Ariel then enters with the Master and Boatswain. When Gonzalo sees the Boatswain, he immediately
remembers that he has prophesied during the tempest that this blasphemous sailor was born to be hanged and
would, therefore, not drown at sea if the gallows were on land. The Boatswain brings news that the ship is as
good as new. Ariel reminds Prospero that he has done it all. Puzzled at the Boatswain’s strange news, Alonso
is convinced that these events are unnatural and asks him how he arrived at Prospero’s cell. The Boatswain
tells him he cannot remember since he had been asleep and was still in a daze when they were brought to this
place. Ariel again seeks his master’s approval for his actions, and Prospero assures him he will be set free.
Prospero consoles Alonso, still perplexed about the strange happenings, by telling him that soon the mystery
will be solved. Until then, he encourages Alonso to remain cheerful. Prospero calls on Ariel to free Caliban
and his companions and bring them to his cell. He apprises Alonso of the fact that there are still several
members of his party who are missing.
Analysis
When Ferdinand sees that his father is alive, he immediately turns his thoughts to the image of the sea that
“threatens” but is “merciful.” Just as the sea has supposedly taken Ferdinand’s father from him, it has
mercifully brought him back and changed him as well. In “Full Fadom Five” Ariel sings his song about
Ferdinand’s “drown’d father.” The song functions to inform Ferdinand that his father has not faded but
“doth suffer a sea-change” (Act I, Scene 2, l. 401) which is symbolic of Alonso’s suffering over the loss of
his son, and his subsequent recognition of his sin against Prospero, leading to his repentance. By Act V
Alonso’s suffering has brought about a change that has quelled his inner tempest, relieving him of his guilt
and bringing about his reconciliation with Prospero.
Act V, Scene 1, 172-255 Summary and Analysis 42
Alonso is now ready to meet Miranda and ask her forgiveness, though he is concerned and somewhat
embarrassed by it. He is, after all, the king, and, through her marriage to Ferdinand, Miranda will be his child.
According to the sixteenth-century law of “degree” and belief in the hierarchy of all beings, Alonso would be
asking forgiveness of someone beneath his station in life which would be a threat to the natural harmony and,
therefore, unacceptable. “O how oddly will it sound that I/ Must ask my child forgiveness.” This is
reminiscent of King Lear, a foolish old king who also asks his daughter’s forgiveness for his injustice to her.
“You must bear with me./ Pray you now forget, and forgive; I am old and foolish” (King Lear, Act IV, Scene
7, ll. 83-4). Like Alonso, Lear goes through great suffering before he arrives at repentance for his past deeds.
Miranda’s innocent enthusiasm for the “goodly creatures” in the “brave new world” she will soon inhabit is
immediately cut short by Prospero’s remark which borders on cynicism, “ ‘Tis new to thee.” Having seen
only three men (if Caliban can be included) in her lifetime, Miranda is not aware, as Prospero is, that among
them are conspirators who have been willing to murder their own brothers for the sake of political power.
Miranda demonstrated similar enthusiasm when she first saw Ferdinand as “a thing
divine, for nothing natural/ I ever saw so noble” (Act I, Scene 2, ll. 18-19). Through their marriage, Ferdinand
and Miranda look to a future “brave new world,” however, with a vision of a new order established by those
who have been redeemed through repentance and reconciliation.
At this point in the play, Gonzalo pulls all the threads of the action together in his expression of joy.
In one voyage
Did Claribel her husband find at Tunis,
And Ferdinand, her brother, found a wife
Where he himself was lost, Prospero, his dukedom
In a poor isle; and all of us, ourselves,
When no man was his own.
Though the characters have not all been purified or regenerated, at least their delusions have been shattered. In
that sense they have, as Gonzalo says, all found themselves.
Act V, Scene 1, Lines 256-330 Summary and Analysis
Summary
With Ariel in pursuit, Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo, arrayed in Prospero’s finery, appear to the men of the
royal court. Stephano, too drunk to get his words straight, calls to his partners to shift for themselves. Trinculo
thinks the king and his party are “a goodly sight,” but Caliban is afraid Prospero will chastise him, though he
is impressed when he sees his master in a duke’s robe.
Sebastian and Antonio immediately see Caliban as a deformed fish-like monster, a marketable product to take
back to Italy. Prospero informs Alonso and his royal court that Stephano and Trinculo have robbed him, and
that Caliban, the son of an evil witch, has been plotting with them to take the duke’s life. Seeing that
Stephano and Trinculo are drunk, Alonso wonders where they got the liquor and why they are in this
predicament. Sebastian greets Stephano with a pat on his back, but he shrugs him off, telling him he is no
longer Stephano. Prospero reminds him that he had professed to be the future king of the island, but Stephano
admits he would have been a poor one. Prospero admonishes Caliban, ordering him to take his companions to
his cell to return the stolen clothing if he wishes to be pardoned for his evil deeds. Caliban recognizes his
mistakes and promises to “seek for grace” after this. He now understands the absurdity of taking “this
drunkard for a god.”
Act V, Scene 1, Lines 256-330 Summary and Analysis 43
Prospero then invites Alonso and his royal train to his cell where they will rest for one night. Part of that time
will be spent relating the events that have taken place in the lives of Prospero and Miranda since they left
Milan 12 years ago. In the morning they will all be brought to the ship that will take them back to Naples
where they will celebrate the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda. Prospero promises them calm seas and
favorable wind conditions for their trip. In an aside Prospero apprises Ariel of his final duty which is to
provide fair weather for their sailing vessel. Bidding Ariel farewell, Prospero sets him free. He then turns to
Alonso and his party and invites them into his cell. In the “Epilogue,” Prospero, whose magic power is now
gone, asks the audience to release him from the island, which has been the stage.
Analysis
By the end of the play, Alonso’s suffering has brought him through the process of regeneration with an
awareness of his sin and guilt and his subsequent repentance which is followed by Prospero’s forgiveness.
When Alonso restores Prospero’s dukedom and accepts the marriage of his own son to Prospero’s daughter,
his change, evident in his reconciliation with Prospero, is finally complete. Conversely, Antonio and
Sebastian, though they become acquiescent at the end, do not heed Ariel’s earlier warnings of repentance to
the “three men of sin.” Unlike Alonso, neither of them has seen the error of his ways, and they both remain
unrepentant. The ramifications of their choice and its effects on the future “brave new world” can be nothing
more than mere conjecture, reaching beyond the world of the play. When we consider Antonio and
Sebastian’s reputation of conspiracy and murder, however, we are tempted to be dubious about the success of
the new order being established in Milan and Naples.
Even Caliban, though he remains outside of the society of the redeemed, decides he will “be wise hereafter,/
And seek for grace.” He has learned his lesson, realizing the illusion he had been under when he took “this
drunkard for a god.” Prospero’s pardon is given with the stipulation that Caliban and his friends return their
stolen apparel to his cell. Though Caliban is, perhaps, eager to please his master because he is afraid he will
be “pinch’d to death,” he has also learned that his god who “bears celestial liquor” has clay feet after all.
Antonio sees Caliban as a “plain fish, and no doubt marketable.” This is reminiscent of another reference to
Caliban as a fish in Act II when Stephano decides that “if I can recover him, and keep him tame, I will not
take too much for him; he shall pay for him that hath him, and that soundly” (Act II, Scene 2, ll. 76-8). Both
passages allude to the practice in sixteenth-century Europe of exhibiting what they referred to as fish-like
monsters in booths at the fair and charging admission.
Ariel finally gains his freedom through his release “to the elements” at the end of the play. His freedom
beyond the play will exclude his songs since their function has generally been to further Prospero’s designs
which were to bring his enemies to repentance and ultimately achieve the restoration of his dukedom. Ariel’s
music will consist of the natural “noises, sounds, and sweet airs” (Act III, Scene 2, ll. 135-6) of the island
that will function only for his delight in his ideal world of nature.
Prospero looks forward to the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda in Naples where their union will symbolize
the love that is the only hope for a new order. The reconciliation between the fathers, Alonso and Prospero,
which has already taken place on the island, will be strengthened with the union of their children.
The “Epilogue” is Prospero’s appeal to his audience to release him, with their applause, from the illusory
world of the island or the imaginary world of the stage. His power is gone, his strength is faint, and he is
asking the audience to clap their hands which will, metaphorically, create a “gentle breath” or breeze for the
sails of his ship that will carry him to Naples. Their applause will break the imaginary spell of the play and
release him to the real world of Naples which is symbolic of the real world of the audience.
Act V, Scene 1, Lines 256-330 Summary and Analysis 44
The Tempest: Quizzes
Act I, Scene 1 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Who was in charge of the ship during the storm at sea?
2. Why did Alonso, the king, interfere with the Boatswain’s work in securing the ship during the storm?
3. Where did the Boatswain tell the king and his courtiers to go?
4. Who were the first to go to their cabins below the top deck?
5. What joke does Gonzalo tell concerning the Boatswain?
6. How does this joke affect the rest of the passengers and crew?
7. How do Sebastian and Antonio react to the Boatswain?
8. How does the Boatswain respond to Sebastian’s and Antonio’s insulting remarks?
9. How does Antonio decide to die in the storm at sea?
10. How loyal is Sebastian to his brother, the king?
Answers
1. The Ship–master was in charge of the Boatswain and the mariners.
2. The king was accustomed to being the supreme authority.
3. The Boatswain told the king and his courtiers to go to their cabins below.
4. Alonso, the king, and Ferdinand, the prince, were the first to go below and pray.
5. Gonzalo’s joke implies that the Boatswain was born to be hanged and need not fear drowning.
6. If the Boatswain does not drown, the rest of the passengers and crew will also be spared.
7. Sebastian and Antonio curse the Boatswain and call him names.
8. The Boatswain responds with “work you then” if they don’t like the way he is handling the job.
9. Antonio wants to sink into the sea with the king.
10. Sebastian wants to leave the king when he thinks the ship is sinking.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 1-188 Questions and Answers
The Tempest: Quizzes 45
Study Questions
1. Why does Miranda ask her father to calm the storm at sea?
2. How does Prospero comfort Miranda’s fears about the suffering people on the ship?
3. Does Miranda remember anything about her life before she came to the island?
4. How old was Miranda when they arrived on the island?
5. In what way did Antonio dispose of Prospero and Miranda after he had usurped his dukedom?
6. Why did Antonio spare the lives of Prospero and Miranda?
7. Why did Antonio put Prospero and Miranda on an old boat without a sail?
8. Where did Prospero and Miranda get their supplies for the island?
9. Why did Prospero raise the storm at sea with his magic?
10. How long had Prospero and Miranda lived on the island?
Answers
1. Miranda knows that he has raised the tempest with his magic and he also has the power to calm the storm.
2. Prospero tells Miranda that there has been “no harm done.”
3. Miranda remembers that several women waited on her in Milan.
4. Miranda was not yet three when they arrived on the island.
5. Prospero and Miranda were put on a “rotten carcass of a butt” without a sail and left on the sea to drown.
6. Prospero was well loved by his people and Antonio wanted to stay in their good graces as the new Duke of
Milan.
7. Antonio wanted their deaths to look like an accident.
8. Gonzalo, the king’s councilor, felt sorry for them, stocking their leaky vessel with water, food, clothing,
and Prospero’s books.
9. It had been his good fortune to have his enemies arrive off the shore of the island, and this was his chance
to regain his dukedom.
10. Prospero and Miranda had lived on the island for the past 12 years.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 189-320 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. What three elements of nature does Ariel represent in this scene?
Act I, Scene 2, lines 1-188 Questions and Answers 46
2. How does Ariel “burn in many places” during the tempest?
3. What did the passengers of the ship do when they were afraid of dying?
4. What did Ariel do with the passengers?
5. What did Ariel do with the mariners?
6. Where did he leave the ship? Was it damaged from the storm?
7. What does Ariel expect to get for all of his labors?
8. Why is Prospero angry at Ariel for requesting his freedom?
9. Where did the “foul witch Sycorax” imprison Ariel?
10. Why was Ariel left imprisoned for 12 years?
Answers
1. Ariel represents the elements of air, water, and fire.
2. Ariel divides himself and becomes several fires on the ship during the tempest.
3. All except the mariners plunged into the foaming sea.
4. Ariel brought the passengers to the shore, safe and unblemished, and dispersed them in groups around the
island.
5. Ariel put them to sleep and left them in the ship.
6. Ariel left the ship in a deep inlet of the island. The ship was undamaged from the storm.
7. Ariel expects Prospero to give him his liberty in exchange for his services.
8. Prospero reminds Ariel of the time he saved him from the curse of Sycorax, and now he feels that Ariel
owes him his services.
9. Sycorax imprisoned Ariel in a “cloven pine.”
10. Ariel was left in the “cloven pine” because the old witch, Sycorax, had died in the meantime.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 321-374 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Who were the parents of Caliban?
2. What did Prospero do for Caliban when he first came to the island?
3. How did Caliban respond to Prospero’s treatment of him?
Act I, Scene 2, lines 189-320 Questions and Answers 47
4. Why does Caliban feel that he owns the island?
5. What happened when Prospero took Caliban into his own lodging?
6. What does Prospero do to punish Caliban for his behavior?
7. How has Caliban benefited from learning a language?
8. How is Caliban described in the “Names of the Actors”?
9. What does Prospero threaten to do to Caliban if he does not obey him?
10. Why does Caliban finally decide to obey Prospero?
Answers
1. Caliban’s parents were the witch, Sycorax, and, according to Prospero, the devil himself.
2. Prospero treated Caliban with kindness, teaching him language and lodging him in his own cell.
3. Caliban learned to love Prospero and showed him where to find fresh water and fertile soil.
4. Caliban feels that he has inherited the island from his mother Sycorax.
5. Caliban attempted to rape Prospero’s daughter, Miranda, after they took him into their lodging.
6. Prospero imprisons Caliban in a rock, subjects him to hard labor, and prevents him from seeing the rest of
the island.
7. Caliban says that now, “I know how to curse.”
8. Caliban is described as a “savage and deformed slave.”
9. Prospero threatens to give him painful cramps and aching bones.
10. Caliban obeys because Prospero’s art of magic has the power to control even his mother’s god, Setebos.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 375-504 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Who sings the two songs in this part of the play?
2. Who helps Ariel with the dance in “Come Unto These Yellow Sands”?
3. From where does Ferdinand think the music is coming from?
4. According to the song, what has happened to Ferdinand’s father?
5. What is Miranda’s first impression of Ferdinand?
6. What is Ferdinand’s first impression of Miranda?
Act I, Scene 2, lines 321-374 Questions and Answers 48
7. What is Prospero’s false accusation of Ferdinand?
8. Why does Prospero accuse Ferdinand falsely?
9. What is Alonso’s sea-change?
10. Name one way in which music assists the dramatic action of the play?
Answers
1. Ariel sings the songs in this part of the play.
2. Ariel’s invisible attendant spirits help him with the dance.
3. Ferdinand thinks the music comes from some god of the island.
4. Ferdinand’s father has supposedly drowned and now “suffers a sea-change.”
5. Miranda thinks Ferdinand is a spirit when she first sees him.
6. Ferdinand thinks Miranda is the goddess who has led him onto the shore with her music.
7. Prospero accuses Ferdinand of coming to the island as a spy so that he could become lord of the island.
8. Prospero falsely accuses Ferdinand because he wants to slow the fast progress of the romantic love between
the young couple.
9. Alonso’s body is supposedly lying at the bottom of the sea where each part of it is transformed into a rich
sea substance.
10. Music assists the dramatic action of the play by leading Ferdinand onto the island.
Act II, Scene 1, lines 1-184 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why is Alonso feeling depressed and sad?
2. How do Antonio and Sebastian react to Alonso’s depressed mood?
3. How does Adrian feel about the atmosphere of the island?
4. What is Adrian’s main dramatic purpose in this scene?
5. What happened to the garments of the royal party during the storm at sea?
6. Who was “Widow Dido”?
7. Why does Alonso feel that he suffers a double loss?
8. Why does Sebastian tell Alonso he has himself to blame for his son’s death?
Act I, Scene 2, lines 375-504 Questions and Answers 49
9. Who would manage Gonzalo’s ideal commonwealth?
10. How does Alonso feel about Gonzalo’s proposed commonwealth?
Answers
1. Alonso is grieving the supposed loss of his son Ferdinand.
2. Sebastian and Antonio are rude and insensitive to Alonso.
3. Adrian feels that the island is uninhabitable, yet the air is sweet and the climate is temperate.
4. Adrian acts as a foil to Antonio and Sebastian who are cynical and abusive.
5. Their garments were drenched but now they are as fresh as they were the day they put them on in Africa.
6. “Widow Dido” alludes to Aeneas’ lover in Virgil’s The Aeneid.
7. Alonso feels he has lost his daughter in marriage to a man in a distant country and has lost his son in the
tempest at sea.
8. Sebastian is implying that Alonso forced his daughter to marry a foreigner. It was their trip to the wedding
that caused his son’s death.
9. Gonzalo would be the king of the commonwealth.
10. Alonso does not want to hear about Gonzalo’s commonwealth.
Act II, Scene 1, lines 185-328 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. How does Alonso feel about sleep?
2. What does Antonio do as soon as the king falls asleep?
3. In what way is Sebastian an heir to the throne?
4. How does Sebastian feel when Antonio suggests that Sebastian should be the future king?
5. How does Antonio feel about his conscience?
6. How does Antonio view the king’s position in the natural hierarchy or society’s law of degree.
7. Who has sent Ariel to stop the conspiracy? Why?
8. What is Prospero’s project?
9. Why are Antonio and Sebastian caught with their swords drawn?
10. What was Antonio and Sebastian’s excuse for drawing their swords?
Act II, Scene 1, lines 1-184 Questions and Answers 50
Answers
1. Alonso feels that sleep will shut up his thoughts of grief for his son.
2. Antonio tries to persuade Sebastian that Sebastian should replace his brother as the king.
3. With Ferdinand supposedly dead and Claribel, his sister, in Tunis, Sebastian is next in line to the throne.
4. Sebastian thinks that Antonio must be asleep.
5. Antonio’s conscience has been hardened beyond the point of no return.
6. Antonio feels that the king is “no better than the earth he lies upon.”
7. Prospero has sent Ariel to stop the conspirators so his project will not fail.
8. Prospero’s project is the restoration of his dukedom of Milan.
9. Antonio and Sebastian were getting ready to stab Alonso and Gonzalo when Ariel woke them.
10. Antonio and Sebastian claimed they heard the sound of wild animals and drew their swords to protect the
king.
Act II, Scene 2 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. What does Trinculo think he has discovered when he first meets Caliban?
2. Where does Trinculo hide from the impending thunderstorm?
3. How did Stephano arrive at the shore of the island?
4. How did Trinculo get to the shore?
5. What does Stephano think he has found when he runs across Caliban’s cloak with four legs protruding?
6. How does Stephano’s wine affect Caliban?
7. What does Caliban ask Stephano to be?
8. What promises does Caliban make to Trinculo and Stephano?
9. What is the central idea in Caliban’s song?
10. What does Trinculo think about Caliban’s worship of Stephano as his god?
Answers
1. Trinculo thinks he has run across some fish-like monster of the island.
2. Trinculo hides under Caliban’s cloak with him.
Act II, Scene 1, lines 185-328 Questions and Answers 51
3. Stephano floated to the shore on a barrel of wine.
4. Trinculo swam to the shore like a duck.
5. Stephano thinks he has found a four-legged, two-voiced monster.
6. Caliban believes Stephano is a “brave god” who “bears celestial liquor.”
7. Caliban asks Stephano to be his god.
8. Caliban promises to show Trinculo and Stephano all the natural wonders of the island.
9. Caliban’s song expresses a joyous freedom from his master, Prospero.
10. Trinculo thinks Caliban is a “ridiculous monster” who would “make a wonder of a poor drunkard.”
Act III, Scene 1 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why does Ferdinand have a positive attitude about carrying logs?
2. How does Miranda feel about Ferdinand’s hard labor of carrying logs?
3. What does Miranda offer to do for Ferdinand?
4. How does Ferdinand respond to Miranda’s offer?
5. How does Miranda compare to other women Ferdinand has known?
6. Why does Miranda begin to cry?
7. Why does Ferdinand call himself the king?
8. Who proposes marriage in this scene?
9. What will Miranda do if Ferdinand does not want her for his wife?
10. How does Prospero feel about his daughter’s marriage to Ferdinand?
Answers
1. Although it is an “odious” task, Ferdinand feels he is carrying logs for Miranda which makes the job a
pleasure.
2. Miranda is anxious about Ferdinand’s condition and pleads with him to sit down and rest for a while.
3. Miranda offers to carry Ferdinand’s logs for a time.
4. Ferdinand says he would rather break his back than subject Miranda to such dishonor.
5. Miranda represents all the best virtues of all the women rolled into one.
Act II, Scene 2 Questions and Answers 52
6. Miranda cries because she is so happy.
7. Ferdinand calls himself the king because he thinks his father is dead, and he is next in line as heir to the
throne.
8. Miranda asks Ferdinand to marry her, and she will be his wife.
9. Miranda will be Ferdinand’s maid or servant if she cannot be his wife.
10. Prospero has designed the match, and he is happy that everything is going according to his plan.
Act III, Scene 2 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why is Caliban unable to walk in the beginning of this scene?
2. What is Caliban’s proposal to Stephano and Trinculo?
3. Who does Caliban suggest as king of the island? What position will Caliban hold?
4. What is Ariel’s purpose for mimicking Trinculo’s voice?
5. Why does Stephano beat Trinculo?
6. What is the first thing the conspirators intend to do when they reach Prospero’s cell?
7. Why are Prospero’s books important to the conspiracy?
8. Who notices that Stephano and Trinculo cannot get the tune of the catch?
9. Who is afraid of the mysterious music of Ariel’s tabor and pipe?
10. How does the music affect the three characters by the end of the scene?
Answers
1. Caliban is too drunk to walk.
2. Caliban suggests that they murder Prospero and take over the island.
3. Caliban suggests that Stephano be the king of the island and Caliban will be his servant.
4. Ariel’s purpose for mimicking Trinculo is to set the characters against each other.
5. Stephano thinks Trinculo is mocking Caliban by calling him a liar.
6. The first thing the conspirators will do at Prospero’s cell is seize his books.
7. Without his books Prospero has no magical powers.
8. Caliban notices that they are singing the wrong tune.
Act III, Scene 1 Questions and Answers 53
9. Stephano and Trinculo are afraid of Ariel’s music.
10. The music mesmerizes them, and they follow it.
Act III, Scene 3 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why does the royal party stop to rest during their search for Ferdinand?
2. What do Sebastian and Antonio plan to do that night?
3. What do Ariel’s spirits bring onto the stage?
4. What does Ariel do when he arrives on the stage?
5. Who does Ariel address in his speech?
6. What does Ariel warn them about in his speech?
7. What does Ariel mean by “heart’s sorrow”?
8. What is meant when Ariel refers to “a clear life ensuing”?
9. In what condition are the three men when Prospero leaves them?
10. What does Alonso intend to do by the end of this scene?
Answers
1. Gonzalo, the oldest, suffers from exhaustion, and Alonso feels tired and discouraged in his hopeless search
for his son.
2. Sebastian and Antonio are conspiring to kill the king and Gonzalo that same night.
3. Ariel’s spirits present the royal party with a banquet.
4. Ariel, in the guise of a harpy, covers the table with his wings and the banquet vanishes.
5. Ariel addresses the “three men of sin,” Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio.
6. Ariel warns them that if they do not repent their sins against Prospero, their doom is certain.
7. There “is nothing but heart’s sorrow” means there is no other way except repentance.
8. A “clear life” is a sinless life which should follow repentance.
9. Prospero leaves the three men in their fits of madness.
10. Alonso intends to commit suicide by joining his son at the bottom of the sea.
Act III, Scene 2 Questions and Answers 54
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 1-163 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why did Prospero punish Ferdinand by forcing him to carry logs?
2. What was Ferdinand’s reward for standing up under the test of log-bearing?
3. What is Prospero’s warning to Ferdinand?
4. What does Prospero instruct Ariel to do in this scene?
5. Which characters are given dialogue in the masque?
6. List the characters who sing the masque song?
7. Explain the reason why Ceres does not want Venus to attend the masque?
8. In whose honor is the masque given?
9. Why does the masque suddenly vanish?
10. In what way does Prospero compare life to the masque or the stage?
Answers
1. Prospero’s punishment was a trial of Ferdinand’s love for Miranda.
2. Prospero rewards Ferdinand with a “rich gift,” his daughter Miranda.
3. Prospero warns Ferdinand that he should not break the “virgin-knot” before he and Miranda have recited
their marriage vows.
4. Prospero instructs Ariel to summon his spirits and bring on the masque.
5. Iris, Ceres, and Juno speak during the masque.
6. Juno and Ceres sing the masque song.
7. Venus and her son, Cupid, helped Pluto abduct Ceres’ daughter Proserpine.
8. The masque is given in honor of Ferdinand and Miranda, the betrothed couple.
9. The masque vanishes when Prospero remembers that Caliban and his new-found friends are conspiring to
kill him.
10. All the material things of life, including life itself, will eventually dissolve.
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 164-266 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Where has Ariel led Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo with his tabor and pipe?
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 1-163 Questions and Answers 55
2. What does Prospero instruct Ariel to do in this scene?
3. What does Prospero call Caliban in this scene?
4. Why does Prospero feel he has treated Caliban humanely?
5. How do Stephano and Trinculo react to Prospero’s expensive wardrobe?
6. How does Caliban react to Prospero’s finery?
7. What have Stephano and Trinculo lost in the “filthy-mantled pool”?
8. What do Stephano and Trinculo do with Prospero’s kingly robes?
9. Who carries the stolen clothing? Why?
10. What finally happens to the thieving trio?
Answers
1. Ariel has led the three conspirators into the “filthy-mantled pool.”
2. Prospero tells Ariel to hang his royal wardrobe on the lime tree outside his cell.
3. Prospero calls Caliban a “born devil.”
4. Prospero has taken Caliban into his own cell and taught him language.
5. Stephano and Trinculo are distracted, forgetting about their conspiracy to murder Prospero.
6. Caliban thinks Prospero’s robes are nothing but “trash.”
7. Stephano and Trinculo have lost their bottle of wine in the “filthy-mantled pool.”
8. Stephano and Trinculo steal Prospero’s robes.
9. Caliban is told that he must carry the stolen clothes or Stephano will turn him out of his kingdom.
10. The thieving trio is driven out by Prospero’s spirits in the shape of dogs.
Act V, Scene 1, lines 1-87 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. In what way is Shakespeare observing the Aristotelian unity of time?
2. Where has Ariel left the members of the royal party?
3. What is the emotional condition of the king and his followers?
4. What does Prospero decide to do about the royal party?
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 164-266 Questions and Answers 56
5. Why does Prospero call on his elves and fairies?
6. What does Prospero intend to do with his magic staff and book?
7. Why does Prospero give up his magic?
8. Why do the king and his royal party stand in a circle?
9. What does Prospero tell Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio after the magic spell wears off?
10. What does Prospero do with his magic robe after he forgives his enemies?
Answers
1. The action of the play takes place within the timespan of one day.
2. Ariel has left the royal party imprisoned in a grove of trees next to Prospero’s cell.
3. Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio are distraught and the others are mourning for them.
4. Prospero intends to forgive the “three men of sin” if they are penitent.
5. Prospero calls on his elves and fairies to bring on some music for his next magical project.
6. Prospero will break his staff and throw his book into the sea.
7. Prospero’s magic has accomplished its purpose of bringing his enemies to repentance and regaining his
dukedom in Milan.
8. Prospero’s magic circle keeps the king and his royal party spellbound.
9. Prospero tells the three men that they are forgiven for all their evil deeds.
10. Prospero removes his magic robe to present himself as the former Duke of Milan.
Act V, Scene 1, 88-171 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. What is Ariel doing while he is singing?
2. Where will Ariel go when Prospero sets him free?
3. How does Ariel feel while he is singing his song?
4. How does Ariel’s freedom song compare to Caliban’s freedom song?
5. What does Alonso say when he sees Prospero?
6. How does Prospero assure Alonso and Gonzalo that he is still alive?
7. What does Prospero say to his brother Antonio?
Act V, Scene 1, lines 1-87 Questions and Answers 57
8. What is Alonso’s irreparable loss?
9. What does Alonso say that would reconcile him to Prospero and bring their families together?
10. What is Prospero ready to do in response to Alonso’s wish for their children?
Answers
1. Ariel is helping to attire Prospero in his duke’s clothing.
2. Ariel will stay on the island and live among the flowers.
3. Ariel feels happy because he will soon be free.
4. Ariel’s freedom song is one of restrained joy and Caliban’s song exhibits unrestrained raucousness.
5. Alonso asks Prospero’s forgiveness for plotting the usurpation of Prospero’s dukedom.
6. Prospero hugs Alonso and Gonzalo to prove he is still alive.
7. Prospero rebukes his brother Antonio and forgives him in the same breath.
8. The death of Alonso’s son Ferdinand is an irreparable loss.
9. Alonso wishes that his son and Prospero’s daughter would be king and queen of Naples.
10. Prospero is ready to reunite Alonso with his son Ferdinand.
Act V, Scene 1, 172-255 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. What are Ferdinand and Miranda pretending to do as Prospero discovers them? What are they really doing?
2. What does Ferdinand do when he sees his father, the king?
3. Why does Ferdinand feel that the seas are merciful?
4. What does Miranda think when she first sees the members of the royal court?
5. How does Alonso feel about asking Miranda’s forgiveness?
6. How will Ferdinand and Miranda’s marriage change the future “brave new world” of Milan?
7. How does Gonzalo react when he sees the boatswain?
8. What has happened to the ship in the tempest?
9. What does Prospero promise Ariel as a reward for his services?
10. Why is the boatswain unsure when Alonso asks him how he came to Prospero’s cell?
Act V, Scene 1, 88-171 Questions and Answers 58
Answers
1. Ferdinand and Miranda are pretending to play chess but are really engaging in loving conversation.
2. Ferdinand kneels before his father when he first sees him.
3. Symbolically, Ferdinand feels the seas are merciful because they have not drowned his father.
4. Miranda is impressed because there are so many noble men in the world.
5. Alonso is concerned about asking his own child’s forgiveness since he is, by Elizabethan standards,
superior to her.
6. The young couple’s marriage will bring their fathers together and reconcile their past differences.
7. Gonzalo feels his prophecy has come true in which he vowed that the boatswain was born to be hanged and
would, therefore, not drown at sea.
8. The ship is safely docked in the harbor and looks as good as new.
9. Prospero promises Ariel his freedom when his project is completed.
10. The boatswain had been asleep and was still in a daze when Ariel brought him to Prospero’s cell.
Act V, Scene 1, Lines 256-330 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Interpret Stephano’s confused speech when he says, “Every man shift for all the rest, and let no man take
care for himself.”
2. How does Antonio react when he sees Caliban?
3. Do Antonio and Sebastian become repentant for their past deeds?
4. Does Caliban change in the course of the play?
5. Where will Ferdinand and Miranda celebrate their marriage?
6. Where will the king and his royal court spend the night?
7. How will Prospero entertain his overnight guests?
8. Who will make sure the royal party has calm seas for their trip to Naples?
9. Where does Ariel go when Prospero gives him his freedom?
10. What is the purpose of the “Epilogue”?
Answers
1. Stephano’s speech refers to the proverbial “Let every man shift for himself.”
Act V, Scene 1, 172-255 Questions and Answers 59
2. Antonio sees him as a fish-like monster who can be sold for the purpose of exhibition to the public.
3. Antonio and Sebastian are not repentant, though they are no longer conspiring against Alonso.
4. Caliban realizes he has been under the illusion that he was mistaking a “drunkard for a god” and vows to
“seek for grace” from now on.
5. Ferdinand and Miranda will celebrate their marriage in Naples.
6. The king and his royal court will spend the night in Prospero’s cell.
7. Prospero will entertain the king and his court by relating the events of his life for the past 12 years.
8. Ariel is in charge of keeping the weather mild and the seas calm.
9. Ariel is released “to the elements” on the natural world of the island.
10. The “Epilogue” is Prospero’s speech asking the audience with their applause to free him from the
illusory world of the island or the stage with their applause.
The Tempest: Essential Passages
Essential Passage by Character: Caliban
MIRANDA:
Abhorrèd slave,
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other. When thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes
With words that made them known. But thy vile race,
Though thou didst learn, had that in't which good natures
Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou
Deservedly confined into this rock,
Who hadst deserved more than a prison.
CALIBAN:
You taught me language, and my profit on't
Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!
Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 417-431
Summary
Causing the storm to take advantage of the fate that has brought within his grasp, Prospero explains his past
history to his daughter Miranda. She remembers little, since she was only three when their banishment
occurred. Since that time, the only beings she has seen are her father, spirits such as Ariel, and the half-breed
monster, Caliban, who functions as their slave. Causing Miranda to fall asleep, Prospero summons Ariel to
Act V, Scene 1, Lines 256-330 Questions and Answers 60
determine the locations of the passengers of the ship. Assured by the spirit that all is well and all prisoners are
accounted for and separated, Prospero commands him to bring Ferdinand to the cave where they humans are
living.
Awakening Miranda, Prospero continues his tale. He then summons the slave-monster Caliban, who arrives
sullenly. Caliban reminds his master that this island home had belonged to him before the arrival of Prospero
and Miranda. Caliban had been living there alone, after the death of his mother, the witch Sycorax. Less than
human and living like an animal, Caliban had been tamed and “civilized” by Prospero and Miranda.
Prospero castigates Caliban as being ungrateful for the kindness shown to him. Prospero says that he has
treated Caliban with only humane care, in return for which Caliban tried to rape Miranda.
Miranda herself enters the conversation, stating that Caliban has resisted any attempt to show him kindness.
He has rejected the efforts of the humans to turn him toward goodness. Miranda herself had taught him how to
speak. At their arrival on the island, Prospero and Miranda found Caliban gibbering, without any recognizable
understanding of language. Through patience and kindness, Miranda gave him words. But despite his now
sentient speech, Caliban’s sub-human nature made him impossible to live with. Miranda states that it is only
right that Caliban has been deserted on this island, since he deserves more than mere prison.
In response, Caliban states that he learned language for the sole purpose of cursing the humans, which he does
repeatedly. He now curses her for teaching him language.
Analysis
Caliban, the offspring of the Algerian witch Sycorax and some demon spirit, is the original inhabitant of the
island. Living like an animal before the arrival of Prospero and Miranda, he has been brought to a near-human
condition, only to be forced into slavery. The payment for his freedom from savagery is slavery as a savage.
He has been brought to consciousness to become conscious of what he has lost, which is freedom.
Caliban’s understanding of freedom is of a most basic nature, that of living as he wants without restraint and
without duty. He values this type of freedom, even if it makes him little more than an animal. The reason
being, he has no other idea of what freedom is. The freedom of bestiality as opposed to the “freedom” of
humanity. True freedom, to make one’s own choices and to choose to make those choices within the realm of
moral responsibility, is a foreign concept to him. Prospero has denied this knowledge to him in order to keep
him in slavery. It is no wonder that Caliban attacked Miranda, since he has been taught language, but not
morality.
Yet Caliban is not the only slave on the island. The nature spirit Ariel is also bound unwillingly to the service
of Caliban. Ariel, having been rescued from his tree prison where he had been placed by Caliban’s mother, is
a more willing servant, yet is still longing for freedom. In a contrast to Caliban, Ariel responds willingly to
Prospero’s commands, but without looking forward to the promised day of release. He is a cheerful servant,
willing to help Prospero accomplish his goals. Yet he still, as does Caliban, seeks his freedom. Despite his
willingness to service, Ariel, like Caliban, is castigated by Prospero for his “ungratefulness.”
In a contrast between the two servants, it is obvious that outward appearance has some measure of cause to the
treatment they receive at the hands of the humans. Ariel is graceful and attractive, while Caliban has a
monstrous appearance. Ariel is treated with kindness as a noble creature, while Caliban is treated with cruelty
and contempt. Their appearance predicts their treatment; their response to their treatment reflects their
appearance. They are trapped in a circle, a circle of paradoxes that always reflects the lives of those held in
bondage.
Essential Passage by Character: Caliban 61
Though most likely not consciously developed by Shakespeare, the character of Caliban can be seen as
symbolic of the European attitude toward the aboriginal people encountered on the voyages of discovery. The
treatment of the natives as “sub-human,” the product of the devil, and unable to be fully brought into the
realm of the human, is reflected in Prospero’s treatment of Caliban. The charges of ingratitude were repeated
ad infinitum throughout early American history, in the Europeans’ encounters and treatment of the native
Americans, as well as the Africans brought over for the sole purpose of servitude. Caliban especially reflects
the native Americans, who, like Caliban, had been the original inhabitants of the land. Conflict arose when the
combination of distrust and ignorance clashed, causing a cycle of violence that lasted for centuries.
The charge of ingratitude that is brought against Caliban by Prospero is both justified and understandable.
Caliban has indeed been raised to a higher level of consciousness, more in tune with the humanity that is in
him. Living like an animal, he was not in fact an animal. Prospero reconnected him with his true self.
However, having done that, he pushed him back into the realm of the animal, making him a slave. Yet
Prospero expects gratitude for the former, seeing that latter as the price that must be paid. Caliban pays the
price, yet most unwillingly. He continues to see himself as more animal than human, as evidenced by his later
subservience to Stephano, his new “god,” one who has the “magic” of alcohol. Caliban cannot see any other
life than one of servitude. His only “freedom” is found in the freedom of choosing a new master.
Essential Passage by Character: Prospero
PROSPERO:
My brother and thy uncle, called Antonio—
I pray thee mark me, that a brother should
Be so perfidious—he whom next thyself
Of all the world I loved, and to him put
The manage of my state; as at that time
Through all the signories it was the first,
And Prospero the prime duke, being so reputed
In dignity, and for the liberal arts
Without a parallel; those being all my study,
The government I cast upon my brother,
And to my state grew stranger, being transported
And rapt in secret studies. Thy false uncle—
Dost thou attend me?
MIRANDA:
Sir, most heedfully.
PROSPERO:
Being once perfected how to grant suits,
How to deny them, who t'advance and who
To trash for over-topping, new created
The creatures that were mine, I say, or changed ’em,
Or else new formed ’em; having both the key
Of officer and office, set all hearts i'th’ state
To what tune pleased his ear, that now he was
The ivy which had hid my princely trunk,
And sucked my verdure out on't. Thou attend'st not!
MIRANDA:
Essential Passage by Character: Prospero 62
O good sir, I do.
PROSPERO:
I pray thee mark me.
I, thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated
To closeness and the bettering of my mind
With that which, but by being so retired,
O'er prized all popular rate, in my false brother
Awakened 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,
A confidence sans bound. He being thus lorded,
Not only with what my revenue yielded,
But what my power might else exact, like one
Who having into truth, by telling of it,
Made such a sinner of his memory
To credit his own lie, he did believe
He was indeed the duke; out o'th’ substitution,
And executing the outward face of royalty
With all prerogative; hence his ambition growing—
Dost thou hear?
MIRANDA:
Your tale, sir, would cure deafness.
PROSPERO:
To have no screen between this part he played
And him he played it for; he needs will be
Absolute Milan. Me, poor man, my library
Was dukedom large enough: of temporal royalties
He thinks me now incapable; confederates—
So dry he was for sway—with the King of Naples
To give him annual tribute, do him homage,
Subject his coronet to his crown, and bend
The dukedom, yet unbowed alas, poor Milan!—
To most ignoble stooping.
Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 81-134
Summary
As Prospero observes the shipwreck of his enemies, his daughter Miranda requests that he at last tell her the
history of their past, including their life before being stranded on this island. Many times before she has
requested her father to relate to her the story, but he has always balked, stating that there will come a time in
which he will be open and honest with her. Now that his brother, along with the other men who were so
instrumental in his betrayal and exile from Milan, Prospero concludes that the time is right.
Prospero tells Miranda that, as the Duke of Milan, he had been more interested in study than in the state.
Leaving the day-to-day operations of running his domain to his brother Antonio, Prospero instead devoted
himself to reading of books, especially in the esoteric arts of magic and alchemy. As he kept his head stuck in
his books, Antonio not only managed the dukedom, but he also managed to sway many of the leaders to his
Essential Passage by Character: Prospero 63
side. He learned the subtle arts of granting preferment to men whose ambition matched his own. He also knew
who to dismiss, as being a pull on his climb to power. Bit by bit, Antonio used Prospero’s power as his own,
much as a parasitic ivy will grow on a tree and drained it of its life force.
Unaware of Antonio’s power grab, Prospero remained devoted to his studies, living much the life of
seclusion. He was unaware that his people, even before Antonio’s acquisition of the reins of the state, did not
hold such knowledge as in such high esteem as did he.
Prospero regrets that, because he was so inattentive to the goings-on around him, he provided an opportunity
for Antonio’s evil nature to assert itself. As great as Prospero’s trust in his brother was, so great was
Antonio’s evil.
With so much power and money, Antonio managed to convince himself that he was the true leader of Milan.
Buying into his own lie, Antonio grabbed more and more of that which rightfully belonged to Prospero as the
true Duke of Milan. There was no barrier between Antonio’s ambition and Antonio’s goal. What Antonio
wanted, he received. In this case, it was control of the duchy of Milan that had been denied him by an accident
of birth.
Yet still, Prospero ignored all this. To him, his library was enough. Antonio managed to convince the leaders
of Milan that Prospero was no quite up to the requisite duties incumbent on a duke. In time, he convinced
Alonso, the King of Naples, to be on his side, even if it meant paying a tribute. Milan had never stooped to
such beggary as Antonio was doing, in order to gather his allies.
And thus, Antonio, along with Alonso, kidnapped Prospero, along with his three-year-old daughter, and set
them adrift in the open sea. Outright murder was not an option because, though he had been distant and
reclusive, Prospero was still loved by his people. The boat having been provisioned by Gonzalo, the two made
their way to this island, where they have lived for the past twelve years.
Analysis
In this passage, Prospero not only reveals his past to his daughter Miranda, he also reveals the complexities of
his character. His transparency in the revelation of his weaknesses, shows that his studious nature also has
wisely served him in the area of self-reflection. His wisdom, not just his knowledge, has identified him as a
person in touch with his flaws, yet not perhaps with his inconsistencies.
Prospero shows himself to be a true Renaissance Man, at least in the beginning of his studies in the liberal
arts. In the manner of Leonardo da Vinci, Prospero has devoted himself to the study and application of a great
variety of academics, both traditional and esoteric. Eventually, such intellectual curiosity has led him into the
realm of magic.
Because there was still a superstitious fear of witchcraft at the time of this play, Shakespeare made it clear that
he was differentiating between “white magic,” used for the good of mankind, and “black magic,” used for
mischief and even destruction. The juxtaposition of Prospero and Sycorax, the witch-mother of Caliban, is
clearly used to make this differentiation.
Prospero admits to Miranda that his intellectual capabilities do not extend to the realm of human relationships.
Though he can delve into the depths of magical insight, his insight into the true character of his brother
Antonio is non-existent. He is blind to what his brother is doing, being too wrapped up in his own studies, his
library was “dukedom large enough.” Because of this, he exposed himself, his daughter, and the people of
Milan to the machinations of his evil brother Antonio.
Essential Passage by Character: Prospero 64
In his humility, Prospero takes full blame for this situation. By ignoring the duties that were rightfully his
responsibility and delegating too much to Antonio, he allowed the root of evil to spring up in his brother’s
heart. It is because of this sense of responsibility and blame that Prospero eventually and easily forgives his
brother, once the dukedom is returned to him.
This sense of responsibility toward his brother does not extend, however, to the non-human, especially to
Caliban. With Ariel, Prospero keeps him enslaved, though it is a somewhat benignant slavery. With Caliban,
the cruelty that Prospero condemns in Antonio’s heart rises up in his own. As Antonio has usurped
Prospero’s domain, so has Prospero usurped that of Caliban. In a further cruelty, Prospero does not exile the
former owner, but keeps him as a much abused slave, in a way that implicitly taunts Caliban of his descended
state.
Prospero shows himself to be a man of strength of character nonetheless. Once all has been set right, he
willingly gives up his magic powers. In a move reminiscent of Cincinnatus and George Washington, once the
“battle has been won,” he relinquishes his authority and returns to his former duties. His act of full
forgiveness to Antonio and Alonso reveals the compassion that is necessary in the heart of a noble ruler.
Essential Passage by Theme: Humanity
PROSPERO:
[to Miranda] The fringèd curtains of thine eye advance
And say what thou seest yond.
MIRANDA:
What is't? A spirit?
Lord, how it looks about! Believe me, sir,
It carries a brave form. But ’tis a spirit.
PROSPERO:
No, wench, it eats and sleeps, and hath such senses
As we have, such. This gallant which thou seest
Was in the wreck, and but he's something stained
With grief, that's beauty's canker, thou mightest call him
A goodly person. He hath lost his fellows,
And strays about to find ’em
MIRANDA:
I might call him
A thing divine, for nothing natural
I ever saw so noble.
PROSPERO:
[Aside] It goes on, I see,
As my soul prompts it. [to Ariel] Spirit, fine spirit, I—II free
thee
Within two days for this.
FERDINAND:
[Aside] Most sure, the goddess
On whom these airs attend! [to Miranda] Vouchsafe my
Essential Passage by Theme: Humanity 65
prayer
May know if you remain upon this island,
And that you will some good instruction give
How I my bear me here. My prime request,
Which I do last pronounce, is—O you wonder!—
If you be maid or no?
MIRANDA:
No wonder, sir,
But certainly a maid.
Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 480-507
Summary
Having raised the storm that wrecked the ship carrying his enemies, Prospero commands the assistance of
Ariel, his spirit servant, to scatter the men in separate groups. Specifically, Ariel is to bring Ferdinand, the son
of King Alonso of Naples, to the cave. Doing so, Ariel presents Ferdinand to Prospero and to Miranda.
Prior to this, the only people that Miranda has seen are her aged father, the spirit Ariel, and the
half-human/half-demon Caliban. Seeing a man of her own age is a shock to her sensibilities. She is unsure
what sort of creature he is. Ferdinand does not fit into the three categories of beings she knows: old man,
spirit, monster. Thus, she believes, he must be something totally different.
Because of Ferdinand’s pleasant appearance, Miranda at first thinks he must be a spirit. Though different
from Ariel, he is even more separated in appearance from her father and the hideous Caliban. Prospero
corrects her saying that he eats, sleeps, and has senses just as he and Miranda do. He explains further to his
daughter that Ferdinand is from the shipwreck that they witnessed. He points out that, though he is
transfigured by the grief he feels at the supposed loss of his father, he is still a “goodly person.” He further
explains that, at this moment, Ferdinand is trying to seek the companions that he has lost.
Miranda, still in awe at the sight of the first young man she has seen, objects that he is something more than
human, perhaps even divine. She states that nothing natural, such as she and her father are, could ever look so
noble.
Prospero, rather than being upset at Miranda’s evident attraction to Ferdinand, is in fact pleased. Though this
is not something that he has planned, he sees Ferdinand as a worthy match for his daughter. For bringing such
a worthy human to his human daughter, Prospero promises to free Ariel within two days.
Ferdinand ceases his wanderings when he catches sight of Miranda. In a parallel reaction, Ferdinand cannot
believe that she is a mere human, but instead must be a divine goddess. This is, in fact, a literary allusion by
Ferdinand, referring to Aeneas’ encounter with the goddess Venus disguised as a girl when he was
shipwrecked at Carthage. Ferdinand approaches Miranda as a supplicant to the divine, praying that she will
give him guidance on how to behave in her dominion. However, in order to make sure, he asks Miranda,
whom he addresses as a “wonder,” if she is human and, most importantly, unmarried. Miranda assures him
that she is no wonder but is in fact an unmarried human female.
Analysis
Underlying this conversation is a question that runs through the background of the entire play: What does it
mean to be human? Miranda is unfamiliar with any other humans but her father, so she predictably cannot
place Ferdinand as either mortal or divine. Ferdinand does not resemble the aged appearance of Prospero, so
Miranda quickly dismisses this categorization. Through her immediate physical attraction to him, she knows
Essential Passage by Theme: Humanity 66
that he is far from the monstrosity of Caliban, therefore he must be more akin to the nature spirit Ariel. Yet, in
point of fact, between Ariel and Caliban, technically Ferdinand is more closely related to the latter, since
Caliban’s more was a human, despite being a witch.
Not only Miranda, but also Caliban and Ariel themselves wonder how far separated they are from being
included in humanity. At the beginning of Act 5 Scene 1, Prospero asks Ariel, in reference to the nobility of
Gonzalo, if he is not moved to tears. Ariel responds that, if he were human, he would indeed feel such an
emotion. His implication is that he is not human and therefore does not feel any emotion. Yet Ariel, despite
being a spirit, longs for his freedom. Caliban, too, desires to be returned to his own command, rather than be
subject to the whims of Prospero. This desire for freedom from a servitude is based on part on willing
subjection (rather than facing the consequences) might be a sign of their humanity. An animal would
eventually become resigned to being “tamed,” while Ariel and Caliban always have their liberty in the
uppermost part of their minds.
The categorization of Miranda of who is human and who is not presents an issue that was prevalent at the time
of Shakespeare’s writing, yet would most likely not be addressed in a modern-day fashion. The Tempest is
born out of the voyages of the discovery of the New World. With that discovery is the encounter of new races
of people, hitherto unknown. Like Miranda’s meeting with Ferdinand, the confusion as to the humanity of
these races was problematic. For many of the discoverers, the aborigines they encountered were so totally
different that they were viewed (as was Caliban) as less human than otherwise. This enabled the conquerors to
justify the treatment of them as less than humane. The concept of freeing these natives from their slavery to
ignorance and superstition led to the belief that they should be grateful for the opportunity to be “saved” from
their “heathen” culture. In connection with this, the enslavement of the indigenous people was seen as clearly
justified.
While both Ariel and Caliban were enslaved, it is Caliban who is treated worse by Prospero and Miranda.
Ariel is given his complete freedom, while Caliban (the “monster”) is not. In this case, physical appearance
plays a large part in how “human” he was seen. He is to “other” to be given more than the most minimal
kindness. In such a way, the European conquerors “categorized” the “inferior” races, based on external
appearance. As Prospero justifies the difference in treatment of Ariel and Caliban, so the Europeans justified
their treatment of the people they discovered in their own “brave new world.”
Thus this passage, in which Miranda is unsure of what makes a person “human” is representative of a much
larger foundational worldview of the Shakespeare’s time. The fluid definition of “humanity” allowed for a
much broader denial of human rights. Miranda’s exclamation in Act 5, “How beauteous mankind is! O,
brave new world / That has such people in it!” was interpreted in a much narrower view that such a statement
is today. In a world that was expanding the human family, Prospero and Miranda were instead limiting it.
The Tempest: Themes
Witnessing a banquet complete with sprites and the shapes of unicorns, Gonzalo says: "If in Naples, I should
report this now, would they believe me?" (III.iii.27-28). His sentiments are echoed by reformed King Alonso
in his final word on Prospero's island and magical art:
This is as strange a maze as e'er men trod;
And there is in this business more than nature
Was ever conduct of: some oracle
Must rectify our knowledge.
(V.i.241-244)
The Tempest: Themes 67
In The Tempest illusion competes with reality and wins despite what our minds, and those of its characters,
might say. Not only does magic play an instrumental role in the play, the atmosphere of Prospero's Island is in
itself magical. The audience cannot trust its senses in the conventional sense of the word trust; it must
surrender to its sense and suspend all disbelief.
Consistent with the theme of illusion, the mechanics of The Tempest often turn on mistaken beliefs about what
is real: Ferdinand and Miranda mistake each other for super-natural beings; Stephano mistakes Caliban and
Jester Trinculo for a two-headed creature; Caliban mistakes Stephano as god. Antonio and his party are
mistaken about the death of Ferdinand; Ferdinand is mistaken about his father's death and his sad elevation to
being Naples' new king. When Prospero reveals himself to Alonso, "Behold, sir king, / The wronged Duke of
Milan, Prospero," a humbled Alonso can only reply "Whe'er thou be'st he or no, / Or some enchanted trifle to
abuse me / As late I have been, I not know" (V.i.111-113). At the same time, the theme of illusion as
falsehood also has a normative aspect to it, as when Prospero recounts her uncle Antonio's wrongs to Miranda
and asks rhetorically, "then tell me / If this might be a brother" (I.ii.118-119).
The Tempest is above all theater, a show in which Prospero presents the audience with a series of shows. In
the midst of the proceedings, Prospero says to his actor Ariel, "Bravely the figure of this harpy hast thou /
Perform'd, my Ariel, a grace it had …" (III.iii.81-82). Shakespeare's last play is self-consciously theatrical, and
as its internal author tells us, it is evidently about the theater itself. In the sole scene of Act IV, unable to
discern what Prospero's grand plan might be, Ferdinand and Miranda ask about his passion. Prospero
addresses his prospective son-in-law:
be cheerful sir:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
(IV.i.147-158)
This speech can be read as Shakespeare's own theatrical epitaph, signaling the end of his career as a
playwright, director, and occasional actor on the Elizabethan stage. Seen in this light, the vision to which
Prospero alludes is the vision that the play itself has created, the characters are actors, and the "great globe"
may well be particularized as Shakespeare's own Globe Theatre.
But there is a broader light in which this passage can be read, for here, as elsewhere in Shakespeare's works,
"theater" can be taken as a metaphor for "our little life" as mortal human beings. Here we note a related
opposition in the play between Art or civilization, on the one hand, and Nature, or anarchic instinct, on the
other. Following out one line of analysis, many scholars have noted that a passage from the French
philosopher Montaigne's essay "On Cannibals" is echoed in Gonzalo's ideal commonwealth speech (Act II,
scene i, 143-164), in which he says that were he the ruler of an ideal society, he would "execute all things,"
with no trade, no law nor courts permitted, and furthermore, "No occupation; all men idle, all: / And women
too, but innocent and pure; / No sovereignty—" (155-157). What Gonzalo is espousing is a primitive state of
humanity, such as Montaigne wrote about and Elizabethans were familiar with from the reports of New World
explorers. Largely through that arch-primitive Caliban, Shakespeare distances himself from Gonzalo's vision
The Tempest: Themes 68
of a pre-civil society. Indeed, Gonzalo later reinforces part of his argument on this count, when he says of the
spirits that Prospero summons to the illusory banquet of Act III, scene iii,
If I should say, I saw such islanders,—
For, certes, these are people of the island,—
Who, though they are of monstrous shape, yet, note,
Their manners are more gentle-kind than of
Our human generation you shall find
Many, nay, almost any (30-35).
As epitomized by Ariel, the original inhabitants of Prospero's island generally exist without need for labor,
without standing law, and without customary restraint, for they are good by nature. But there is a two-fold
problem here: first, there is the matter of Caliban; second, the people to whom Gonzalo refers are not people,
for they are not even human.
The overarching thematic issue that Shakespeare presents to us in The Tempest is the question of what is
human. The subject surfaces prominently in the text. When Miranda first sees Ferdinand being led to
Prospero's cell by the enchantments of Ariel, she exclaims: "What is't? a spirit? / Lord, how it looks about!
Believe me, sir, / It carries a brave form. But 'tis a spirit. (I.ii.410-412). Immediately thereafter, Ferdinand
responds to Prospero's false charge that he is a spy by saying, "No, as I am a man" (457). Shortly thereafter,
while Ferdinand is charmed motionless after trying to resist the magician's plans to manacle him, Prospero
says to his daughter:
Thou thinks't there is no more shapes as he,
Having seen but him and Caliban: foolish wench!
To the most of men this is a Caliban,
And they to him are angels.
(I.ii.479-482)
Reflecting the richness of the text, there is a parody of Miranda's encounter with Ferdinand in Caliban
meeting with Trinculo and Stephano, with Caliban saying in an aside, "These be fine things, and if they be not
sprites / That's a brave god; and bears celestial liquor" (II.ii.116-117).
In addition to its exploration through the language of the play, the question of what is human takes place
through the characters of The Tempest. Ariel, of course, while he is able to converse with and to serve
Prospero, is by no means human. Caliban, on the other hand, is half-human, the primitive, instinctual half of
naturally unbounded lusts. Moreover, humanity in The Tempest encompasses three evil characters (Antonio,
Sebastian, and King Alonso) and two ridiculous ones (Trinculo and Stephano) along with the positive
examples of the good councilor Gonzalo, the king's unspoiled son, Ferdinand, and Miranda, the pure example
of humanity's empathetic nature. It is through Miranda's eyes that Shakespeare pronounces his own blessing
upon mankind. Near the very end of the play, after King Alonso blesses her marriage to Ferdinand, Miranda
proclaims,
O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!
(V.i.181-184)
The examination of human nature that Shakespeare conducts in The Tempest yields a benevolent result: we
are led to hope with Miranda that mankind is good and to know with her that human beings are naturally good
The Tempest: Themes 69
and capable of redemption.
The Tempest: Character Analysis
Alonso (Character Analysis)
He is the king of Naples and the father of Ferdinand. King Alonso, his son, and his courtiers get caught in the
tempest on their way home from the marriage of his daughter to the king of Tunis (II.i.69-72). In I.ii.121-32,
we learn that as Prospero's "inveterate" enemy, Alonso contributed to his overthrow by sending troops to
Milan "i' th' dead of darkness" to support Antonio's takeover and to banish Prospero and his daughter. In
return for this support, Alonso was awarded an annual tribute from the usurping Duke Antonio's coffers, as
well as the subjection of Milan to Naples. Thus, twelve years later, when Prospero discovers that Alonso and
his followers are nearby aboard a ship, he creates the tempest to wash them ashore and exact a long overdue
revenge.
Alonso's first appearance in the play occurs in I.i, while he is on board the ship during the storm, trying to
exert his authority over the toiling crew. Faced with the fury of the tempest, the master of the ship, his
boatswain, and his crew ignore the king's commands and order him below deck.
Alonso next appears in II.i, grieving over his missing son, Ferdinand, whom he believes to have been drowned
and refusing to be consoled even by his faithful counselor, Gonzalo. At the close of II.i, Alonso is saved by
Ariel and Gonzalo from being assassinated in his sleep by his own brother, Sebastian, and Antonio.
By the time he appears again, in III.iii, Alonso is exhausted from wandering around the island with his
courtiers and announces his despair to Gonzalo: ''Even here I will put off my hope, and keep it / No longer for
my flatterer" (III.iii.7-8). At this point, Prospero exacts his final revenge by driving Alonso mad with an
illusory banquet and with Ariel's appearance as a harpy.
At the close of the play in V.i, Prospero takes pity on his old enemy Alonso, releases him and his courtiers
from madness, and shows him that his son and heir is not only alive but also engaged to Prospero's daughter,
Miranda.
Even before he learns that his son is still alive, the remorseful Alonso repents of his crimes against Prospero
and restores his dukedom, at the same time asking for Prospero's pardon (V.i.118-19). The subsequent union
between Alonso's son and Prospero's daughter is seen as the ultimate reconciliation between the two men as
they look forward to the future through their children. Indeed, when Alonso calls himself Miranda's "second
father" and begs her for forgiveness of prior wrongs, Prospero sounds once more the note of reconciliation by
urging Alonso to forget the past: "Let us not burden our remembrances with / A heaviness that's gone"
(V.i.199-200).
Antonio (Character Analysis)
He is the current duke of Milan and the treacherous brother of Prospero, the former duke of Milan. At the
beginning of the play, Prospero tells Miranda how as duke he retreated to his studies after entrusting Antonio,
"whom next thyself / Of all the world I lov'd," with the practical side of governing Milan (I.ii.66-78). Greedy
for total power, Antonio usurped his brother with the help of King Alonso of Naples and set Prospero and the
infant Miranda adrift in a rotten boat. As the play opens, Antonio is traveling nearby on the ship carrying King
Alonso and his courtiers home from Tunis—thus providing Prospero with the opportunity to bring his enemies
to justice.
The Tempest: Character Analysis 70
Critics have noted that Antonio displays his villainous nature virtually from the moment he appears in the
play. As the ship is being battered by the storm, Prospero's "perfidious" brother swears at the hard-working
boatswain, calling him a "whoreson, insolent noisemaker"; shortly afterward, he accuses the crew members of
being "drunkards" and blames them for any deaths that may occur as a result of the tempest (I.i.43-44,56).
Later, when he lands on the island with Alonso and his followers, Antonio ridicules Gonzalo for his optimism,
mocking the old counselor's effort to cheer up the king and laughing at his description of the ideal
commonwealth (II.i.1-190). Once Alonso is charmed asleep by Ariel, Antonio persuades Sebastian (Alonso's
brother) to try to murder the king and succeed him on the throne of Naples—even though, as critics have
observed, there is little point in being king now that everyone is shipwrecked on an island far away from home
(II.i.202-96).
Antonio is one of the "three men of sin" (Alonso and Sebastian being the other two) who in III.iii are driven to
madness by Ariel as punishment for their crimes against Prospero. Prospero restores his "unnatural" brother to
health in V.i and forgives him for his crimes, along with Alonso and Sebastian. Antonio says very little for the
rest of the play, and it has been argued that he, alone, remains unrepentant.
Ariel (Character Analysis)
He is a spirit of the air. In I.ii.250-93, we learn that Ariel was once the servant of Sycorax, a wicked sorceress
who had imprisoned the spirit in a "cloven pine" for refusing to fulfill her "earthy and abhorr'd commands"
(I.ii.277,273). Ariel remained trapped inside the tree for twelve years, crying out in pain, until Prospero
arrived on the island, released him, and bound the airy spirit to his service. Thus at Prospero's command, Ariel
stirs up the tempest which strands Alonso and his followers on the island (I.i). Again acting on his master's
instructions, he beguiles Alonso's son, Ferdinand, with music—convincing the prince that his father is dead
("Full fathom five thy father lies") and leading him to the admiring and "admir'd" Miranda (I.ii.375-412;
III.i.37). Ariel also saves Alonso and Gonzalo from assassination by Sebastian and Antonio (II.i.300-5) and
warns Prospero of plots being formed against him by the drunken Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban.
In III.iii, Ariel helps his master create an illusory banquet for Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio, only to torment
these "three men of sin" by whisking their feast away and then chastising them for their crimes against
Prospero. In IV.i.57-138, the airy spirit presides over a betrothal masque in honor of Ferdinand and Miranda's
engagement. In IV.i.255-66, he helps Prospero punish Caliban and his coconspirators with cramps, pinches,
and "dry convulsions."
As the play nears its conclusion, Ariel rounds up all the transgressors so that Prospero can judge and forgive
them. The spirit's final task is to provide "calm seas [and] auspicious gales" for the journey back to Naples,
after which Prospero regretfully sets him free (V.i.315-19).
Early in the play, Ariel expresses his impatience with servitude, receiving a threatening rebuke when he
reminds Prospero in I.ii.242-50 of his promise to liberate the airy spirit. Nevertheless, Ariel fulfills Prospero's
commands assiduously and with skill. In I.ii.195-205, he describes how he has accomplished "every article"
of his master's instructions for the tempest:
I boarded the King's ship; now on the beak,
Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
I flam'd amazement; sometime I'd divide,
And burn in many places; on the topmast,
The yards and boresprit, would I flame distinctly,
Then meet and join: Jove's lightning, the precursors
O' th' dreadful thunder-claps, more momentary
Antonio (Character Analysis) 71
And sight-outrunning were not: the fire and cracks
Of sulphurous roaring the most mighty Neptune
Seem to besiege and make his bold waves tremble,
Yea, his dread trident shake.
Ariel carries out most of his duties while invisible, but he is capable of transforming himself into a variety of
shapes—from several flames burning in "many places" to a harpy sufficiently formidable to dispose of a
banquet with the clap of its wings. He is also comfortable in a variety of environments, being able to "fly, / To
swim, to dive into the fire, to ride / On the curl'd clouds" (I.ii.190-92). In V.i.88-94, Ariel suggests that he is
small enough to rest inside a flower or to ride on the back of a bat. Prospero, who relies upon him throughout
the play, fondly calls him "delicate" and "dainty," referring to him as "my bird" (IV.i.49,184; V.i.95).
Finally, Ariel has been called morally neutral, being neither a demon nor an angel. It has also been observed
that he shows both a detachment from and a connection to humanity when, at the close of the play, he declares
that were he human he would feel pity for the punishment endured by Alonso and his followers (V.i.17-21).
Caliban (Character Analysis)
Described in the character list as "a savage and deformed slave," Caliban is the son of Sycorax, an evil witch
who has since died but who once held sway over the island now ruled by Prospero. Regarding him as a
"beast" and a "poisonous slave, got by the devil himself' upon Sycorax, Prospero has forced Caliban into
servitude (IV.i.140; I.ii.319). By contrast, Caliban considers himself mistreated and overworked. He bitterly
accuses Prospero of befriending him in order to take advantage of his gratitude and rob him of the island
which he considers his birthright:
This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam'st first,
Thou strok'st me and made much of me; wouldst give me
Water with berries in't, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I lov'd thee,
And show'd thee all the qualities o' th' isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place, and fertile.
Curs'd be I that did so! …
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king;
(I.ii.331-39,341-42)
Calling him a liar, Prospero reminds Caliban that he was treated well until he tried to rape Miranda:
I have used thee
Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodg'd thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.
(I.ii.345-48)
Caliban readily admits the attempted rape, retorting, "Would it had been done! / Thou didst prevent me; I had
peopled else / This isle with Calibans" (I.ii.349-51).
Ariel (Character Analysis) 72
This exchange sets the stage for Caliban's behavior during the rest of the play. On his own gathering wood in
II.ii, Caliban continues to curse his master; then hearing a noise which he thinks must be Prospero's spirits
coming to punish him, he throws himself onto the ground in an attempt to hide. The noise turns out to be the
jester Trinculo, followed shortly afterward by the drunken butler Stephano. Stephano plies the frightened
Caliban with liquor; and in drunken gratitude, Caliban swears his obedience to the butler, promising to serve
him and to show him the best places on the island, and giddily celebrating his new-found "freedom"
(II.ii.125-86). Later in III.ii, Caliban persuades Stephano and Trinculo to try to murder Prospero; but the plot
is foiled by Ariel in IV.i, and the three conspirators are punished with cramps, pinches, and convulsions.
At the close of the play, Caliban repents his plot against Prospero and regrets his foolish admiration for
Stephano: "I'll be wise hereafter," he declares, ''And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass / Was I, to take
this drunkard for a god, / And worship this dull fool!" (V.i.295-98).
Critics are divided on what to make of Caliban. Those who view him negatively point out that he is a potential
rapist who plots to commit murder. They observe that he foolishly trades one master (Prospero) for another
(Stephano) and that his so-called wish for freedom turns out instead to be a desire for the self-indulgence he
obtains through Stephano's wine. Those who regard Caliban with sympathy argue that Prospero and Miranda
are intruders on the island and that by choosing to serve Stephano rather than accept Prospero's "civilizing"
education and enslavement, Caliban practices a measure of self-determination.
It has been noted that while Caliban is brutal, he is also sensitively appreciative of beauty. In III.ii.135- 43, he
offers a lyrical description of the music that can be heard all over the island, referring to "sweet airs, that give
delight and hurt not." In this context, Caliban has been regarded as an example of the distorted Renaissance
view of the New World inhabitants who, on the one hand, were believed to be vicious savages and, on the
other, pure children of nature.
Alternatively, it has been argued that Caliban's blunt and savage "naturalness" acts as a foil to the concept of
civilization, demonstrated by the graceful and cultured Miranda, as well as to the perniciousness of
civilization, shown by the Machiavellian Antonio.
Ferdinand (Character Analysis)
He is the son and heir of King Alonso of Naples. Ferdinand is the first to leap overboard during the tempest;
and in keeping with Prospero's plan, he lands on the island alone, separated from his father's group. Ariel uses
song to convince the youth that his father is dead and that the island is enchanted, as well as to lure him into
the presence of Miranda:
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.
(I.ii.397-402)
When he first encounters Prospero's daughter, Ferdinand is struck by her beauty. In fact, his first reaction to
Miranda resembles her initial reaction to him: she believes that he is a spirit rather than a man, and he
wonders whether she is goddess of the island (I.ii.410-28). The two of them quickly fall in love with one
another; but Prospero, who has foreseen the match and secretly approves of it, decides to test Ferdinand's
love, "lest too light winning / Make the prize light," and forces the youth into servitude on the pretense that he
Caliban (Character Analysis) 73
is a spy (I.ii.452-53).
Ferdinand replies that the loss of his father and his own imprisonment and hard labor "are but light" to him as
long as he is near Miranda (I.ii.486-94). Ferdinand appears again in III.i, bearing firewood for Prospero and
remaining steady in his love for Miranda. Prospero frees him from servitude in IV.i, blessing his engagement
to Miranda with a betrothal masque. At the close of the play, Ferdinand is reunited with his father, who also
gives his blessing to the marriage.
Miranda's love for Ferdinand is influenced to some extent by her innocence and inexperience. Up to this point,
she has seen only two other men: her father and Caliban. By contrast, Ferdinand bases his love for Miranda on
all the women he has seen and known at his father's court and concludes that while they all possessed at least
one defect of some sort, she on the other hand is "perfect'' and "peerless" (III.i.47).
The union of Ferdinand and Miranda has been said to symbolize the play's theme of reconciliation, bringing
together as it does their parents, Alonso and Prospero, who were once bitter enemies.
Gonzalo (Character Analysis)
He is an honest and trusted advisor to King Alonso of Naples. In I.ii.160-68, we learn that twelve years ago,
when Prospero was usurped and he and his daughter, Miranda, were set adrift at sea, Gonzalo took pity on the
two of them, supplying them not only with the food and water necessary to survive but also with those things
that make life easier:
Some food we had and some fresh water that
A noble Neapolitan, Gonzalo,
Out of his charity,—who being then appointed
Master of this design,—did give us, with
Rich garments, linens, stuffs, and necessaries,
Which since have steaded much: so of his gentleness,
Knowing I lov'd my books, he furnish'd me,
From mine own library with volumes that
I prize above my dukedom.
Among these books are Prospero's volumes of magic, which enable him to control the spirits of the island and,
as it happens, to create the tempest that brings Alonso and his court ashore.
Gonzalo is unusual among Alonso's stranded courtiers for his integrity and optimism. After the tempest
washes them ashore in II.i.1-9, he tries to comfort his king by remarking on the "miracle" of their survival.
When Alonso refuses consolation, Gonzalo tries to distract him with his own definition of the ideal
comonwealth (II.i.148-57,160-65). It is revealing that Prospero's treacherous brother, Antonio, and Alonso's
equally untrustworthy brother, Sebastian, systematically react with sarcasm to Gonzalo's cheerful efforts.
In II.i.300-05, Ariel wakes Gonzalo from his enchanted sleep just in time to save Alonso from being murdered
by Sebastian and Antonio. Prospero spares "'the good old lord, Gonzalo'" from the madness which he
subsequently inflicts on the others (V.i.8-19). At the close of the play, Prospero embraces Gonzalo as a "noble
friend, /… whose honor cannot / Be measur'd or confin'd" (V.i.120-22).
Noting that Prospero's illusions are seen differently by each of the castaways, critics have observed that,
significantly, Gonzalo is the only one of the king's followers to notice that their clothes are clean and dry in
spite of the tempest; furthermore, apart from Adrian's comment in II.i.47 that the air is sweet, Gonzalo is
Ferdinand (Character Analysis) 74
alone in his assessment of the island as green and filled with "everything advantageous to life" (II.i.50).
Miranda (Character Analysis)
She is the daughter of Prospero, the usurped duke of Milan. Miranda, who is approximately fifteen years old,
makes her first appearance in the play at I.ii.1-13, where she vividly reveals to us Prospero's powers as a
magician while at the same time showing her compassion and empathy by begging her father to stop the
tempest that he has created:
If by your art, my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch,
But that the sea, mounting to th' welkin's cheek,
Dashes the fire out. O! I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer: a brave vessel
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her
Dash'd all to pieces! O! the cry did knock
Against my very heart.
After reassuring her that all on board the ship are safe, Prospero acquaints his daughter with the story of her
past—information which he has concealed from her until now, when he deems that both she and circumstances
are ready. Miranda's name is derived from the word "admire," or wonder; and, in fact, she listens with wonder
and rapt attention to her father's description of his former life as duke of Milan and of their arrival on the
island, calling it a tale which "would cure deafness" (I.ii.106).
Miranda's capacity for wonder is a result of her innocence. She has lived on the island for twelve years with
no one else around her but Prospero, the spirit Ariel, and Caliban (who tried to rape her, and who is regarded
by her as more of a beast than a man). All that she remembers of her former life are the women who tended
her (I.ii.47); and in keeping with the fanciful atmosphere of the play, this memory comes to her "rather like a
dream than an assurance" (I.ii.45).
Prospero has been his daughter's only teacher. Remarking that her education with him has been more thorough
and profitable than that of other girls who "have more time / For vainer hours, and tutors not so careful"
(I.ii.172-74), he prepares her for her introduction to the world, explaining to her that among the people who
have washed ashore are his enemies, Alonso and Antonio.
Nothing, however, prepares Miranda for her first view of Alonso's son, Ferdinand. She shows her
inexperience by mistaking him for a spirit; and in response to her father's reassurance that he is a man, she
remarks: "I might call him / A thing divine; for nothing natural / I ever saw so noble" (I.ii.418-20). She
promptly falls in love with Ferdinand, despite her father's pretended disapproval. When Prospero tests
Ferdinand's affections by calling him a spy and sentencing him to servitude, Miranda rushes to the youth's
defense, asserting that "There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple" (I.ii.458).
Miranda's next appearance is in III.i, where she expresses her compassion for Ferdinand as he wearily collects
wood for her father, and where the two of them vow to marry each other.
Prospero drops his pretense of disapproval in IV.i, honoring the couple with a magical betrothal masque. In
keeping with his role as Miranda's teacher, Prospero has the masquers remind the inexperienced Miranda
about the importance of prenuptial chastity (IV.i.91-101).
Gonzalo (Character Analysis) 75
Miranda appears once more in V.i. where she is presented for the first time to her future father-in-law, the
newly repentant Alonso. Her reaction to Alonso and his courtiers again demonstrates her capacity for innocent
wonder when she exclaims, in an often-quoted passage, "How many goodly creatures are there here! / How
beauteous mankind is! O brave new world / That has such people in't!" (V.i.182-84).
Critics have remarked that since Miranda and Ferdinand were not involved in their fathers' conflict, their
engagement represents a better future for Prospero and Alonso by marking an end to the discord between
them.
Prospero (Character Analysis)
He is the usurped duke of Milan and the father of Miranda, as well as a powerful magician. Prospero is
responsible for the tempest which casts Alonso and his courtiers upon the island where he and his daughter
live. Faced with his daughter's distress at the storm and the foundering ship, Prospero concedes that he has
caused the tempest but assures her that no harm has come to any of the passengers. Declaring that "I have
done nothing but in care of thee" (I.ii.16), he doffs his magic robes and tells Miranda the story of their past.
Twelve years ago, he explains, he was not merely the "master of a full poor cell" but the rightful duke of
Milan and therefore a "prince of power" (I.ii.20,55). As duke, he was more interested in his books and "secret
studies" than in ruling his city-state, so he unwisely entrusted the running of his government to his brother,
Antonio (I.ii.74-77). Unfortunately, this newly received power "awake'd an evil nature" in Antonio, who
conspired with King Alonso of Naples to unseat Prospero and take his title (I.ii.93). The duke, however, was
so popular with his people that Antonio and Alonso didn't dare to assassinate him; instead they cast him adrift
on the ocean with his infant daughter, eventually to land on the island.
Prospero concludes his narrative by observing that his luck has since changed for the better: his enemies
Alonso and Antonio were aboard the ship caught in the tempest, and they are now on the island—at the mercy
of the duke whom they usurped.
During the three to four hours following the storm, Prospero controls the action of the play and is thus the
only character, apart from Ariel, who is aware of all that occurs. He involves himself directly in the courtship
between Ferdinand and Miranda, first enslaving Ferdinand in order to test his constancy and afterward
lecturing them both on the virtue of chastity, reinforcing his lesson with the betrothal masque (I.ii.451-53;
IV.i.35-138). For the most part, however, Prospero remains aloof from those he is punishing. He relies on
Ariel to awaken Gonzalo in time to prevent Antonio and Sebastian from murdering Alonso (II.i.297-305).
Likewise, it is Ariel and not Prospero who appears directly before Antonio, Sebastian, and Alonso to whisk
away the false banquet, condemn the three of them as "men of sin," and punish them temporarily with insanity
(III.iii.53-58). It is also Ariel, rather than Prospero, who participates most actively in the punishment of
Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban, luring them with music into the "filthy-mantled pool," tempting them with
"glistering apparel," and, at Prospero's command, sending goblins to plague them with cramps and pinches
(IV.i.182,193,258-60).
At the close of the play, Prospero confronts all of his enemies directly and rebukes them for their ill-treatment
of him and his daughter. At the same time, he introduces the theme of reconciliation, making peace with
Alonso through the marriage of their children, Miranda and Ferdinand, and even forgiving his treacherous
brother, Antonio (V.i.185-200,75-79).
Prospero has been described as godlike in his detachment, doling out punishment and regulating the other
characters' perceptions of reality. He has also been compared to Christ for his redemption of the sinful Alonso
and his followers.
Miranda (Character Analysis) 76
Alternatively, Prospero has been called domineering and exploitative for the manner in which he manipulates
his own daughter and Ferdinand. Further, he has been condemned as cruel with regard to his harsh rejection of
Ariel's impatience for freedom ("If thou more murmur'st," he warns the airy spirit in I.ii.294-96, "I will rend
an oak / And peg thee in his knotty entrails till / Thou hast howl'd away twelve winters"). It has also been
argued that his takeover of the island and his enslavement of Caliban smack of colonialism. According to
these viewpoints, Prospero is as much in need of self-knowledge and redemption as are his enemies; and
while he starts out patriarchal, colonial, and vengeful in his attitude, by the close of the play he has recognized
his limitations and has also learned forgiveness. What's more, it has been suggested that Prospero must learn
to control his anger with reason and to temper his sometimes arcane studies with the practical art of
government before he is ready to return to Milan as duke, and that once he accomplishes this, he resembles
the ideal Renaissance Man.
Some critics have asserted that Prospero—who manipulates scenes and events in the play, stages masques, and
directs the actions of other characters—represents Shakespeare's craft as playwright. Noting that The Tempest
is likely to have been the last play which Shakespeare wrote completely on his own, these critics argue further
that the play serves in part as Shakespeare's farewell to the theater, particularly when toward the end of the
play Prospero reviews his career as magician and declares his intention to retire:
I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.
(V.i.54-57)
These critics also refer to the elegiac tone of some of Prospero's lines—in particular, his famous observation to
Miranda and Ferdinand that "We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a
sleep" (IV.i.156-58).
Other Characters (Descriptions)
Adrian
He is a lord attending King Alonso of Naples and a minor character in the play. After the tempest, Adrian is
washed ashore in company with Alonso and several other members of the king's court. His and Gonzalo's
efforts to cheer up the dejected king in II.i are ridiculed by Antonio and the king's brother, Sebastian. Thus
Adrian's optimism serves as a foil to Sebastian and Antonio's mean-spirited cynicism. (A foil is a person or
thing that highlights another character's traits through contrast.) When Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio are
temporarily driven crazy by Prospero's spells, Adrian sorrowfully watches over them, along with Gonzalo and
Francisco (III.iii.104-09; V.i.7-13).
Boatswain
He is an officer on the ship bearing Alonso and his courtiers home to Naples from Tunis where they had
celebrated the marriage of Alonso's daughter to the king of Tunis. As the play opens, the voyagers are caught
in a violent tempest conjured up by Prospero, and the boatswain is struggling unsuccessfully to keep the ship
from going aground. His blunt treatment of the royal passengers (who are superior to him in social rank) as
they repeatedly come on deck to question him is an indication of the severity of the storm. As the boatswain
himself puts it, "What cares these roarers [tempestuous waves] for the name of king?" (I.i.16-17). Throughout
I.i, the king's counselor Gonzalo doggedly insists that the boatswain is destined to die by hanging on land
rather than by drowning at sea, thus foreshadowing the ship's safe arrival. The boatswain's next and final
appearance occurs at the close of the play, when he delivers the astounding news that the crew is safe and that
the ship "Is tight and yare, and bravely rigg'd as when / We first put out to sea" only three hours earlier
Prospero (Character Analysis) 77
(V.i.224-25).
Ceres
She is a character in the betrothal masque created by Prospero to honor and educate the newly engaged
Miranda and Ferdinand; the masque is performed by Ariel along with a group of "meaner," or lesser, spirits
(IV.i.35-138). (A masque is an elaborate production consisting of song, dance, and music and usually
featuring ornate costumes and scenery as well as characters from mythology. In the Renaissance, masques
were a popular form of courtly entertainment, particularly during the reign of James I.) Ceres is the Roman
goddess of agriculture, or mother earth. At the beginning of the masque, she is called upon by Iris on behalf of
Juno to celebrate "a contract of true love" between Ferdinand and Miranda (IV.i.84). Ceres introduces the
lesson of chastity by warning Iris that she will not stay if Venus and her son, Cupid, have been invited. Ceres
resents Venus and Cupid for helping "Dis" (Pluto) to abduct her daughter, Proserpine, to be his queen in the
underworld. Eventually, Ceres joins Juno in singing a "marriage-blessing" to the young couple (IV.i.106).
Francisco
He is a lord attending King Alonso of Naples and a minor character in the play. After the tempest, Francisco is
washed ashore in company with Alonso and several other members of the king's court. In II.i.114-23, he tries
unsuccessfully to reassure the downhearted Alonso that his son, Ferdinand, survived the shipwreck (in some
editions of the play, these lines are spoken by Gonzalo). Francisco's efforts to instill optimism in the king are
undermined by Sebastian's assertion that Alonso himself is to blame for Ferdinand's fate. Francisco speaks
once more in III.iii.40, when he briefly comments on the strange spirits who deliver the illusory banquet
conjured up by Prospero to torment the king.
Iris
She is a character in the betrothal masque created by Prospero to honor and educate the newly engaged
Miranda and Ferdinand; the masque is performed by Ariel along with a group of "meaner," or lesser, spirits
(IV.i.35-138). Iris is the "many-colour'd" goddess of the rainbow (IV.i.76); and as Juno's messenger, she is the
first to appear in the masque, summoning Ceres to wait upon her queen. Iris reinforces the betrothal masque's
theme of prenuptial chastity when she reassures Ceres that the scandalous Venus and Cupid have not been
invited to the celebration. She also mentions that Venus and her son had hoped to bewitch Miranda and
Ferdinand into sleeping with one another before marriage but were disappointed when the virtuous couple
could not be tempted to break their vow of chastity (IV.i.92-100).
Juno
She is a character in the betrothal masque created by Prospero to honor and educate the newly engaged
Miranda and Ferdinand; the masque is performed by Ariel along with a group of "meaner," or lesser, spirits
(IV.i.35-138). In Roman mythology, Juno is the queen of heaven, goddess of marriage and women, and wife
of Jupiter. She appears in the masque along with Ceres to bless the young couple with a prosperous life
together and fine children, but also to remind them not to have sex before marriage.
Mariners
They are the crew on board the ship bearing Alonso to and from Tunis. When the ship gets caught in
Prospero's tempest, the mariners are ordered by the master and boatswain to keep it from going aground, but
in I.i.51, they announce that "all [is] lost" and that shipwreck is imminent. In I.ii.226-37, we learn that Ariel
has in fact steered the ship safely into harbor and has charmed the mariners to sleep below deck while
Prospero carries out his plans against Alonso and his courtiers.
Master (of a ship)
He is the commander of the ship bearing Alonso and members of his court from Tunis back to Naples when it
is run aground by Prospero's storm. The master appears briefly in I.i.1,3-4, to give orders to the boatswain
during the tempest. This marks his only appearance during the storm, despite Alonso's insistence on speaking
Other Characters (Descriptions) 78
to him rather than merely to the boatswain. The master's next and final appearance in the play (this time
without dialogue) occurs in V.i, when he and the boatswain are led onstage by Ariel. The boatswain, rather
than the master, describes the remarkable preservation of the ship.
Nymphs
They are characters in the betrothal masque created by Prospero to honor and educate the newly engaged
Miranda and Ferdinand; the masque is performed by Ariel along with a group of "meaner," or lesser, spirits
(IV.i.35-138). These water nymphs, or "Naiades, of the windring brooks" are summoned by Juno and Ceres
via Iris to "celebrate / A contract of true love" by dancing with the reapers (IV.i.128,132-33). Appropriate to
the theme of the betrothal masque, the nymphs are "temperate," or chaste (IV.i.132). Their dance with the
reapers is abruptly broken off and the masque ended when Prospero suddenly remembers that he must thwart
Caliban's "foul conspiracy" against him (IV.i.139- 40).
Reapers
They are characters in the betrothal masque created by Prospero to honor and educate the newly engaged
Miranda and Ferdinand; the masque is performed by Ariel along with a group of "meaner," or lesser, spirits
(IV.i.35-138). Iris summons the reapers to join the nymphs in celebrating Miranda and Ferdinand's "contract
of true love" (IV.i.133). Their dance with the nymphs is abruptly broken off and the masque ended when
Prospero suddenly remembers that he must thwart Caliban's "foul conspiracy" against him (IV.i.139-40).
Sebastian
He is the traitorous brother of King Alonso of Naples. Sebastian reveals his villainous temperament as early as
I.i.40-41, when he calls the boatswain—who is struggling to keep their ship afloat during the tempest—a
"bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog." Once ashore in II.i, he joins Antonio in making sarcastic remarks
against Gonzalo each time the old counselor tries to cheer up the despairing Alonso. In II.i.124-36, Sebastian
blames his brother for the shipwreck and for the apparent drowning of Ferdinand, arguing that if Alonso had
agreed to let his daughter marry European rather than the king of Tunis, then the trip to Africa would have
been unnecessary and the tempest would have been avoided. In II.i.202-96, Sebastian consents to Antonio's
plot to assassinate Alonso; the two men are stopped in their attempt in the nick of time by Ariel and Gonzalo
(II.i.297-307). Along with Alonso and Antonio, Sebastian is driven mad by Ariel for his sins (III.iii.53-60).
Prospero forgives Sebastian in V.i and restores him to health with his brother and Antonio. Later, when
Prospero shows the three of them that Ferdinand has survived the tempest and is playing chess with Miranda,
the reformed Sebastian describes the event as "A most high miracle!" (V.i.177).
Ship-Master
See Master
Spirits
They are the "strange shapes" and "meaner fellows," or less powerful spirits, who help Ariel perform illusions
such as the false banquet in III.iii, the betrothal masque in IV.i, and the hounds which hunt Stephano,
Trinculo, and Caliban in IV.i. Their appearance enhances the magical quality of the play and emphasizes the
powers of Prospero, who can summon and dismiss them at will.
Stephano
He is Alonso's butler and also a drunk. Along with Trinculo and Caliban, Stephano participates in the play's
comic subplot. He escapes the tempest-tossed ship and makes it to the island by floating on "a butt of sack
[Spanish wine] which the sailors heav'd overboard" (II.ii.121-22). He first appears in II.ii, where he
inadvertently frightens Caliban (who initially thinks that Stephano and Trinculo are a couple of Prospero's
spirits sent to punish him), afterward winning Caliban's adoration by plying him with wine. The drunken
Caliban vows to worship Stephano, offering to gather wood for the butler and to show him the best food and
water supplies on the island—just as he once did for Prospero. In III.ii Stephano enters into a conspiracy with
Other Characters (Descriptions) 79
Caliban and Trinculo to assassinate Prospero and become ruler of the island. Their plot is stymied by Ariel,
who uses his music to lure the three drunks into a "filthy-mantled pool" (IV.i.182), distracts Stephano and
Trinculo with fine clothing (IV.i.194-254), and finally chases and torments all three of them with spirits
shaped like hunting dogs (IV.i.255-66). Aching with cramps and bruises, Stephano repents of having wanted
to be "king o' the isle'' (V.i.288-89). Thus the comic subplot in which Stephano participates mirrors the more
threatening conspiracy of Sebastian and Antonio against Alonso.
Trinculo
He is Alonso's jester and a participant with Stephano and Caliban in the play's comic subplot. After the
tempest, Trinculo is washed up on the island alone. In II.ii, he runs into Caliban, who has thrown himself on
the ground to hide from what he thinks are Prospero's avenging spirits but what is in fact the arrival of
Trinculo. Trinculo crawls under Caliban's cloak for shelter against another rainstorm. Shortly afterward,
Stephano appears, drunkenly mistaking the two of them for a four-legged, two-voiced monster. Trinculo takes
part in Caliban and Stephano's drunken plot to assassinate Prospero; and like them, he receives a punishment
of pinches, cramps, and bruises from Prospero's spirits once the plot is discovered.
When he first finds Caliban, Trinculo observes that this "strange fish" could be worth a lot of money in
England, where "they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, [but] they will lay out ten to see a dead
Indian" (II.ii.27,31-33). Thus the jester articulates what has been identified as the play's focus on the New
World and England's subsequent fascination with any discoveries from the Americas.
The Tempest: Principal Topics
Magic
Magic has a strong presence throughout The Tempest and pervades nearly every action in the play. While this
quality Informs the work with a fairy tale atmosphere, it Is important to recognize that in Shakespeare's time
the topic of magic was treated with more seriousness than in our own. Some Renaissance scholars, such as
Henry Cornelius Agrippa (of whose writings Shakespeare may have been cognizant), possessed much
expertise in the subject of magic and wrote books describing the different sources of magical power. In simple
terms, Shakespeare's audience would have been aware of two types of magic, the white (good) and the black
(evil). In this scheme Prospero likely would have been deemed a theurgist, or practicer of white magic—a
force derived from divine sources and dealing in the control of natural elements. This form of magic is said to
have affinities with the natural sciences, as in the study of alchemy (the forerunner of modern chemistry). The
other form of magic, black magic, is only tangentially related to the action of The Tempest. It was supposed to
come from demonic sources, such as those that might have been wielded by Caliban's mother, the witch
Sycorax.
Prospero and his servant, Ariel, are the two principal workers of magic in The Tempest. Both possess powers
of illusion and deception. Under Prospero's orders, Ariel creates a powerful tempest at the beginning of the
play that appears to destroy Alonso's ship and strand all of its passengers on the island. By the end of the play,
however, the Boatswain exclaims that the ship "Is tight and yare bravely rigg'd, as when / We first put out to
sea." Likewise, Prospero uses magic to separate and confuse the new inhabitants on the isle and to convince
each that the others were surely killed in the storm. Prospero's manipulation of others through magic points to
one of the important motifs in the work, the contrast between appearance and reality. Thus, as the illusions are
lifted at the end of the play, Shakespeare invokes the theme of disenchantment, and places reality aright.
These effects are particularly revealed in the characters of Caliban, who appears to have reached a level of
disillusionment by rejecting his previously slavish behavior, and Alonso, in his newfound remorse for his past
evil actions toward Prospero. Another significant critical application of this topic is a comparison of
Prospero's magical powers to the work of an artist (i. e. Shakespeare) and his manipulation of reality through
art. Many biographical explanations of The Tempest equate Prospero with Shakespeare and claim that the play
The Tempest: Principal Topics 80
represents Shakespeare's farewell to drama. Evidence for such an interpretation relies on the fact that Prospero
consistently manipulates scenes and events in the play: he stages masques, orchestrates illusions, directs the
actions of his fellows on the island, and finally, in the epilogue to the work, addresses the audience, asking for
applause—, "But release me from my bands / With the help of your good hands: / Gentle breath of yours my
sails / Must fill, or else my project fails, / Which was to please." Prospero's "project" therefore becomes the
same as Shakespeare's, the entertainment (and perhaps instruction) of his audience. His magical manipulations
are thus aligned with Shakespeare's own artistic endeavors in creating the play.
Order and Structure
Critics have over the centuries been very interested in the structure of The Tempest, noting that, in a manner
quite uncharacteristic of him, Shakespeare closely adnered to the classical concept of the unities of time and
space in that play. The action takes place entirely on the tropical island that is home to Prospero, Miranda,
Ariel, and Caliban, and its duration is only a few hours—approximately as long as a theatrical performance of
The Tempest would take. The only other play in which Shakespeare observed the classical unities rule is the
early Comedy of Errors, and his reasons for this late departure from his usual practice have remained
somewhat mysterious. Various theories have been advanced by critics in this regard: some, for example,
contend that Shakespeare wanted to prove to his detractors, like Ben Jonson, that he could indeed write a
tightly unified play; others suggest that the play might be a very early and immature work in which
Shakespeare conformed to the unities out of inexperience; still others view the play as Shakespeare's farewell
to the theater in which he wanted to portray a perfectly ordered, balanced world a sort of final vision. In this
latter biographical interpretaion, the dramatist is linked with the character of Prospero, an artificer and
magician, through whom Shakespeare comments on his own role as an artist and arranger of reality.
Most scholars, however, have focused on Shakespeare's skillful use of order and structure in The Tempest as a
means of advancing the themes of reconciliation, restoration of order, and forgiveness in the play. The
Tempest's strong use of symmetry, contrast, and parallelism in charactrization and structure neatly contributes
to the idea of order achieved by the end, with characters commenting upon each other (for example, Ariel on
Caliban, and Propsero on Gonzalo) and various scenes inviting parallels that ultimately contribute to
harmony. Many commentators have also called attention to Shakespeare's handling of time in the play. All
scenes are based firmly in the present, with the past referred to only to illuminate the present, and the
hoped-for future presented as an offshoot of the present. With so much emphasis on the now, the theme of the
need to seize the opportunity to bring about forgiveness and reconciliation while the moment is right is
highlighted through Shakespeare's masterful handling of order and structure in the play.
Music and the Masque
The Tempest is one of Shakespeare's most musical plays and is filled with more songs and music than any
other of his dramas. Much of this music comes in the form of Ariel's songs, which are scattered throughout the
play, but music is also an integral part of the betrothal masque that Prospero throws in celebration of
Miranda's and Ferdinand's love. In Shakespeare's time music was commonly associated with celestial
harmony, a theory that derives in part from the writings of Aristotle and the ideas of Medieval Christian
commentators on his work. According to this theory, the planets, the moon, the sun, and the stars were said to
orbit the earth in perfect crystalline spheres that produced a kind of beautiful music, representing the sanctity
of the heavens. This blissful harmony is said to relate to the theme of reconciliation that informs The Tempest.
While the play opens with its characters in a state of conflict, primarily involving Prospero's desire to revenge
the usurpation of his dukedom, the motion of the play is toward reconciliation in the next generation.
Prospero's feud with King Alonso is overcome by the love of Miranda and Ferdinand and their political
squabbling is ended by the joining of their children in marriage.
Music is further related to the theme of reconciliation in the betrothal masque of Ferdinand and Miranda.
While Shakespeare's presentation of this masque in Act IV, scene i, seems a bow to its vogue at the time that
The Tempest was written, it nevertheless represents several integral thematic aspects of the play. In
The Tempest: Principal Topics 81
Shakespeare's time the masque—a stylized production consisting of song, dance, music, and mythology
designed as a courtly entertainment—had reached a high point of popularity. This masque in The Tempest
invokes the mythological figures of Iris, Juno, and Ceres, the last of whom, a classical goddess of fertility,
places a blessing on Miranda and Ferdinand. It also invokes Shakespeare's theme of life as an illusion and the
transience of worldly things. As the masque ends, Prospero tells Ferdinand, "Yea, all ... shall dissolve / And,
like this insubstantial pageant faded, / Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff / As dreams are made on,
and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep."
The Tempest: Essays
Does Shakespeare Critique European Colonialism in The
Tempest?
Since the 1960s, several critics have found a critique of colonialism in their respective readings of
Shakespeare's The Tempest. The most radical of these analyses takes Prospero to be a European invader of the
magical but primitive land that he comes to rule, using his superior knowledge to enslave its original
inhabitants, most notably Caliban, and forcing them to do his bidding. While the textual clues concerning the
geographic location of Prospero's island are ambiguous and vague, there is a prominent reference to the
"Bermoothes." We know that shortly before he wrote his final play, Shakespeare read a contemporary travel
account of the Virginia Company's 1609 expedition to the New World and its experience after being run
aground on the island of Bermuda. Enslavement does surface in Prospero's realm. The grand magician/scholar
inflicts "pinches" and "cramps" upon Caliban to keep him in line and he manacles the young prince
Ferdinand's neck and feet together. The servile state in which he keeps Caliban is plainly and understandably
a cause of the "ridiculous monster's" deep resentment toward his overlord, and it is with some justification that
the spawn of Sycorax invokes nature's wrath upon his tormentor, as in his curse, "all the infections that the
sun sucks up/From bogs, fens, flats on Prospero fall ..." (II, ii., ll.1-2).
Caliban himself embodies many of the characteristics that civilized Europeans came to associate with the
"primitive natives" of the New World. As in the Elizabethan stereotype, Caliban is without moral restraint,
and, more specifically, he is lustful in the same way that Native Americans were viewed in the early
seventeenth century as dangerous despoilers of innocent white women like Miranda. And, akin to the
"drunken Indian," Caliban's introduction to wine causes his spirits to soar as he exclaims, "Freedom,
high-day" (II, ii., l.186) after encountering his new masters and gods, the comic characters of Stephano and
Trinculo. Just as Native-American tribes would come to distinguish between colonizers from different
nations, e.g., favoring the French over the British or vice versa, Caliban becomes disenchanted with Trinculo
as a master and proclaims that he will only serve Stephano. For his part, like some great father protecting his
children from a European rival, Stephano rebukes Trinculo for his mistreatment of Caliban, saying that "the
poor monster's my subject, and he shall not suffer indignity" (III, ii., ll.36-37). All of this closely resembles
some aspects of European colonialist stereotypes of the New World's peoples and of their historical
subjugation of Indians for their own good.
If Shakespeare's play does comment upon European exploration and colonization in the Western Hemisphere,
however, The Tempest does not contain a critique of exploitation, but, instead, an apology for it. Caliban was
initially treated as an ignorant child and only put under wraps after he attempted to force himself upon the
completely innocent Miranda. The charge of "rape" is made more credible in having Miranda pass judgment
upon Caliban whom she calls an "Abhorr'd slave" (I, ii., l.352). Unlike our current understanding of European
colonialism, Prospero puts Caliban in chains because he has earned the status of slave. To highlight this point,
the sprite Ariel's bondage to Prospero is a light yoke, akin to indentured servitude. In exchange for releasing
him from his imprisonment in a tree stump, Ariel has agreed to serve his new, benevolent master Prospero.
The Tempest: Essays 82
Indeed, in Act I, scene ii, Prospero and Ariel acknowledge that the latter's servitude is a deal between equals,
and that Prospero has kept his word to reduce Ariel's term by a full year because the sprite has performed his
assigned duties "without grudge or grumblings" (l.248). Prospero later promises Ariel that he will discharge
him within two days time and does, in fact, make good on his word.
Shakespeare's attitude toward European colonization of the New World amounts to a gentle rebuke of the
benign, but misguided stance of Gonzalo toward the state of nature in a primitive commonwealth. Gonzalo's
"ideal commonwealth" speech (Act II, scene i., ll.143-164), closely resembles the depiction of primitive
society contained in the French philosopher Montaigne's essay "On Cannibals" with which Shakespeare was
certainly familiar. In that piece, Montaigne described Native-American society as being without "traffic" (i.e.,
commerce), without "letters" (i.e., literacy and knowledge) and without "toil" (i.e., vocational work). But
when Gonzalo speaks in glowing terms of a society "without sovereignty" and, even more remarkable
"without sweat or endeavor," Prospero's brother Antonio asserts that under such conditions, the citizens would
soon become idle "whores and knaves" (l.167). In Caliban's case at least, Antonio appears to have a point.
Although Ariel provides a sterling example of a good native, we realize that such good natives are subject to
enslavement and abuse by the Island's evil-minded denizens, including Sycorax and her heir-apparent in
Caliban, and therefore require the protection of a learned and moral sovereign like Prospero.
One can question whether Shakespeare had any intention of weighing in on the subject of European
colonization at all. The shipwreck at the start of the play is plainly not intended as a dramatization of an actual
occurrence such as that of the Virginia Company. The stranding of the ships European passengers is simply a
standard narrative device that the Bard employed in other of his plays, in Twelfth Night for example.
Moreover, unlike the Spanish, French, and English in the Age of Discovery, it is not Prospero's intention to
establish a new society on the Island or to retain his sway over its inhabitants. Rather, Prospero is pushed by
circumstances into the role of the Island's sovereign power, and once his aim of exacting justice and
repentance from those who have wronged him is met, he quickly relinquishes his monarchy over the Island.
This, of course, does not accord with the actual, historical pattern of European conquest.
On the other hand, there is a political theme of sorts in The Tempest, that of the ideal king, for in the character
of Prospero Shakespeare embeds the three characteristics of an ideal monarch: legitimacy, merit, and merciful
justice. Prospero was (and remains) the legitimate Duke of Milan and Shakespeare underscores in Act II when
the usurper of his realm, Antonio, schemes to overthrow King Alonso. In the end, however, both Antonio and
Alonso are compelled by Prospero to recognize his status as the rightful ruler of Milan. Indeed, Prospero's
legitimacy is bolstered by popular support: when Miranda asks why the conspirators did not simply kill her
father and herself (rather than setting them adrift), Prospero tells her that they were deterred from such a
heinous crime due to the love that the people of Milan had for him. The central criteria that Prospero uses in
framing his policies on the Island is merit. Ariel earns his freedom; Caliban deserves his enslavement;
Ferdinand wins the hand of Miranda through hard labor and self-sacrifice. Of greatest significance, once
Prospero has extracted a confession from his transgressors, he imposes no punishment upon them. Prospero
subordinates his personal desire for revenge to his appreciation of mercy and forgiveness, qualities that
distinguish humanity from the beasts and that serve as hallmarks of the worthy sovereign.
Prospero and Shakespeare
There can be no doubt that The Tempest contains numerous references to the theater, and while many of
Shakespeare's plays make reference to the dramatic arts and their analogy to real life (e.g., "all the world's a
stage"), it is in this, his last play, that the Bard most explicitly acknowledges that the audience is viewing a
show. Thus, in the play's final scene (Act I, scene i., ll.148ff), Prospero tells his prospective son-in-law
Ferdinand that the revels at hand are almost at an end, that the actors are about to retire, and that the
"insubstantial pageant" of which he has been a part has reached its conclusion. It is, in fact, tempting to equate
Does Shakespeare Critique European Colonialism in TheTempest? 83
the character of Prospero with that of his creator, the playwright Shakespeare. When Prospero sheds his
magician's robes in favor of his civilian attire as the Duke of Milan, with the benefit of hindsight that this is
Shakespeare's last work and his crowning achievement, we are disposed to associate the learned sorcerer with
the Bard of Avon. How far we are to take this identification, however, is moot.
Prospero of The Tempest, like Shakespeare in his late Romance period, is a mature man with a daughter
(Shakespeare, in fact, had two daughters, his only son dying in childhood) at the height of his intellectual and
creative powers. Prospero is a polymath, a scholar with a magic book from an entire library that so absorbed
him that it was, "dukedom large enough" (I, ii., l.110). Prospero displays a tinge of regret for having neglected
his worldly office as Duke of Milan in favor of the life of the mind. Similarly, as virtually all of Shakespeare's
biographers have observed, the Elizabethan playwright's knowledge was exceedingly broad, leading many to
speculate that he pursued a number of vocations before settling into a life in the theater, and we know from
textual correspondences that Shakespeare was broadly read and that he continued to absorb knowledge from
diverse publications until his death. We can also speculate that Shakespeare regretted remaining away from
his home in Stratford, at least insofar as his career in London kept him away from his children. Lastly,
following The Tempest, Shakespeare, like Prospero, retired to civilian life, there being a period of five or six
years between his composition of that play and his untimely death at the age of fifty-two.
Beyond these surface biographical parallels, Prospero's role is less that of a character than that of the
imaginative or creative force behind the play itself. After the pageant of the goddesses who bless the union of
Miranda and Ferdinand, Prospero explains that the effigies which they have seen are "Spirits, which by mine
art/I have from their confines call'd to enact/My present fancies" (IV, i., ll.120-121). Prospero underscores that
what is taking place in the play is under his control and is, in fact, his creation. Thus, when Miranda worries
about the fate of those exposed to the shipwreck at the start of the play, her father reassures her that despite
the appearances of disaster, none of the boat's passengers or crew have been harmed in the least. Like the
playwright/director/producer that Shakespeare was, Prospero remains in the background. Rather than confront
the "three sinners" directly, he assigns the task of telling Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian why they have been
brought to the island and of their need to repent to Ariel, the magician remaining hidden from their view.
We gain the sense that Prospero performs multiple functions in the theater of his own creation. Among these
roles is that of critic. Prospero repeatedly assesses the performance of his actors. Thus¸ in Act III, scene iii, he
says to Ariel, "Bravely the figure of this harpy hast thou/Perform'd, my Ariel" (III, iii., ll.81-82). He also
places Ferdinand in the role of a traitor/lackey and judges the young man's performance of that part as a
means of determining his worthiness to wed Miranda. To his credit, Prospero also critiques his own direction,
apologizing to Ferdinand for inflicting punishments upon him that may have seemed too austere (IV, i.,
ll.1-2). Like Shakespeare, then, Prospero's relation to the theater is multi-dimensional; he is an actor in the
play, he is the creator of its most spectacular scenes and its over-arching dramatic lines, he is the director of
others, and, lastly, he acts as critic of the performances turned in by his actors and his own part in the play.
Shakespeare's plays were performed on an outdoor stage without lighting. Starting in the early afternoon, they
had to be completed before sundown and many of theme require temporal precision in the entrances and exits
of cast members and the use of special effects, e.g., the moaning of the ghost in Hamlet. That being so, both
the amount of time elapsed and the occurrence of narrative events was crucial to the success of the
performance. In his capacity as stage manager, Prospero is continuously concerned with time. At the very start
of the play, Prospero says to Miranda that "The hour is now come/The very minute bids thee ope ear" (I, ii.,
ll.37-38) to the story of how they were shipwrecked together on the island a dozen years or more beforehand.
The reason that it is time for Miranda to learn of her background (and it is remarkable that she has not asked
about it sooner) lies in dramatic circumstance: it is time for Miranda to be told who she is because the
miscreants who wronged her and her father are now in lace to repent of their misdeeds. Prospero repeatedly
alludes to the need to keep his plans on schedule, uses the word "now" more than forty times at salient
instances coming at the start of Act V, when he proclaims to Ariel and his audience, "Now does my project
Prospero and Shakespeare 84
gather to a head," (V, i., l.1). Like an Elizabethan stage manager, Prospero controls the pace and flow of
events, making sure that the proceedings occur within the allotted time period, in proper order, and at the
exact moment in the story's progression. Nevertheless, the identification between Prospero and Shakespeare is
not exact. For one thing, Prospero on the Island and in Milan, is an aristocrat, a noble bound by solemn
obligation to rule over his subjects. Shakespeare, on the other hand, while honored by royalty never rose
above the upper ranks of the Elizabethan middle-class. By the same token, Prospero has no commercial life,
no concern with money or material gain. The same cannot be said of his creator, Shakespeare having
extensive financial interests in real estate, commodity trading, and, above all, the theater itself.
Ariel and Allegory in The Tempest
The temptation to regard The Tempest as an allegory has proved irresistible to critics, although opinions differ
on what it might be an allegory of, and what the principal figures might represent. In this essay I wish to
discuss the character of Ariel, who has received less attention than either Caliban or Prospero. If The Tempest
is an allegory then each of its characters should fulfil some representative function. Prospero is generally
associated with the playwright (or even, which amounts to much the same thing in some views, with God) as
he controls the action on stage. Caliban is taken to represent the physical aspect of humanity, or the 'will', his
uncivilised condition making him close to the beasts. In this view, Prospero represents intellect (in
seventeenth-century terms 'wit', or 'reason'). The opposition of 'infected will' and 'perfected wit' is a common
trope of Protestant discourse, as in Sir Philip Sidney's 'Defense of Poesie'. Ariel, then, ('an airy spirit' in the
'Names of the Actors') might represent a third part of the self, the soul or spirit, but at this point the allegory
seems to break down, in that Ariel is clearly not Prospero's immortal soul, or the divine part in man, as he is
under the control of Prospero as intellect, and in fact performs the action of the play just as Prospero directs it.
Frank Kermode, in his introduction to the Arden edition, criticises the tendency to allegorical interpretation,
and seems to have imbibed something of the late Shakespeare's insistence on the importance of Chastity. 'It is
not surprising that The Tempest has sent people whoring after strange gods of allegory' (p.lxxx) and most
modern attitudes to the play are largely the product of romantic criticism with its dangerous and licentious
enthusiasms.' (p. lxxxi). In his valuable discussion of Ariel (Appendix B, pp. 142-145), Kermode opines
'These traces are no doubt due to the element of popular demonology in the play, and it would be foolish to
expect absolute lucidity and consistency in the treatment of these ideas. It is surely remarkable that, in all that
concerns Ariel the underpinning of 'natural philosophy' should be as thorough as in fact it is' (p. 143). This
suggests to me a certain reluctance on Kermode's behalf to acknowledge Shakespeare's expertise in 'popular
demonology', perhaps considering such knowledge to be beneath the immortal bard. Why? Is not
Shakespeare's possession of such knowledge rather to be assumed than taken as a matter for surprise? He
shows the fairly expert knowledge of other now unfashionable disciplines such as astrology and the
semi-magical Paracelsan medicine which would be natural for an inquisitive and informed member of his
culture. In Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy (translated by 'J.F.' in 1651) Ariel is a 'daemon', 'the
presiding spirit of the element of earth' (Kermode, p. 142), but the resemblance is more nominal than
essential. Ariel moves comfortably in all elements, and also controls lesser spirits (with which Prospero has
no direct contact) to accomplish Prospero's design.
Ariel it is who performs the action of the play, the motor that powers the plot, the animating force which
accomplishes Prospero's design. To enumerate all Ariel does would take some time, but his chief actions are
in creating and managing the storm which opens the play (although we are not told this until 1:2:195-206), in
charming to sleep (often through the use of music), in changing shape to represent a Harpy, an electrical
storm, a firebrand, a marsh-light, and possibly either Ceres or Juno (Kermode, p. 105, l. 167), in becoming
invisible, in dressing up like a water-nymph (of which more later), in becoming invisible, in leading the
enchanted from place to place, and in controlling and setting on lesser spirits. Ariel is reported as flying,
flaming, entering the "veins o'th'earth", and going beneath the sea. In the negative, Ariel has told no lies, made
Ariel and Allegory in The Tempest 85
no mistakings, and obeyed Prospero without grudge or grumble, and Prospero states that ariel is 'a spirit too
delicate to act her [Sycorax's] earthy and abhorred commands' and was therefore imprisoned 'by help of her
more potent ministers'.
Prospero's relationship with ariel is close and affectionate. Although at our introduction to Ariel (1:2) they are
arguing, and Prospero threatens and bullies Ariel, saying 'thou liest, malignant thing', (Ariel later repeats 'thou
liest' several times to Caliban), once the action of the play begins on the island their relationship is shown in a
better light. Prospero calls Ariel 'my bird', 'my industrious servant', 'my chick', 'My tricksy spirit', 'my
diligence', 'fine Ariel'. Ariel asks Prospero 'Do you love me, master, no?', and Prospero replies 'Dearly, my
delicate Ariel' (4:1:48-49). Some of this is a sort of shared aesthetic appreciation: 'Bravely the figure of this
Harpy hast thou performed, my Ariel: a grace it had devouring' (3:3:83-84), and some of Ariel's eagerness to
please Prospero can be attributed to the promise of imminent release, but there seems to be a genuine affection
between the two which adds resonance to a crucial moment in the play, when Ariel seems to convince
Prospero of the need for forgiveness and reconciliation.
Ariel: if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.
Pros.: Dost thou think so, spirit?
Ariel: Mine would, sir, were I human.
Pros.: 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 mov'd 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. (5:1:18-28)
This affection is only reinforced when Prospero expresses his regret at losing Ariel: 'Why that's my dainty
Ariel! I shall miss thee; But yet thou shalt have freedom, so, so, so.' (5:1:95-96).
For Nora Johnson, in her subtle analysis of The Tempest, which sees it as a commentary on theatrical
representation, takes the closeness of Prospero and Ariel's relationship to imply something further. She
describes Ariel as 'the delicate theatrical spirit', noting that 'it is Ariel who performs the real theater in the
play, who stages tempests and provides musical interludes' (p.278). In connection with Ariel's being instructed
to appear as a water-nymph (1:2:301-305) she remarks 'Prospero's possession of Ariel is itself an occasion for
erotic display', since there is no apparent motive for this costume change: 'there is no reason – except pleasure
– for an invisible nymph to dress up.' (p.283). This does seem gratuitous (although Kermode remarks that
water-nymphs had previously appeared on the London stage, and were recognisable to the public), and I think
Nora has a point. Ariel must have been played by a particularly attractive boy to warrant such an extravagant
use of costumes. Whether Shakespeare 'intended' that Prospero should be seen to gain erotic pleasure from
Ariel's display is uncertain: elsewhere Ariel is 'but air', and no suggestion of a mutual sexual relation is likely.
It is perhaps the audience which is being titillated by this voyeurism.
As a spirit, Ariel is asexual, but nevertheless adopts female forms: the Harpy and either Ceres or Juno are
female. At no point does Ariel impersonate a male figure. If Ariel had a sex, on this evidence it would be
female. Nora Johnson perceives one more transformation; in the Epilogue, Prospero 'seems to be Ariel,
longing to be freed.' (p.285).
Ariel and Allegory in The Tempest 86
The Epilogue has been much discussed, with some critics interpreting it as evidence for The Tempest being
Shakespeare's 'farewell to theatre'. Others disagree. Grant White, cited in Furness' New Varorium edition (n.1,
p.267) is forceful and entertaining in his dismissal of the Epistle as not being Shakespeare's at all: 'Will any
one familiar with his works believe, that after writing such a play, he would write an Epilogue in which the
feeble, trite ideas are confined within stiff couplets, or else carried into the middle of a third line, and left there
in helpless consternation, like an awkward booby, who suddenly finds himself alone in the centre of a
ballroom?' Frank Kermode, in his recent Shakespeare's Language (1999) is clearly such a one. 'The Epistle –
one of ten of shakespeare's that survive – is a conventional appeal for applause. There is no good reason to
suppose that this example of the genre is dedicated to personal allegory.' (p.300). From their different
perspectives on the likely authorship of the Epilogue, both agree that it does not form part of a farewell to
theatre on Shakespeare's behalf.
To return to Ariel, the star performer, shape-changer and musician, Prospero and Ariel share an excitement in
performance which, after their initial contractual wranglings, binds them close together in a common purpose
and mutual pleasure. Although Ariel is 'but air' there are signs of sympathy with human suffering. Humanity
seems to leach across the barrier. If The Tempest is an allegory, then Nora Johnson is probably closest in
describing Ariel as 'a delicate theatrical spirit' a figure representing the essence of theatre. If performing Ariel
must have presented great technical challenges on the Jacobean stage, the problem for a modern production is
to encourage the suspension of disbelief in the audience whilst avoiding comparison with the fairies and
principal boys of Pantomime.
NOTES
1. Sometimes called 'Apology for Poetry'.
2. Nora Johnson, 'Body and Spirit, Stage and Sexuality in The Tempest' (in) Political Shakespeare, (eds)
Stephen Orgel and Sean Keilen, Volume 9 of Shakespeare, the Critical Complex, Garland Publishing, New
York and London, (1999), pp. 271-290.
3. Horace Howard Furness (ed.), The Tempest, A New Varorium Edition, J.P. Lippincott, Philadelphia,
(1895).
Caliban: A Character Study
Caliban is the only authentic native of what is often called 'Prospero's Island'. However, he is not an
indigenous islander, his mother Sycorax was from Argier, and his father Setebos seems to have been a
Patagonian deity. Sycorax was exiled from Argier for witchcraft, much like Prospero himself, and Caliban
was born on the island. Caliban's own understanding of his position is made eloquently plain when we first
meet him:
I must eat my dinner.
This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam'st first,
Thou strok'st me, and made much of me, would'st give me
Water with berries in't, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night. And then I loved thee,
And showed thee all the qualities o'th'isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile.
Cursed be I that did so! All the charms
Caliban: A Character Study 87
Of Sycorax – toads, beetles, bats light on you!<
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king; and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o'th'island. (1.2.330-344)
We can clearly sense Caliban's resentment of what he sees as a colonial occupation of his island. The story of
his upbringing is not so simple, however. It seems that when Prospero and his infant daughter arrived on the
island twelve years before, Caliban was an orphan, his mother having died. This is not entirely clear: in
conversation with Ariel (formerly Sycorax's spirit) Prospero recalls the 'blue eyed hag', 'The foul witch
Sycorax, who with age and envy, Was grown into a hoop' (1.2.258-259), but it is not clear whether he ever
met her.
What we do know, as is agreed by Miranda, Prospero and Caliban himself, is that Prospero brought up
Miranda and Caliban together, and that they had a close relationship, although perhaps not as close as Caliban
might have wished. Prospero and Miranda were both involved in Caliban's education, and the three lived as a
family until Caliban overstepped a boundary clear to the two Milanese.
Prospero: Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,
Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.
Caliban: O ho, O ho! Would't that it had been done!
Thou didst prevent me. I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans.
Miranda: Abhorred slave,
Which any print of goodness will not take,
Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other. When thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes
With words that made them known.
(1.2.344-358)
Miranda is frankly snobbish here, but is excused by the fact that Caliban has attempted to rape her. Caliban is
not at all ashamed of the incident. For Miranda, this justifies his current treatment, proving his natural
inferiority:
But thy vile race,
Though thou didst learn, had that in't which good natures
Could not abide to be with. Therefore wast thou
Deservedly confined into this rock, who hadst
Deserved more than a prison. (1.2.358-362)
Miranda's mention of 'race' (although Caliban is almost certainly unique) introduces the question of whether it
is Caliban's parentage (his genetic inheritance) which has caused him to act disgracefully, or whether his
action was merely natural and understandable, except to the civilised invaders. Prospero and Miranda clearly
adhere to a theory of genetic determinism, as Prospero will later reconfirm:
Caliban: A Character Study 88
A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains,
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost;
And as with age his body uglier grows,
So his mind cankers. (4.1.188-192)
The nature/nurture dichotomy remains a central figure in discussions of genetic inheritance versus education
as influences on behaviour. There is some suspicion that Prospero's view of Caliban is coloured by his
disappointment as a teacher, and also that Prospero is rather impatient in this role (as might be inferred from
his conversation with Miranda in 1.2.).
Caliban's response to this abuse is understandable:
You taught me language, and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!
Caliban rejects his education, although he cannot escape the need to express his rejection in the form he
rejects. What he can do is turn his education to his own purposes; he can curse those who criticise him. This is
not truly all that Caliban can do with language, however, as we shall see.
Caliban's account of his interaction with Prospero and Miranda indicates a resentment occasioned by what
seems to him a betrayal (1.2.332-337, above). This is a mistake which Caliban repeats all too readily when he
meets Stephano and Trinculo, two shipwrecked court functionaries (Butler and Jester), who ply him with
alcohol (a typical means of enslaving the 'natives'). They describe Caliban as a 'fish', a 'mooncalf', a 'shallow',
'weak' and 'most poor credulous monster' (2.2). Caliban, drunk, declares 'I'll show thee every fertile inch
o'th'island, and I will kiss thy foot. I prithee be my god' (2.2.144-145).
Caliban persuades Stephano and Trinculo to overthrow Prospero and gain control of the island. That he
imagines they would be capable of it shows his credulity. When Ariel provokes an argument between the
three, and then plays a tune, Caliban comforts his allies with his finest speech:
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 had then waked after long sleep,
Will make me dream 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. (3.2.136-144)
But Ariel leads them through thorns and dirty pools, and the two Neapolitans are distracted by the simple
device of hanging out fancy cloths, which they gather, despite Caliban's protests.
I will have none on't. We shall lose our time,
And all be turned to barnacles, or to apes
With foreheads villainous low. (4.1.247-249)
The three are then hunted by spirit-dogs set on by Prospero and Ariel.
When they are released from the charm, Caliban is impressed by Prospero's appearance, as he is now dressed
Caliban: A Character Study 89
for court. Prospero describes Caliban as a 'demi-devil' (5.1.272) and declares 'This thing of darkness I
acknowledge mine' (5.1.275-276). Caliban is chastened, and seeks Prospero's pardon.
I'll be wise hereafter,
And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass
Was I to take this drunkard for a god,
And worship this dull fool! (5.1.295-298)
In Caliban, Shakespeare combines something of the traditional Elizabethan figure of the 'savage' or wild man
with reports of the native peoples of the New World. From Prospero and Miranda's perspective, Caliban is
genetically inferior, irredeemably savage and uneducable. They feel their care and kindness have been
betrayed. Caliban also feels betrayed: he has lost his island to the foreigners, who have taken advantage of
him, and now treat him as a slave, held in check by cramps and pinches. Both cases are understandable. For
Prospero, Caliban seems to represent a personal failure and disappointment; the persistence of evil in the face
of humane treatment. In this, he is like Antonio, who had betrayed Prospero in Milan.
Caliban is certainly naïve; his reaction to Stephano and Trinculo demonstrates this. The question remains
open as to whether at the end of the play he has learned from his mistakes. When Stephano and Trinculo are
deflected from their plot by Prospero's trick, Caliban is angry, calling the booty 'luggage', but he is
nevertheless impressed by Prospero's change of costume, so his credulity may not have been entirely
overcome. While he does say that he will 'seek for grace hereafter', which would indicate a religious impulse
for self-improvement, Prospero's judgement remains negative; he is a 'thing of darkness' still. Prospero,
however, has reacted excessively to Caliban's actions throughout the play; Caliban's rebellion never posed any
real threat, but causes Prospero to abandon the Masque he has arranged for Ferdinand and Miranda's betrothal
in some confusion.
Caliban remains the focus of much critical interest, he is an intriguing figure with many resonances in a
post-colonial age, and one whom Shakespeare treats with typical balance, allowing expression to both sides of
the question, and leaving much to the interpretation.
Themes in The Tempest
The Tempest is generally considered to be Shakespeare's last sole-authored play. As early as 1875 it was
identified as one of a group of late Shakespearean 'Romances' with Pericles, The Winter's Tale, and
Cymbeline. The Tempest differs markedly from these others, however, in containing the action within the
'classical unities' of time and place (meaning that the duration of the performance is equal to that of the events
depicted, and that the action is confined to one geographical area, requirements which the other romances
entirely disregard.) The Tempest is a very beautiful play, beautifully constructed and beautifully written. Such
is its atmosphere that many commentators have considered it to be a religious, or at least 'spiritual' play.
There is no single source for the play, as far as anyone can prove, but it issued from and into a culture newly
excited by reports from Virginia and the Bermudas, and seems to have drawn on these contemporary
accounts, on Ovid's Metamorphoses, (both in the original Latin and in Golding's translation), on Virgil's
Aeneid, on the genre of 'Romance', and perhaps on the Bible. A further source seems to be Michael de
Montaigne's 'Of Cannibals', a work which equates the state of nature to an Edenic innocence, and civilisation
with the Fall. The Tempest has generally been read with two interlinked interpretive strategies: it has been
seen as a personal allegory, and as a highly Christian work.
The play draws a number of oppositions, some of which it dramatises, and some of which it only implies.
Prospero, a figure exhibiting many resemblances to the Elizabethan idea of the 'Mage', (of whom the best
Themes in The Tempest 90
known is probably Dr. John Dee), is opposed to both his corrupt brother, usurper of his role as Duke of Milan,
and to Sycorax, an evil witch and mother of the 'deformed slave' Caliban. Sycorax does not enter the action of
the play, having died before it opens, but enough is made of her evil disposition and behaviour to show
Prospero as a model of human virtue in comparison. This despite Prospero's own use of magic to accomplish
his will, and his bullying of the spirit Ariel and his threats to and punishments of Caliban. Prospero's role is
central to the play, he is in control of the action throughout, through the exercise of his 'Art'. A further contrast
is drawn between Miranda, Prospero's daughter, and Caliban. Both were brought up together by Prospero
since his arrival on Caliban's Island, but Caliban has not responded suitably to Prospero's civilising education.
Miranda, however, in line with the tenor of Shakespeare's late plays in particular, is a model of chastity and
virtue. Caliban's 'ingratitude' would seem to result from what we would call his genetic inheritance. Miranda
calls him:
Abhorred slave
Which any print of goodness will not take (1:2:353-354) [FN4]
And Prospero
A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains,
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost. (4:1:188-190)
The opposition of nature and nurture is made explicitly here, a distinction which has had its cultural
importance restated in new terms since Darwin and the revolution in genetic biology. The Tempest is involved
in a discussion of 'nobility', seen here as a matter of inheritance, but in the opposition of Prospero and his
brother Antonio we see that inheritance has two sides. Antonio betrayed Prospero and stole his inheritance
(materially; his Dukedom), so virtue, 'nobility', is not entirely a matter of having noble parentage.
A further denotation of nobility, in line with fashionable Neo-Platonism is that the beautiful are good, and the
ugly, wicked. This is explicit in Miranda's case, both in herself and in the attitudes she expresses:
There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple:
If the ill spirit have so fair a house
Good things will strive to dwell with't. (1:2:460-462)
Caliban, on the other hand, is 'deformed', and described as a 'fish' and a 'monster'
As with age his body uglier grows,
So his mind cankers. (4:1:191-192)
It is not so simple, however. At this very point Prospero has sunk to a level not much above Caliban's:
I will plague them all
Even to roaring (4:1:192-193)
And Caliban himself is capable of making one of the finest speeches of the play, and of saying, when
Prospero has thought better of punishing, and renounced his supernatural power:
I'll be wise hereafter
And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass
Was I, to take this drunkard for a god,
And worship this dull fool. (5:1:294-297)
Themes in The Tempest 91
As Frank Kermode wisely notes in his introduction to the Arden Edition (1961): Nature is not, in The
Tempest, defined with the single-minded clarity of a philosophical proposition. Shakespeare's treatment of the
theme has what all his mature poetry has, a richly analytical approach to ideas, which never reaches after a
naked opinion of true or false.
Nature contra Nurture is only one theme among many in The Tempest, and many critics have concentrated on
the resolution of the play, which is seen as a Christian affirmation of the power of forgiveness and
reconciliation. Prospero seems to be persuaded by Ariel that forgiveness rather than punishment is the better
course.
Ari. If you now beheld them your affections
Would become tender.
Pros. Dost thou think so, spirit ?
Ari. Mine would, sir, were I human.
Pros. And mine shall. (5:1:18-20)
No discussion of themes or of structural oppositions between characters can give a picture of the extraordinary
atmosphere of The Tempest, which might certainly be considered either magical or religious. The Masque
element in The Tempest (which has provoked a considerable amount of discussion) might be seen as a parody
of the increasingly fashionable and elaborate masques of the Jacobean court in which Shakespeare's rival and
friend Ben Jonson specialised. These Neo-Platonist concoctions of comedy, high-sounding philosophy, songs,
complicated stage machinery, mythological drama, sumptuous costume and all-night dancing became almost a
religion at Charles' court.
Prospero interrupts his masque, performed by spirits in mythological guise, on the recollection of the
conspiracy of Caliban, Stephano and Trincuro, who are, however, stuck in a filthy pond, and clearly offer no
present threat, if any at all. They are like the comedic villains of the anti-masque, and here Shakespeare plays
with the emerging conventions of the masque just as he composes a perfectly-formed classical drama. In The
Tempest the villains reverse this effect by interrupting the divine masque, cancelling its magic, but only for
the 'real' Prospero, the 'real' magician to defeat evil and bring all to a reconciliation.
It is at this moment (4:1) that Prospero, so much in control of events on the island (if only through a quite
neurotic vigilance) seems closest to the harassed and not altogether likeable Duke in Measure for Measure,
another play in which a Duke controls the action from the stage. With all his power, which is expressed most
fully oratorically, both at this point (4:1:148-158) and in his abjuration of magic (5:1:33), Prospero seems
sometimes in danger of becoming despotic. As Caliban says when we first meet him:
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own King: and here you sty me
In this hard rock. (1:2:343-345)
That there is some justice in Caliban's attitude to his 'master' has been the focus of some recent critical
attention. Shakespeare, who seems always to have had a keen interest in questions which we would now call
'political' introduces the question of power in the first Act.
What cares these roarers for the name of King ? (1:1:16-17)
If you can command these elements to silence
use your authority. (1:1:21-23)
It is only Prospero who does have the authority to still the storm, which was raised at his command, and this
(perhaps) gives him the authority to be Duke of Milan again; at least it gives him the opportunity, in that he is
Themes in The Tempest 92
able to shipwreck his treacherous brother on his island. Yet we are shown him threatening both Caliban and
Ariel in order to maintain his control. His continual insistence on Miranda and Ferdinand's chastity seems
somewhat neurotic, although critics have excused this as normal parental concern, or as one of the necessary
conditions for white magic. It is Prospero's eventual relinquishing of power which entitles him to regain it. In
my opinion, Shakespeare is associating true authority with renunciation, not with the exercise of tyrannical
power.
NOTES
1. Edward Dowden, Shakspere, His Mind and Art, (1875).
2. The most extreme and recent example being The Tempest as Mystery Play: Uncovering Religious Sources
of Shakespeare's Most Spiritual Work, Grace R.W. Hall, McFarland & Company, Jefferson: North Carolina,
(1999).
3. From John Florio's translation of Montaigne's Essayes, (1603).
4. All citations and references are to Frank Kermode's Arden Edition, to the excellent introduction of which I
am indebted throughout.
5. In the Masque, the anti-masque is a comedic prelude in which the villainous characters (of lower-class
origin) plot against virtue and established power-relations. In the Masque proper divine beings (frequently
played by courtiers) would step in and defeat the evil plot, whereupon the cast would leave the stage and
dance with the audience.
6. Paul Brown, 'This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine' (in) Political Shakespeare, (eds) J. Dollimore
& A. Sinfield, Manchester University Press, Manchester, (1996), pp. 48-71.
Father-Daughter Relationships in Shakespeare's Pericles,
The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest
"This form, this face, this life
Living to live in a world of time beyond me; ...
My daughter.” - T.S. Eliot, "Marina".
The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the ways in which father-daughter relationships define both
structure and theme in Shakespeare's Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. While avoiding the issue
of the exact nature of Shakespeare's crisis of c. 1607-1609, we shall nevertheless agree with Dover Wilson
that a conversion of some kind took place as a result of that crisis, allowing the frame of mind which was to
produce the transition from the tragedies to the romance plays. Perhaps, as Wilson asserts, "by the help of a
woman (...perhaps by his
daughter), the spiritual convalescent recovered his lost self and his love of the countryside...” Indeed, it is not
unreasonable to assume that Shakespeare's return to Stratford at this period, and his renewed contact with his
daughters, Susanna in particular, provided the environment in which the concerns of family, continuity and
reconciliation became pressing. The birth of a granddaughter, Elizabeth, in 1608, and the death of his mother
in the same year can only have added to his preoccupation with family matters and with women.
Shakespeare had given his audience notable daughters before, in Ophelia and Cordelia among others, but it is
not until Pericles that his point of view becomes that of a father recognizing redemption and even immortality
in the person of his living daughter. Thus, daughters become important not only thematically but formally, in
the interplay and structure of lost and found, dead and alive, impure and pure, estranged and reconcilled.
Father-Daughter Relationships in Shakespeare's Pericles, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest 93
Even E.M.W. Tillyard, who disagrees with E.K. Chambers’ extreme statement of the reasons for the change
in dramatic direction from the tragedies to the romances admits that "Shakespeare at the time of Pericles was
being impelled along some new way of expression." Whether that play is a result of a collaboration or a
reworking by Shakespeare of an earlier manuscript, we shall assume, with most critics, that Acts III to V are
substantially his. While the play as a whole is structurally weak, with Acts I and II almost unrelated to III, IV
and V, the last three Acts in themselves form a unified whole. Although, as in The Winter’s Tale, Pericles has
lost both daughter and wife, in Pericles the action centers on what becomes of Marina. Thus, the reunion of
the father and poor child who feels "This world to me is like a lasting storm,/Whirring me from my friends"
(IV, i, 20-21) is the end toward which the action moves. The ultimate discovery that Thaisa is alive and her
reunion with Pericles is almost an afterthought to the emotional mutually discovery of daughter and father.
Indeed, this weakest of the three plays under discussion contains the strongest statement of the significance
for the father of rediscovering his daughter. It is as if she redeems him from all of the misfortunes of his life;
"I am wild in my beholding./ O Heavens bless my girl? But, hark, what music?/...The music of the spheres!
List, my Marina" (V, ii, 224-31). In Pericles, too, we come to identify the daughter with the uncontrollable
force of the sea and of storms. Marina, by her birth at sea during a raging tempest, comes to symbolize not
only the reconciliation of life and death but the uncontrollable effect of children upon their parents. Marina
grows to maturity without benefit of her father's direct intervention, and she is yet "able to freeze the god
Priapus, and undo a whole generation" she is so pure. In finding her, Pericles is born again, and the family
unit through which he sees his immortality, is restored.
The relative failure of Pericles as a play which can sustain our continuing interest hinges on elements other
than the father-daughter theme. It has been noted that the play provides "proof that the parent-child,
particularly the father-daughter, relationship was assuming increased importance in Shakespeare's mind
toward the end of his life." The Winter’s Tale portrays the loss of a daughter and wife, but with the
circumstances radically altered. Leontes does not lose his daughter, but rather casts her out to die; he does not
lose his wife, but kills her because of his irrational jealous rage. Perdita is not born in a storm, but is cast out
to die in the midst of one. Yet structurally, Perdita is the thread which connects the finally repentant Leontes
with the instruments of his redemption. The action of the play, up to the point at which Perdita is left to the
elements, centers upon Leontes’ insane outburst against his wife and against his friends. The death of
Mamillius shocks him out of his madness, but leaves him with a seemingly impossible situation. With his wife
dead and his daughter cast out, even the hint of the Oracle that she might be found seems unlikely to be
fulfilled: Paulina, "...therefore betake thee/To nothing but despair. A thousand knees,/Ten thousand years
together, naked, fasting,/Upon a barren mountain, and still winter In storm perpetual, could not move the
gods/To look that way thou wert" (III, ii, 207- 12). Yet in III, iii, which is primarily concerned with Perdita,
the raging storm of the first two acts is calmed, and the pastoral romance which is to mark the rest of the play
begins. From this point on it is the action of Perdita and those around her which moves the play towards its
conclusion.
Yet, unlike Pericles, The Winter’s Tale does not have as its climax the recognition of father and daughter.
That scene is narrated, while the restoration of Hermoine to Leontes becomes the dramatic focus of the
conclusion. If Perdita is structurally so important, then why does Shakespeare seem to drop her at what might
be the most emotionally satisfying moment in the play? G. Wilson Knight argues that although Perdita's
recognition is central to the play, it is a restoration and not a resurrection, as in the case of Hermoine. Thus the
father-daughter relationship takes second place to the miracle of the statue coming to life, yet "creation is
satisfied by the return of Perdita, who is needed for Hermoine's full release." Indeed, Perdita also serves to
provide Leontes with a substitute for the dead Mamillius in Florizel, the son of his childhood friend. So in The
Winter’s Tale we might see the daughter as primarily a structural element necessary for the resolution of all
of the father's sorrows rather than serving as a symbol of new life in herself. Other elements of structure
which turn on Perdita have been noted: "Perdita's two ocean voyages" and her relationship with Florizel as
contrasted with the relationship between her father and mother. We might see, then, in Shakespeare's decision
Father-Daughter Relationships in Shakespeare's Pericles, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest 94
to sacrifice a recognition scene with Perdita to one with Hermoine an acknowledgement that in this play the
lost daughter was a means of bringing about reconciliation, but not the embodiment of Leontes' immortality.
Indeed, in the resurrected Hermoine's only speech Perdita is the only topic, and it is her role in bringing about
the ultimate miracle with which Hermoine is concerned:
You gods look down,
And from your sacred vials pour your graces
Upon my daughter's head! Tell me, mine own,
Where hast thou
been preserved? Where lived? How found Thy father's court? (V, iii, 122-25)
Frank Kermode points to another element with which Shakespeare identifies daughters: time. Not only does
the daughter form a link to life beyond the father's natural life, but she forms a link between his youth and old
age. This she does in many ways, not the least of which is in serving as a reminder of her mother, an element
which we will discuss shortly. Kermode notes that "At one masterly moment Perdita herself stands like a
statue beside the supposed statue of her mother, to remind us that created things work their own perfection
and continuance in time, as well as suffer under it. Perdita brings with her the element of ill, giving her father
a second chance, a chance to undo the evil which he has done to his wife. Likewise in Pericles, Marina has
brought her father back in time to a point where the death of his wife can be relived, and undone: "Oh, come,
be buried/A second time within these arms." A final argument for the identification of Perdita with the
element of time in The Winter’s Tale is the fact that Shakespeare's primary source for the play was Robert
Greene's book Pandosto, The Triumph of Time, "Wherein is discouered by a pleasant Historie, that although
by the meanes of sinister fortune, Truth may be concealed, yet by Time in spiqht of fortune it is most
manifestly reuealed." (1588)
Shakespeare's identification of daughters with the element of time (and of course timelessness) appears in The
Tempest in the first bit of dialogue between Prospero and Miranda. Prospero asks her "What seest thou else/In
the dark backward and abysm of time?” and reminds her that "Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year
since,/Thy father was the Duke of Milan and/A prince of power” (I, ii, 48-54). Yet in The Tempest, as in no
other romance and perhaps no other Shakespeare play, do we feel that time stands still. The strangeness of the
setting, the uncertain categorization of Ariel and Caliban--spirits, animals, men?--and the workings of
Prospero's magic, make us feel that we have arrived at a place much like Eliot’s intersection of "time with the
timeless." Thus Miranda must have dimensions in addition to her function as a link to the past and to the
future for her father. We would argue that Miranda functions primarily as a symbol of Prospero's
enlightenment, an exposition of the philosophy that "child is father to the man", rather than a necessity of
structure in this play. Although she is in many ways less interesting than Perdita, and has a less obvious
impact upon her father than Marina, she is nevertheless the embodiment of all of Shakespeare's positive
identifications with daughters. Her innocence, her acceptance of the new and unknown, and her basic belief in
the goodness of whatever she encounters stands in contrast to Prospero's cynicism: "O, wonder!/ How many
goodly creatures are there here!/How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world/That has such people in't!"
(V, i, 182-85). Prospero's response? “’Tis new to thee." Yet Prospero does give up his magic and consent to a
reconciliation with his brother under Miranda's influence.
It is interesting to note that the motif of loss which runs throughout both Pericles and The Winter’s Tale
appears in The Tempest in reverse. Here, father and daughter have been cast out together. Prospero has raised
and educated Miranda without other human help, and they have developed an affectionate respect for each
other. Towards the end of the play, after Prospero has given his blessing to the match of Miranda and
Ferdinand, he says "... for I/Have lost my daughter.” Alonso asks when, and Prospero answers truthfully "In
this last tempest." Ferdinand adds to the reversal of loss through the sea and storm when he says, "Though the
seas threaten, they are merciful./I have cursed them without cause" (V, i).
Father-Daughter Relationships in Shakespeare's Pericles, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest 95
The Tempest, despite critical commentary to the contrary, may be seen as a most personal commentary by
Shakespeare on a number of things: his craft, good and evil, growing old, children, poetry. It seems absurd not
to identify Prospero in some ways with Shakespeare, and we would agree with Dover Wilson's assertion that
"The Tempest is a play ... for fathers! We see Miranda and Ferdinand through a father's eyes. They are
Prospero’s eyes, of course ... but inasmuch as we also see Perdita and Marina in the same light, the eyes must
be Shakespeare's too." We recall that both Marina and Perdita are treated, once recognized by their fathers,
with total indulgence. Prospero as a father is more real. He is jealous of Ferdinand, and treats him quite badly,
as if to flaunt his magical powers over this young man who would take his daughter away. His warnings for
the necessity of chastity before marriage are almost crude, and he speaks of Miranda as "a gift” which he will
give to Ferdinand only if he proves worthy. Yet, as any real father knows, the "giving" of a daughter to
another man is necessary in the natural order of things, and will ultimately provide a continuity of life through
grandchildren. We must keep in mind that the prime premise of this play is that Prospero has decided upon
exposing himself and Miranda to the larger world before the opening of the play, and that the storm with
which the action starts is a product of Prospero’s art. Unlike Pericles and Marina or Leontes and Perdita,
Prospero and Miranda are not hapless victims of the storm. The Tempest is seen as a necessary part of a return
to a mortal life--one in which Prospero admits "Every third thought shall be my grave."
There is another interesting difference in Shakespearefs treatment of the father-daughter theme in this play, to
return to an issue which we briefly mentioned above. Both Marina and Perdita were said to resemble their
mothers, both physically and in their strength, goodness and innocence. Pericles says:
My dearest wife was like this maid, and such a one
My daughter might have been; my Queen's square brows
Her stature to an inch, as wandlike straight,
As silver-voiced, her eyes as jewel like
And cased as richly, in pace another Juno ...
(V, i, 108-112)
Leontes too sees in his newly found daughter the image of his dead Queen:
the majesty of the creature, in resemblance of the mother;the affection of nobleness, which
nature shows above her breeding and many other evidences--proclaim her, with all certainty,
to be the King's daughter.
Our king, being ready to leap out of himself for joy of his found daughter, as if that joy were
now become a loss, cries, "Oh, thy mother, thy mother.”
Of Miranda's mother, however, we know little other than that she was "a piece of virtue" and that Miranda
was her only child. It is clear that since being cast out of his home with his young daughter, Prospero has
depended upon her as a source of not only family continuity but spiritual inspiration: "O, a cherubin/Thou
wast that did preserve me!" It is as if his knowledge of Miranda's powers to "preserve" him allows him to
invite the evil visitors to his kingdom. He must be secure in his trust in Miranda's ability to resist evil. Indeed,
as a social creature she has been untested: "I do not know/One of my sex; no woman's face remember,/Save,
from my glass, mine own. Nor have I seen/ More that I may call ment than you, good friend,/And my dear
father" (III, i, 47-52). In a sense, then, we may see Miranda as symbolizing for Prospero women in
general--mother, wife, daughter.
Harold Goddard has said of The Tempest that "In Othello and King Lear we thought we caught glimpses into a
region on the Other Side of the Storm. Nearly all of this play takes place there." Yet enchanted as this island
may be, what happens here between Prospero and Miranda has more of the ring of reality to it than the two
previous father-daughter pairs.
Father-Daughter Relationships in Shakespeare's Pericles, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest 96
We have attempted to sketch some of the ways in which the father-daughter relationship figures in three late
plays, but have as yet not addressed what is perhaps the most obvious of questions. Why fathers and daughters
rather than fathers and sons? One critic asserts that "It is not too far-fetched to suggest that these plays owed
their existence partly to the fact that the King's Men had a boy actor who was a considerable success in such
parts as Marina, Perdita, Imogen, and Miranda." We would note that when Shakespeare's son Hamnet died in
1596 and left him with two daughters, Shakespeare himself must have had to rethink his future in female
terms. Indeed, the fact that Hamnet's twin Judith was overshadowed by daughter Susanna indicates the anger
Shakespeare felt at the loss of his son. Susanna, the prime inheritor with her husband and daughter of
Shakespeare's estate, may indeed have inspired the poet's late interest in father-daughter relationships when it
became obvious that she was to provide his link with the future.
Yet another critical question arises when one considers Shakespeare's general disgust with women and
specific revulsion with sex in the 14 plays after 1600. While Timon of Athens is the most extreme example of
these feelings, there are clearly lines in Pericles and certainly in The Winter’s Tale which reveal a low
opinion of women. Leontes’ nasty little speech in I, ii extends his jealous loathing of Hermoine's supposed
infidelity to all women: "And many a man there is, even at this present,/Now, while I speak this, holds his
wife by the arm,/ That little thinks she has been sluiced in 's absence,/And his pond fished by his next
neighbor, by/Sir Smile ...” Even Prospero, as we mentioned above, has unpleasant words for the sexual union
of his daughter should it occur before marriage: "... but barren hate,/Sour-eyed disdain, and discord shall
bestrew/The union of your bed with weeds so loathly/That you shall hate it both" (IV, i, 19-22). It would seem
that married or unmarried, a woman is not to be trusted: "... Should all despair/That have revolted wives, the
tenth of mankind/Would hang themselves" (WT, I, ii, 200-202). How then reconcile Shakespeare's
predominantly gentle and loving treatment of daughters in the romances with his lapses into rage at the
vileness of women as sexual beings? We can only quess at some answers suggested by the little we know of
Shakespeare's life, and by the texts of the plays.
Shakespeare shows himself to be ambivalent, in these last plays, towards women. They may be loyal or
disloyal wives, whores, outspoken friends (Paulina) or daughters. Of woman in her various forms he was most
concerned at this point in his life with his daughter, who had just provided him with a grandchild. He had
clearly been disillusioned by marriage, and by mistresses. Yet he needed to reaffirm his own longings for
immortality--how ironic that he could not see it in his plays--through his children and their children. His
remaining children were daughters. In Lear we find a father who manipulates his daughters: "Tell me, my
daughters,/...Which of you shall we say doth love us most?" (I, i, 49). In Pericles ("Come, queen of the
feast,/For, daughter so you are"), in The Winter’s Tale ("A man, who hath a daughter of most rare note...”),
and in The Tempest ("I have done nothing but in care of thee,/Of thee, my dear one, thee, my daughter") we
find fathers who worship their daughters. As Goddard has stated "One of the certainties about the later
Shakespeare is his conviction of the reciprocal necessity of childhood to age and of age to childhood." For
Shakespeare the man and Shakespeare the poet and Shakespeare the father, daughters were the "stuff/As
dreams are made on."
NOTES
1. J. Dover Wilson, The Essential Shakespeare, p. 135.
2. Anthony Burgess, Shakespeare, p. 239.
3. E.M.W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Last Plays, p.24.
4. Harold Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, Vol.2, p. 243.
5. G. Wilson Knight, "'Great Creating Nature’: An Essay on The Winter’s Tale"in Shakespeare; Modern
Essays in Criticism, Leonard Dean, ed., pp.443-445.
Father-Daughter Relationships in Shakespeare's Pericles, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest 97
6. Knight, p. 452.
7. Hieatt, Charles W., "The Function of Structure in The Winter’s Tale" in Yearbook of English Studies, Vol.
8, 1978, p. 238.
8. Frank Kermode, "Introduction" to Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, p. xxxv.
9. Kermode, "The Source of The Winter’s Tale" in Shakespeare, op. cit., p. 155.
10. G. Wilson Knight, "On Shakespeare's Tragi-comic Romances" in Siegel, His Infinite Variety, p. 401.
11. Goddard, p. 277.
12. G.B. Harrison, "Introduction" to Shakespeare, The Complete Works, p.1351.
13. Ivor Brown, The Women in Shakespeare's Life, p. 48 and passim.
14. Wilson, p. 119.
15. Burgess, passim and Brown, passim.
16. Goddard, p. 287.
REFERENCES
Brown, Ivor, The Women in Shakespeare's Life, New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1969.
Burgess, Anthony, Shakespeare, New York: Knopf, 1970.
Eggers, Walter F., Jr., "'Bring Forth a Wonder’: Presentation in Shakespeare’s Romances" in Texas Studies
in Literature and Language, Vol. 21, No. 4, Winter 1979, pp. 455-477.
Frey, Charles, "Interpreting The Winter’s Tale" in Studies in English Literature, Vol. "18, No. 2, Spring 1978,
pp. 307-329.
Goddard, Harold C., The Meaning of Shakespeare, Volume 2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.
Hieatt, Charles W., "The Function of Structure in The Winter’s Tale" in The Yearbook of English Studies,
Vol. 8, 1978, pp. 238-248.
Kermode, Frank, ed., William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, New York: Signet, 1963.
Knight, G. Wilson, "'Great Creating Nature’: An Essay on The Winter’s Tale" in Shakespeare; Modern
Essays in Criticism, Leonard F. Dean, ed, New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Langbaum, Robert, ed. William Shakespeare, The Tempest, New York: Signet, 1964.
Shakespeare, William, The Complete Works, G.B. Harrison, ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company,
1952.
Father-Daughter Relationships in Shakespeare's Pericles, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest 98
Siegel, Paul N., ed., His Infinite Variety; Major Shakespearean Criticism Since Johnson, New York:
Lippincott, 1964.
Spencer, Theodore, "Shakespeare and the Nature of Man: The Tempest" in Shakespeare: Modern Essays in
Criticism, Leonard F. Dean, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Tillyard, E.M.W., The Elizabethan World Picture, New York: Vintage, n.d.
__________, Shakespeare’s Last Plays, London: Chatto and Windus, 1962.
Traversi, D.A., "The Last Plays of Shakespeare" in The Age of Shakespeare, Boris Ford, ed. Great Britain:
Penguin, 1975.
Wilson, J. Dover, The Essential Shakespeare, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964.
The Tempest: Illusion and Reality
This essay will discuss the part that illusion and reality plays in developing and illuminating the theme of
Shakespeare's The Tempest. This pair of opposites will be contrasted to show what they represent in the
context of the play. Further, the characters associated with these terms, and how the association becomes
meaningful in the play, will be discussed. Quotes used in this essay are taken from the Folger Library edition
of The Tempest, edited by Louis B. Weight and Virginia A. LaMar, published by Pocket Books, New York,
1961. Quotations will be formated according to Act, scene and line.
A good starting point to discuss the use of illusion and reality in The Tempest is to focus on the setting in Act
I, scene ii. Here, the reader (or viewer) realizes that it takes place entirely in Prospero's cell which is a small
room where he practices his magic arts. Miranda here asks her father, Prospero, to make sure that the people
on the ship will be safe even though he has created a storm which threatens to capsize their boat and drown
them all. Prospero reassures her. He says that he has no intention of allowing the people to die. To reassure
her further, he continues by explaining his motives in creating the storm. Here the reader learns that Prospero
and Antonio are brothers, and that Prospero is the rightful Duke of Milan but that his brother usurped his
kingdom and exiled Prospero and his daughter Miranda. Fortune saved the two from their rotting ship which
had been set to drift, and brought them to the island where Prospero has been granted supernatural powers by
the enemies of Antonio.
From the above description it is clear that the play embraces both the natural and the supernatural world.
Twelve years before the action takes place, we are told that Prospero was a prince who had a different type of
power than he has now.
Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year since,
Thy father was the Duke of Milan and
A prince of power (I, ii, 65-68).
Previous to this declaration it is clear that Prospero now has power, but it is power associated with the
supernatural. His power is not granted to him by mortals, but it has been given to him by those above human
status. His power is symbolized by and vested in his cloak. It is something which can be physically removed.
I should inform thee further. Lend thy hand
And pluck my magic garment from me. So,
[takes off his magic robe.]
The Tempest: Illusion and Reality 99
Lie there, my art (I, ii, 28-31).
Within this, there are elements which may be associated with illusion and reality. Miranda knows that she is
Prospero's daughter and she is used to life on the island. But she can also recall a time when she was not there
in the world of magic—a time when her father was Duke and had only powers that natural men possess. The
irony is that Miranda recalls the natural world as if it were an illusion and believes her present day existence
to be reality.
Pros. Canst thou remember
A time before we camst unto this cell?
I do not think thou canst, for then thou wast not
Out three years old.
Mir. Certainly sir, I can ...
'Tis far off,
And rather like a dream than an assurance
That my remembrance warrants. Had I not
Four or five women once that tended me?
We see from the passage above that Miranda is not sure whether her life before the island was a dream or
whether it was reality. She is a character who is associated with the distinction between the two, because she
lives on the island with her father who can conjure up an image of reality—such as the storm at sea—and yet
her experience of the natural world against which such experiences might be compared seems to her to be a
dream.
Prospero is the main character who embodies the concepts of illusion and reality. He and his servant, Ariel,
create the illusion of a storm and a wreck, a banquet and a masque. But the real world is apparent to the
audience from the beginning of the play even though it is not intrusive throughout. Thus there are levels on
which reality seems most operative, and levels on which illusion seems to come to the fore. Neither has
exclusive hold on the play.
On many levels, Prospero serves as a symbolic figure. He and Ariel represent intellect which is pure and in
some ways not contaminated by the workaday world of mortal men. When Prospero had the throne, he felt
that the world of books was enough for him. Prospero is so interested in the world of ideas that he does not
concern himself at times with the attainment of power and wealth.
Propero's brother, Antonio, may be associated with illusion and reality as well, but his association stems from
his own illusions and perceptions of reality. Antonio, for instance, is power-hungry. He so wants to be granted
the throne that he is willing to wrong his own brother in order to get what he wants. But one may formulate
the question about the nature of real power. Even though Antonio achieves his bid for the throne, is he really
more powerful than his brother who has been exiled to the island? What is power? Who is really in control?
The obvious answer is that it is Prospero who ultimately can control Antonio. Prospero causes the illusionary
storm. He makes the ruler fear for his life—and thus one can see that even though Antonio may have control
over the people on land, once he is pitted against the natural elements he has no more control than any other
mortal man. Antonio is thus suffering from illusions. He is not accepting of his own limitations and morality,
and thus he does not have a firm grip on what reality is, and why he lives in an illusory world.
A word should be said here about the use of supernatural elements in the play. Even though there is a
supernatural structure, one may not assume that the supernatural is equivalent to illusion and that the natural is
equivalent to reality. As pointed out in the paragraph above, Antonio's world may be set in reality, but
Antonio's mind conjures up an illusory existence. Prospero, on the other hand, may have magical powers, but
he does have a firm grasp on reality. Further, Prospero’s magic is good magic, not bad. He is a truly good
The Tempest: Illusion and Reality 100
character even though he has supernatural power.
Just as the topic of illusion and reality may be discussed from the point of view of any one particular
character, it may also be discussed from the point of view of audience perception. Hence, three characters
must be mentioned in light of this special reference.
The relationship among Prospero, Ariel and Caliban is one of the key relationships in this play. Most
members of an audience recognize the fact that each of these three characters has a meaning which is beyond
the literal. They are each more than a regular human being, even though by virtue of their physical
appearance, they may appear to be nothing more—such as in the instances of Caliban and Prospero. Ariel, on
the other hand, is different.
Ariel gives the appearance of lacking in physical substance. He forces the audience to suspend disbelief in the
supernatural. They must accept that, among other qualities, Ariel has the ability to travel instantaneously. He
can go through Earth, Water, Air and Fire. He is at once a regular human being and something outside of that.
Viewers of The Tempest must learn to accept that illusion is as much a part of the play as is reality.
In other words, the viewers must suspend disbelief. They must know that characters are able to operate
outside of common reality while at the same time they are part of that reality.
In reference to characters of the other extreme, one recalls Prospero's brother, Antonio, who has betrayed
Prospero. Miranda suggests that someone who is really of one's own flesh and blood would not really betray
his own brother. Prospero replies that this is really an illusion of blood relationships. He says that what may
appear to be reality is not absolute reality. He therefore forces the audience to consider what they know about
illusion and reality, about the natural and the unnatural.
Pros. Mark his condition, and the event; then tell me
If this might be a brother.
Mir. I should sin
To think nobly of my grandmother.
Good wombs have borne bad sons. (I, ii, 139-144).
Prospero is really the key character about which the nature of illusion and reality centers. He is the one who
appears to have been stripped of all his power, and yet he is truly the most powerful; he lives in a world where
he can conjure up an illusion of a storm; he lives between a course of regular human action and magic; and he
is perceptive about philosophies on the topic of illusion and reality.
In The Tempest, illusion and reality are opposites which may be considered on many different levels
throughout the entire length of the play.
The Tempest: An Overview
The Tempest was originally performed in late 1611, and was published in its current form in the First Folio of
1623. It is the one play by Shakespeare not derived from one or more of the many sources commonly utilized
by all playwrights of the Elizabethan era, although a contemporary German play possesses an analogous exile
theme. The story of the shipwreck was probably taken from Sir George Somers' narrative of a Bermuda
shipwreck of 1609.
The play itself is a masque-like comedy; it far surpasses the majority of those traditional pieces with similar
themes which were continuously being updated by other writers of Shakespeare's day. It is a tale of magic and
The Tempest: An Overview 101
wonderworking, of retribution and forgiveness, of shipwreck and enchanted isles. The Tempest is also the last
of Shakespeare's completed plays.
Prospero, Duke of Milan, a studious man who had delegated to his ambitious brother Antonio many of the
affairs of government, was 'extirpated’ by him and sent to sea, with his infant daughter. Providence brought
him safely to an island used as a place of exile by the witch Sycorax, where he lived for many years, studying
the art of sorcery. When the play opens, he has long ruled the island, commanding the spirits of the air, and
enslaving the brutish, misshapen Caliban, progeny of the witch. Through his spells he causes to be swept
ashore by a tempest, a ship bearing the ally of Antonio, the King of Naples, and his son Ferdinand, and
Antonio himself. As Prospero tells Miranda, his daughter:
This King of Naples, being an enemy
To me inveterate, hearkens my brother's suit,
Which was, that he, in lieu of the premises
Of homage, and I know not how much tribute,
Should presently extirpate me and mine
Out of the dukedom, and confer fair Milan,
With all the honours, on my brother: Whereon,
A treacherous army levied, one midnight
Fated to the purpose, did Antonio open
The gates of Milan, and, in the dead of darkness,
The ministers for the purpose hurried thence
Me, and thy crying self. (I, ii)
To suit his purposes, which include revenge, Prospero separates and bewitches the various groups of his
prisoners. He works upon them through the instrumentality of his servant, the spirit Ariel. First, he secures the
young Ferdinand as husband for Miranda, making certain that a happy match exists for the pair. Then he
reveals himself, regains his dukedom, pardoning the penitent wrongdoers. This consummated, he restores the
mariners to their ship and all prepare to embark on the voyage to Naples. The Tempest is definitely a court
play, with some of the conventional aspects of such dramatic pieces. It is, on the whole, superbly wrought, full
of grace and enriched with many of the poet's finest lines. Consider, as a sample, this brief exerpt, spoken by
Ferdinand of Miranda, at the beginning of Act III, Scene i:
There be some sports are painful, and their labour
Delight in them sets off: some kinds of baseness
Are nobly undergone; and most poor matters
Point to rich ends. This my mean task
Would be as heavy to me as odious, but
The mistress which I serve quickens what's dead,
And makes my labours pleasures... my sweet mistress
Weeps when she sees me work, and says, such baseness
Had never like executor. I forget:
But these sweet thoughts do refresh my labours,
Most busy lest, when I do it.
The Tempest, though far from lacking dramatic or human interest, has something in its literary spirit of the
nature of a clear and solemn vision. For instance, Prospero, the great enchanter, is altogether the opposite of
the vulgar magician who populates other of Shakespeare's plays, as well as works of many of his
contemporaries. With command over the elemental powers, which study has brought him, Prospero possesses
a moral grandeur and a command over himself, in spite of his occasional fits of intellectual impatience and
involuntary abstraction. He looks 'down' on life, and sees 'through' it, though he will not refuse to take his part
The Tempest: An Overview 102
in it. Here, the supernatural powers of the world attend to and obey their ruler, mankind, (or at least initiated
representatives of it, such as Prospero). The persons in this play, while remaining real and living, are
conceived in a more abstract manner, more as 'archetypes' than in any other of Shakespeare's works. Prospero,
for instance, is the highest wisdom and moral attainment; Gonzalo is a humorous incarnation of
common-sense; all that is meanest and most despicable appears in the characters of the wretched conspirators,
(Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, etc). Miranda, whose name seems to suggest wonder, is an almost elemental
being, framed in the purest and simplest type of womanhood, yet made substantial by contrast with Ariel, who
is an unbodied joy, too much a creature of light and air to know either human affection or sorrow. Caliban, (a
name formed from the word 'cannibal'), stands at the other extreme, with all the elements in him--appetites,
intellect, imagination--out of which mankind emerges into early civilization, albeit with a moral nature which
remains malignant and gross. Over all presides Prospero like a providence; and the spirit of reconciliation, of
forgiveness, harmonizing the contentions of men, appears in The Tempest in a noble, expansive manner. To
this extent, The Tempest resembles and surpasses other Shakespearean works such as Cymbeline and The
Winter's Tale, as a seriocomic exposition on the ability of the majesty and mystery of the world's primordial
forces to overcome the similarly primordial passions of humanity. Majesty and mystery, Shakespeare seems to
be saying, lay at the core of the passions of man as much as do fear and loathing; if the former can be
recognized and controlled the bard goes on, then so can the latter.
The Tempest is not, however, merely an allegory; it is definitely not a religious drama, although elements of
the supernatural are included. If it were either, Prospero's great 'revels' speech, (Act IV, Scene 1, 146-163,
exerpted below), would say, not merely that all earthly things will vanish, but that an eternal world will take
their place. He does not:
Our revels are now ended ... our actors
were all spirits, and
Are melted into ... thin air,
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-clapp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind: we are stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
In a specifically religious context, Prospero's renunciation of magic would represent the resigning of his will
to divine will, one that can command the elements to silence and work for peace in the present. In
Christianity, the higher level of nature is God's original creation, from which man 'escaped’ with the fall of
Adam and Eve, in Eden. Yet it is the witch Sycorax who controls the moon, (the symbol of the music of the
spheres, or the higher level of nature, in Shakespeare's era), in The Tempest. This sinister power is not
associated with prospero, however, whose magic and music belong to the sublunary plane of existence.
Prospero takes the 'society’ of Alonso's ship, (albeit a very limited one, composed more of archetypes than
real people), immerses it in magic, and then sends it back to the world. Its original ranks are restored, but its
members are provided with a new wisdom in the light of which, for instance, Antonio's behavior can be seen
as 'unnatural,’ (or atypical of his self-motivated behavior before encountering his brother Prospero once
again). In the Epilogue, (p. 78), Prospero hands over to the audience what his art has 'created,’ a vision of
society permeated by values of tolerance and forgiveness. At this closing juncture, he says in part:
Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
The Tempest: An Overview 103
Which is most faint: now, 'tis true,
I must be here confin'd by you,
Or sent to Naples...
Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be reliev'd by prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults. (V, I)
Prospero, through his control of both elemental forces and himself in his quest for vengence, (or at least
righting the wrongs done him), is the prime mover of The Tempest. He exists in a higher level of 'nature' than
do the other characters because he has educated himself in obedience to primordial laws and exercised the
habit of virtue. To this extent, the entire society formulated on the island by Prospero's ministrations is a
natural society. Prospero's daughter, Miranda, occupies the highest level of this society, because of her
chastity and innocence, which place her in harmony with higher nature. The discipline required to exist in this
higher nature is imposed on the other characters by Prospero's magic. Throughout The Tempest the emphasis
is on moral and spiritual rebirth; this suggests rituals of initiation and festivity in a way which represents the
culmination of achievement in Shakespeare's dramatic art.
The Tempest and Colonialism Revisited
There is much in the topical dressing of The Tempest which relates it to the colonial adventure of the
plantation of Virginia and with the exotic Bermudas. Critical opinion has varied as to whether The Tempest is
closely related to colonialism as undertaken in the Jacobean period; E.E. Stoll wrote in 1927 that 'There is not
a word in The Tempest about America … Nothing but the Bermudas, once barely mentioned as faraway
places.' On Stoll's side we can say that the action takes place somewhere between Tunis and Naples,
presumably therefore in the Mediterranean, and that the characters who are shipwrecked are returning from
Tunis after a wedding, not in the least intending to set foot upon, let alone settle or conquer, uncivilised lands.
Against this, we must say that The Tempest participates in a contemporary cultural excitement about the
voyages to the Americas and the exotic riches of remote places. There are traces in The Tempest of a number
of colonial and Bermuda voyage narratives, such as Sylvester Jourdan's 'Discovery of the Bermudas' (1610),
The Council of Virginia's 'True Declaration of the state of the Colonie in Virginia' (1610), a letter by William
Strachey which circulated under the title 'True Reportory of the Wrack', but was not published until 1625, and
stories collected by Samuel Purchas in Purchas his Pilgrimage (1613). Caliban's god Setebos is reported from
Magellan's voyage as being a Patagonian deity.
There is little doubt that the extraordinary shipwreck of some would-be Virginian colonists on the Bermudas
flavours Shakespeare's The Tempest. Shakespeare's patrons the Earls of Southampton and Pembroke were
investors in the Virginia Company. The Essex group at court supported a Protestant-expansionist foreign
policy which did not suit King James, who was anxious not to antagonise Spain. Relations with Spain were
one of the main reasons that James executed the Elizabethan imperial hero Sir Walter Raleigh, who
championed the settlement of Guiana. If the general romance of the sea voyage enters into The Tempest, as it
does in Pericles, this alone does not permit a view of the play as 'about' colonialism. The chief focus of a
post-colonial investigation of The Tempest is through the character of Caliban, seen not as the 'deformed slave'
of the dramatis personae but as a native of the island over whom Prospero has imposed a form of colonial
domination.
The Tempest and Colonialism Revisited 104
Caliban's second speech states this case as clearly as could be wished. On being summoned from his 'sty' by
Prospero he responds with curses and proceeds to give his view of their interaction:
I must eat my dinner.
This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam'st first
Thou strok'st me, and made much of me; would'st give me
Water with berries in't; and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I lov'd thee
And show'd thee all the qualities o' th'isle,
The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and feretile:
Curs'd be I that did so! All the charms
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own King: and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o'th'island. (1:2:332-346)
We have already seen Prospero bullying his other servant, the spirit Ariel, into compliance with his wishes
(1:2:240-300). Prospero's dominance seems here on the edge of collapse, held in place by threats and the
exercise of continual vigilance. He seems a man set uneasily at the apex of mutinous and unstable forces. As
the Boatswain has already made clear (although he does not know that Prospero has created the storm) the
bases of authority are under question in The Tempest:
What cares these roarers for the name of King? (1:1:16-17)
Caliban's narrative of Prospero's conquest of the Island seems self-sufficient, and if Shakespeare were a
cultural relativist this might stand as the position of Caliban within the play, but there is a crucial incident
which seems to have turned the relationship between Prospero and Caliban sour, and this Caliban does not
mention. Prospero regards Caliban as genetically (rather than culturally) 'inferior', inherently incapable of
civilised behaviour:
A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; (4:1:188-189)
This condemnation is mingled with the frustration of the teacher who has failed with a difficult pupil:
On whom my pains,
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost, (4:1:189-190)
We have already seen throughout 1:2 that Prospero is fussy and disciplinarian in his tutelage.
Miranda shares her father's dislike of Caliban for the same reason: Caliban has attempted her rape, an event
which he at least recollects with some satisfaction:
Pr: Thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.
Cal: Oho, Oho! would'st had been done!
Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans. (1:2:349-352)
The Tempest and Colonialism Revisited 105
Prospero keeps Caliban in order with 'pinchings' 'old cramps' 'aches' and so-on. Caliban is clearly afraid of
him, and seeks to rebel. Caliban's plot with Stephano and Trinculo is futile, as he comes to realise; he has
fallen in with fools, who, in common with many Europeans have used alcohol to gain influence over the
natives.
Caliban's plot forces the abandonment of Prospero's magical/ritual masque, the moral authority of which is
directed towards Miranda and Ferdinand's chastity, a point which Prospero repeatedly stresses. His fear for
Miranda's chastity demonstrates his anxiety to impose 'civilised' behaviour on the island, and his fear that it
may not hold; it is part of his power complex.
Paul Brown's thoughtful article 'This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine' seeks to 'repunctuate' The
Tempest in order to examine its relationship to colonialist discourse. He discusses the liminal figure of
Caliban, who combines the discourses of 'masterlessness' and 'savagism' (as well as the 'salvage' or wild man),
'masterlessness' having been a continual fear of authority, as expressed in the parish poor laws, and 'savgism'
relating directly to the 'uncivil' who inhabit the areas at the edges of the dominant culture.
Brown states that 'Prospero's island is ambiguously placed between American and European discourse' (p.57).
The discourse of the Americas is of course colonialist, but Prospero's island is located in the Mediterranean.
Caliban is seen as the victim of the language he has been taught: 'Whatever Caliban does with this gift
announces his capture by it.' (p.61). Nevertheless, Caliban has the ability to represent his powerlessness and
express his resentment.
You taught me language; and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language. (1:2:365-367)
He can use this language for his own ends, however, as his arguments with Prospero show. When Stephano
and Trinculo discover him Caliban repeats the attitudes and behaviours he regretted in his relationship with
Prospero.
I'll show thee every fertile inch o'th'island; and
I will kiss thy foot: I prithee, be my god. (2:2:148-149)
While Brown reads The Tempest as a colonialist text, he cannot claim it as an unequivocal praise of or
encouragement to the colonial enterprise. In a good discussion of the significance of the disruption of the
masque scene, he states that Prospero 'has insisted that his narrative be taken as real and powerful--now it is
collapsed, along with everything else, into the 'stuff' of dreams. The forging of colonialist narrative is,
momentarily, revealed as a forgery.' (p.67). Though he claims Prospero's narrative as 'colonialist', I would
relate it to more general questions of authority.
Prospero himself will return to Milan to contemplate death: the Island has not been the scene of a colonial
settlement, but the arena in which Prospero addresses the wrongs of his European past in order to establish a
European future. As with other late plays by Shakespeare it is for the new generation to enact a reconciliation
which was unavailable to Romeo and Juliet, for example. Miranda, Prospero's daughter, and Ferdinand, the
King of Naples' son are to be married, and their optimism balances Prospero's more jaundiced view.
Mir. How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!
Pros. 'Tis new to thee. (5:1:183-184)
The Tempest and Colonialism Revisited 106
Although Prospero succeeds in promoting this marriage, in punishing his betrayers, his brother Antonio, and
Alonso, King of Naples, and bringing most of them to repentance, he confesses
Sir I am vexed
Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled. (4:1:158-159)
At the end of the masque, and once the larger, island-wide performance has been enacted, he renounces his
magical power and prepares to return home, no longer the divine controller of the island's drama, but a mortal
like other mortals. The Tempest has been insistently been read as shakespeare's farewell to the theatre, and the
island functions well as an analogue for the stage (especially in view of Shakespeare's adherence to the
classical unities of time and place in this play), just as Prospero can stand for the writer/director. Neither the
discourse of colonialism nor an autobiographical interpretation can contain and exhaust the latencies of this
subtle and beautifully constructed text. The Tempest remains a wonderfully written, highly atmospheric and
fairly mysterious text. Shakespeare's greatest strength is his ability to bring into his texts a complex nexus of
views and debates which continue to resonate, and to defy resolution, for generations of play-goers and
scholars. Despite Brown's commitment to reading The Tempest as an 'intervention' in the colonialist debate, he
concludes that it is 'a site of radical ambivalence.' (p.68).
Notes
1. Facsimile reprint ed. J.Q. Adams, New York, (1940).
2. A good review of the increasing tendency to see The Tempest as colonialist, and Caliban as a Native
American is Alden T. Vaughan 'Shakespeare's Indian: The Americanization of Caliban' in Political
Shakespeare, (eds) Stephen Orgel and Sean Keilen, Garland Publishing, New York and London, (1999),
Volume 9 of Shakespeare: The Critical Complex.
3. In Political Shakespeare, (eds) J. Dollimore & A. Sinfield, Manchester University Press, Manchester,
(1996), pp. 48-71.
The Tempest: Criticism
Overviews
Frank Davidson
[In the following essay, Davidson surveys various twentieth-century critical interpretations of The Tempest,
including biographical theories that view the work as an allegory of Shakespeare's life and as his farewell to
the stage; thematic speculations that emphasize the prevalent theme of reconciliation; and social/political
criticism—such as that of Northrup Frye, who suggests that the drama is about the evolution of a new social
order. Davidson goes on to formulate his own interpretation of the play based on its adherence to the
Renaissance ideals of political and natural order and its emphasis on the importance of reason in ordering
society and restraining human passions.]
I.
Twentieth-century critics have left us a great variety of sometimes conflicting views on the meaning of
Shakespeare's The Tempest. They have for the most part, however, been acute in their observations and have,
even in their disagreements, bequeathed us a wealth of penetrating comment and points of view on a
labyrinthine piece of dramatic art. Some, more objective than others in their approach, have been disturbed by
interpretations which seem to have no basis within the framework of the play itself. E. E. Stoll, for example,
[in PMLA XLVII (1932)], wearied, it seems, by the insistence that Shakespeare was dramatizing, in a part of
The Tempest at least, events of his own life, or writing an allegory, contends that the critic should be a "judge,
The Tempest: Criticism 107
who does not explore his own consciousness, but determines the author's meaning or intention" from what the
play actually says.
This discussion will attempt to restate and examine briefly meaning ascribed to The Tempest by several of
these critics of renown of the present century and to follow with an interpretation of the play based on
philosophical and psychological thinking of the Tudor era and justified, I hope, by the work itself.
II.
For E. K. Chambers The Tempest [in Shakespeare: A Survey, n.d.] is a "dream" or "fairy tale," the
protagonists of which are "imagined beings, taken partly from folk-belief, and partly from literature, to be the
symbols of forces dimly perceived by the poet as ruling that life, which is itself, after all, in another degree,
but such stuff as dreams are made on." In his consideration of Prospero's dissolution of the hymeneal revels
enacted for Ferdinand and Miranda, he follows Ulrici, Dowden, and others, interpreting the action as
Shakespeare's farewell to the stage. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch finds in The Tempest a subject which, he
remarks, constantly engaged Shakespeare's "mind towards the close of his lire: Reconciliation, with pardon
and atonement for the sins or mistakes of one generation in the young love of the children and in their
promise. This is the true theme of Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, successively." Stoll
agrees with Chambers that the play is a fairy tale, a "sort of glorious fairy-tale," he calls it, "precious not ...
because of the structure or situations, but because of the characters, the poetry and the rich and dreamy spirit
which for the most part informs it." He is conscious of a "tendency to reverie" in the play, of a "change in his
[Shakespeare's] imagery," of outlines that "tend to become vast, vague and wavering, as in a dream," and of
some profound thought on "the end, not only of man's work but of Nature's, and of life as a dream, and death
as a sleep." He is at total variance with Chambers with reference to any biographical interpretation. Hardin
Craig, [in An Interpretation of Shakespeare, n.d.] like Stoll, looks at the play objectively but stresses more
than do the other critics the fact that it is stage drama. In support of his view he directs attention to some
significant facts unmentioned by Stoll: that "Prospero has committed error, has suffered wrongs, has striven
against them, even has some struggles, often overlooked, on the island." The Tempest, he says, represents
"Man moving toward the realization of the greatest Renaissance ideal," having "grown on the one side into a
competent man of action, and on the other into a man of self-command." [In Six Plays of Shakespeare, n.d.,]
G. B. Harrison follows the lead of Chambers and Stoll in viewing the play as a fairy tale and that of
Quiller-Couch in assigning as theme, "reconciliation; wrongs committed in one generation ... set right in the
happiness of the next." Donald Stauffer [in Shakespeare's World of Images, 1949] interprets the play as one of
"moral ideas," which "grow from age and experience and self-discipline and resignation, almost from
disillusion." Prospero's "nobler reason" is for him "no scientific rationality, but an ethical control over
passion." Northrop Frye rules out allegory and argues [in The Tempest, The Pelican Shakespeare, 1949] that
The Tempest is about a "dissolving society" and a "new kind of social order" that moves "not out of the world,
but from an ordinary to a renewed and ennobled vision of nature." Prospero, he explains, "takes the society of
Alonso's ship, immerses it in magic, and then sends it back to the world, its original ranks restored, but given
a new wisdom ..." He touches on the biographical theory and sees possibilities in it without subscribing to it.
Frye's is a beautiful piece of exposition, persuasive and charmingly lucid. Mark Van Doren warns the reader
[A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, The Pocket Library, n.d.] that
"The Tempest is a composition about which we had better not be too knowing"; that "it seems to order itself in
terms of meanings" which are not "self-evident," but which are subject to a variety of interpretations, even
contradictory ones, and of which even "the wildest is more or less plausible." He accepts the "reconciliation"
theme mentioned by Quiller-Couch and Harrison but associates with it a theme of "separation," He touches
upon the biographical theory but lends it no credence.
Any of the preceding views, except perhaps the biographical, may be to an extent justified by the lines of the
play. Three, however, those of Frye, Stauffer, and Craig, provide some very pertinent observations not
included in the others. Frye almost induces belief in his theme of a new society. He finds arguments for it in
the compassion of Prospero, in the reconciliation of implacable enemies through the marriage of their
Overviews 108
children, and in the fact that most of the characters find themselves, "when no man was his own." Prospero,
however, is so much the center of the action from beginning to end, he so dawrfs the other characters, that the
social aspect dwelt upon by Frye is but vaguely defined. Stauffer is aware not only of moral ideas in the play,
but of moral ideas which are the outgrowth of "age, experience, self-discipline, resignation, almost
disillusion" and which anticipate "ethical control over passion" (italics added). Craig particularizes more than
does Stauffer the experience, the self-discipline, and their results. For him, as we have noticed, "Prospero has
committed error, has suffered wrongs, and has struggled against them, even has some struggles, often
overlooked, on the island" and under the discipline imposed by these conflicts, has moved toward "the
realization of the greatest Renaissance ideal" (italics added).
III.
In content as well as in period The Tempest is, as Craig implies, Renaissance drama. It reflects such inherited
classical theories and faiths and philosophies of sixteenth-century Western Europe as natural differentiation in
degree and in duties of rulers and subjects ("specialty of rule" Ulysses called it in Troilus and Cressida); zeal
for learning; the relative importance of speculative and practical living and a morality and psychology based
upon convictions about the rationality, the passionate nature, and the free will of man.
Although Craig does not identify the "error" with which he charges Prospero, there can be hardly a doubt that
he has in mind the cause of Prospero's failure as a Duke, a type of error of which the Renaissance took
cognizance. As Frye correctly observes, Prospero "appears to have been a remarkably incompetent ruler of
Milan." The obsession or passion with which Shakespeare endowed him would, for an Elizabethan, have
made him so, for he devoted himself to speculative studies, "neglecting worldy ends, all dedicated / To
closeness" (Ln.89-90), and by this immoderate inclination contributed to the defection of his brother, the loss
of his dukedom, the exile of himself and Miranda, and the conflict that enmeshed him after he was forced by
circumstance to care for himself and his daughter on a practically uninhabited island. "The government," he
tells Miranda, while acquainting her with his former situation as Duke,
I cast upon my brother,
And to my state grew stranger, being transported
And rapt in secret studies ...
I, thus neglecting wordly ends, all dedicated
To closeness and the bettering of my mind ... in my false brother
Awaked an evil nature ...
Me, poor man, my library
Was dukedom large enough.
(I.ii.75-110)
His error is evident in his words. His lack of any practical interest in the affairs of his people, his passion for a
meditative and private life, and his delegating the actual operation of governing to a kinsman, as did Lear (in
itself a perversion of nature), would have proved an almost insurmountable barrier for any sixteenth-century
European ruler.
Study was, however, though insufficient in itself, an asset for the gentleman of the time, and for princesses as
well, as Henry VIII demonstrated, and Prospero, too; for instruction in the liberal sciences would, says Sir
Thomas Elyot, "prepare the mynde and make it apte to receive vertue." But, Elyot goes on to say, the
governor should be "neyther by study withdrawen from affaires of the publike weale, nor by any busyness
utterly pluckyd from Philosophy and any other noble doctrynes." John Lyly voices a similar thought, pointing
out that there is an active life "which is about ciuill function and administration of the common weale," and a
speculative, "which is continuall meditation and studie ... If this actiue life be without philsophie, it is an idle
life, or at the least a life euill imployed which is worse: if the contemplatiue lyfe be seperated from the Actiue,
it is vnprofitable." Prospero's error helps to explain the presence of Ariel and Caliban in the play and to
Overviews 109
prepare for the climax.
On the island, to which Providence has guided him, Prospero, the scholar, dedicated to closeness, is forced to
employ that function of the rational soul which, to this time, he has neglected—the active. Through the
kindness of Gonzalo, he still has his books and he still uses them, but he must divide his time now between
speculative and practical concerns. He discovers two inhabitants on the island, Ariel, whom he releases from
imprisonment, a delicate spirit, brave, adaptable to a variety of visible forms as well as to invisibility,
freedom-loving, accommodated to any of the four elements, and Caliban, a creature of earth, offspring of a
witch and the devil, whom he attempts to instruct in the manners of human life. The former, Prospero detains
as servant in spite of protest; the latter, subsequent to his kind treatment and its ingratitude, he shuts in a
cavern and assigns menial tasks—a rebellious slave. Neither of these beings is human. Ariel, who, it must be
remembered, acts only on Prospero's bidding, can, under his direction, perform rationally (I.ii.207-208) but
lacks human affection (V.i.19); Caliban is without reason and acts from instinct. But both act. Chambers
speaks of Ariel, as from one point of view, "the agent and minister of an inscrutable Providence," which Ariel
demonstrates himself to be (III.iii.60-75), with his adeptness at working with sensory objects—seas, shores,
creatures, winds—through which, according to him, Providence operates to maintain order and justice in the
world. Stoll treats Ariel and Caliban in considerable detail. Somewhat contemptuous of those critics who have
a "taste for an inner meaning, biographical or symbolical," he likens Ariel to Puck "in the enjoyment of his
own performances and of his effects on mortals" and speaks of him as "more ethereal ... than the fairies,"
representing "a power of nature, like wind or water, harnessed for a time to man's service [italics added], and
delighting in it, yet ever ready to break loose." Caliban is for Stoll "a mooncalf," "the perfect brute," who "fits
perfectly into the dramatic scheme as the creature of earth—both a parallel and a contrast with the spirit of the
air ..." The two, he significantly remarks, constitute a "state of nature—Prospero and Miranda as human figures
coming in between." Stoll lays great stress upon his point that these two figures are "not single abstractions
personified, but many-sided conceptions, incarnated," "developments out of popular superstitious conceptions,
which are concrete," both closely associated with nature. Of their growth in the poet's mind, he explains that
there was of course a guiding thread of thought, or a germinal idea—the spirit of the air in the
one case, the spawn of the earth in the other—but that worked darkly under cover. Guided by
touch and instinct, the poet, when consciously active at all, was intent upon the life and shape
of the imagined creature, not on a meaning within it. (Or rather upon both, for this
meaning—this germinal idea is simple and inherent, not arbitrary and external ... and the
creature and its meaning are one.)
One may gladly accept all this and then, making an additional observation, point out a "guiding thread of
thought, or germinal idea" in each of these non-human creatures that is different in some respects from those
that have been suggested and more in keeping with Prospero's necessity, in his isolation, to be practical as
well as informed. His volitions, it may be noted, are transformed to deeds by Ariel and Caliban on his requests
and demands. The "germinal idea" for each of the two figures seems to nave been drawn from the psychology
well known to the period.
Briefly, one basic concept in Elizabethan psychology was that man possesses three souls—a vegetative, which
he has in common with plants and the lower animals and whose functions are nourishment, growth, and
reproduction; a sensible, which he shares with lower animals and whose chief function is, through affections
and passions, to stimulate beast or man to activity; and a rational, which is peculiar to man and whose chief
functions are to know, to speculate, and to will.
As the sensible soul, seat of the passions, was the one most closely associated with motion, it naturally
became the agent of Prospero's activity, and at two levels: the basically physical or vegetal, and the mental
and spiritual. Castiglione defines man's position with reference to these levels and points out two types of
man's government of the active agents at the two levels, suggesting in terms of body, desire, soul, and reason,
Overviews 110
a relationship such as in The Tempest exists between Prospero and Caliban on the one hand and between
Prospero and Ariel on the other, the former that of master and slave, the latter that of prince and subject
according to laws.
Significant to any satisfactory interpretation of Caliban perhaps are this basic psychological concept of the
souls and their functions; the necessity Prospero is under, after he reaches the island, to act; and his two
admissions concerning his relations with Caliban: first, that he and Miranda have subjected themselves in a
measure to Caliban, have come to depend upon him for building fires, fetching wood, and performing other
menial services that profit them (I.ii.311-13), and second, that he acknowledges "this thing of darkness" his
(V.i.275-76). It would seem that Shakespeare, in Prospero's concession of dependence on and ownership of
the creature, is suggesting that the "germinal idea" for Caliban is the brute body, responding to sensory and
sensual instincts and desires, and operating at the subsistence and reproductive level of life; that, in contrast,
the "germinal idea" for Ariel is the spirit of the sensible soul, acting, though dissentingly at times, in the
elemental world of nature under the instruction of a rational soul to the attainment of personal and universal
justice. In other words, Caliban and Ariel are attributes of Prospero, practical aspects of himself of which he
was hardly conscious during his strictly speculative years. Each would be free; that was the rational soul's
dilemma. Caliban speaks of a time when he was his "own king" (I.i.342). His attempted rape of Miranda is
representative of the flesh's natural procreative urge, an instinct whose lustful, insidious propensities Prospero
has not been conscious of in himself until after his banishment and which he finds "abhorrent," "capable of all
ill," and amenable to "stripes ... not kindness." The rational soul's necessitated employment of the vegetative
for practical ends has given Prospero a peep at the "unweeded garden / That grows to seed"; at that dark
aspect of nature to which the bastard Edmund pledged himself in "Thou, Nature, art my goddess."
With reference to such an interpretation of Caliban and Ariel as I have attempted here, there may be
pertinency in Francis Bacon's observation:
For the sensible soul—the soul of brutes—must clearly be regarded as a corporeal substance,
attenuated and made invisible by heat; a breath ... compounded of the natures of flame and
air, having the softness of air to receive impressions, and the vigour of fire to propagate its
action; ... clothed with the body, and in perfect animals residing chiefly in the head, running
along the nerves, and refreshed and repaired by the spirituous blood of the arteries ... [T]his
soul is in the brutes the principal soul, the body of the brute being its instrument whereas in
man it is itself only the instrument of the rational soul, and may be more fitly termed not soul,
but spirit.
Professor Stoll, persevering and right as he is against a critic's reading his own impressions into The Tempest
or any other literary work, does recognize that Shakespeare could "forget himself to the point of ... entering
into the soul of a phenomenon of nature" and giving it reality.
IV.
I have observed above that The Tempest is Renaissance drama in that it reflects among other characteristics of
the time, some of the closely related political, ethical, and psychological views. I have stated one of the basic
principles featured in that psychology—old as Plato and new as Spenser—and have tried to show its
applicability to an identification of Ariel and Caliban. Another basic belief, likewise significant to an
interpretation of the play and incorporated in many of the sixteenth-century works on moral philosophy, is,
that for man's attainment of the highest good in life, the summum bonum, obedience to natural order is
essential. Just as
The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre
Observe degree, priority, and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Overviews 111
Office and custom, in all line of order ...
(Troilus and Cressida I.iii.85-88)
so man, for his felicity, must "observe degree, priority, and place" of subject and ruler, of child and parent, of
youth and age, of passion and reason.
Perversions of natural order such as Ulysses sets forth in Troilus and Cressida (I.iii.101-24) develop into a
pattern in The Tempest, bringing complications and distress. Twelve years before the opening incident of the
action Antonio, brother and subject of Prospero, had, with the aid of Alonso, King of Naples, seized power in
the dukedom of Prospero and set him and his baby daughter adrift upon the sea in the rotten carcass of a tub.
Prospero speaks of Antonio as an "unnatural" brother. The first incident of the play ties in with this
recollected earlier one and reveals the contemptuous behavior, during a shipwreck ("degree being vizarded")
of sailors toward a king's councilor and toward the king himself. In rapid succession then come the demands
of a servant, Ariel, for his freedom from his master; the defiance of a master by a slave, who claims ownership
of the island on which they live; the plotting of Antonio and King Alonso's brother, Sebastian, to assassinate
the king and seize Naples (a duplication in many respects of the conspiracy that unseated Prospero); Miranda's
taking issue with her father concerning a lover; and the fomenting of a conspiracy by Caliban and two
drunken sailors against Prospero. All these revolts, save that of Ariel, who can act under the direction of
reason (I.ii.206-208), originate in uncontrolled passions: ambitious desire, anger, hatred, youthful love,
cupidity.
Passions were not looked upon as evil in themselves by Elizabethans, except among the stoics; they were,
however, when out of control, considered dangerous to both body and mind. One of man's greatest conflict
was, at least in theory, that between his reason and his passions, and this conflict, according to Francis Bacon,
became a theme even better adapted to artistic than to philosophical treatment. It is basic to the struggle in the
second book of The Faerie Queene, where, up to the close of Canto V, Sir Guyon contends against Furor, and,
through the remainder of the book, against Acrasia or concupiscible desire. Shakespeare makes the passions
an active force in his tragedies, and in The Tempest he employs them as chief contender against Prospero.
The lines of The Tempest are interlaced with the diction of the contemporary psychology in its treatment of
the reason and the passions. There are words, phrases, clauses that speak of the restraint of this enemy: "be
patient"; "Be collected"; "music crept by me upon the waters, / Allaying both their fury and my passion"; "The
white cold virgin snow upon my heart / Abates the ardor of my liver." Many expressions reflect the effects of
the uncontrolled passions: "I'm out of patience"; "being transported / And rapt"; "beating my mind";
"amazement"; "infect his reason"; "a fever of the mad"; "tricks of desperation"; "immitigable rage"; "At the
first sight / They have changed eyes"; "My spirits, as in a dream, are all bound up"; "madness"; "Their great
guilt ... / Now 'gins to bite the spirits"; "I have made you mad"; "ecstasy"; "anger so distempered"; "vexed";
"my beating mind"; "a madness held me"; "they devour their reason." Other passages indicate a return to a
normal state of mind after the working of a passion: "their rising senses / Begin to chase the ignorant fumes
that mantle / Their clearer reason"; "Their understanding / Begins to swell, and the approaching tide / "Will
shortly fill the reasonable shore / That now lies foul and muddy"; "their senses I'll restore."
Even the title of the play is not so much concerned with the sea storm Prospero raises as with the passions he
stirs in his guests and in himself, passions that in his twelve years of isolation may have shown calm at the
surface but which now, as he faces his foes, mount high again. In the books of philosophy and psychology of
the day a not unusual symbol for the passions is a tempest.
Incidents of the play as well as the diction and the title speak of the passions. Prospero lectures Ferdinand on
continence in love after the lovers, with his consent, have plighted troth, and predicts dire calamities if his
exhortation goes unheeded (IV.i.14-24; 50-54). The scene is echoed in the wedding masque (IV.i.96-97) when
Iris speaks of the "vows ... no bedright shall be paid / Till Hymen's torch be lighted." Both Stoll and Frye are
Overviews 112
perplexed by Prospero's seemingly unnecessary admonition. Stoll associates it with a "measure of ugliness
and horror, cynicism and grossness" to be found in the late comedies of Shakespeare, and asks, "Why should
he [Prospero] warn Ferdinand, about to be left for a moment with Miranda, not to break her virgin-knot, and
then, the next moment, harp on the subject again?" Frye attributes Prospero's moments of anger to the
"nervous strain of dealing with such characters" as those about him and states that "in his fussing over
protecting Miranda from the obviously honorable lover, there is a touch of the busybody." Elizabethan
psychology would have supported neither of the critics, as it leaves no doubt about the danger of
concupiscible pleasures. When Prospero warns Ferdinand, "Do not give dalliance / Too much the rein"
(IV.i.51-52), he is not speaking grossly and is not a busybody.
Passions of grief and remorse are vigorously presented in I. ii of The Tempest. Ariel appears to Alonso,
Sebastian, and Gonzalo as a harpy, reminds the first three of their sins, informs them that he has made them
mad, proclaims himself and his aids ministers of fate, and warns that
The powers, delaying not forgetting, have
Incensed the seas and stones—yea, all the creatures
Against your peace.
(II.iii.73-75)
Alonso, grieving the disappearance of his son, whom he has given up for dead (III.iii.7-10), imagines that he
hears the billows, the winds, the thunder accusing him of the evil he has done Prospero (III.iii.95-102) and
reminding him that because of his misdeeds he now suffers the loss of his son. Sebastian and Antonio are in a
frenzy. Gonzalo, seeing that "All three of them are desperate," requests that someone with suppler joints than
his, "follow them swiftly, / And hinder them from what this ecstasy / May now provoke them to"
(III.iii.107-109). Shakespeare had used the passions of grief and anger very effectively as a cause of Lear's
madness and, in The Tempest, shortly before Gonzalo beseeches someone to follow the desperate trio, has
Prospero, aware of what has occurred, reflect;
And these mine enemies are all knit up
In their distractions.
(III.iii.89-90)
V.
Prospero, as has been noted, while informing Miranda of his past, assumed some of the blame for his disaster,
attributing it in part to his immoderate zeal for speculative learning to the neglect of his active duties as a
ruler. Linked with his intemperate behavior was a self-ride, which characterizes him through most of the play:
"Prospero the prime Duke," he boasts to his daughter, "being so reputed / In dignity, and for the liberal arts /
Without a parallel" (I.ii.72-74). His sensitivity displays itself in his susceptibility to feelings of resentment,
anger, and revenge. In the wrongs done him by his brother and in the challenges to his authority by Ariel and
by Caliban, he is hurt most by their ingratitude; in each instance he lays great stress upon his own kindnesses
to these betrayers of his trust and tenderness, and on each occasion gives way to anger, just as he does when
his daughter, attempting to argue a point with him about her lover, draws the quick, sharp rebuke, "my foot,
my tutor?" (I.ii.469) and the more vehement reproof, "one more word / Shall make me chide thee, if not hate
thee" (I.ii.475-76). To Ferdinand he appears "crabbed" and "composed of harshness" (I.ii.8-9). When he
suddenly remembers that Caliban and the sailors are moving against him, his passion is such as to alarm
Ferdinand and Miranda. To the former's observation, "Your father's in some passion / That works him
strongly," the latter replies that "till this day" she has not seen him "touched with anger so distempered" (IV.i.
143-45). Prospero, noting their concern, confesses vexation, and requests, "Bear with my weakness, my old
brain is troubled. / Be not disturbed with my infirmity" (IV.i. 159-60). He will take a turn or two, he says, "to
still my beating mind."
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The revenge motif in The Tempest has never had the attention it deserves. Stoll attributes the scenes involving
Prospero's anger to "the poverty of the plot," and observes that "No obstacles opposing his omnipotence from
without, one must be raised up within." Stoll seems unaware of the tension building up from the protasis of
the second scene of the play to the moment when this man who, as scholar, had been "trasported and rapt in
secret studies" must make a momentous decision. "The drama," says Stoll "is indeed seldom performed: there
is too little suspense, and the conjuring tricks pall upon us." Craig comes nearer the mark in his assertion
quoted above that "Prospero ... even has some struggles, often overlooked, on the island." Miss Campbell
takes cognizance of the vengeance motif but only to point out how Shakespeare transformed to comedy an
impending tragedy of revenge. Ftye seems to be quite conscious of the dark strain in the play but lets it pass
with the observation that "Like Hamlet, Prospero delays revenge and sets up a dramatic action to catch the
conscience of a king ..." It should be noted that the revenge motif carries into the secondary action as Caliban
urges Stephano to avenge the wrongs Prospero has done him (III.ii.61-62). Desire for vengeance has
apparently lain dormant in Prospero through the years of his banishment, and now, with the sudden advent of
his foes, the great wrong of twelve years before is stirringly present again, arousing the passions and
stimulating the will to action. Tensions begin building in the first act, when Prospero insists that his daughter
be alert to the situation they face. "The hour's now come," he says; "The very minute bids thee ope thine ear. /
Obey, and be attentive" (I.ii.36-38). After outlining for her the significant events of the unfortunate past, he
comes again "to the present business / Which now's upon's, without the which this story / Were most
impertinent" (I.ii.136-38). He must seize upon the moment or his "fortunes / Will ever after droop"
(I.ii.183-84). The suspense intensifies in Act III when Prospero announces concerning his enemies, "They
now are in my power," and mounts to a climax at the close of Act IV:
At this hour
Lie at my mercy all mine enemies.
Shortly shall all my labours end ...
VI.
The Tempest is not mere spectacle or story of a magician's supernatural dominance of men and spirits. Nor
does it lack suspense. The conflict that makes drama is present in Prospero, and its resolution comes, not so
much of physical, as of moral and mental travail. The two functions of the rational soul, speculative and
practical, at last fuse. The former has prepared "the mynde and [made] it apte to receive vertue"; the latter
wills and acts virtuously. "Degree" is preserved; reason, the distinctive attribute of man, triumphs over
passion. When Ariel, who lacks human sympathy but who recognizes suffering when he sees it, reports the
sorrowful plight of Gonzalo and the penitence and grief of Alonso, the "enemy ... inveterate," Prospero meets
the challenge. "Shall not myself," he asks,
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 the quick,
Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury
Do I take part.
The rarer action is In virtue than in vegeance.
(V.i.22-28)
So the conflict ends. Prospero has achieved virtue, and the virtue seems to be magnanimity, "the wonderful
effects" of which, "appeare principally in three points," the second of which is "dutie towards enemies, against
whom generositie will in no wise suffer a man to practise or consent to any wickednesse ..."
A note has sounded throughout the play, however, of a force superior to and within whose compass man's
reason and virtue operate. At the end of the first scene, when death seems imminent to members of the court
party, Gonzalo exclaims, "The wills above be done!" Near the close of the play he gives credit to the "gods"
Overviews 114
for having brought him and his party to the island, and with his comment raises the question whether all the
events of the past twelve years have not been parts of a Providential plan. Between these two pronouncements
Prospero makes acknowledgment to "Providence divine" for having brought him and his daughter safely
ashore, Ariel associates the "powers" with the maintenance of justice in the world, and Ferdinand lays claim
to Miranda through "immortal Providence." Relative to this "Providence" with its continuity and greatness,
man, even with his reason, "is such stuff / As dreams are made on, and [his] little life / Is rounded with a
sleep."
Another repetitive note in the play is freedom. The word "liberty" accompanies Ariel's first appearance, and
the last command he receives opens the final line of the drama, "Be free." Just before his release, however,
Prospero requests he set Caliban and his companions free. Ferdinand can find liberty even in confinement if,
from his prison, he may see Miranda daily, and he compares his willingness to be her husband to that of
bondage to be free. The freedom of Ariel and Caliban, as we might expect, follows closely Prospero's
liberating himself from the passion that has ridden him and his finding his true self in the rule of reason. The
relations of the servant and of the slave to Prospero change with this event; they are no longer in revolt.
Caliban's sense of values, for instance, is transformed to such a degree that he can exclaim, "How fine my
master is!" and wonder at his own asininity of a moment before in mistaking Stephano for a god. In brief,
master, servant, and slave, each finds his freedom in the degree or specialty of rule that nature assigns him.
Frye thinks that Prospero shows little promise of being a better Duke after his return to Milan than he was
before leaving it. This view comes perhaps of the statement made by Prospero near the close of the drama,
"Every third thought shall be my grave," as if he plans to be again the purely meditative man. The implication
of Frye's thinking is that Prospero has learned from his long experience little of lasting worth for a ruler. We
must remember, however, that he will reoccupy Milan through conquest; he has conquered himself and his
political foes. His prospective mediation is certainly not unusual for his day or for his immediate situation.
Having proved the power of reason concerning a passion closely aligned with life, he can now exercise that
power to promote serenity of mind in the contemplation of death, a subject which seems to have haunted
Elizabethan thought. Frye's prediction is not so well based as Craig's: that Prospero, having achieved virtue
and restored himself to power, will, upon his return to Milan, attend to practical affairs of state without
abandoning study and meditation; "... the Renaissance," he says, "put no premium on ignorance."
SOURCE: "The Tempest: An Interpretation," in JEGP: Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol.
LXII, 1963, pp. 501-17.
Magic
The magical atmosphere Shakespeare creates in The Tempest is one of the play's defining qualities and,
according to critics, this element of magic pervades many of the primary themes in the work. While the topic
allows for a wide range of interpretation, it is most often associated with the opposing forces of illusion and
reality and the theme of reconciliation.
Robert Egan
[In the following essay, Egan interprets Prospero's magic in The Tempest as an indicator of the play's theme
of the possible moral rejuvenation of mankind. Prospero, as an artist/magician and the ultimate ruler of the
island, usurps the role of God by forcefully projecting his moral vision on all of the other characters in the
play, including the indigenous creatures Ariel and Caliban and the shipwrecked nobles from Italy. According
to Egan, this vision lacks the elements of love and forgiveness necessary for it to succeed in a real human
society. Prospero's 'rough magic,' based on the desire for vengeance, however, is transformed by the end of
the drama into a moral system tempered by charity and in keeping with the Christian belief in a shared love
for all humanity.]
Magic 115
Is the knowing all? To know, and even happily, that we meet unblessed; not in some garden
of wax fruit and painted trees, that lie of Eden, but after, after the Fall, after many, many
deaths. Is the knowing all? And the wish to kill is never killed, but with some gift of courage
one may look into its face when it appears, and with a stroke of love—as to an idiot in the
house—forgive it; again and again ... forever?
Arthur Miller, After the Fall
Whether or not The Tempest was chronologically the last of Shakespeare's plays is a debatable and ultimately
an irrelevant question. The Bard's farewell to the London stage before serenely tottering off to Stratford is a
cliche requiring little attention; quite obviously, it takes the play for something far slighter than it is.
Nevertheless, there is an unmistakable sense of finality permeating the work. Themes and their variations
from throughout the Shakespeare canon seem to draw together here. The characters include a hero more
sinned against than sinning, a pair of young and innocent lovers, a guilt-ridden King, a faithful old Counsellor,
a machiavellian usurper, a swaggering braggart, and a fool—all central character types of the tragedies,
histories, and comedies, recapitulated and condensed in this most compact and precisely ordered of
Shakespeare's plays.
More specifically, The Tempest deals centrally with ideas and concepts of at to a far greater extent than any of
the plays before it. All its events and circumstances are either the direct result or the consequence of
Prospero's "Art". We have seen a poet and painter discourse on their crafts (which are for sale to the highest
bidder) in Timon, the poet Gower has presented Pericles, and the art of Julio Romano has been a significant
factor in the denouement of The Winter's Tale. But here, for the first and last time, the artist is hero and
protagonist, and his principal meditations, decisions, and actions are couched in terms of his art. We may well
look, then, for implications of some final statement or pronouncement by Shakespeare upon his own art. First,
however, we must examine the art of Prospero in detail, evaluating its meaning through the forms it takes, the
intentions on which it is founded, and the ends it accomplishes.
I.
The least likely place to begin the investigation of a play is at its end, but the Epilogue of The Tempest offers
us, through an unusual and unconventional view of the art of the play as a whole, an illuminating insight into
the role of art within the play. Nearly all other Shakespearian epilogues declare or assume the termination of
the play-world, calling their audiences back to an extra-theatrical norm of reality by requesting applause. This
pattern is surprisingly consistent, whether couched in the utilitarian prose of the Dancer in Henry IV or the
finely wrought verse of Puck. The most concise and representative example is the Epilogue of All's Well That
Ends Well, spoken by the King:
The King's a beggar, now the play is done.
All is well ended if this suit be won,
That you express content; which we will pay.
With strife to please you, day exceeding day.
Ours be your patience then, and yours our parts.
Your gentle hands lend us, and take our hearts.
The first line dominates those that follow; it leaves no doubt that the play-world's standards of identity and
reality have come to an end and bear no relevance to the present situation. The speaker is no longer the King
but an actor. The play, its events, and its characters are offered simply as "our parts", objects of artifice for the
pleasure and approval of the audience.
The Epilogue of The Tempest, however, specifically does away with this perspective, purposefully eliminating
any barrier between the play-world and the real:
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Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint: now, 'tis true,
I must be here confin'd by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got,
And pardon'd the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please.
Now I want Spirits to enforce,
Art to enchant; And my ending is despair,
Unless I be reliev'd by prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
The opening three lines lead us to expect a conventional declaration by an actor who is only an actor, the
"charms" of his art "o'erthrown". Yet such an expectation is deliberately undercut: it is still Prospero who
speaks—from the island, not from the stage—and the play has yet to reach a conclusion. Moreover, its final
event, the impending return to Naples, is charged to the members of the audience. It is their "spell" (Epilogue.
8) that holds him confined; their hands must release him and their "gentle breath" (Epilogue. 11) supply the
"auspicious gales" which he has promised Alonso (V.i.314). In effect, they are invited to enter the play-world
and assume a role, through their applause, as a moving force in its culmination.
This is not simply a metaphoric request for applause; without such participation by the audience, Prospero's
"project fails" (Epilogue. 12)—that same project we have watched evolve through the play and "gather to a
head" (V.i.1) in the fifth act. An appeal for applause is thus delivered, but it is spoken from within the play;
"while in previous epilogues the speaker stepped out of his dramatic context to address the audience in its own
sphere of reality, Prospero brings the audience into the play. Here and here alone in Shakespeare, the play's art
has no terminal boundaries but rather subsumes the "real", extra-theatrical world of its spectators, supplanting
their sense of reality with its own.
What is the nature of this art, powerful enough to encompass the play's audience, and what is the "project" in
which their participation is ultimately required? We shall return to the full significance of the Epilogue later;
but meanwhile, on the most immediate level, we know Prospero's art to be that of a formidable magician—a
demiurge, in effect, since he can control and order all the elements to the extent of raising a storm which splits
a vessel and shipwrecks its passengers without "so much perdition as an hair / Betid" (I.ii. 30-31) to them or to
the ship itself. Miranda associates his abilities with a "god of power" (10); and indeed, his "so potent Art"
(V.i.50) seems almost blasphemously close to godhead when he recalls rifting "Jove's stout oak / With his
own bolt" (45-46) and even raising the dead. Yet these are not powers naturally accruing to him; they were
gained by years of seclusion and study (which cost him his dukedom), and they are embodied not in Prospero
himself but in such objects as his books, his staff, and his magic garment. Without his books, says Caliban,
"He's but a sot, as I am" (III.ii.91). Prospero himself perceives this separation of his artistic function from his
identity as a man to the extent that he can, in putting off his garment, say, "Lie there, my Art" (I.ii.25).
Magic 117
A more specific dimension of his art is its consistent preoccupation with mimesis, particularly mimesis of a
dramatic kind. Even the storm was a "spectacle" (I.ii.26): it was "Perform'd to point" (194) by Ariel, and all its
lightnings and thunderclaps were in fact only semblances, as they did no harm. (One is reminded of W. B.
Yeats's ultimate image of art in "Byzantium": "An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.") His subject
spirits are never what they seem, but continually assuming roles and guises. Ariel plays a sea-nymph and a
harpy, and his lesser cohorts appear variously in "urchin-shows" (I.ii.5) as apes, hedgehogs, adders, and
hunting dogs. Ariel, in fact, offers Prospero the services of himself and "all his quality" (I.ii. 193); we recall
that contemporary actors referred to their profession as "the Quality". Prospero's remarks, after the banquet
has been removed from before the Court party, might well be those of a director or stage manager
congratulating his performers on a job well done:
Bravely the figure of this Harpy has thou
Perform'd, my Ariel; a grace it had devouring:
Of my instruction hast thou nothing bated,
In what thou hadst to say: so, with good life
And observation strange, my meaner ministers
Their several kinds have done.
(II.iii.83-88)
Finally, the masque presented in the fourth act is overtly an exercise of dramatic art. It is evident, therefore,
that a considerable portion of Prospero's art involves the dramatic medium. We should, however, be careful to
avoid any immediate identification of Prospero with Shakespeare, or even with the playwright in general. For
Prospero is not a mere representative figure or allegorical cipher; he is a fully rounded character and,
potentially, a tragic protagonist. As such, he is representative only in the broad sense that Lear and Hamlet
are. To understand his full significance we must focus our attention on the terms of the play itself before
inferring any outside implications. Prospero is a magician as well as a dramatist—both are facets of the same
"Art"—and a man as well as an artist.
II.
What, then, are the ends toward which he employs his art; what, in other words, is the substance of his
"project"? We can begin with his relationship to Caliban, who, while the most "monstrous" character of the
play, is in effect the lowest common denominator of all its characters—indeed, of all humanity. He is the
amoral, appetitive, suffering Self in all of us, ever in search of freedom to satisfy all its hungers—visceral,
sexual, and emotional—and ever ready to follow any "god" who promises such freedom. Prospero's general
method of dealing with this essence of fallen man is to check his degeneracy with verbal chastisement and
physical pain—the "urchin-shows" of apes and adders—and to draw him up toward a state of fulfillment and
moral regeneration. He teaches him how "To name the bigger light, and how the less" (I.ii.337), and, through
Miranda, how to speak. Moreover, besides specifically indicating the path to reformation, he shows him
visions of some indistinct, heavenly ideal to spur him on further:
and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me.
(III.ii.138-140)
Thus Prospero has employed his art to expose and chastise Caliban's faults, lead him to goodness, and depict
images of what he should be. This specifically moral function is the basic pattern of almost all his artistic
endeavors. He shipwrecks the Court party with the specific intention of subjecting Alonso, Antonio, and
Sebastian to an ordeal of self-knowledge and purgation through the performance of his spirits. Ariel confronts
them point-blank with their guilts—"You are three men of sin"—and leaves them with only two alternatives for
the future: "Ling'ring perdition" or "heart-sorrow/ And a clear life ensuing" (III.iii.53,77,81-82). Ferdinand,
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too, undergoes a separate, punishing trial to rid him of his own "Caliban" qualities and to purify his love.
Again, the ordeal culminates in a mimetic vision of the ideal which Prospero intends for him to assume: the
masque of chastity.
Prospero's project, then, is no less than to purge the evil from the inhabitants of his world and restore them to
goodness. Thus his relation to the rest of the characters—manipulating their lives, judging their flaws, and
setting standards of goodness for them—is, again, close to godhead. Through Ariel he equates himself with the
"Destiny, / That hath to instrument this lower world / And what is in't" (III.iii.53-55); and Ferdinand, in the
presence of "So rare a wonder'd father and a wise" (IV.i.123), thinks himself in Paradise. Such overt and
implied resemblances have led some critics into mistaking Prospero for a figuration of God the Father. But it
is precisely this assumption of god-like powers and responsibilities by one who is in no way superhuman that
precipitates the central problem of the play. Prospero's artistic powers, being capable of great evil as well as
great good, place him in a perilous position. The line between theurgy and necromancy could be thin at times,
and the mage could easily cross it unawares. We need only remind ourselves that "prospero" is the Italian for
"faustus". In order to fulfill the responsibilities he has assumed—before he can presume to influence others
with his art—it is imperative that Prospero himself have a comprehensive and flawless moral vision of his
world. He must perceive not only what is evil in men and what, ideally, they should be, but also what men are,
and what relationship he, as a man, bears toward them. Without such a clarity of vision, the exercise of his art
may result in corruption for himself and chaos for those around him.
III.
Our first insight into the moral vision on which his art is based emerges through his own narration (I.ii) of his
first contact with evil in the world. We learn that, in the course of the "secret studies" through which his art
was acquired, he "grew stranger" to his dukedom: rejected the everyday realities of statecraft for the ideal
realm in his books. Being totally unaware or unsuspecting of the temptations of worldly power, he left the
manage of his state to his brother, assuming that, since he reposed in Antonio an absolute love and a
"confidence sans bound," his love and confidence would naturally be returned. Instead, however, it "Awak'd
an evil nature," the throne was seized, and Prospero was cast away. His reaction to this eruption of evil is
marked not simply by bitterness but by a pronounced incredulity "That a brother should / Be so perfidious!"
He was, and is still, unable to conceive of the contradiction between what a brother should be and what his
brother was. Similarly, he cannot accept the fact that his own officers supported the usurper: that any evil
could exist in the world as he knew it without being "new created / ... or chang'd ... / Or else new form'd.
But primarily his amazement centers on the fact that his brother should have acted contrary to all logical and
ideal norms of brotherhood—that his own kind could return hate where love was owed. The lapse of time has
brought him no new understanding of this. He cannot even cope with its memory, and the increasing
frustration of his failure to do so emerges in his irrational, peevish demands that his daughter attend him. He
ignores Miranda's simple but overwhelming bit of realism:
I should sin
To think but nobly of my grandmother:
Good wombs have born bad sons.
Such an acknowledgement of evil as part of the natural condition of man is unacceptable to Prospero. His
years of seclusion in his library have instilled in him a moral perspective rooted not in the real world but in the
ideals of his art. Significantly, he still prizes his volumes above his dukedom, and insists on judging the real
world by their rigid moral absolutes. If his brother acted contrary to the ideal of a brother, then his brother was
not a brother but some alien, inhuman thing of evil, to be dealt with as an enemy. In short, he rejects the sinner
with the sin.
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The dangerous short-sightedness of this view is self-evident, and it is further revealed in the history of his
relationship to Caliban. Initially recognizing Caliban as a human creature, he accepted him totally and
afforded him all the "human care" ideally due to a fellow being. He trusted him, like Antonio, sans bound,
giving him the run of his cell and the unguarded company of his daughter, without a thought of any evil he
might do. Then, when the inevitable assault (Caliban being Caliban) occurred, he relegated Caliban to the
status of an entirely inhuman creature, unable to connect his evil with any species but that of a devil-begotten,
"poisonous slave," an "earth," a "filth" who deserved "stripes ... , not kindness." As he overlooks Miranda's
explanation of Antonio's evil—that good wombs have born bad sons—he misses the full implications of his own
comparison of Ferdinand to Caliban: that Caliban's evil is an essentially human characteristic. There is a
Caliban in the best of men; his presence and even his birthright must be recognized if he is to be effectively
dealt with; for if left to run entirely at large he will inevitably perpetrate evil, and if disowned and repressed
he will prove a greater threat by rebelling outright.
Of course, Prospero has not, at this point in the play, permanently disowned his affinity with either Antonio or
Caliban. His ultimate intention, as his arrangement of the love between Ferdinand and Miranda indicates, is to
reunite himself with all his enemies and so restore a harmony and order to his world in which, presumably,
Antonio and Caliban will have their places. First, however, that world must be altered by his art to fit the letter
of his moral vision. Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio must all either assume a clear life or suffer lingering
perdition; there is no middle ground. His faulty moral perception will not permit him to acknowledge as
natural and human any being with the least taint of evil; he will accept nothing short of a world where all
brothers are entirely trustworthy and all monsters entirely harmless: a prospect similar in scope and
impossiblity to Gonzalo's island commonwealth (II.i. 139-160). But Gonzalo never mistakes his vision for
more than a Utopian reverie. Prospero, on the other hand, intends to eliminate, by force if necessary, all
elements of humanity which will not conform to his vision.
Here, then, is the central and potentially tragic flaw in Prospero's awareness. He has, in a very real sense,
confused his role as an artist with that of a god, forgetting his humanity in the process. In presuming to
substitute his own sense of morality for cosmic law he has designated to himself a higher order of being and
the authority to damn and destroy his fellow men: in effect, he has usurped the divine prerogative of
vengeance. Thus his project is threatened with failure on two counts. His artistic ideal of a perfect world,
given the nature of post-Lapsarian humanity, can never be realized. Meanwhile he is in constant danger of
mistaking his own passionate resentment of the wrongs he has suffered for righteous indignation, thereby
perverting his own goodness and wreaking havoc on those over whom he has power. This element of
vindictiveness and vengeful passion is never far from him, and it threatens constantly to overwhelm the nobler
ends of his project. It accounts for the hint of sadistic relish with which he devises and threatens new forms of
punishment for Caliban, and it is even more evident in his reactions to the ordeal of the Court party in the
third act. He derives an obvious pleasure from their "disractions" and rejoices not so much that his art has
attained its end, in showing them their evil, as simply that they are now in his power. He still refers to them,
significantly, as "mine enemies", and clearly has no intention yet of terminating their "fits" (III.iii.88-93).
IV.
Ferdinand is the one character whose moral regeneration Prospero undertakes without the danger of giving
way to motives of revenge, not only because Ferdinand has never wronged him, but also because he comes
closest, with Miranda, to fulfilling Prospero's standard of goodness. Through the innate innocence and nobility
of his nature he responds ideally to nurture, and in the betrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda Prospero sees the
first concrete realization of the moral order he intends to impose on his world. He is, of course, overlooking
the obvious fact that these are, even within the terms of the play, two remarkably good young people, and
their goodness can hardly be established as a norm of humanity in general. Nevertheless he celebrates their
union with a masque which, besides depicting the specific ideal of chastity he wishes to impress on them,
constitutes an ultimate mimetic image of the world he means to forge through his art. As such, it is worth
close consideration.
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The playlet centers on Iris, Ceres, and Juno, anthropomorphic embodiments of a nature which substantiates
and rewards the human values of Prospero's moral system: theirs is a world from which all that is less than
flawless, let alone evil, is rigidly exorcised. But the goddesses are being played by spirits who are, in fact,
elemental creatures of nature—the real nature surrounding Prospero—and they are compelled, possibly against
their wills, to enact a natural order which is not their own, but Prospero's "pathetic fallacy". Moreover, the
chief details in Iris' opening description of the masque's landscape include "cold nymphs", "dismissed" and
"lass-lorn" bachelors, vineyards which bear no fruit but are "pole-clipt", and a "sea-marge" that is "sterile and
rocky-hard" (IV.i.60-70). This is a world not simply ordered and controlled but gelded of all that is
spontaneous and primal, leaving only that which is cold, hard, and sterile. The culminating dance of nymphs
and reapers brings to mind a similar pastoral vision, the sheep-shearing scene of The Winter's Tale (IV.iv.).
There, however, we had the earthly, mildly ribald merriment of the Clown and his two girl-friends, along with
a dance of satyrs. But none dance in Prospero's pastoral that are not "properly habited" (IV.i.138: stage
direction).
Clearly, this vision fragments and distorts the realities of human experience. Venus and Cupid have been
denied their rightful place in the pantheon, and the generative, sexual impulse they represent is strictly
expelled from the world of the masque. Under such circumstances, the goddesses' invocations of "Earth's
increase" and "foison plenty" seem as unlikely as that "Nature should bring forth, / Of its own kind all foison,
all abundance" (II.i.158-159) on Gonzalo's island. There is no fertility or natural regeneration where the
nymphs are cold and the bachelors lass-lorn. Ceres' "rich leas" are nullified by her pole-clipped vineyard and
sterile sea-marge. Like Gonzalo's plantation, the "latter end" of Prospero's commonwealth "forgets the
beginning" (II.i.153-154).
The entire masque, then, is overtly artificial and calculatedly unconvincing: a "vanity" of his art in a far more
serious sense than he means the term. As such, it points up the basic flaw in his artistic and moral
perspectives. His moral system is clearly at odds with human reality, and the artistic embodiment of that
system, therefore, has no viable connection with reality. Not that the specific moral ideal set forth in the
masque, premarital chastity, is in itself fallacious, but Prospero has set himself a greater goal than the
depiction of an ideal. He means his art to encompass and directly influence reality. In his remarks to
Ferdinand and Miranda (IV.i. 13-23) he draws no distinction between the order of the masque's world and that
of the world outside it. On these terms, as a comprehensive image of the real world, the masque is bound to
fail. Since it ignores the realities of post-Lapsarian existence, it is incapable, as art, of comprehending or
coping with the propensity for evil in fallen man. The events of the play rapidly make this as clear to Prospero
as it is to us. The wide disparity between the play-world of his art and the real world he inhabits is
immediately revealed by an abrupt intrusion of extra-theatrical reality; the morally precise nature of Ceres,
Juno, and Iris is belied by the approach of true naturals, Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo, bent on rape and
murder. His art-work cannot co-exist with such reality, but "heavily" vanishes "to a strange, hollow, and
confused noise". Patently, his art has failed to come to terms with the nature of things as they are.
Perceiving this, Prospero addresses Ferdinand in what amounts to an epilogue: the "Our revels now are
ended" speech. It is unfortunate that this passage, out of its context, has come to be misinterpreted as the
central statement of The Tempest. In fact, it amounts to a bitter testament of nihilistic despair on Prospero's
part, antithetical to the sense of affirmation the play ultimately achieves. It begins, as do the other epilogues in
Shakespeare (and as the epilogue at the end of this play does not) by acknowledging the termination of the
masque's play-world; it is an "insubstantial pageant" with a "baseless fabric". But Prospero goes on to imply
that since his art-work has proved baseless, so any attempt to order reality through art must ultimately fail,
since reality itself is only a fading illusion. Thus, while he has recognized the failure of his art, he has not yet
discovered the cause of this failure: the flawed moral perspective on which his art is based. His vision is still
as disastrously short-sighted as it was in his initial confrontations with Antonio and Caliban. Since reality will
not conform to his concept of reality, he assumes that reality is unreal; that all the world and all humanity
amount to no more than a flawed image which will fade into ultimate sleep—ultimate nothingness.
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Retaining his serious misconception of himself as god rather than man, he assumes the right to condemn as
unregenerate and destroy all that will not fit his moral code:
A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains,
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost;
... I will plague them, all, Even to roaring.
(IV. i. 188-190, 192-193)
Caliban is not a devil—thoroughly evil and unredeemable—but a type of humanity. Prospero has earlier denied
the humanity of the Court party in the same way, calling them "worse than devils" (II.iii.36), and it is no
coincidence that Stephano and Trinculo initially revealed their distorted perceptions by mistaking each other
for devils (II.ii.90, 99). Prospero is committing the same error in a far graver sense: despairing in the nurture
of Caliban, he despairs of the redemption of the low nature in all men; and, turning from despair to rage and
vengeance, he resolves to "plague them all", to strike out at all whose evil qualities have frustrated him. As he
summons hounds named "Fury" and "Tyrant" (IV.i.257), revelling in the pain of the clowns and exulting in
the fact that "At this hour / Lies at my mercy all mine enemies," his spirits become his "goblins," and he
himself threatens to become a satanic personification of revenge. Tragic chaos impends.
Disaster is averted, however, by the action of Ariel, who intervenes not as a deus ex machma but as an
advocate on behalf of Prospero's own "nobler reason" (V. i. 26). The climactic crisis of the play passes in less
than fifteen lines, as Prospero undergoes a brief but intensely meaningful psychomachy. Having described the
whereabouts and miseries of the Court party (and it was after a similar description of Caliban and his
confederates that Prospero called up Fury and Tyrant), Ariel checks the momentum of Prospero's passion by
charging him with the central moral obligation he has hitherto ignored in his artistry:
ARI. Your charm so strongly works 'em,
That if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.
PROS. Dost thou think so, spirit?
ARI. Mine would, sir, were I human.
PROS. And mine shall.
[V.i. 17-20]
Good or evil, flawed or perfect, they are human—as he is—and on this basis alone he is bound to commiserate
with them, to forgive them, and ultimately to accept them:
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 mov'd 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.
[V.i.21-28]
As an artist, he must limit his ends to the revelation of truth and self-knowledge; as a man, he can presume no
further:
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they being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further ...
... they shall be themselves.
[V.i.28-30, 32]
His moral vision is completed with the discovery and acceptance of this one truth: the overriding necessity for
recognition and acceptance of one's own kind—in short, for love. This has been the element missing in his art:
the flaw which rendered the masque of the goddesses inadequate. Only through unconditional forgiveness and
acceptance of human nature, after all that can be done to reform it, can an art be capable of comprehending
and dealing with the realities, good and evil, of the world. Prospero, then, finds himself as an artist as well as a
man. What he rejects in the "elves of hills" speech is not his art in toto, but his "rough magic": that aspect of
his art by which he presumed to rise to a Jove-like stature over other men, refusing to forgive them or accept
their kinship as fellow beings until he had made them over in the image of his own faulty moral perspective.
In drowning his book he does away not with the essence of his art but with that same volume that he has
prized above his dukedom—above the society of his fellows: his blind absorption in the ideal to the exclusion
of the real and the human. Far from the end of his artistic powers, this marks the point at which his art truly
begins to function effectively.
The ultimate end of his artistic project, the restoration of order and harmony to the real world, starts to
materialize as he frees and formally forgives each of his enemies. The simple act of forgiveness might seem
too pat a solution of the play's central problem if its difficulty were not made absolutely clear. As Prospero's
confrontation with the evil in human nature was first represented by his alienation from his brother, his
acceptance of that nature is affirmed in Antonio's pardoning:
Flesh and blood, You, brother mine, ...
... I do forgive thee,
Unnatural though thou art.
[V.i.74-75,78-79]
The words come haltingly. Prospero must force himself to forgive by sheer strength of will, repeating his
pardon twice during the scene as if to convince himself, and emphasizing each time his detestation of the
"unnatural" evil he accepts as "flesh and blood". Having done so, however, he can proceed toward the
completion of his project by presenting his most successful single art-work: an image of moral perfection that
is at once ideal and real. With a gesture of dramatic art, he draws aside the curtain to reveal Ferdinand and
Miranda.
Thus order is restored to the world of the play. Prospero regains his dukedom, the reformed Alonso finds his
son, and the perpetuation of order is insured by the betrothal of the lovers. But Prospero is now too wise to
trust wholly in a "brave new world". He is aware that the preservation of order will continue to require the
forgiveness of evil, and he affirms this on a broadly representative scale by reacknowledging his responsibility
for, and even kinship with Caliban: "this thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine". And even here, at the
lowest level of human nature, forgiveness sparks hope as Caliban resolves to "be wise hereafter / And seek for
grace". Antonio, of course, remains ominously silent, but it is the very presence of his unreformed evil that
underlines the triumphant order which has been achieved in its spite. Each other character has found himself
through Prospero's art "When no man was his own," and Prospero himself is no exception: his has been the
last and greatest self-discovery.
V.
The play, as we have seen, does not end here, and Prospero's project is as yet incomplete. The artistic and
moral vision of the masque was invalidated by its irrelevance to the outside world, proved by the violent
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non-correspondence of the three rebels to the three goddesses. By the same token, the ultimate ratification of
the vision which Prospero has discovered and Shakespeare developed—for certainly Shakespeare speaks with
Prospero at this point—must come from outside the world of The Tempest. The art of Shakespeare as well as of
Prospero will prove a vanity unless the audience assumes its validity by participating in a cognate act of the
love and recognition which are the essence of that art. In the Epilogue, then, Prospero brings the spectators
into the play in order to place them in circumstances exactly parallel to the moment of his own climactic
decision, charging them with the same responsibility. As Ariel reminded him that the courtiers were "Confin'd
together" and could not budge "till your release" (V.i.7, 11), so Prospero must be "confin'd" until the
spectators "release" him (Epilogue.4,9). As he has "pardon'd the deceiver" (7), they must set him free by their
"indulgence" (20).
The Epilogue thus serves as a bridge between play and audience: a transitional link between art and reality.
By the use of overtly religious terms such as "prayer", "Mercy", and "indulgence" in the last five lines,
Shakespeare links his artistic vision with the orthodox principle of Christian charity. If his audience will make
his vision their own—and it is an unprecedented testament of faith in his art that he terms its success dependent
on such total acceptance—they will be participating in an act of prayer, which will bring down mercy and
redemption on both the prayer and the prayed-for. Thus he endows his play's vision of love with the universal
validity associated by his contemporary audience with the theological framework of their cosmos. His art
passes beyond the moral spectrum of his play and merges with that of the world surrounding it, as Prospero,
Shakespeare, and the audience unite in a recognition, acceptance, and celebration of their shared humanity.
SOURCE: "This Rough Magic: Perspectives of Art and Morality in The Tempest," in Shakespeare Quarterly,
Vol. XXIII, No. 2, Spring, 1972, pp. 171-82.
Frances A. Yates
[In the following excerpt from a lecture originally delivered in 1974, Yates examines the nature of Prospero's
magic in The Tempest by relating it to the writings of Henry Cornelius Agrippa, a Renaissance expert on the
subject. She calls the magic "intellectual and virtuous," the kind that Agrippa described in his De occulta
philosophia. According to Yates, Prospero's intentions with his magical powers are good and aimed at the
moral reform of the individual in society. In addition, she hints at Prospero's role in foreshadowing the
scientific revolution of the seventeenth century by noting his similarities to John Dee, an eminent
mathematician and a contemporary of Shakespeare.]
To treat of magic, or the magical atmosphere, in Shakespeare one ought to include all the plays, for such an
atmosphere is certainly present in his earlier periods. In the Last Plays this atmosphere becomes very strong
indeed and, moreover, it becomes more clearly associated with the great traditions of Renaissance
magic—magic as an intellectual system of the universe, foreshadowing science, magic as a moral and
reforming movement, magic as the instrument for uniting opposing religious opinions in a general movement
of Hermetic reform ...
[The Tempest is] the supreme expression of the magical philosophy of the Last Plays ...
First, let us consider the textual history of The Tempest. Like all Last Plays, except Pericles and Henry VIII, it
seems to have had a first appearance around 1610-11, or at least a play called The Tempest was performed at
court in 1611. Unlike Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale it was apparently not seen by Simon Forman at about
that time, so we do not have his plot summary to compare with the play as we have it. Like The Winter's Tale,
it was one of the plays by Shakespeare which were performed by the King's Men before Princess Elizabeth
and her betrothed in 1612. Like all Last Plays except Pericles it was first printed in the First Folio of 1623
where it is the first play in that famous volume.
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Thus the history of The Tempest follows the familiar pattern and there is room for an earlier version of the
play to have been revised to suit performance before Princess Elizabeth and the Palatine. This has in fact been
suggested in critical discussions of the play, summed up by Frank Kermode in his introduction to the Arden
edition, where it is pointed out that the masque in the play, which is evidently a nuptial masque, was perhaps
added to an earlier version to make it suitable for performance before the princely pair. Thus, The Tempest, as
we have it, would enter that atmosphere of masque and pageantry surrounding the wedding of Princess
Elizabeth which is central for the understanding of Cymbeline and which Foakes has detected in Henry VIII. I
would further suggest that the emphasis on chastity before marriage in The Tempest, where it is so marked a
feature of Prospero's advice to the young prince, should be compared with the treatment of the same theme in
Philaster, the play by Beaumont and Fletcher performed before Elizabeth and the Palatine at the same time, in
which the overtures made before marriage to his betrothed by the Spanish prince, seem to be a mark of the
impurity of a Spanish match. Prospero is perhaps emphasising that his daughter is not making a Spanish
match.
The themes of The Tempest connect with the Last Play themes as a whole. There is a young generation,
Ferdinand and Miranda, the very young princely pair, and an older generation, Prospero and his
contemporaries, divided by bitter wrongs and quarrels but brought together at the end in the magical
atmosphere of reconciliation. The Tempest fits very well into our general historical approach to the Last Plays
with its argument that these "reconciliation through a younger generation" themes belong into an actual
historical situation in which Prince Henry and his sister were seen as hopeful figures of this kind. Prince
Henry being now dead, only a daughter and her lover represent the young generation in The Tempest. Miranda
has no brother. Nor indeed have Perdita or Marina. Only Imogen has brothers, and Cymbeline was not
performed after the death of Prince Henry and before Frederick and Elizabeth, as were The Winter's Tale and
The Tempest.
We have now to think about magic in The Tempest.
What kind of magic is it? This is a problem which has been considerably discussed in recent years and I am
not bringing forward any very new or startling discovery in observing that Prospero, as a magus, appears to
work on the lines indicated in that well-known textbook of Renaissance magic, the De occulta philosophia of
Henry Cornelius Agrippa. Frank Kermode was a pioneer in pointing to Agrippa as a power behind Prospero's
art in his introduction to The Tempest in the Arden edition, first published in 1954. Prospero as a magus, says
Kermode, exercises a discipline of virtuous knowledge; his art is the achievement of "an intellect pure and
conjoined with the powers of the gods without which [and this is direct quotation by Kermode from Agrippa]
we shall never happily ascend to the scrutiny of secret things, and to the power of wonderful workings." In
short, Prospero has learned that "occult philosophy" which Agrippa taught and knows how to put it into
practice. Moreover, like Agrippa, Shakespeare makes very clear in The Tempest how utterly different is the
high intellectual and virtuous magic of the true magus from low and filthy witchcraft and sorcery. Prospero is
poles apart from the witch Sycorax and her evil son. Indeed, Prospero as the good magus has a reforming
mission; he clears the world of his island from the evil magic of the witch; he rewards the good characters and
punishes the wicked. He is a just judge, or a virtuous and reforming monarch, who uses his magico-scientific
powers for good. The triumph of a liberal and Protestant Reformation in Henry VIII has its counterpart in The
Tempest in the triumph of a reforming magus in the dream world of the magical island.
Prospero's magic is then a good magic, a reforming magic. But what exactly is the intellectual structure or
system within which his magic works? Here we have to turn to Agrippa's definitions which can be simplified,
rather drastically, as follows.
The universe is divided into three worlds: the elemental world of terrestrial nature; the celestial world of the
stars; the supercelestial world of the spirits or intelligences or angels. Natural magic operates in the elemental
world; celestial magic operates in the world of the stars; and there is a highest, religious, magic which
operates in the supercelestial world. The lofty religious magus can conjure spirits or intelligences to his aid.
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The enemies of this kind of magic called it diabolical conjuring, and indeed the pious believers in it were
always aware of the danger of conjuring up evil spirits, or demons, instead of angels. Prospero has the
conjuring power, and he performs his operations through the spirit, Ariel, whom he conjures. Of the two
branches, Magia and Cabala, set out in Agrippa's handbook of Renaissance magic, Prospero would seem to
use mainly the Cabalistic conjuring magic, rather than the healing magic of Cerimon, or the profound natural
magic which pervades The Winter's Tale.
It is inevitable and unavoidable in thinking of Prospero to bring in the name of John Dee, the great
mathematical magus of whom Shakespeare must have known, the teacher of Philip Sidney, and deeply in the
confidence of Queen Elizabeth I. In his famous preface to Euclid of 1570, which became the Bible of the
rising generations of Elizabethan scientists and mathematicians, Dee sets out, following Agrippa, the theory of
the three worlds, emphasising, as does Agrippa, that through all the three worlds there runs, as the connecting
link, number. If I may paraphrase what I have myself said elsewhere, Dee was in his own right a brilliant
mathematician, and he related his study of number to the three worlds of the Cabalists. In the lower elemental
world, he studied number as technology and applied science. In the celestial world his study of number was
related to astrology and alchemy. And in the supercelestial world, Dee believed that he had found the secret of
conjuring spirits by numerical computations in the tradition of Trithemius and Agrippa. Dee's type of science
can be classified as "Rosicrusian," using this word, as I have suggested that it can be used, to designate a stage
in the history of the magico-scientific tradition which is intermediate between the Renaissance and the
seventeenth century.
The commanding figure of Prospero represents precisely that Rosicrucian stage. We see him as a conjuror in
the play, but the knowledge of such a Dee-like figure would have included mathematics developing into
science, and particularly the science of navigation in which Dee was proficient and in which he instructed the
great mariners of the Elizabethan age.
Now, if the first version of The Tempest appeared around 1611, the date at which Shakespeare chose to glorify
a Dee-like magus is significant. For Dee had fallen into deep disfavour after his return from his mysterious
continental mission in 1589, and he was completely cast off by James I after his accession. When the old
Elizabethan magus appealed to James in 1604 for help in clearing his reputation from charges of conjuring
devils, James would have nothing to do with him, in spite of his earnest protests that his art and science were
good and virtuous and that he had no commerce with evil spirits. The old man to whose scientific learning the
Elizabethan age had been so deeply indebted was disgraced in the reign of James and died in great poverty in
1608.
Seen in the context of these events, Shakespeare's presentation of a scientific magus in an extremely
favourable light takes on a new significance. Prospero is far from diabolic; on the contrary, he is the virtuous
opponent of evil sorcery, the noble and benevolent ruler who uses his magico-scientific knowledge for good
ends. Prospero might be a vindication of Dee, a reply to the censure of James. And the contemporary
scientists and mathematicians who were working in the Dee tradition were to be found, not in the circle of the
King, but in that of his son, Prince Henry. The Prince was eager to build up a navy, as Dee used to advise
Elizabeth to do, and he patronised and encouraged scientific experts like William Petty who built for him his
great ship, the Royal Prince. Mathematicians and navigators of the Elizabethan age, Walter Raleigh and his
friend Thomas Hariot, were imprisoned by James in the Tower, but were encouraged by Prince Henry. Thus
here the line of inquiry which seeks to establish that Shakespeare's Last Plays belong in the atmosphere and
aspirations surrounding the younger royal generation makes contact with this other line of inquiry into the
magico-philosophical influences in the plays. Prospero, the magus as scientist, would belong with Prince
Henry and his interests, and not with those of his unscientific father with his superstitious dread of magic.
Thus I am suggesting new contexts in which to see The Tempest. This play is not an isolated phenomenon but
one of the Last Plays, and other Last Plays breathe the atmosphere of learned magic, the medical magic of
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Cerimon in Pericles, the deep Hermetic magic of The Winter's Tale, the incantatory singing of Henry VIII. All
such magics connect with one another and belong to the late period of Renaissance magic. The Tempest would
be one of the supreme expressions of that vitally important phase in the history of the European mind, the
phase which borders on, and presages, the so-called scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. Prospero
is so clearly the magus as scientist, able to operate scientifically within his world view, which includes areas
of operation not recognised by science proper.
There is also, and this is very important, the element of moral reform in Prospero's outlook and aims, the
element of Utopia, an essential feature of the scientific outlook of the Rosicrucian period, in which it was seen
to be necessary to situate the developing magico-scientific knowledge within a reformed society, a society
broadened by new moral insights to accept the broadening stream of knowledge. Prospero as scientist is also
Prospero the moral reformer, bent on freeing the world of his island from evil influences.
Finally, we should see The Tempest in the context of Henry VIII, in which the reforming conciliatory themes
of the Last Plays are presented through real historical personages. Henry VIII is seen as the monarch of the
Tudor imperial reform, casting out vices in the person of Wolsey, and presenting a Reformation, originally
Protestant, but in which the old hardness and intolerance has been done away in an atmosphere of love and
reconciliation.
From these various lines of approach, The Tempest would now appear as the corner-stone of the total edifice
of the Last Plays, the play presenting a philosophy which connects with all their themes and reflects a
movement, or a phase, which can now be more or less identified among the currents of European intellectual
and religious history. It is the Rosicrucian movement, which was to be given open expression in the
manifestos published in Germany in 1614 and 1615.
In my book, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, I have argued that this movement was connected with the
currents stirring around the Elector Palatine and his wife. These were ostensibly Protestant, as befitted the
head of the Union of German Protestant Princes, but drew on Paracelsist alchemy and other Hermetic
influences for spiritual nourishment. The manifestos envisage a general moral and religious reform of the
whole world. These strange hopes were to be extinguished in utter disaster, with the brief reign in Prague in
1619-20 of the "Winter King and Queen" and the subsequent total defeat and exile of the unfortunate pair.
Thus ended in ignominy and confusion the movement which had been building up around them in London, a
movement very much weakened by the death of Prince Henry. Not only their own party in England but many
in Europe had fixed their hopes on these two. And it would be wrong to say that all came to an end with the
disaster, for the movement lived on, taking other forms, and leading eventually to important developments.
Shakespeare has often been derided for his absurd geographical error in giving a 'sea coast' to Bohemia in The
Winter's Tale, but may his object have been to provide a setting for the frightful storm in which the infant
Princess arrives in Bohemia? Shakespeare took the name 'Bohemia' from Greene's novel, Pandosto, the plot
of which he was adapting. Yet there is something strangely prophetic in his choice of a story about Bohemia,
foreshadowing the terrible tempest of the Thirty Years' War which would break out in Bohemia following the
shipwreck of the Winter King and Queen. Is it possible that Shakespeare may have known more of what was
going on in Bohemia than do critics of his geographical ignorance? Might he, for example, have had some
contact with Michael Maier, Paracelsist doctor and Rosicrucian, who was moving between Prague and
London in the early years of the century, linking movements in England with movements in Germany and
Bohemia?
A main feature of the "new approach" to Shakespeare's Last Plays presented here has been the argument that
the hopes of a younger generation which the plays seem to express may allude to hopes in relation to a real
historical generation, Prince Henry, and, after his death, Princess Elizabeth and her husband. Taken at its face
value, this argument would amount to yet another "topical allusion" detected in the plays, a type of
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investigation which has been very much used and abused. Even if the topical allusion to the younger royal
generation is fairly substantially based, what does it amount to in relation to Shakespeare's genius, to the
understanding of his mind and art? Topical-allusion hunting for its own sake is but an empty sport unless it
can open doors to new approaches to matters more profound.
And it is precisely this, or so I believe, that this topical allusion can do. The other new approach attempted has
been to the thought of the Last Plays, to the philosophy of nature with religious and reforming undercurrents,
with association with scientific movements of the kind propagated by John Dee, with spiritual and mental
enlightenment. And it is just such a movement as this which seems to have been associated in German circles
with the Elector Palatine and with his disastrous Bohemian enterprise.
The German Rosicrucian movement was certainly not newly invented in connection with the Elector Palatine
and his wife. It was something already in existence with which they, or the movement associated with them,
became somehow involved. There are various influences from England on the movement which I have tried to
bring out in my book, influences from Philip Sidney's mission to Germany and to the imperial court,
influences from visits of the Knights of the Garter, influences from John Dee's sojourn in Bohemia. The
second Rosicrucian manifesto of 1615 has included in it a discourse on secret philosophy which is based on
Dee's Monas hieroglyphica. The works of the Englishman, Robert Fludo, a leading exponent of Rosicrucian
philosophy, were published at Oppenheim, a town in the territory of the Elector Palatine. And, most curious of
all from the theatrical point of view, there appears to have been an influence of English actors, or of plays
acted by travelling English actors in Germany, on the ideas and modes of expression of the Rosicrucian
publications.
The man known to be behind the movement, Johann Valentin Andreae, states in his autobiography that in his
youth, around 1604, he wrote plays in imitation of English comedians, and at about the same time he wrote
the first version of his strange work, The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz, first published, in
German, in 1616. This is a mystical romance reflecting ceremonial of orders of chivalry in a setting which I
believe I have identified as the castle and gardens of the Elector Palatine at Heidelberg, reflecting his court
there and the presence in it of his English wife, the Princess Elizabeth. Andreae's style in all his writings is
dramatic, infused with theatrical influences. The story of Christian Rosencreutz and his Order, told in the
manifestos (which were not actually written by Andreae though inspired by him), is said to be a fiction or a
play. And the mysterious doings in the castle grounds in The Chemical Wedding include a play, the plot of
which is given as follows (I quote from the resume of it in my book):
On the sea-shore, an old king found an infant in a chest washed up by the waves: an
accompanying letter explained that the King of the Moors had seized the child's country. In
the following acts, The Moor appeared and captured the infant, now grown into a young
woman. She was rescued by the old king's son and betrothed to him, but fell again into the
Moor's power. She was finally rescued again but a very wicked priest had to be got out of the
way ... When his power was broken the wedding could take place. Bride and bridegroom
appeared in great splendour and all joined in a Song of Love:
This time full of love
Does our joy much approve ...
The plot reminds one of the plots of Last Plays, with shipwrecked infants who grow up to have adventures in
which evil influences are surmounted, stories reflecting a passage of time from an older generation to a
younger, and ending in general love and reconciliation. And, if I am right in my suggestions, this play
described in The Chemical Wedding is supposed to be enacted in a setting reflecting the court of the Elector
Palatine and the Princess Elizabeth at Heidelberg. It is as though Shakespearean dramatic influences in
London at the time of their wedding were being reflected back to them through a mystical haze. The
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extremely simple plot of the comedy described in The Chemical Wedding is punctuated by Biblical allusions,
as though the fiction had some reference to the religious problems of the day.
This is only one example of the curious reflections of plays, perhaps of plays staged by English players in
Germany, in the German Rosicrucian literature. Was there some connection between players and Rosicrucian
ideas? Ought we to look for light on Shakespeare in these directions? Did the Last Plays deliver a message the
meaning of which we have lost? Are the connections between the Last Plays and the new generation of Prince
Henry and his sister much more than topical allusions in the ordinary sense? Might they introduce us to ways
of unravelling Shakespeare's position in the religious, intellectual, magical, political, theatrical movements of
his time? Or, more than that, might they help us to penetrate to Shakespeare's inner religious experiences?
A French writer who has made a study of the Rosicrucian literature m relation to Shakespeare thinks that The
Chemical Wedding reflects rituals of initiation through enaction of the mystery of death. He believes that
some of Shakespeare's plays he mentions, particularly Imogen's death-like sleep and resurrection in
Cymbeline, reflect such experiences, conveyed through esoteric allusion in the imagery. He sees influences of
"spiritual alchemy" in the imagery of Cymbeline. The Rosicrucian method of using the play or the fiction as
the vehicle through which to indicate an esoteric meaning would also be Shakespeare's method. I mention
Arnold's book here not because I think it reliable as a whole, or in detail (it is not), but because the general
drift of his comparative study of Rosicrucian literature and of Shakespeare may not be altogether wide of the
mark.
Shakespeare died in 1616 and so did not live to hear the news of the events of 1620, the defeat at the Battle of
the White Mountain, the flight of the Winter King and Queen of Bohemia, the outbreak of the Thirty Years'
War. Perhaps that was the terrible storm which he prophetically dreaded.
SOURCE: "Magic in the Last Plays: The Tempest in Shakespeare's Last Plays: A New Approach, Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1975, pp. 85-106.
Order and Structure
Ernest Gohn
[In the following essay, Gohn discusses Shakespeare's use—hitherto unpredecented in his plays—of the
classical unities of time and place in The Tempest. He argues that the work's structural unity, with action
occurring as it does over the course of approximately three hours, is reflected in a thematic emphasis on the
present. Gohn's analysis continues by relating this dramatic sense of urgency and preoccupation with the
"now" in the play to its themes of hoped-for redemption and reconciliation.]
Critics have spent so much time on character-analysis—and upon possible biographical, allegorical, and
symbolic implications of The Tempest—that they have overlooked the great emphasis put on the sense of the
present in the play. But it is an emphasis which we cannot ignore: such words and phrases as 'now', 'at this
moment', 'at this instant' echo and reinforce one another throughout the play. Furthermore, the episodes of the
play are usually conceived in a present which is a crucial nexus uniting the past to the future: the past is
relevant only as it affects the present, the future only as it grows out of the present. The past is defined as that
which occurred years ago in Milan, the future as that which will take place after the characters leave the
island.
Shakespeare no sooner finishes his brief opening shipwreck scene than he begins to emphasize the crucial
quality of the present. Prospero assures Miranda, who has been moved to pity by the sight of the wreck, that
all he has done in raising the storm has been done in care of her, who is ignorant of what she and her father
are. But now "Tis time', says Prospero, I should inform thee farther' (I, ii, 22-23). Prospero's care for his
Order and Structure 129
daughter, which has led him to raise the storm, is, then, intimately related to the time at which Miranda must
learn of her past: he repeats, 'For thou must now know farther' (I, ii, 33). Prospero has at times in the past
started to tell his history to her, but in the past he has always stopped, 'Concluding, "Stay, not yet"' (I, ii, 36).
At this moment, however, 'the hour', 'the very minute' (I, ii, 36-37) has come. Miranda must know of her
origins before she can take her place in Prospero's present scheme. As he assures her later in the midst of his
narrative:
Hear a little further,
And then I'll bring thee to the present business
Which now's upon's, without the which this story
Were most impertinent.
(I, ii, 135-38)
To Miranda, the 'present business' which is 'now' upon them must refer to the storm she has just witnessed. To
Prospero, also, the shipwreck seems to be the 'present business'; but he evidently has more in mind, for when
Miranda asks him his reason for raising the Tempest, he replies in most general terms, terms which neither she
nor the audience can understand until the play is over:
Know thus far forth.
By accident most strange, bountiful Fortune,
Now my dear lady, hath mine enemies
Brought to this shore. And by my prescience
I find my zenith doth depend upon
A most auspicious star, whose influence
If now I court not, but omit, my fortunes
Will ever after droop Here cease more questions.
(I, ii, 177-84)
Prospero's storm is merely the first phase of a larger sense of the moment which he 'now' courts, a sense
which includes everything in the play. It is, one supposes, to keep his larger scheme secret that he carefully
sends Miranda to sleep before he calls for Ariel: 'I am ready now' (I, ii, 187).
Ariel's interview with Prospero is, of course, mainly further exposition: we learn how Ariel has acted as
Prospero's agent in creating the shipwreck and in disposing the various groups about the isle; we also learn of
Ariel's imprisonment by Sycorax (the pre-Prospero history of the island). But between these two bits of
exposition, we are again recalled to the sense of the present, made vivid by the pressure of time: 'The time
'twixt six and now / Must by us both be spent most preciously' (I, ii, 240-41). In this instance, Prospero's 'now'
is that moment at least 'two glasses' after noon. But in Ariel's slight attempt at rebellion and in its happy
resolution f'That's my noble master! / What shall I do? Say what. What shall I do?'—(I, ii, 299-300), we realize
that for Ariel, as for Prospero, the 'present business' is 'now' in another sense. Having performed his duties in
this scheme of Prospero, he will be free. He had asked for his liberty 'Before the time be out' (I, ii, 246), but in
his glad acceptance of Prospero's promise, we cannot help but think for Ariel the present is the larger action in
which he must play his part.
Having been sent off by Propero's whispered command, Ariel returns, leading Ferdinand onstage. Ferdinand's
passion has been allayed by Ariel's song, which, he recognizes, is 'no mortal business' (I, ii, 406). Prospero has
thus prepared Ferdinand for the transcendant experience which he is now to have. Ferdinand 'now' (I, ii, 407)
hears the music above him, and Prospero immediately directs Miranda to look at what she first thinks is a
spirit. That Shakespeare's young lovers love at first sight is certainly no news, but in no other play is the event
revealed so dramatically in the present, in a moment so pregnant. Miranda thinks that Ferdinand must be
something divine, Ferdinand that Miranda must be a goddess.
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They have, as Prospero recognizes, changed eyes 'at first sight' (I, ii, 440), but the intensity of the present is
revealed most fully in their mutual wonder. As they recognize their humanity, Miranda reveals that this is the
'first' (I, ii, 445) man that she ever sighed for; Ferdinand ignores Prospero's ungentle tone to propose marriage
immediately. It is a 'swift business' (I, ii, 450) which causes Prospero to impose the test on Ferdinand. As the
scene ends, Miranda comforts Ferdinand by assuring him that her father's nature is gentler than it has just
appeared: 'This is unwonted / Which now came from him' (I, ii, 497-98). Something about this occasion
makes him act in a manner unusual to him.
As Shakespeare turns to the shipwrecked crew in Act II, we soon discover that for them, too, the present is of
peculiar significance. Gonzalo immediately recognizes the miraculous quality of their preservation and, joined
by Adrian though ridiculed by Antonio and Sebastian, extols the idyllic quality of the island. He is most
amazed, however, that their clothes are 'now' (II, i, 68, 97) still as fresh as when they first put them on in
Africa for the marriage of Claribel who 'now' ([I, i, 98) is Queen at Tunis. Gonzalo's moralizing does not ease
the sorrow of Alonzo; rather, it stimulates lamentation for what he had done in the past that has occasioned the
sorrow of the present. (Ironically, he does not realize how right he is, in a sense of which he is yet ignorant.)
After Gonzalo's description of the ideal commonwealth—the possibilities of their present predicament now so
obviously contrary to what they had known in the past in Milan and Naples—Ariel sends them all, except
Sebastian and Antonio, to sleep.
For these men, left awake to do the wicked plotting which so explicitly reproduces the earlier plot against
Prospero, the memory of the past stimulates the action of the present. Like Prospero, they see an occasion not
to be missed. As Antonio begins to prod Sebastian.
The occasion speaks thee, and
My strong imagination sees a crown
Dropping upon thy head.
(II, i, 207-9)
Sebastian is 'standing water', but Antonio will teach him 'how to flow' (II, i, 221-22). As Antonio proceeds to
be more explicit, he says 'what's past is prologue, what to come, / In yours and my discharge' (II, i, 253-54).
This murder must be performed now. If it were death that 'now' (II, l, 261) had seized the sleepers, they would
be no worse off than they are 'now' (II, i. 262). In the past Prospero's servants were Antonio's fellows; 'now'
(II, i, 274) they are Antonio's men. Alonzo would be no better than the earth he lies upon, 'If he were that
which now he's like, that's dead' (II, i, 282). Ready to carry out their treachery, they draw their swords, when
Ariel enters to sing in Gonzalo's ear. If the sleepers are not kept living, Prospero's 'project' will not succeed (II,
i, 299). In his song Ariel warns Gonzalo that conspiracy has taken this opportunity ('His time'—II, i, 303). The
conspirators are about to 'be sudden' (II, i, 306) but Gonzalo awakes, saying 'Now good angels / Preserve the
King!' (II, i, 306-7). Even Sebastian's lying explanation for their drawn swords stresses the present—'Even now
we heard a hollow burst ...' (II, i, 311). In this episode we again see the overwhelming relevance of action in
the present. For Antonio and Sebastian, the present moment (not before or later) is the occasion to carry out
their evil purposes. They are stopped only by the timely appearance of Ariel. The Antonio-Sebastian-Alonzo
subplot is thus intimately a part of Prospero's larger project—his conduct of the 'present business' which is the
major concern of the play. Were the conspirators to succeed now, Prospero's unique opportunity for
reconciliation with Alonzo would be lost. A lesser, evil instant would destroy the larger, good instant.
When we next see the court party, they are weary from their fruitless search for Ferdinand, and, stopping to
rest, Alonzo will 'no longer' (III, iii, 8) keep hope for his flatterer. Antonio and Sebastian see in the
abandonment of hope and in the weariness the possibility of another attempt on the king's life. They agree to
take the 'next advantage' (III, iii, 13), which will be 'tonight, / For now they are oppressed with travel' (III, iii,
14-15). But at this moment Prospero again intervenes, this time with the dumb-show banquet. Sebastian will
'now' (III, iii, 21) believe in unicorns and in the phoenix; Gonzalo recognizes that if the reported this 'now'
Order and Structure 131
(III, iii, 28) in Naples, he would scarce be credited, although stories which had seemed unbelievable in his
youth are 'now' (III, iii, 47) vouched for by travellers. As they approach the table to eat, Ariel appears in the
guise of a harpy, the banquet suddenly vanishes, and Ariel delivers the speech which Prospero has
commanded. In this speech Alonzo and his followers are first accused of evil, then reminded of their
powerlessness ('Your swords are now too massy for your strengths'—III, iii, 67). But Ariel's most important
business is to recall their treachery to Prospero in the past, again bringing the past into the context of the
crucial present. The powers have delayed, not forgotten (III, iii, 73). Alonzo is promised punishment in the
future, a punishment to be avoided only by repentance. Prospero compliments Ariel on his performance and
observes that his enemies are 'now' (III, iii, 90) in his power. As Prospero goes off to join Miranda and
Ferdinand, Alonzo recalls his early sin. For him, Ariel's speech, with its references to Providence, Fate,
Prospero, and foul deeds is the moment of moral awakening, although at this point it drives him to despair
instead of repentance.
As Gonzalo observes, after Alonzo and the others have run off:
Their great guilt,
Like poison given to work a great time after,
Now 'gins to bite the spirits.
(III, iii, 104-6)
They must be stopped from the suicide to which they are 'now' (III, iii, 109) provoked.
Following his formal gift of Miranda to Ferdinand (in the course of which Ferdinand promises not to violate
her chastity, as he hopes for long life with 'such love as 'tis now'—IV, i, 25), Prospero calls for Ariel so that he
can present the masque. Ariel asks, 'Presently?' and Prospero replies, 'Aye, with a twink' (IV, i, 42-43). Ariel
promises to fulfill the task
Before you can say, 'come', and 'go',
Breathe twice and cry, 'so, so'.
(IV, i, 44-45)
Ariel is not to approach until Prospero calls for him, but it is after only six lines that Prospero bids, 'Now
come, my Ariel!' (IV, i, 57). As the masque ends with a dance, Prospero suddenly recalls the
Caliban-Stephano-Trinculo conspiracy, the 'minute' (IV, i, 141) of whose plot has come. Again, that is,
Prospero recalls the importance of the moment: there is a minute for Alonso, for Ferdinand, and even for
Caliban. We recall that from his first meeting with Stephano and Trinculo, Caliban, having discovered that
they were not plaguing spirits, had perceived them as agents through whom to effect his own liberation. As
Prospero breaks up the entertainment, the revels 'now' (IV, i, 148) are ended. When Caliban approaches the
cell, he, too, is aware of the precious quality of the moment: 'We are now near his cell' (IV, i, 195). Caliban's
urgency can only be increased as Stephano and Trinculo are beguiled by the trumpery; Caliban will have none
of it, for 'we shall lose our time' (IV, i, 248). The plotters being chased away, Prospero knows he is in absolute
control:
At this hour
Lie at my mercy all mine enemies.
Shortly shall my labors end ...
(IV, i, 263-65)
The enemies are in Prospero's power, but as Shakespeare approaches his fifth-act denouement [the final
explanation or outcome of the plot] he maintains the emphasis on the present. The act opens with Prospero's
assertion that 'Now' his project gathers 'to a head' (V, i, 1). He asks Ariel the time and learns that it is the sixth
Order and Structure 132
hour, 'at which time' (V, i, 4) Prospero had promised their work would cease. Ariel tells Prospero how he had
left the court party mourning—if Prospero 'now' (V, i, 18) beheld them, he would be moved. While Ariel goes
to release Alonzo and the others, Prospero abjures his rough magic; he will break his staff as soon as he has
commanded some heavenly music, which 'even now' (V, i, 52) he does. Ariel brings in the distracted party,
whose charms are dissolving 'apace' (V, i, 64); as Prospero reminds them of their past sins, their
understanding grows. It will 'shortly' be clear that 'now' (V, i, 81-82) is muddy. Ariel is asked to fetch
Prospero's Milanese garments 'quickly' (V, i, 86). Knowing that he will 'ere long' (V, i, 87) be free, Ariel can
sing that he will live merrily 'now' (V, i, 93); he is then sent to bring the boatswain and the master to Prospero
'presently' (V, i, 101). Prospero, clad in his ducal robes, then reveals himself to the others, reassuring them
that a living prince does 'now' (V, i, 109) speak to them. Alonzo immediately resigns the dukedom and
entreats pardon, and Prospero embraces Gonzalo. Prospero could cause the disgrace of Sebastian and Antonio,
but 'at this time' (V, i, 128) he will remain silent. Alonzo, thinking that the loss of his son is irreparable,
laments, and Prospero reveals the living presence of Ferdinand, whom Alonzo greets, 'Now all the blessings /
Of a glad father compass thee about' (V, i, 179-80). Miranda's response to the brave new world now revealed
to her echoes the immediacy of her response to Ferdinand. Learning that Miranda is Prospero's daughter,
Alonzo would ask her pardon, but Prospero, his purpose now accomplished, has no more use for the past:
Let us not burden our remembrance with
A heaviness that's gone.
(V, i, 199-200)
As we approach the end of the play, we find that even the minor characters have experienced the suddenness
of events. The master and boatswain had 'even now' (V, i, 232) been awaked and had been brought from the
ship 'on a trice' (V, i, 238). Sent to free Caliban and his companions, Ariel drives them in only three lines
later. Stephano (who is drunk 'now'—(V, i, 278)) and Trinculo are recognized by the court party, and Prospero
acknowledges Caliban as his; the three are ordered to trim the cell, as a condition of their pardon. From the
events of the day, even Caliban seems to have learned something: he immediately assents to Prospero's
command (instead of cursing) and promises to be wise 'hereafter' (V, i, 294). The play ends with Prospero's
promise to tell the others his story and with his final command to Ariel. The auspicious gales provided, Ariel
will then be free ...
When Prospero reveals his identity to Alonzo, Sebastian, and the others, he does not tell them, though they
ask, how he came to be lord of the isle,
For 'tis a chronicle of day by day,
Not a relation for a breakfast, nor
Befitting this first meeting.
(V, i, 162-64)
The play that Shakespeare has usually written is a chronicle of day by day: an event happening at a particular
time causes another event at some subsequent time. The Tempest is not such a play. Except for the few details
which he has told Miranda in the first act—and the added hints we get from the scenes with Ariel and
Caliban—we in the audience know no more of the story of Prospero than does Alonzo. At the end of other
plays, notably Hamlet, Shakespeare has one character promise to tell the ignorant and amazed auditory what
has happened—as Prospero promises at the end of The Tempest. The difference is that we in the audience
already know what Horatio will tell the others—in fact, we know some things about Hamlet of which Horatio
is probably ignorant. In The Tempest we do not know. We can assume that Shakespeare considered such
knowledge irrelevant to his play, that the tale of Prospero on the island is non-essential; for Shakespeare is
here not interested in the sequence of day by day, but in the now which can redeem the past.
Order and Structure 133
If this reading of The Tempest is correct, we can find a reason for Shakespeare's use of unity in this play, a
reason which is, moreover, essential for our understanding of the play. What we perceived in the foregoing
discussion is the great emphasis which Shakespeare puts on the idea of the present in The Tempest. If this play
is, like the other romances, about reconciliation, it is about reconciliation now, within the few hours which
Prospero must seize. Unlike Leontes, Prospero does not need time to repent. Rather, he needs to grasp the
moment in which he can offer money, can stay his fury, can effect the awakening of Alonzo's conscience, can
restore his daughter to her proper place among mankind. To tell this story, incorporating such themes,
Shakespeare used the form most likely to create this sense of the urgency of the moment. He wrote a unified
play.
SOURCE: "The Tempest: Theme and Structure?" in English Studies, Vol. 45, No. 2, pp. 116-25.
Burton J. Weber
[In the following essay, Weber outlines the "elaborate and symmetrical structure" of The Tempest, contending
that characters, both in groups and as individuals, are contrasted with one another in order to dramatize
Shakespeare's theme of civilization's effects on human beings. In this scheme, Weber explains, Ariel and
Caliban represent aspects of human behavior outside the bounds of civilized society. They are in turn
compared to the human characters in the play who represent the virtues and vices of civilized man. Thus,
Prospero personifies intellectual virtue; Sebastian and Antonio intellectual evil; Gonzago embodies emotional
goodness; Stephano and Trinculo demonstrate emotional vice. These symmetries are likewise played out in
the drama's minor characters, including Miranda and Ferdinand, who represent potential for good among the
young in society.]
Friends and foes of The Tempest agree on its stylized characterization. The richness of the play lies more in
the arrangement than in the fullness of its characters, and through the play's elaborate and symmetrical
structure Shakespeare makes a coherent and systematic statement about civilization. The characters of The
Tempest are repeatedly dichotomized. Non-human characters are contrasted with human ones, virtuous
secondary characters with evil ones, central characters who are tested with central characters who are
reformed. These dichotomies focus on the question of how the virtues of civilization may be attained and its
evils rejected. Not only are characters divided into groups, however, but within the groups characters are
systematically contrasted—Ariel with Caliban, Prospero with Gonzalo, Antonio and Sebastian with Stephano
and Trinculo, Ferdinand with Miranda, and even Alonso with the boatswain. These contrasts analyze the
effects of civilization in terms of man's two constituents, mind and body.
The fact that Ariel and Caliban are not human beings makes them easy symbols for the faculties divorced
from society's nurture, and Shakespeare heightens this symbolic potentiality by suggesting the imperviousness
of the pair to training: Ariel is forgetful (1.2.260-263) and "nurture" cannot "stick" on Caliban (4.1. 188-190).
That the pair represent spirit and body is an obvious enough conclusion. Ariel, airy thought, is devoid of
feelings. He knows how Prospero would react to a moving sight but is not himself moved—his
"affections/Would become tender ... were [he] human" (5.1.17-20)—and when he imitates Ferdinand's
mourning gestures and likens the sighing Ferdinand to a man blowing on porridge (1.2.221-224), his
behaviour, which would be callous in a human being, shows his incapacity to feel. Caliban, the earthy body, is
devoid of mind. For convenience's sake he is given the capacity of speaking, but that capacity is distinguished
from human rationality by Caliban's inability to know good from evil (1.2.353-355, 360-362).
These characters reveal the natural strengths and weaknesses of the faculties. The mind loves to range—Ariel's
songs are all symbolic, and the one he sings about himself deals with roaming (5.1.88-94)—but the mind's
chief asset is formal morality. Ariel possesses principles, for he voluntarily opposes Caliban and voluntarily
defends Prospero (3.2.43, 113); his contractual relationship with Prospero (1.2.245-250) suggests his sense of
legal obligation. Ariel's morality makes it appropriate that he take, as he does, the role of moral expositor and
agent: in the wedding masque he announces Ferinand's test of chastity (4.1.88-101) and in "full fadom five"
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the regeneration of Alonso (1.2.399-407); he descends like a harpy to punish the noble conspirators (3.3.53ff)
and runs in a dog-pack to punish the base ones (4.1.255ff). The body's parallel to the mind's joy in knowing is
the delight of the senses. Caliban shows this delight not only in his taste for filberts and scamels (2.2.167-172)
but in that touching responsiveness to music (3.2.133-141) which makes it impossible to view him as simply
an embodiment of evil. As to the mind's morality, the body's parallel is what could be called love, the
instinctive desire to serve. Caliban is likened to a dog in this respect: he was at first the pet of Prospero, who
"strok[ed]" him (1.2.333-335), and finding a new master, he licks his shoes (3.2.22).
The faculties' potentialities for evil are treated through the parallel desires of Ariel and Caliban for an
illegitimate freedom. Ariel's desire to break his contract (1.2.242-246) represents the mind's proud desire to be
free of its recognized obligations. Caliban's sexual (1.2.348-352) and wrathful (3.2.86-89) yearnings represent
the lust of the flesh, and the fact that liquor produces Caliban's cry of freedom (2.2.178-185) reinforces the
idea that the body longs for a release from inhibitions. That these two evils are distinct is suggested by Ariel's
inability to perform Caliban-like deeds: he was "too delicate/To act her [Sycorax's] earthy and abhorr'd
commands" (1.2.272-273). The inherent tendency to evil accords with conventional theology, and
Shakespeare evokes this theology in his parallel early histories of Ariel and Caliban—stories which are not
formal allegories but factual details carrying analogical overtones. Prospero's release of Ariel from the spell
which Sycorax had cast but which she herself could not undo (1.2.274-293) recalls Christ's ability to free men
from otherwise-inevitable damnation. Ariel's grumbling, then, is like a proud man's refusal to acknowledge
God's gift, an act like Satan's initial refusal to serve. Caliban's parentage—the fact that he is the offspring of a
wicked woman and a devil (1.2.263-270)—recalls the inherited curse upon man's flesh.
Ariel and Caliban, by defining man's natural endowment, serve as bases for measuring society's influence on
men. The virtuous secondary characters show what perfection civilization can bring men to. Prospero clearly
stands at the top of the play's moral ladder, and Prospero's endorsement places Gonzalo there with him:
Prospero's initial praise (1.2.160-168), repeated to and by Ariel (5.1.15,) is summed up in his address to
Gonzalo, "Holy Gonzalo, honourable man" (5.1.62). Shakespeare makes religion the source of civilization's
perfecting power; both the virtuous characters are notably pious. Prospero conquers the pride natural to the
mind by meditating on the de contemptu theme— that is of course the point of "Our revels now are ended"
(4.1.148-158). His religion is—as befits his significance—formal and intellectual: religious meditation figures
in the plans he makes for his life in Milan (5.1.310-311). Gonzalo's piety is shown early in his trusting but
resigned prayer, "The wills above be done! but I would fain die a dry death" (1.1.66-67). In his final
summarizing tribute to the providence which has brought good out of evil (5.1.201-213), Gonzalo, though
admirably reverent, is factually inaccurate: Sebastian and Antonio have "found ... [them]selves" in a way
which ironically undercuts Gonzalo's optimism. Gonzalo's religiousness is emotional rather than rational.
Prospero embodies intellectual, Gonzalo emotional virtue. Prospero does not lack feeling, and Shakespeare is
careful to distinguish him from the men of intellectual evil, the callous Antonio and Sebastian; his harsh
treatment of the mourning Ferdinand is accounted for in an aside (1.2.453-455), lest it be mistaken for such
coldness as the courtiers display toward the mourning Alonso. But Prospero is clearly a man in whom mind
pre-dominates. At the important moment when, having his "enemies" at his "mercy" (4.1.262-263), he
pardons them, he is shamed into pity by the hypothetical pity of a creature inherently incapable of emotion
(5.1.21-24), and then he acts not by feeling but by a rational ethical principle (5.1.27-30). As Prospero is not
devoid of feeling, so Gonzalo is not empty of mind. So much attention has been paid to Shakespeare's source
for Gonzalo's Utopia (2.1.139-165) that its nature has been neglected: Gonzalo is giving a gentlemanly
dissertation on a classical theme. He has a gentleman's [sic] learning, then, but that learning is contrasted with
intellectual accomplishment. Gonzalo knows poetry and fabling Plato-imaginative and therefore emotional
writing. The difference between this learning and rational Knowledge is suggested by the difference between
the rule of the Island which Gonzalo imagines and the conscious control and learned means of Prospero's
actual governance. Gonzalo's strength is emotional, and in this he is the complement of Prospero: at the
moment when he is mastered by Prospero's learned magic, Gonzalo is Prospero's instructor, teaching him with
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his tears how to weep for pity (5.1.62-64).
The virtuous secondary characters indicate that civilization can develop the natural strengths of the faculties.
Prospero's esoteric knowledge is the development of the mind's delight in learning, but Prospero's knowledge
is less important than his ethical perfection. The point of his control of the island is not that he allegorically
represents God but that as an ethical man he models his rule on God's, with of course such qualifications as
distinguish human from divine prerogatives. Like God, he teaches and tries, he imposes reformative
punishments, and he controls the unreformable. Gonzalo has Caliban's sensory perceptiveness: he is accurate
(1.2.218-219) when he says that the courtiers' garments are unstained by the storm (2.1.55-68), and therefore
his praise of the green island (2.1.51) can be trusted. But in Gonzalo, perceptiveness is enriched by a religious
sense of gratitude: his praise of the island is part of his tribute to God's mercy (2.1.1-8). The desire to serve
which Caliban displays reaches full development in Gonzalo's love for Alonso. Gonzalo empathizes with his
master's suffering (2.1. 137-138), humbly babbles about Utopia in order to distract him (2.1.138, 165), and
disinterestedly persists in the face of rebukes (2.1.9, 102-103, 166). That Gonzalo saves Alonso through a
dreamed warning (2.1.295-302) is symbolically appropriate: the non-rational imagination does the protecting,
rather than the reason which would cause an intellectual man to stand guard.
The virtuous characters also prove that civilization can overcome men's natural weaknesses. Prospero
triumphs over pride when he gives up his magical power and forgives the enemies he has conquered. In the
first he contrasts with the ambitious Antonio and Sebastian; in the second he does more than simply subdue
wrong feeling, for the echoes of a revenger's tragedy make Prospero a potential scourge, tyrannical avenger of
an ambitious tyrant. Gonzalo's moral triumph comes when he, like Prospero, has his enemies within his
power; he overcomes the lust of the flesh by loving rather than hating them. By their mockery, Antonio and
Sebastian do succeed in angering Gonzalo, for though he is not overcome by wrath (2.183-184), he must be
angry since Antonio does try to mollify him (2.1.181). Yet when Alonso and the courtiers go mad, Gonzalo
protects his enemies equally with the master he loves (3.3.104-109).
The aristocratic and the base plotters sit at the foot of the ladder which Prospero and Gonzalo have climbed.
Shakespeare indicates that the four belong in the same moral class by paralleling their stories. By attributing
irreligiousness to them, he marks their distance from the men whom civilization has perfected. In the place of
Prospero's intellectual belief, Antonio has a philosophic atheism which he successfully teaches to Sebastian
(2.1.270-275). In place of Gonzalo's pious feelings, Stephano and Trinculo have a reverence for sack: their
bottle is the bible they swear on, kiss, and reinterpret (2.2.121, 131, 143-144; the image occurs to Stephano
independently of Caliban's belief that sack is "celestial" [2.2.117-127]). The twin actions which involve these
two pairs of plotters fall into four sections: and exposition, a fatal error, a climactic reversal of fortune, and a
denouement. The expositions prove that civilization can aggravate the natural weaknesses of men and deprive
them of even their natural strengths. The rest of the actions—tragedies of purgation without the morally
triumphant close—prove that civilization's destructiveness can be irreversible and therefore absolute.
Sebastian and Antonio embody intellectual evil. In the expository scene in which they greet the island, they
reveal the desiccation of the feelings which are not their dominant attribute. At the point at which Gonzalo
demonstrates his loving empathy for Alonso ("It is foul weather in us all, good sir/When you are cloudy"),
Sebastian and Antonio demonstrate their callousness in puns and pantomime ("Fowl weather"—looking up;
"Very foul"—wiping away an imaginary dropping) (2.1.137-138). When Alonso in his grief rebukes Gonzalo,
"Prithee, peace," Sebastian's punning simile, "He receives comfort like cold porridge" (2.1.9-10), recalls
Ariel's metaphor for the sighing Ferdinand: the courtiers have made themselves as unfeeling as a creature
inherently emotionless. The pair also show that they have lost the mind's natural insight and morality. The
sneers which they direct at Gonzalo's reference to the Aeneid (2.1.71-84) expose their shallow learning.
Modernists, they have only heard about the Aeneid, not studied or even read it, and therefore they do not know
where Carthage was, and do not know that Aeneas and Dido had both been literally widowed (they ignorantly
suppose that by "widow" Gonzalo alludes to Dido's desertion, and they refer to the jocular use of "widower"
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for a deserting husband). The courtiers reveal their depravity by their disgust at Gonzalo's supposed
euphemism ("Good Lord, how you take it!"): they think Aeneas a knave and Dido a whore, and scorn anyone
who believes in heroism or tragedy. The faults of the pair are acquired, not natural: they have been hardened
by courtly nonchalance and stultified by courtly Machiavellianism. Gonzalo's reference to their boredom
points to the former (2.1.177-179), and the courtiers' unsavory similes for the island (2.1.41-47) suggest that
cultivated aloofness has cost them their responsiveness to beauty. Doctrinaire materialism accounts for the
sneers which they direct at Gonzalo's belief in natural innocence (2.1. 150-162). That accepting the
fashionable doctrine has impoverished their minds is suggested by the fact that in laughing at the word
"innocent," Sebastian simple-mindedly restricts its meaning to physical virginity ("No marrying 'mong his
subjects?"), and that in laughing at the word "idle" ("all idle; whores and knaves"), Antonio blindly refuses to
believe in a goodness which is as evidently present in Gonzalo as it is evidently absent in himself.
Stephano and Trinculo embody emotional evil. In the expository episode in which they greet the island, they
reveal the dullness of the wits which are not their chief attribute. The pair ridicule Caliban for his credulity
concerning them (2.2.137-146), but both of them cling stubbornly to a credulous first impression of him.
Trinculo, having concluded that Caliban is a fish, decides upon second glance that he is an odd fish, "Legg'd
like a man! and his fins like arms!" (2.2.24-35). Stephano, having concluded that Caliban (with Trinculo) is a
monster, decides upon further contact that he is an odd monster, "a most delicate monster" with "Four legs
and two voices" (2.2.58-96). The commoners also reveal that they have lost the body's natural strengths,
sensitivity and love. In the sights of the island Trinculo can find only reminders of city ugliness: "yond same
black cloud ... looks like a foul bombard that would shed his liquor," "I will here shround till the dregs of the
storm be past" (2.2.20-22, 41-42). For music, Stephano has only the tavern songs he rightly calls "scurvy"
(2.2. 43-56). As for the desire to serve, that quality has given way to self-assertion. Both Trinculo and
Stephano dream of the independence they can gain by displaying Caliban (2.2.28-34, 69-72), and Trinculo
soon proceeds to a more direct assertiveness: "A most scurvy monster! I could find in my heart to beat him,—"
(2.2.155-156). The pair's faults are of course acquired; dullness and self-assertion are the proverbial results of
drinking, and the pair's degraded taste is directly linked with the tavern. The commoners' drunkenness typifies
lower-class life in the city in the way that the courtly code typifies the aristocracy: Stephano and Trinculo are,
like Antonio and Sebastian, representatives of civilization.
The plotters' fatal errors take the form of decisive yieldings to their characteristic weaknesses. The courtiers'
plot is an act of pride, a violation of "conscience," the mind's inherent morality (2.1.270-275), in the interest
of ambition (2.1.285-289). The act is significant for Sebastian because it is his first deadly sin, for Antonio
because it repeats and propagates his earlier crime. The difference between the two is suggested not only in
the temptation scene itself, where Antonio persuades Sebastian, but at the beginning of the episode, when
Ariel's music brings sleep to the company. At that point Sebastian speaks comfortingly to Alonso
(2.1.188-191)—not out of duty, for he has disrespectfully berated him (2.1.124-131), nor out of love, for he has
callously blamed Ferdinand's death on him (2.1.119-123), but out of politeness: lacking virtue and love,
Sebastian is at least conventional. Antonio, on the other hand, soothes Gonzalo and Alonso (2.1.181, 191-193)
because he has just thought of murdering them in their sleep: he is already a criminal. The commoners' plot
contrasts with the aristocrats' in its motivation. Stephano desires Miranda (3.2.101-105), and his willingness to
beat Trinculo (3.2.74-75) suggests that he approves of Caliban's cruel wrath: the commoners yield to the lust
of the flesh. The distinction between Antonio and Sebastian is mirrored in the distinction between Stephano
and Trinculo. Stephano is the leader, passing upon the plot and inducing Trinculo to follow him (2.2.
104-110). He is analogous to Antonio, who is the most devout materialist and the first to practise the creed;
Stephano is the bearer of the butt and the first and greatest imbiber (2.2.115-125, 3.2.1-3).
The next stages in the actions, the reversals of fortune, are presented in parallel symbolic scenes. The banquet
and the line-tree episode allegorically show the moral consequences of the plotters' fatal errors. The banquet
symbolizes the mind's fulfillments (the communion table is the probable source of the symbol), the garments
on the line-tree the fulfillments for the body (clothes make the body splendid). The way in which Sebastian
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and Antonio approach the banquet typifies their crime. When the magical servants vanish, Sebastian says, "No
matter, since/They have left their viands behind; for we have stomachs.—/ Will't please you taste of what is
here?" (3.3.40-42). Men interest Sebastian only in so far as they are of service to him; he is glad not to have to
share with others even what is theirs; and his virtuous words are only hollow gestures of politeness (he offers
the banquet only in order that he himself may eat). The immorality, self-interest, and virtuous facade
characterize the courtiers' pride. Similarly, the way in which Trinculo and Stephano approach the clothing
symbolizes passional sinning: covetousness is suggested by Trinculo's "we know what belongs to a frippery,"
gluttony by his "put some lime upon your fingers" (the image is drawn from bird-catching), wrath by
Stephano's "by this hand, I'll have that gown," and lust by his "Mistress line, is this not my jerkin?" (that
"line" and "jerkin" are obscene is clear from the subsequent joke about loss of hair) (4.1.225-226, 245-246,
227-8, 235-238). These sins are tied to the plot against Prospero by the repeated references to matters
associated with kingdom: royal robes, exploration, patronage, banishment (4.1.222-223, 236-238, 241-244,
250-252). The snatching of the banquet and driving away of the looters thus indicate that because of their
plots, the plotters have lost those fulfillments appropriate for their natures.
The purgative panishments [sic] visited upon the sinners are also richly symbolic. First of all, the agents of
punishment serve to distinguish kinds of evil. Ariel's guise as a harpy, here reminiscent of a Fury,
characterizes the aristocratic plotters: the airy soul receives an airborne and divine avenger. The spirits' guise
as hunting dogs fits the base plotters: the earthy body receives a mundane retribution. Furthermore, the agents
of punishment are tied to the preceding episodes of judgment. Harpies, of course, snatch banquets, and
hunting dogs pursue foxes, which symbolize theft and therefore typify the looters. The linking suggests that
the connection between sin and suffering is not casual but intrinsic. As to the punishments themselves, the
madness visited upon the aristocrats is both abstractly appropriate as a punishment for spiritual sin (it is a
mental torment) and concretely appropriate as the revenge which conscience takes for its violation. The
commoners' cramps and "pinch-spot[s]" are also abstractly appropriate, physical punishments for sins of the
flesh, and they are concretely appropriate, symptoms of the diseases that result from the abuse of the body.
Prospero connects the two kinds of punishment when, having seen the commoners "pinch-spotted" (4.1.
260-261), he refers to the courtiers' madness as "inward pinches" (5.1. 77). The linking suggests that the two
sorts of punishment are parallel and alike in purpose.
The expositions in the two actions define civilized evil. The middle sections pose the question of whether this
evil can be cured. The answer which the endings give has already been foreshadowed. The mania of Antonio
and Sebastian is contrasted with Alonso's melancholia: Alonso blames himself (3.3. 95-102), but Sebastian
and Antonio attack the avenging spirits, taking them for persecuting "friend[s]" (3.3.102-103). Apparently
suffering is not going to cause the two courtiers to question and change themselves. The obliviousness of
Stephano and Trinculo is contrasted with the anxiety of Caliban. Caliban fears that he and his companions
will be changed to geese or to apes "With foreheads villainous low"—to animals emblematic of stupidity; and
he foresees and fears Prospero's pinches (4.1.247-248, 232-234). He thus shows an awareness of the
superiority of mind and susceptibility to correction which are lacking in the two greedy commoners. They,
apparently, are beyond redeeming.
The denouements show, then, that civilized evil can be unreformable. It is true that Sebastian reproves
Stephano's thievery, and that he calls the restoration of Ferdinand "A most high miracle" (5.1.298-299,177).
The rest of his behaviour, however, proves that the former statement is not a sign of reborn morality; and the
latter is not a sign of empathy towards Alonso, for Sebastian is contrasted with Gonzalo, who at this point is
too choked with emotion to speak (5.1.200-201). Both statements are like Sebastian's unfelt words of comfort
earlier, simply politeness. The comments which Antonio and Sebastian make about Caliban (5.1.263-266),
reminiscent of their earlier jokes about the island, prove that the pair have not abandoned their courtly
nonchalance. More important, they have not gained in insight or morality. Sebastian is dumbfounded at being
caught by Prospero: "The devil speaks in him" (5.1.129). His surprise shows that he has no truer estimate or
his intellectual place than he had when he sneered at Gonzalo's supposed errors. The reference to the devil
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also recalls Sebastian's attitude to the avenging spirits; it proves that he feels no guilt. Antonio's responses are
the same as Sebastian's; he is both too surprised and too resentful to speak. When Prospero says, "I do
forgive/Thy rankest fault,—all of them," he comments on Antonio's surprise, stressing the fact that Antonio has
been found out; when he arequire[s]" the dukedom, he comments on Antonio's resentment, chastizing his
immorality. The commoners emerge no better than the aristocrats. Punishment has not made Stephano and
Trinculo any wiser, and since the mind is not their dominant attribute, it is only fitting that they should prove
even duller than the stultified courtiers. When Prospero accuses Stephano, "You 'Id be King o' the isle,
sirrah?" Stephano replies, "I should have been a sore one, then" (5.1.187-288). He is not alert enough to be
startled by Prospero's knowledge, and his joke shows that not only does he feel no guilt, but he does not even
recognize the seriousness of the charge. Punishment has not restored the commoners' sensivity or love, either.
The pair moan about pickled meat and cramps (5.1.282-286), their minds as confined to the tavern as ever.
Stephano enters attacking his betters, and though Trinculo realizes that there has been a hitch ("here's a goodly
sight." 5.1. 259-260), he does not recognize his master. The failure to love is as central for the commoners as
the failure to be moral for the aristocrats, and that failure is epitomized in the drunken battle address which
opens the episode: "Every man shift for all the rest, and let no man take care for himself; for all is but fortune"
(5.1.255-257). The opening clauses tell what Trinculo and Shephano should have learned; the misplacings
show that they have not learned it; and the last clause proves that the pair do not blame themselves for their
pains, and therefore cannot change (it is parallel, thus, to Sebastian's refusal of guilt, "The devil speaks in
him").
In the denouements the four representatives of civilized evil are contrasted with the characters who represent
the natural faculties. While Antonio and Sebastian show their irremediable pride, Ariel completes his service
(5.1.20-242), and while Stephano and Trinculo demonstrate their incurable lust, Caliban learns to love: he is
awed by his master, and he comes to serve him willingly (5.1. 262-263, 294-295). Furthermore, Ariel
recognizes and honors a moving situation when polite Sebastian and silent Antonio are not touched by
Ferdinand's restoration, and Caliban overcomes his credulous worship of Stephano (5.1.295-297) when the
besotted Stephano cannot see the difference between Prospero's mind and his: the depraved men have less
emotion than an unfeeling spirit and less thought than an unreasoning animal. Because they cannot be
reformed, the plotters become prisoners: Antonio and Sebastian are held in mental bonds, restrained by
Prospero's threats to reveal their plot (5.1.126-129), and Stephano and Trinculo are put in the custody of
Caliban (5.1.291-292), placed in physical restraint. Meanwhile the non-human characters are freed. Ariel of
course is released (5.1. 317-318), and Caliban in the end ceases to be a slave, becoming, like Gonzalo, a
willing servant. The contrasts emphasize that civilized vices are more pernicious than man's natural
limitations, and more dangerous.
By showing the contrary potentialities in civilization, the secondary characters raise the question of how its
positive results may be attained and its negative ones avoided. The central characters provide the answers. The
first set of these characters are Ferdinand and Miranda. In pairing them, Shakespeare utilizes an old idea about
the difference between men and women, though he does not apply this idea systematically or even refer to it
symbolically. The difference between the two lovers is allegorized in their wedding masque, in which the
motif of the union of the sky and the earth appears twice: the sky is represented by Juno and by the nymphs
who symbolize the water evaporated from the springs, the earth by Ceres and by the reapers who symbolize
the land which receives the rain (4.1.60-86, 128-138). The lovers contrast like airy Ariel and earthy Caliban.
The two of them prove that education can set men climbing toward the rung reached by Prospero and
Gonzalo.
Ferdinand needs a corrective education. His primary danger—Prospero's treatment suggests—is aristocratic
pride. Prospero charges Ferdinand with attempted usurpation (1.2.455-459), and he captures him in a way
which anticipates the arraignment of the proud nobles in the banquet episode. Prospero disarms Ferdinand
with a spell (1.2.475-476) in the way that Antonio and Sebastian are later disarmed (3.3.66-68), and he
accuses him of a guilt (1.2.472-474) which is like that of the melancholy Alonso. Since, as the aside indicates,
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Prospero's words are not to be taken at face value, what is suggested is what is later made explicit, that as an
intellectual courtier Ferdinand is liable to the sin of pride, but that he has not yet embraced that sin: Prospero
is trying rather than punishing him (4.1.5-7). Desiccation is Ferdinand's secondary danger. When he tells
Miranda that though he has "ey'd" many women "with best regard" and listened to them with "too diligent
ear," he has never loved any with "full soul" (3.1.3946), Ferdinand shows that he has been practising
Sebastian's courtly formality and detachment.
Miranda needs maturing rather than correcting. A woman of feeling, she is already like Gonzalo and unlike
Caliban: her reaction to the shipwreck proves the first ("O, I have suffered/With those that I saw suffer!"
1.2.1-15), and her indignation at Caliban's attempted rape suggests the second (1.2.353-364). She needs,
however, a proper object for her love. Her child-like devotion to her father shows in her sighing response to
his description of their exile, "Alack, what trouble/Was I then to you!" (1.2.151-152). Prospero's desire to
transfer her affections accounts for the magician's formula with which he enhances her first glimpse of
Ferdinand: "The fringed curtains of thine eye advance/And say that thou seest yond" (1.2.411-412). Miranda's
immaturity of mind—it is not her dominant attribute—is suggested by her passiveness to Prospero's teachings
("More to know/Did never meddle with my thoughts," 1.2.21-22).
The trial which strengthens Ferdinand against his pride is the central part of his education. As antidode to the
ambition which leads Antonio and Sebastian to seek kingship, Prospero humbles Ferdinand to the antithetical
rank of slave: Ferdinand notes the antithesis (3.1.59-63). In accepting the humiliation willingly (3.1.1-15)
Ferdinand matches Prospero's voluntary surrender of power. The importance of the trial is proved by the fact
that through it Ferdinand wins Miranda's hand (4.1.1-8); Ferdinand's emotional education, though more
complicated, is less important. Prospero's first task there is to rouse Ferdinand's quiescent feelings. He
awakens him as he awakens Alonso, with grief, then turns grief to consolation (1.2.390-396) and consolation
to love (1.2.488-496): the sequence is a natural one, though magic speeds the pace. The new emotions enable
Ferdinand to distinguish his love for Miranda from his previous courtly dallying (3.1.37-48), but Prospero is
then careful to see that Ferdinand does not give way to excess. The Anacreontic portion of the wedding
masque (4.1.88-101) repeats the lesson Prospero gives in his curse ("If thou dost break her virgin-knot ..."
4.1.13-23). There Prospero elaborates Ferdinand's own oath to Miranda ("O heaven, o earth ... if [I speak]
hollowly, invert/What best is boded me ..." 3.1.68-73); he distinguishes sacramental sexuality from animal
lust, giving specific meanings to the cherishing and honorable love which Ferdinand has sworn.
The central part of Miranda's education is the trial which teaches her to leave her father and cleave to the
husband who is her rightful master. Prospero tries Miranda by commanding her to cleave to her father and
leave her lover (not speak to him); he commands childishness in order that Miranda may outgrow it by
disobeying, and this of course she does (3.1.36-37, 57-59). At the same time, she takes the proper reverent
attitude toward Ferdinand, refusing at first meeting the place of goddess (1.2. 424-431), and taking thereafter
the place of servant: she tries to carry Ferdinand's logs (3.1.23-25), she pledges to "be [his] servant"
(3.1.83-86). Prospero also strengthens Miranda's judgment. Having told her about Antonio's treachery and
usurpation, Prospero then accuses Ferdinand of like crimes. The accusations have moral significance, but not
as descriptions of Ferdinand's present moral state; and the purpose of Prospero's repeated injunctions, "Speak
not you for him: he's a traitor" and "What!/An advocate for an impostor!" (1.2.463, 479-480), must be to force
Miranda to judge Ferdinand on her own. By her Platonic defence of him, her rejection of Prospero's rebuttal,
and her trust in her own decision (1.2.460-462, 481-486; 3.1.48-57), Miranda achieves the independence of
mind which Prospero intends.
The four evocative lines (5.1.172-175) which are their contribution to the play's climactic discovery
summarize the lovers' state. Miranda's "you play me false" is a reminder—unintentional on her part—of the
attempt of Stephano to play her false, and Ferdinand's "not for the world" is a parallel and equally
unintentional reminder of Antonio's desire for kingdom. The reminders point up the lovers' goodness. The
opposite of Stephano's wrath and sensuality is Miranda's declaration of forgiving love: "Yes, for a score of
Order and Structure 140
kingdoms you should wrangle,/And I would call it fair play." Ferdinand's principled "I would not for the
world" is the opposite of Antonio's immoral ambition. That the pledges are contained in teasing and banter
makes the virtue sound effortless: the lovers' education has started them well. But the reminders also suggest
the youthful innocence of the pair: as they do not know of the incidents to which they accidentally refer, so
they do not see the evils in the world around them. Education prepares them for struggles in a world which as
yet seems new and brave.
Alonso is given more weight than Ferdinand and Miranda. In the discovery to which The Tempest builds, the
focus is on the joyful discoverer, not on the objects discovered. Furthermore, Ferdinand and Miranda must
share attention with one another, while Alonso is paired with a figure who does not demand equal attention,
the boatswain. King and boatswain constitute the second set of central characters. They prove that when a
man has fallen off the ladder and landed with Antonio or Stephano, repentance can start him upward again. By
the prominence given to Alonso, Shakespeare implies that of the two means whereby civilization's potentiality
for good may be realized, repentance is the more important. He thus forestalls the optimistic conclusion that
education can eliminate man's frailty and render penitence unnecessary.
Alonso's story contains no exposition. His nature is defined by his partnership with Antonio in the overthrow
of Prospero, and the introduction of Antonio and Sebastian serves to suggest what Alonso was like before the
shipwreck. Alonso's action falls into three sections, a change of heart which contrasts with the fatal error of
Antonio and Sebastian, a change of mind which contrasts with the courtiers' reversal of fortune, and a
denouement in which Alonso's redemption[sic] is demonstrated.
Alonso's reactions to the supposed death of Ferdinand constitute the first stage of his development. The loss of
his son is retribution for Alonso's callousness to Miranda (3.371-72) and gives him an opportunity for the
reawakening of the feelings which are not his dominant capacity. He responds properly, resembling the
emotional Gonzalo in his cry of grief, "O thou mine heir/Of Naples and of Milan, what strange fish/Hath
made his meal on thee?" (2.1.107-109). The next stage is more important, for it involves the king's main flaw.
The madness visited upon Alonso punishes his deposition of Prospero (3.3.68-70, 72-75), and it offers him the
opportunity to cure his pride. Alonso accepts, showing the "heartsorrow" which Ariel recommends (3.3.
75-82) by admitting his sin: "the thunder ... pronouc'd/The name of Prosper: it did bass my tresspass"
(3.3.95-102). In both these stages, Alonso is contrasted with Antonio and Sebastian in a way which
demonstrates the resonance of contrite acts—a resonance by which Shakespeare validates the religious views
he assigns to Prospero and Gonzalo. In the first episode, it is suggested that Alonso might not have grieved for
his son, for Sebastian is not moved either by the loss or by the grief of his kindred. That Alonso does grieve is
only a small step toward virtue, for callousness is the lesser of his faults; yet the behaviour of Antonio and
Sebastian suggests that this act averts further and serious sin. Ferdinand's loss and Alonso's grief give the two
courtiers the chance to soften their hearts (Antonio has as much reason to feel compassion as Gonzalo does,
and Sebastian has more); once they refuse the opportunity, they fall into a fatal worsening of their major
weakness, pride. In the second episode, Alonso's wonder at the gestures of the magical servants (3.3.36-39)
connects him with the admiring Gonzalo (3.3,28-34) and shows that his affections have been reawakened. His
hesitancy to eat (3.3.42) indicates that if he is not a man of clean conscience, he is no longer a man of pride:
his hesitancy is contrasted with Gonzalo's innocent confidence (3.3.43-49), but it is also contrasted with the
aggressive selfishness of Sebastian. That there is a connection between the awakening of feeling and the
cessation of pride is suggested by Alonso's final gloomy pronouncement, "I feel/The best is past" (3.3. 49-52).
Moved by the loss of his son, Alonso sees the vanity of seeking kingdoms, and is thus diverted from his
former ends. In this progress, Alonso is contrasted with Antonio and Sebastian. The courtiers, having refused
earlier to be moved, greet the banquet with cold wit ("A living drollery," 3.3.21-27), and they approach it with
proud possessiveness. At the end of the episode the three men are accused together (3.3.53-58), but Antonio
and Sebastian, not having made the preparatory changes, reject the accusation; only Alonso, prepared, accepts
and is reformed. Virtue, Shakepeare suggests, is cumulative [sic].
Order and Structure 141
The denouement shows Alonso's restoration. By voluntarily returning Prospero's dukedom and by begging
Miranda's pardon (5.1.118-119, 196-198), Alonso repents and cures his two weaknesses. The less important of
these weaknesses is given an extended treatment, a treatment reminiscent of the emotional education of
Ferdinand. Having awakened Ferdinand's feelings, Prospero cautions him against an excess, sensuality; so,
naving softend Alonso, Prospero warns against an excess of grief, the excess the king displays when he moans
that his sorrow is beyond the cure of patience. Prospero recommends a religious patience to Alonso
(5.1.141-144) as earlier he extols the "sanctimonious ceremonies" of marriage, and as he tries Ferdinand's
purity, so he makes a brief trial of Alonso's empathy, not restoring Ferdinand until Alonso has grieved for
Prospero's "lost" daughter (5.1.144-152). In his final regenerate state, Alonso is likened through his piety to
the men of virtue. The events which Sebastian attributes to diabolic power Alonso thinks an "oracle" must
explain (5.1.242-245); and he says "Amen" (5.1.204) to Gonzalo's praise of providence. Alonso is contrasted
with the men of intellectual evil. His return of Prospero's dukedom is of course the opposite of the courtiers'
reluctance, and when the king expresses his love for Ferdinand and Miranda, "Let grief and sorrow still
embrace his heart/ That doth not wish you joy!" (5.1.214-215), his curse falls upon the unmoved courtiers.
If Alonzo's story is compressed by the omission of its beginning, the boatswain's is compressed by the
omission of its middle. It contains a beginning which likens the boatswain to Stephano and Trinculo, and an
end which shows his redemption. When the other mariners think of praying, the boatswain thinks of drinking
(1.1.51-52), and in this he is like the bottle-worshipping commoners. His bawling, repeatedly chastized
(1.1.15, 40-41, 43-45), identifies him as a man of emotional excess, and the rebellion which constitutes the
fatal error of Stephano and Trinculo has its parallel in the boatswain's lack of devotion to the king: "Good, yet
remember whom thou hast aboard," says Gonzalo, and the boatswain replies, "None that I love more than
myself" (1.1. 19-20).
Shakespeare takes pains to make the boatswain memorable, tagging him with Gonzalo's many-times-repeated
joke about the drowning mark (1.1.28-33, 46-48, 58-60); the tag recalls him four acts later (5.1.216-218).
When he re-enters, he is a changed man. His precise speech is antithetical to his earlier bawling, and his
reverence for the court is the reverse of his earlier lack of love: "The best news is, that we have safely
found/Our King, and company" (5.1.221-222). His new piety associates him with the virtuous characters and
dissociates him from the base plotters; as Gonzalo notes, the boatswain is no longer a "blasphemy" who
"swears grace overboard" (5.1.218-220'). The explanation for his transformation—the middle of the batswain's
story—is only narrated (5.1.230-240), but that narration connects the boatswain's punishment with the
punishment of Stephano and Trinculo in the same way that the king is connected with Antonio and Sebastian.
The boatswain was "clapp'd under hatches"—trapped, as the commoners are hunted; and he was subjected to
roaring, shrieking, howling, jingling chains,/And mo diversity of sounds, all horrible"—to the delirium of
disease as the commoners are subjected to its cramps and pustules.
As as example of penitence, the physical boatswain contributes one final touch to the play's systematic
explanation of how the virtues of civilization may be attained. As a balance to the intellectual Alonso, he fills
the final place in the symmetrical structure of The Tempest.
SOURCE: "The Ordering of The Tempest" in Wascana Review, Vol. 10, No. 1, Spring, 1977, pp. 3-20.
Music and the Masque
Theresa Coletti
[In the following essay, Coletti analyzes music as "the medium through which order emerges from chaos" in
The Tempest. Perhaps more pervasive in this work than in any other of Shakespeare's plays, music is,
according to Coletti, a structural principle that suggests the thematic struggle between harmony and disorder
and the difficulty of achieving the former over the latter. By comparing Shakespeare's use of music in The
Music and the Masque 142
Tempest with that in an earlier work, As You Like It, Coletti explains how music sets both tone and theme, and
maintains that the play represents Shakespeare's most extensive use of the medium to highlight themes of
freedom, forgiveness, and human redemption.]
The vital center of The Tempest is its music. Pervading and informing the action of the play, music is always
sounding, always affecting and shaping the lives of the characters. Often directionless and ambiguous in its
meaning, the music of The Tempest provides a context for Prospero's magical machinations and becomes,
through the course of the play, a powerfully evocative symbol of this magic. In The Tempest music is the
medium through which order emerges from chaos; it is the agent of suffering, learning, growth, and freedom.
Critics who have noted the pervasiveness of music, songs, and musical allusions in Shakespeare's drama have
often attempted to extrapolate from the canon of his work and posit a distinct philosophy of music which they
insist he was trying to communicate in his plays. This is most easily accomplished by rather vague references
to Renaissance ideas of divine harmony and the "music of the spheres," that macrocosmic heavenly order of
which this worldly microcosm was thought to be a reflection. It has also been pointed out that during the
Renaissance, music came more and more to be associated with a "rhetoric of emotion," a kind of language of
the heart in which man could express his inmost feelings and communicate them to others. Though neither of
these notions can account for our experience of a play as musically rich as The Tempest, together they can
provide us with helpful tools for understanding how Snakespeare employed music in his drama. For from
ideas of order we can derive principles of structure, and if there is a providential design in The Tempest, it is
certainly an artistic and a musical one. Furthermore, this design manifests itself in the manner in which it
speaks to deep human feelings; it is meaningful in the extent to which it can express the "language of the
heart." In The Tempest these two modes of interpretation form a unity from which music emerges as an
emotional and philosophical idea ...
If we want to examine music as an informing idea in The Tempest, we can begin by looking at a play with
which it has many affinities, As You Like It. One can view The Tempest and As You Like It as companion
plays in more than one sense. In terms of plot they share many common elements. Each begins in medias res
[in the middle of the story's action]; Duke Senior and Prospero have both been deposed before the plays'
actions begin. Each drama presents a principal figure whose machinations orchestrate events to bring about a
desired end; Rosalind wishes to win Orlando and Prospero to recover his dukedom. Both plays juxtapose
groups of good and bad characters; there are the evil-doers and the victims of evil. The primary actions of The
Tempest and As You Like It unfold in artificial worlds where the old exigencies of court life do not obtain.
Prospero's island and the Forest of Arden become places of self-discovery where new standards of behavior
are learned. Each play's deepest concern is with the process of recognition of error and regeneration, and
finally, each abundantly employs music as a vehicle for commenting upon this process or for helping to bring
it into being.
As You Like It is richer in music than the plays that preceded it. From his experience with the earliest
comedies Shakespeare had probably learned the value of music as an important dramatic device. Here the
songs are more carefully integrated, reinforcing and illuminating the themes of the play. The first song,
"Under the greenwood tree" (II, v. 1), portrays the life of the exiles in the Forest of Arden and focuses their
dramatic situation. Cast from their position of security at court, the new inhabitants of Arden are learning that
nature supplies a home that is in many ways far superior to the one they have left behind: "Here shall he see
no enemy / But winter and rough weather" (II, v. 6-7). A musical statement of one of the themes of the play,
the beneficent effect of nature on man, the song also reveals the character of its two singers, Amiens, the
cheerful exile, and Jaques, the melancholy cynic. This is a fine instance of music as dramatic economy.
Simultaneously fulfilling two functions, the song delineates the import of the play's action and displays
antithetical responses to it.
Music and the Masque 143
The placement of the songs in As You Like It also intensifies the play's dramatic movement. "Blow, blow, thou
winter wind" (II, vii, 174) repeats the theme of the first song, but it is more caustic, more explicit in its
comment. The implications of this song, which contrasts winter's natural violence with the violence that
human beings inflict upon each other, are undercut by its dramatic position. Coming directly after Orlando
carries in his faithful but debilitated servant Adam, the song becomes an ironic comment upon itself, for we
have just seen an example of friendship that is not "feigning," of loving that is not mere "folly." We have also
discovered that Duke Senior's attachment to Orlando's father survives in his kindness to the son. Like Jaques'
misanthropic speech on the ultimate insignificance of human life, the song makes a point which the events of
the play qualify, and the agent of this qualification is the very benignity of nature itself.
One final instance of the use of music in As You Like It is worth nothing. "While perhaps bearing no explicit
relationship to the progress of the plot or the nature of character, the song "It was a lover and his lass" (V, iii,
5) has an evocative power that imbues the entire conclusion of the play. Celebrating a life of love and
springtime, the song by contrast reminds us of the winter of exile and misfortune that has just passed. It looks
ahead to the marriages that are about to take place and brings a sense of freshness to inform the repentance
that Duke Frederick and Oliver experience. More atmospheric than thematic, this song suggests a new order
of living and being; it transcends the events of the play to provide a context that expresses their fullest
meaning. In this sense it comes closer than any other song in the play to the use of music that Shakespeare
employs in The Tempest.
This brief discussion of As You Like It illustrates how important to a drama music and song can be. Taken
together, the songs of As You Like It form more than a decorative enhancement of the action. Amiens'
simplicity and energetic gaiety are so closely connected to its progress that it is very difficult to imagine the
play without him or his songs. The music of As You Like It moves with the play as an analogous structure of
mood and motive. It does not, however, become the structural principle of the play itself. This is where The
Tempest takes its crucial departure from a play with which it otherwise shares many similarities.
The difference between the two plays is, of course, the chronological fact of twelve or thirteen years.
Historical considerations of dramatic presentation—the acquisition by the King's Men of the Blackfriars
Theatre—can, in part, account for the unique use to which music was put in The Tempest. But the deepest
distinctions between The Tempest and As You Like It are those that point to profounder questions of ethics and
the nature of freedom and responsibility. The answers supplied by As You Like It are essentially those of the
comic vision—that human nature is susceptible to goodness and that man, if not perfectible, is at least
reformable. But Shakespeare's romances follow the writing of the tragedies, and they are caught in a delicate
balance between the affirmation of the earlier plays and the dark and ponderous probings of Macbeth and
King Lear. And if they are able to sustain or even suggest a positive vision, it is only after an excess of
suffering and the painful passage of time.
The divergent attitudes toward time that As You Like It and The Tempest reveal are perhaps a key to
understanding the very different roles that music takes in each of these plays. In one sense, time seems to be
of little significance in As You Like It. Duke Senior and his company regret their unfortunate exile, but the
Forest of Arden has a medicinal effect that tempers the burden of the past and makes the present livable, even
enjoyable. The future, too, looms in their consciousness as neither a promise nor a threat. There is in the play,
however, the repeated appearance of what I call "the salutary moment," those unique instants when men and
women fall in love and when wrongdoers recognize their errors and seek forgiveness. This is the "love at first
sight" of Rosalind and Orlando, of Celia and Oliver. It is also the instantaneous conversion of Duke Frederick
by his encounter with a religious hermit and the quick reformation of Oliver when saved from the devouring
jaws of a lion by the intervention of his brother. Time, then, in As You Like It is fragmented and dispersed; it
is important insofar as it coincides with certain significant incidents. Helen Gardner, speaking of the
"unmeasured time" of this play, points out that comedy by its very nature makes use of changes and chances
which are not really events but "happenings." Comedy exploits adaptability; it tests a character's willingness
Music and the Masque 144
to grasp the proper moment and fashion it to his own end. Briefly, it dramatizes Rosalind's advice to Phoebe:
"Sell when you can, you are not for all markets" (III, v, 60). This carpe diem attitude toward living, which
depends on the coincidence of situation and desire, posits a sense of time that locates value in the particular
moment. Time's effect, then, is not cumulative but instantaneous; it is not the fulfillment of destiny but life
lived "as you like it."
I stated earlier that the music of As You Like It formed a structure analogous to the movement of the play, and
I think my point is reinforced if we notice that the songs tend to embody this special "momentary" quality as
well. They either occur in relatively short scenes devoted to the consciousness of "having a song" (II, v; IV, ii;
V, iii), or they exploit a significant movement by providing an ironic or thematic comment (Q, vii; V, iv). The
possible exception is "It was a lover and his lass" (V, iii), the import of which has already been discussed.
If the musical instances in As You Like It parallel in theme and tone the movement of the play, the music of
The Tempest orchestrates its developing action at every point. The songs of As You Like It are largely
situational; for the most part, they do not require a comprehensive view of the drama to render them
meaningful. They do not depend upon time as a moving force that brings events and feelings to a certain
issue. Time, however, is of utmost importance in The Tempest. Prospero has four hours to complete his magic
revels; this sense of time (and timing) thus makes every moment meaningful. An intution of urgency, a
recognition of catastrophe just barely avoided, imbues our experience of The Tempest. Our perception of time
in the play includes both a sense of the "proper moment" and a feeling of necessary duration. Ariel saves
Gonzalo and Alonso from the swords of Antonio and Sebastian in "the nick of time," but Alonso saves
himself by enduring a period of suffering. And I think, too, we can see how the shape of time in The Tempest
is largely coextensive with its music. For music informs the play not only as an agent of the "proper moment";
it also directs and integrates all of the play's moments into the total vision that is the play. The Tempest could
not exist without its music, whether it is the strange and solemn airs that accompany the magic banquet, the
sprightly singing of Ariel, or the drunken cavorting of Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo. All of these bear an
intimate relationship to each other; all relate to Prospero's one significant action—his effort to recover his
dukedom and to bring his enemies to a recognition of their past and their errors.
Ultimately one's view of the importance of music in The Tempest will depend upon what one thinks the play's
dramatic import finally is. If one believes that Prospero's island is an harmonious one where redemptive grace
allays and triumphs over evil, one is apt to find its music symbolic of a celestial concord which will
eventually obtain on earth. It is true that The Tempest's music revolves around the opposition of concord and
discord and that the agents of these two modes of being respond (or do not respond) to it in their respective
ways. But rather than seeing the play as the victory of harmony over disorder, I think The Tempest suggests
how very difficult it is to bring order into being and that order, once achieved, is indeed a fragile thing,
precariously balanced between the violent past from which it has emerged and the threatening future which
may consume it. Music, then, assists at the birth of this tentative order, and Prospero's music must be
considered in terms of both the extensions and limitations of his art.
The first song of the play is Ariel's "Come unto these yellow sands" (I, ii, 375), which he sings to a grieving
Ferdinand. The Tempest has finally subsided, and Ariel's song celebrates the simplicity of the calm earth into
which Ferdinand has been transported. As an invitation to the dance, "then take hands," the song looks ahead
to that moment at the end of the play when all of its characters are joined inside Prospero's magic circle. The
magic which Prospero had used to invoke The Tempest now enchants Ferdinand, drawing him further into the
island and toward Miranda. This is the first crucial step toward their marriage, which will in part resolve the
parental strife that had been Prospero's cause for raising The Tempest. One critic has suggested that this song
is the musical counterpart of the sweet-singing Sirens' invitation. "The island has all the magical charms of
Circe's island: strangers from afar have been lured to it and Prospero provides a magical banquet and charms
his visitors by music's powers, so that they are no longer able to obey their reasoning powers." Here
Prospero's more benevolent powers replace the lust and destruction of the Sirens, and the music leads
Music and the Masque 145
Ferdinand, not to an easy satisfaction, but to a test of discipline and faithfulness. Ferdinand's response to the
song, "Where should this music be? I' th' air or th' earth?" (I, ii, 388), establishes the magical quality of this
island, where the very air is music. W. H. Auden has written that "the song comes to him as an utter surprise,
and its effect is not to feed or please his grief, not to encourage him to sit brooding, but to allay his passion, so
that he gets to his feet and follows the music. The song opens his present to expectation at a moment when he
is in danger of closing it to all but recollection."
As Ferdinand follows this elusive music, Ariel begins his second song, "Full fathom five thy father lies" (I, ii,
397). Probably no song of The Tempest is so well remembered and perhaps no other is thematically so
important. Ferdinand is made to believe that his father is dead; similarly, Alonso will believe that Ferdinand is
dead, and in that belief he will undergo the madness, the "sea change" of grief and humility, from which he
will emerge transformed. The poetry of the song transports Alonso from the world of mutability and flux to a
kind of permanence. His bones and eyes become coral and pearls; the "sea" gives form to what was subject to
decay. Thus the song reminds us that the life of Milan—the disordered world of usurpation and potential
tyranny—is now under the shaping influence of Prospero's art. Ferdinand reacts to the song not with grief but
with awe: "This is no mortal business, nor no sound / That the earth owes" (I, ii, 407-408). The music, in the
play's first triumph over history, moves Ferdinand to accept his past and leads him to the future—and Miranda.
The swift agent of Prospero's well-timed music, Ariel plays a "solemn strain" (II, i, 178) that lulls the Milan
travelers to sleep. Gonzalo, in his simplicity and warm-heartedness, submits most easily, but Alonso soon
follows. Sebastian and Antonio, however, are significantly exempted from the effect of the music. Prospero's
magic has no power over them. Their own imperviousness to this music, their inability to hear it, contrasts
sharply with Caliban, who, even in his vile earthiness, is subject to the music's seduction. "The isle is full of
noises," he tells Stephano and Trinculo, "Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not" (III, ii,
132-133). When Sebastian and Antonio plot to take the lives of Alonso and Gonzalo, Prospero's music
urgently intervenes. Ariel sings a warning song, "While you here do snoring lie" (II, i, 290), into Gonzalo's
ear, and the sleepers awake. The music that had induced their slumber becomes the agent of their deliverance;
Alonso and Gonzalo escape catastrophe.
One of the primary distinctions to be made about music in The Tempest is, of course, that there is Ariel's
music and there is Caliban's music. And while there is that moment when Caliban seems to come close to
understanding both of these musical languages, he remains, for the most part, on the side of the raucous and
the bawdy. This is the music of Stephano and Trinculo as well. Stephano's first two songs, "I shall no more to
sea" (II, ii, 41) and "The master, the swabber, the boatswain, and I" (II, ii, 45), are indeed the "scurvy tunes"
that he calls them. The songs are a kind or comic diversion and an introduction to the buffoonery of the three
that is to follow. Their lustiness and earthiness offers a clear antithesis to the obedient chastity of Ferdinand
and Miranda, who are learning that fulfillment must be by desert and not demand.
Caliban, now under the influence of his new god "sack," raises his own voice in song. His "Farewell master"
(II, ii, 173) and "No more dams I'll make for fish" (II, ii, 175) signalize his revolt from Prospero. The latter
song ends with a call for freedom, reminding us, perhaps, of Ariel's behest early in the play that Prospero
release him. Ariel must work for his freedom; Caliban expects his to fall into his lap. It is important, too, I
think, and perhaps ironically significant that the only two characters in the play who ask for freedom are the
non-human ones, while all the other characters are very much involved in a struggle to be free from history,
from each other, and from themselves. Caliban's "scurvy song" heralds the delusion he is about to come under
in thinking Stephano and Trinculo the vehicle through which his freedom may be realized. Together the
comrades plot to kill Prospero and take the island, and they seal their bargain with their song "Flout 'em and
scout 'em" (II, ii, 118). Caliban remarks, "That's not the tune" (121), and Ariel enters with his tabor and pipe
and a wholly different kind of music. This evokes different responses from the three; Stephano thinks it the
devil, Trinculo expresses penitence, but Caliban counsels them not to fear this intervention. Curiously, the two
scenes of the drunken songs frame the scene of log-bearing Ferdinand, engaged in his trial to prove to
Music and the Masque 146
Prospero his fitness for Miranda. Ferdinand's sobriety in performing his task and his willingness to accept
control and responsibility—his efforts to bring about his own freedom—are thrown into relief by this contrast
with desire run wild. This reminds us that Prospero's attempt to bring a new order into being is threatened on
all sides by strongly motivated self-satisfaction and potential anarchy.
Ariel's music, then, has intervened a second time to hinder the enactment of a plot hatched to assassinate a
ruler. Similarly, shortly after the maneuvers of Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban to do away with Prospero, we
see Antonio and Sebastian once again involved in machinations to kill their king. Again Ariel interrupts, this
time with "solemn and strange music" (III, in, 18), and he produces the dance of the strange shapes and their
banquet. Alonso and Gonzalo admire the apparition, calling it "harmony" and "sweet music." Antonio and
Sebastian, still beyond the pale of the island's music, can only relate the phenomenon to mundanities of
geography and travelers' tales. Gonzalo thinks the shapes' "manners" more gentle than human kind, while
Sebastian wants to eat the food they have placed in front of him. Like Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban, his
earthly-mindedness has no access to the beauty that affects Gonzalo and Alonso.
Ariel enters again, this time disguised as a harpy, and the banquet disappears. He explains to them the initial
effect and purpose of his music: "you 'mongst men / Being most unfit to live, I have made you mad" (III, iii,
57-58). Ariel reminds them of their deposition of Prospero and promises them "lingering perdition" unless
they are able to experience "heart's sorrow / And a clear life ensuing" (82). Ariel is telling the representatives
of Milan that they must submit to the music of the island and endure the pain that the achievement of freedom
involves or continue to be agents of chaos and evil. This is the point where the powers and limitations of
Prospero's art merge. While it is true that the play has revealed that there are those amenable to order and
those that are not, Prospero can only use his music to bring his captives to a consciousness of their own
disordered, threatening behavior. His music cannot perform that transformation by itself. As Ferdinand had to
choose whether or not he would undergo the ordeal of log-bearing, Alonso must choose whether or not he will
repent. In doing so he must experience a depth of despair as a necessary prelude to his recovery: "My son i' th'
ooze is bedded; and / I'll seek him deeper than e'er lummet sounded / And with him there He mudded" , (II,
100-102).
Perhaps the most magnificent use of music in The Tempest is that which introduces and informs the masque
that Prospero produces as a wedding blessing for Ferdinand and Miranda. The song "Honour, riches,
marriage, blessing" (IV, i, 106) looks forward to the happy union of the couple. Yet while the song of Juno
and Ceres bespeaks a life of plenty, this is not the same kind of richness that Gonzalo had envisioned when he
dreamed of his ideal commonwealth: "Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none; / ... all men idle, all" (II, i,
148, 150). Juno and Ceres sing of the bounty that is the result of cultivation: "Barns and garners never empty,
/ Vines with clust'ring bunches growing" (111-112). This copiousness is the result of dedicated work, of
nature and nurture, and the dance which concludes the masque is one of nymphs and "August-weary" reapers.
We should remember, too, that Prospero's magic is also the outcome of his hard "labours." If we would chide
Gonzalo for his innocent simplicity in imagining a golden world, the masque song balances his dream with
one that must admit the necessity of the human work that brings work that brings fruitfulness and bounty.
This masque is perhaps revelatory of Prospero's imaginative desire to see order and goodness, but it expresses
this goodness as the result of meaningful human effort. The frailty of this vision, however, shows itself by
rapidly dissolving as Prospero remembers Caliban's "foul conspiracy" against his life. Jan Kott has called this
play "the great Renaissance tragedy of lost illusions," and while one may hesitate to see it as the dark and
murky drama which he thinks it is, one must, I think, give credence to the sense of incompleteness that
emerges as the play comes to a close. For there are gaps, empty spaces in our perception of the human lives
we have seen portrayed, which we suspect even Prospero's finest magic and greatest music cannot touch. His
famous "Our revels now are ended" speech (IV, i, 148) seems, in fact, to point to the limitations of the
musically enchanted spectacle he has produced. Just how fragile it really is is evidenced by its ambiguous
effect on Prospero himself. For he has yet to be reminded by Ariel that "the rarer action" is one of loving
Music and the Masque 147
forgiveness, and there is that crucial moment when it seems as if his "nobler reason" will be as baseless as the
fabric of his vision. When "the insubstantial pageant" fades, what is left is Prospero and his beating mind.
His labors however, are not without positive issue. Prospero's music had made Alonso and his company mad,
yet that madness was a necessary prelude to their recognition of guilt and repentance. If Prospero's music led
the shipwrecked travelers to an awareness of their own history, it also provided a vehicle through which this
awareness—this madness—could be healed. They enter Prospero's magic circle to a "solemn air ... the best
comforter / To an unsettled fancy ..." (V, i, 58-59). Yet if they have attained a freedom from madness, it is a
freedom that must accept the burden of responsibility for its past and future. In this context, Ariel's final song,
"Where the bee sucks, there suck I" (V, i, 87), is significant. One critic has suggested that this song, which is
about Ariel's freedom, is really a lyric coda to the entire play, celebrating the attainment of freedom on the
part of all who have been involved. I think the song has a different and greater function. As it suggests Ariel's
approaching happiness, it points to the world beyond the play, the world which must remain that of our
imaginings. And in going beyond the world of the play, we must inevitably consider not only the "cowslip's
bell" and the merry summer that Ariel looks forward to with delight, but also Milan and the world to which
the reinstated Prospero must return. Ariel's song most poignantly reminds us that his freedom is not the
freedom of a Prospero or an Alonso, that only a spirit can be free to the four elements. For the court of Milan
freedom must now reside in responsible action emerging from the recognition of the pain of history.
Throughout The Tempest Prospero's art—his music—had been the measure of the shaping influence he had on
the lives of other people. Its power finally, I think, must be as tentative as the conclusion to which it brings us.
It has united Ferdinand and Miranda and created a new future for Alonso, but Antonio is still trapped in vile
self-seeking, and the cases of Sebastian and Caliban are questionable. Music has helped to bring about some
order in what had been chaos, some concord from what had been discord. But Prospero breaks his staff and
drowns his book, and thus he abandons his music as well. There is the suggestion, I think, that from now on
the attainment and preservation of freedom and forgiveness will be a thoroughly human effort in which music
can no longer intervene.
SOURCE: "Music and The Tempest," in Shakespeare's Late Plays: Essays in Honor of Charles Crow, edited
by Richard C. Tobias and Paul G. Zolbrod, Ohio University Press, 1974, pp. 185-99.
Prospero
While Prospero is clearly the central figure in The Tempest and orchestrates much of its action, the question of
whether he should be viewed with sympathy has divided critics.
Ian Ferguson
[In the following essay, Ferguson investigates the contradictory qualities of Prospero's character as they are
borne out by his interaction with the other characters in The Tempest, especially with Caliban and Ariel.
According to Ferguson, Prospero is essentially a ruler, now dressed as an artist and a director, who has
abdicated his power without fully accepting moral responsibility for his actions. Prospero's endeavors
throughout the play are bent on revenge and the restoration of his lost worldly power. His activities are
thrown into dramatic relief, however, by his subjects Ariel and Caliban. These two characters, contends
Ferguson, are symbolic of the "wild man," a figure common in Medieval literature, who personifies the
"inescapable irrationality inherent in civilized man." Prospero's subjugation of these two almost ironically
results in his own education, as he learns the value of forgiveness, compassion, and freedom from those to
whom he has so long failed to grant mercy.]
The generally accepted belief that The Tempest is Shakespeare's last complete play has led to numerous
ingenious (and frequently sentimental) readings of the text. It is widely regarded as Shakespeare's farewell to
Prospero 148
the stage with Prospero's famous speech on mutability as the centrepiece to support such an interpretation.
Yet, it is seldom that artists consciously sum up their careers in so obvious a way. Even Kurosawa's Dreams,
while focusing on images and incidents that have stimulated that director's films, can hardly be regarded as his
farewell to the medium. As an artist matures and grows older the themes and images that inform his earlier
work are frequently revised and transformed. I do not believe that the energy that generates works of art is
simply cut off in a conscious decision to write (or paint) no more. Artists are too tenacious and hardy to be so
easily persuaded by mortality to sum up their art in a final, complete and irrevocable statement. In the case of
Shakespeare his concern with the nature and function of kingship, his use of the masque elements in, for
example, the final scene of As You Like It, as well as his exploration of the relationships between generations
are gathered together in the last five plays. Just as Kurosawa in our time has set out to examine the images and
thoughts that have inspired his films, so Shakespeare has taken images and ideas from earlier plays and
transmuted them into a vision made richer by a lifetime's experience.
Scholarly research has established the strong influence of the masque form on The Tempest and this has
stimulated the critical desire to give the characters a fixed allegorical meaning. What that allegory is,
however, is frequently disputed. Prospero has, in different interpretations, been equated with Shakespeare,
God and the Spirit of the Renaissance. Similarly Ariel has been called the spirit of Imagination or the Poetic
Inspiration.
Not surprisingly such 'definitive' readings are unsatisfactory and perhaps the most significant point about The
Tempest is that it is singularly enigmatic and eludes the critical urge to apply fixed didactic meanings to it. As
Marsh has pertinently observed [in The Recurring Miracle, 1962]:
... I find it the most puzzling of all Shakespeare's plays, and the one about which
generalizations are least satisfactory.
The richness of the text is beyond dispute. It has provoked readings that satisfy our contemporary views of
society and, although these may not be reconcilable with Jacobean sensibility, they are in our terms all of a
piece. Recently, for instance, a critic [Neil Viljoen, in Ear: The English Academy of Southern Africa Review 5
(1988)] has asserted:
I believe that Caliban must be seen as a victim of imperialism, as a victim of a rapist society
and in establishing a socio-political framework for The Tempest I have shown that the play
deliberately makes a social and political statement, that that is part of its intention, in so far as
intentionality can be established.
The problem here is that in Shakespeare's age imperialism was not the bogey that it has become in the dying
years of the twentieth century. That Shakespeare's plays are for all time need not be disputed here but it is, I
believe, essential that we should not apply political codes that do not accord with seventeenth-century
perceptions, for example:
Alonso's daughter, Ferdinand's sister, Claribel, was married to (I use the phrase deliberately)
the King of Tunis. Europe is married to Africa, suggestive of the Old World married to the
New. Claribel, light, has been married to a King of darkness. There is comment to this effect
in the play. It was, I think quite obviously, a politically motivated marriage. And I wonder if
that is not a kind of rape.
This observation misses the point that Tunis is, in The Tempest, closely associated with the ancient city of
Carthage. Far from being part of the New World, Tunis is, in the minds of the characters and the
contemporary playgoer, associated with the Classical Age. The New World for Shakespeare was the
Bermudas and the Americas. Furthermore the comparison of Claribel with 'the widow Dido' suggests the
Prospero 149
instability of love, the fragility of vows of constancy and the nature of betrayal. Although this theme is but
lightly touched on in The Tempest it remains a potent undercurrent. Prospero excludes Venus and Cupid from
participation in the masque, and the discovery of Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess is accompanied by
accusations of cheating. Although the charge is delivered jocularly and with affection, it contains a note of
dissonance:
MIR. Sweet lord, you play me false.
FER. No, my dearest love,
I would not for the world.
MIR. Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle,
And I would call it fair play.
(V.i. 172-5)
One senses that the return to Naples and Milan will not automatically confer a permanent and ideal happiness
on the young couple. The political world demands recognition, and idealism can cruelly deceive.
In proposing a reading, however tentative, of The Tempest it is perhaps wisest to begin at a point at which
most critics are in agreement, namely, that Prospero is central to the play. He is, as Frank Kermode notes in
his introduction to the Arden edition of the play, 'a masque presenter'. Furthermore, an examination of the
structure of the play reveals that Prospero (and his familiar Ariel) are the only two characters who are aware
of all the events of the afternoon's business. The others are only allowed knowledge of their particular
dilemma and until the last scene do not know that they are not the sole survivors.
Prospero is the director of the action, a character within the play and also the 'presenter' of the masue. The text
of the play is studded with reminders lat Prospero manipulates the action of the play and that the present
moment we are watching blurs the boundaries between our time and the fictional time of the play:
The hour's now come,
The very minute bids thee open thine ear
(I.ii.36-37)
Now does my project gather to a head:
My charms crack not; my spirits obey; and time
Goes upright with his carriage.
(V.i.1-3)
The play concludes when the 'time' of the action dissolves into the time of the play's completion and the
audience releases the characters and is, in turn, released from the spell of the masque play:
Now my charms are all o'erthrown
And what strength I have's my own.
Which is most faint now, 'tis true
I must be here confm'd by you,
Or sent to Naples.
Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant ...
(Epilogue 77.1-5 and 13-14)
The reiteration of the word 'now' reinforces the fact that the action of the play and the length of performance
are the same ana that we, the audience, are an essential part of the meaning of the play. In this the play
observes the form and function of a masque. It is important that we should examine the nature, not merely the
form of the masque. The masque element of the play is present, partly, in the elaborate stage directions that
Prospero 150
suggest the need to ensure that the play is performed with the elaborate effects that are typical of the
seventeenth-century masque.
The masque is a complex and sophisticated form of theatre and, although in the Caroline period it became
essentially spectacle, in Shakespeare's day it was an intricate structure as reliant on text as it was on ingenious
theatrical devices. The Tempest was written when the architect Inigo Jones and the writers Jonson and Daniel
held equal sway in the creation of court entertainment. The content and form of the masque have been
admirably researched by Stephen Kogan who states [in The Hieroglyphic King, 1986]:
... the entire form seems poised between the extremes of harmony and conflict. Shakespeare
reflects this tension in his masque-like play The Tempest, which similarly moves between the
language of ethereal visions and the language of politics and struggle.
The political element found in the masques of the period is dramatically presented in the juxtaposition of
usurpation and inheritance on the island, as well as in the account of events some sixteen years earlier.
Prospero's desire for revenge for the wrongs he has endured in the past also serves to introduce a sense of
mutability, the insubstantiality of our world in relation to eternity, and the transitory nature of performance is
directly associated with human life:
Our revels now are ended.
These our actors As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, Into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.
(IV.i.148-56)
The insubstantiality is stressed by the use of 'were all spirits and this insubstantial pageant faded'. Even as he
speaks, Prospero's conjuring and the actions of the world dissolve and pass. 'The great globe itself is a
common iconic image for the world and was frequently used by Shakespeare in plays as different in kind as
King Lear and As You Like It:
This wide and universal theatre
Presents more woeful pageants than the scene
Wherein we play.
(As You Like It II.vn.137-9)
While in King Lear man's existence is seen as a part
in a play:
When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools.
(IV.vi.183-4)
Throughout The Tempest the association of audience and performer is stressed through the insistence on our
time and that of the players being one.
Prospero 151
It is, however, the dichotomy evident in the language and themes of the play, that is largely responsible for the
puzzling (and fascinating) spell that the play has cast on both literary critics and theatre directors who all
struggle to make complete sense of the play. These conflicting elements are also strongly reflected in the
characterizations of Prospero, Ariel and Caliban.
The Tempest opens with a vividly dramatic stage effect, a storm at its height. The language reveals, with
Shakespeare's characteristic economy, aspects of character; the King and Ferdinand are at prayer, whereas the
'villains' of the play respond with violence and inappropriate pride:
SEB. A pox on your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, uncharitable dog!
(I.i.40)
and,
ANT. Hang, cur! hang, you whoreson, insolent noisemaker.
We are less afraid to be drowned than thou art.
(I.i.43-5)
It remains for that 'noble Neapolitan, Gonzalo' to attempt to introduce a note of optimism and uneasy
jocularity:
I have great comfort from this fellow: methinks
he hath no drowning mark upon him; his complexion is perfect gallows.
(I.i.28-30)
The desperation of the drowning mortals is followed immediately by our first sight of Prospero and Miranda
on 'the uninhabited Island' that is Prospero's small kingdom. Coleridge's observation is dramatically very
pertinent:
Exquisite judgement—first the noise and confusion--then the silence of a deserted island—and
Prospero and Miranda.
Apart from establishing Miranda's compassion and her horror at the probable fate of those aboard the
threatened galleon, Shakespeare reveals that this Tempest initially registered by the play-goer as a realistic
storm—the diction of the mariners is an accurate response to a violent hurricane at sea—is the product of
Prospero's thought and not the actual predicament of 'mortality set among the terrors of natural existence'. The
action of The Tempest is determined and governed by the 'beating' of Prospero's mind. Herein lies the richness
and sophistication of Shakespeare's concept and it is in accord with the particular demands of the masque
form. Robert Uphaus has asserted [in Beyond Tragedy, 1981]:
Because Prospero is, among other things, an artist who has staged a tempest within a play
called The Tempest, it seems fair to assume that the play is also a kind of psychodrama with
the characters and events of the play acting out facets of Prospero's mind, (my emphasis)
While this view is couched in contemporary terms that would have had little meaning for Shakespeare, it does
accord with one of the functions of the masque, the assertion of the power and function of kingship.
In the reign of James I great emphasis was placed upon the function and obligations of the king. James
expressed the moral duties of the ruler in his treatise The Basdican Down, the 'kingly gift' is in effect a
testament of royal doctrine for the instruction of the young Prince Henry. The duty of obligation is clearly a
matter of prime consideration:
Prospero 152
But as yee are clothed with two callings, so must ye be alike carefull for the discharge of
them both: that as ye are a good Christian, so ye may be a good King, discharging your office
... in the poynts of justice and acquitie: which in two sundry waies ye must do: the one, in
establishing, and executing (which is the life of the lawe) good lawes among your people: the
other, by your behaviour in your owne person ... consider first the true difference betwixt a
lawfull good King, & an usurping Tyrant: ... The one acknowlegeth himself ordeined for his
people, having received form God a burthen of government whereof he must be countable.
The other thinketh his people ordeyned for him a praye to his appetites, as the fruites of his
magnanimitie; and therefore, as their endes are directly contrarie, so ar their whole actions ...
In King James's political speeches this moral and godly function of the ruler is stressed and he spoke
constantly of the necessity for the king to abide by 'the fundamental laws of the kingdom'.
The concern for the principles of kingship and the relationship between God's justice and earthly law inform
the masques of the Stuart court and also find expression in the poems of state, most particularly Jonson's
Panegyre on the Happte Entrance of James ... To His first high Session of Parliament:
... reverend Themis did descend Upon his state;
let downe in that rich chaine
That fasteneth heavenly power to earthly raigne.
(11.20-2)
In keeping with Shakespeare's concern for the function and purpose of kingship which formed a major theme
not only in the history plays but also in the great tragedies, The Tempest deals, although more obliquely, with
the moral function of kingship. Prospero is not an ideal king although he is a magus, a man of learning. His
deposition and exile at the hands of his brother, Antonio, are the result of his own abdication from
responsibility:
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 ...
(I.ii.89-96)
Here Prospero indicates that his sense of injury is great, but fails to acknowledge his own abdication from
responsibility. One of the chief characteristics that marks Prospero is a sense of resentment for injury to his
authority. As the Duke of Milan he should not have 'neglected worldly ends'. Furthermore, his wounded
self-esteem is reflected in his previous speech when he refers to his brother's 'parasitic' theft of power:
... he was
The ivy which had hid my princely trunk,
And suck'd my verdure out on't.
(I.ii.85-7)
The image conveys the draining of power and vitality of which his brother, Antonio, is undoubtedly guilty.
However, the image would have suggested more to Shakespeare's audience drawing as it does on a picture,
epigram and moral published in Theater of Fine Devices. Within the iconological meaning of the ivy sapping
the strength of the oak is a secondary meaning which stresses Prospero's almost petulant sense of the personal
Prospero 153
injustice dealt him by the usurper. The motto attached reads:
Ungratefull men breed great offence
As persons voyd of wit or sence.
This moral is amplified by the verse that follows the simple woodcut illustration:
The Oke doth suffer the yong Yvy wind
Up by his sides till it be got on by,
But being got aloft it so doth bind
It kils the stocke that it was raised by;
So some proves so unthankfull and unkind,
To those on whom they chiefly do rely
By whom they first were called to their state
They be the first (I say) give them the mate.
Although Antonio is culpable as a usurper who has broken the bonds of duty between king and subject as well
as flouted the ties of blood (as Macbeth had also done), it is significant that Prospero feels indignation and
injury when he has himself undervalued the high office to which he is divinely appointed. Earlier in the same
scene he comes closer to a recognition of his abrogation of duty:
The government I cast upon my brother,
And to my state grew stranger, being transported
And rapt in secret studies.
(I.ii.75-77)
His use of the verb 'cast' suggests a degree of careless disregard for the divinely imposed responsibilities of
kingship. Disturbingly in the final lines of the play it appears that Prospero has still not acquired the
understanding of the duties owed, in Jacobean terms, by the ruler:
... in the morn I'll bring you to your ship,
and so to Naples.
Where I have hope to see the nuptial
Of these our dear-belov'd solemnized;
And thence retire me to my Milan, where
Every third thought shall be my grave.
(V.i.306-311)
Prospero's search for knowledge would have been regarded in the seventeenth century as laudable and proper,
but his failure to act as the 'politic father of his people' planning their 'careful education' would have been seen
as a dereliction of duty. Prospero shows little inclination for this responsibility of government and the
playgoer realizes that he has mistaken the defeat of Antonio and Sebastian for penance.
However, Prospero does advance in moral understanding if not in political acumen. Initially, and for the
greater part of the play, he is afflicted with a 'nausea' for the human condition. This affects even his tenderness
for Miranda, who although he tells her she was 'a cherubin', he also sees as burdened with human emotions,
most specifically that of love:
Poor worm, thou art infected!
This visitation shows it.
(III.i.31-2)
Prospero 154
Prospero's character vacillates between affection and disgust with the human condition. Finally, it is this
'nausea' that Prospero conquers and through the Christian virtues stressed by King James (as well as by the
writers of court masques) he achieves a common humanity, one which accepts the limitations of that
humanity:
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
Not a frown further.
(V i.25-30)
Recognition of virtue leads him to abjure his magic powers thus placing himself once more within the
structure of human society. Finally, in the Epilogue he accepts the need for Divine Providence:
Now I want
Spirits to enforce,
Art to enchant;
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be reliev'd by prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
(Epilogue. 77.13-18)
The growth of understanding is most palpably demonstrated in his recognition of the 'hag-seeds on whose
nature/ Nurture can never stick':
... this thing of darkness
I Acknowledge mine.
(V.i.275-6)
The contradictory elements that Prospero embodies are also evident in Shakespeare's portrayal of Ariel and
the slave, Caliban. Both of these figures are, I believe, derived from the same source, the medieval icon of the
'wild man'. This is more evidently true in Shakespeare's portrayal of the 'salvage and deformed slave' Caliban,
who has been bewitched by Prospero's initial kindness into abdicating his own position on the island:
When thou cam'st first,
Thou strok'st me and made much of me; would'st give me
Water with berries in't; and teach me how
To name the bigger light and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I lov'd thee,
And show'd thee all the qualities o'th'isle.
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile:
Curs'd be I that did so!
(I.i.334-41)
Caliban demonstrates a naive susceptibility to the attentions of men which he mistakes for affection not once,
but twice, on both occasions disastrously in terms of his own well-being. His infatuation with Stephano leads
him to betray once again the secrets of the island and to seek revenge on Prospero through a man of lower
order:
Prospero 155
I'll show thee the best springs;
I'll pluck thee berries;
I'll fish for thee, and get :hee wood enough.
A plague upon the tyrant that I serve!
I'll bear him no more sticks, but follow thee,
Thou wondrous man.
(II.ii. 160-64)
Caliban is not governed by any understanding of social codes and his nature responds purely to the pleasure
principle and the desire to possess his own kingdom:
PROS. ... thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.
CAL. O ho, O ho! would't had been done!
Thou didst prevent me;
I had peopled else This isle with Calibans.
(I.ii.349-53)
In his definitive study of the wild man in art and literature [The Wild Man: Medieval Myths and Symbolism,
1980], Timothy Husband has observed:
Prospero and Miranda watch the storm. The wild man, a purely mythic creature, was a literary
and artistic invention of the medieval imagination. ... By every account the wild man's
behaviour matched his primitive surroundings. Strong enough to uproot trees, he was violent
and aggressive, not only against wild animals but also against his own kind.
The figure of the wild man arises from the need to explain and define an inescapable irrationality inherent in
civilized man:
The wild man ... served to counterpoise the accepted standards of conduct in society in
general. If the average man could not articulate what he meant by 'civilized' in positive terms,
he could readily do so in negative terms by pointing to the wild man.
By the sixteenth century the iconographic image of the wild man was a commonplace in English literature and
plays a significant role in both poetry and drama. The portrayal of the wild man is fairly constant in his
appearance which gives us, in Spenser's description, a strange figure devoid of the niceties and refinements of
civilized living:
His wast was with a wreath of yuie greene Engirt about, ne other garment wore: For all his
haire was like a garment seene; And in his hand a tall young oake he bore, whose knottie
snags were sharpened all afore.
And beath'd in fire for steele to be insted. But whence he was, or of wombe ybore, Of beasts,
or of the earth, I have not red But certes was with milke of Wolves and Tygres fed.
(Spenser: The Faerie Queene, Book IV, Cant. VII.7)
The figure of the wild man appears in theatre as early as 1515 in the masqye-type play The Place Perilous.
The most important early use or this figure occurs, however, in the dumb show prologue to Gorbuduc (1561):
Firste the Musicke of violenze began to play, durynge whiche came vppon stage sixe wilde
men clothed in leaues.
Prospero 156
He also serves a vital function in Spenser's highly emblematic poem, The Faerie Queene, where the two
distinct personalities of the wild man are portrayed. Initially the view is one akin to the Caliban figure:
It was to weet a wilde and saluage man, Yet was no man, but onely like in shape and eke in
stature higher by a span, All ouergrowne with haire, that could awhape An hardy hart, and his
wide mouth did gape
With huge great teeth, like to a tusked Bore
For he hu'd all on rauin and on rape Of men and beasts; and fed on fleshly gore, The signe
whereof yet stain'd his bloudy lips afore
His neather lip was not like man nor beast, But like a wide deepe poke, downe hanging low,
In which he wont the relickes of his feast, and craellspoyle, which he hadspard, to stow:
And ouer it his huge great nose did grow, Full dreadfully empurpled all with bloud; And
downe both sides two wide long ears did glow,
And raught downe to his waste, when vp he stood,
More great then th'eares of Elephants by Indus flood.
(Spenser: The Faerie Queene, Book IV, Cant. VII. 5-6)
Significantly, it is only Caliban who truly appreciates the beauty of the island. Prospero regards it merely as a
place of exile in which he practises his 'rough magic' and longs for a return to Milan. Gonzalo's description of
an ideal commonwealth is little more than an optimistic attempt to come to terms with the fickleness of
Fortune. Nonetheless, his view that 'Nature should bring forth, / Of its own kind, all foison, all abundances' is
echoed in the masque that Prospero conjures up to express his hope for a fruitful and blessed future for
Miranda and Ferdinand:
Earth's increase, foison plenty,
Barns and garners never empty;
Vines with clust'ring bunches growing;
Plants with goodly burthen bowing;
Spring come to you at the farthest
In the very end of harvest!
(IV1110-115)
Although the magic figures of Juno, Ceres and Iris give their benediction, we realize that it is an ideal vision
that can at best be only fleetingly achieved in the 'real' world of politics and social structures. Very few of the
characters are conscious of the magical harmony of the island and most concentrate on the disagreeable
qualities of mires and foul-smelling pools. However contradictory the idea may appear, the 'salvage' is the one
figure who is most conscious of the 'qualities' of the island. Caliban hears the music and dimly perceives a
beauty and meaning beyond his reach:
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 wak'd 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 wak'd I cried to dream again.
Prospero 157
(II.ii. 133-41)
In these lines we are reminded of Bottom and his confused perception of beauty that will forever be beyond
his comprehension:
I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it
was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound the dream ... The eye of man hath not heard,
the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his
heart to report what my dream was! (A Midsummer Night's Dream IV.i. 198-204)
Importantly, however, the difference between Bottom and the island 'salvage', lies in the way Caliban is
manipulated by the beauty that can make him 'sleep again' or weep 'to dream again'. While Bottom, a
'hard-handed' man 'of Athens', confuses the various senses the 'salvage and deformed' Caliban perceives the
magic in terms of a harmony and order that his nature cannot possess. That the supernatural element is divine
is suggested in Shakespeare's use of the conventional emblem, common in the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries, of the cloud that parts to reveal God's generosity symbolized in the hand offering assistance or in
the gift of a cornucopia of plenty. In his portrayal of Caliban, Shakespeare perceives the violence and the
anarchic nature of the wild man, but he also allows him a perception of beauty from which civilized man is
partly excluded. The dichotomy, striking in that it echoes the civilized Prospero's own contradictions,
embodies the dual image of the wild man as perceived in late medieval and post-medieval myth and symbol:
As both myth and symbol ... the wildman could be at once savage and sublime, evoke fear
and admiration, and represent man's antithesis and ideal.
One characteristic of the wild man that is most fully portrayed in Caliban is his passionate response to music.
It is, perhaps, this capacity for appreciation that allows us to accept Caliban's 'repentance' and belated
recognition of degree in human society:
I'll be wise hereafter,
And seek for grace.
What a thrice-double ass
Was I, to take this drunkard for a god,
And worship this dull fool!
(V.i.294-97)
That he should 'seek for grace' allows the possibility of redemption and endorses the view held by St.
Augustine and subsequent religious writers:
What is true for a Christian beyond the shadow of a doubt is that every real man, that is, every
mortal animal that is rational, however unusual to us may be the shape of his body, or the
color of his skin or the way he walks, or the sound of his voice, and whatever the strength,
portion or quality of his natural endowments, is descended from the single first-created man
... God is the Creator of all; He knows best where and when and what is, or was, best for Him
to create, since He deliberately fashioned the beauty of the whole out of both the similarity
and dissimilarity of its parts.
The promise of salvation, or at least the hope of redemption through a search for spiritual grace, is not
confined to Caliban but embraces mercy and redemption for Prospero in the religious sense. The disturbing
element of his political naivete remains constant by the end of the play. For Caliban the conclusion of the play
offers the potential of salvation for a different order of creation than that of human society, the 'spawn' of the
witch Sycorax. It is the belief in salvation that is the play's chief concern, similar to that expressed by the
Prospero 158
medieval poet, Heinrich von Hesler in Apokalypse:
Werden sulle, daz sie genesen
Order sie suln vorlorn wesen
Oder mit dem Tuvele hin gen
Daz muz an Goter guaden sten.
(Whether they will be saved or lost and go with the devil, that will have to be left to the
mercy of God.)
Although the portrayal of Caliban owes much to the emblem of the Wild Man it is also important that we
should remember that he is the child of the witch Sycorax who, like Prospero, was initially cast away on the
island where she died leaving her son the island inheritance:
This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me.
(I. ii.333-4)
The conflicting elements of personality that are evident in Prospero are also revealed in the commentary on
the 'foul witch' whose life was spared 'for one thing she did'. The information that even a creature dedicated to
evil—as surely as Prospero is a devotee of 'white' magic—hints at the mercy that must be extended to any
creature that acts for the good of man rather than for his downfall.
The most important completely supernatural creature on the island is Ariel who, like Caliban, exhibits
characteristics typical of the wild man concept. Ariel is protean and his appearances are calculated to inspire
delight (the 'water nymph') or, alternatively, terror (the figure of the 'harpy'). Although he possesses magical
powers, he is nonetheless only an agent and was initially subject to the powers of Sycorax who confined him
in 'a cloven pine'. He is similarly and most unwillingly the agent of Prospero who keeps him in thrall by the
memory of his 'dozen years' of imprisonment and by the threat of further confinement:
If thou more murmur'st,
I will rend an oak,
And peg thee in his knotty entrails, till
Thou hast howl'd away twelve winters.
(I.ii.294-6)
Prospero rules his agent and his slave most tyrannically, threatening Caliban with physical pain and Ariel with
imprisonment. Each is terrorized by what he most fears and in this respect Prospero is ruthlessly efficient.
Ariel's inability to initiate magic in spite of his supernatural powers of transformation is akin to the wild man's
capacity to alter his appearance while exhibiting no further power:
In early medieval times the wild man was universally thought of as a giant, but as giganticism
became equated with irredeemable stupidity, the wild man's scale reduced as a matter of
self-preservation. ... By the late Middle Ages, many depictions show the wild man reduced to
Lilliputian scale, disporting among the leaves and tendrils of plants.
By the sixteenth century we find the converse of the Caliban-type wild man existing side-by-side with the
ogre-like representation. The violent and deformed 'salvage' who threatens Britomart in Spenser's The Faerie
Queene has an opposite manifestation in Book VI of that poem:
Prospero 159
O what an easie thing is to descry
The gentle bloud, how euer it be wrapt
In sad misfortunes foule deformity,
And wretched sorrowes, which haue often hapt?
For howsoeuer it may grow mis-shapt,
Like this wyld man, being vndisciplynd,
That to all vertue it may seeme vnapt,
Yet it will shew some sparkes of gentle mynd,
And at the last breake forth in his owne proper kynd.
That plainely may in this wyld man be red,
Who though he were still in this desert wood,
Mongst saluage beasts, both rudely borne and bred,
Ne euer saw faire guize, nelearned good,
Yet shewd some token of his gentle blood,
By gentle vsage of that wretched Dame.
For certes he was borne of noble blood,
How euer by hard hap he hether came;
As ye may know, when time shall be to tell the same.
(Spenser: The Faerie Queene, Book VI Cant. V. 1-2)
The delicacy and 'gentle blood' of the wild man is also a trait of Ariel which is contradicted by that spirit's
coldness. If Caliban represents uncontrolled emotions Ariel is detached from human concerns, although he is
capable of objectively reminding Prospero of his human responses:
ARI. ... Your charm so strongly works 'em
That if you now beheld them, your affection
Would become tender.
PROS. Dost thou think so, spirit?
ARI. Mine would, sir, were I human.
PROS. 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 mov'd than thou art?
(V.i. 17-24)
It is Ariel's relationship with air which has provoked the critical view that equates him with the imaginative
qualities of man. In The Recurring Miracle Derek Marsh cautiously states that Ariel represents 'something
like the imagination of man'. However, there is an element that is disturbingly hedonistic and self-centred in
Ariel. The use he intends to make of his freedom from servitude is entirely governed by pleasure and a search
for a permanent summer:
Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
(V.i.88-94)
Prospero 160
In this he exhibits a kinship with the gentle wildman of the late medieval period:
Je viz cellon que ma aprins nature sans
soucy nul tousjours joyeusemant
En (ce) croux ci fois moy ebergement
Quant a viandes soueves millement ne en fort breuvages nen prond point deplesance
De froiz fruitage me repes seullement Et ainsy ai, Dieu mercy, souffisance.
(I live according to what Nature has taught me
Free from worry, always joyously.
In a hollow tree I make my home.
I do not delight in fancy food
Or in strong drink.
I live upon fresh fruit alone,
And so I have, thank God, enough.)
The function of both Ariel and Caliban lies in their ability to instruct the human Prospero to express worthy
emotions and demonstrate a capacity for generosity and forgiveness. In so doing they achieve their freedom
and allow Prospero to return to worldly concerns conscious of the need for forgiveness and mercy if man is to
be more, and express more, than brutish appetite. It is a lesson as appropriate for the twentieth century as it
was for the seventeenth.
SOURCE: "Contradictory Natures: The Function of Prospero, His Agent and His Slave in The Tempest" in
Unisa English Studies, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, September, 1990, pp. 1-9.
Ariel
Commentary on Ariel has tended to speculate about his nature and to suggest possible sources for his original
and unique characterization. In 1811 August Wilhelm Schlegel was the first to identify Ariel with the element
of air, contrasting him with Caliban, who is linked with the lower element of earth. And, while Schlegel was
careful not to reduce Ariel or any other characters in the play to simple allegory, symbolic studies of this
creature have abounded in modern criticism.
W. Stacy Johnson
[In the following essay, Johnson surveys the many possible sources for the character of Ariel, including the
Bible, books of Renaissance magic, and works on demonology. From these he arrives at a definition of the
creature that synthesizes both Medieval and Neoplatonic conceptions of spirits, but favors the latter by
placing Ariel in the category of a spirit-agent that draws power from natural elements (in this case the air),
rather than labeling him as a demonic or angelic being. Thus, Ariel has powers over natural forces, allowing
him to conjure The Tempest that brings Alonso, Antonio, Ferdinand, and the others to the island. In terms of
his motivation, Ariel also appears to be more a fantastic creature from folklore bent on achieving his personal
freedom than an abstract being with religious overtones and purely good or evil intentions.]
As the sole agent of Prospero's magic in The Tempest, the spirit Ariel is a crucial figure for any analysis of the
play. He has been called a personification of fancy, of art, of the airy element in which he exists; but each of
these interpretations derives from an allegorical reading which is not yet convincingly established on grounds
of plain evidence. What kind of spirit is Ariel, and how would Shakespeare's audience see a character
functioning as he does? In answering these questions on the basis of the Renaissance background, the scholar
may begin to graps the magic concept which is basic to Shakespeare's drama.
Ariel 161
The Renaissance background of any occult or supernatural manifestation is a complex one. In general the
various attitudes of Shakespeare's contemporaries toward the spirit world can be reduced to two main
traditions: the medieval orthodox one, largely embodied in popular witch lore, which holds that all magical
and miraculous powers are due directly either to God's or to Satan's hand; and the one involved in
Neo-Platonic philosophy and in such occult pursuits as alchemy and cabalism, holding that magic may
properly be practiced as an incidental means of the wise man ascending toward spiritual unity with the divine.
These two concepts modify each other to some extent and are often blurred, particularly in popular writings;
but the basic difference remains. The esoteric works of scholarly occultists exalt a magic in harmony with
divine and natural law, but the popular works of priests and controversialists—like the Malleus Maleficarum
and King James's Daemonologie—condemn all magic as either spurious or inspired by Satan. Even Wierus and
Reginald Scot, skeptical of witches' and sorcerers' powers, make little distinction between scholar-magician
and black witch. For a follower of the Neo-Platonist Iamblichus, or for such a learned spirit-raiser as the
famous Dr. John Dee (who was a favorite of Elizabeth) there might be neutral and even rational spirits, useful
in good faith. But for King James the magician-conjured spirit is diabolical.
Ariel functions primarily as a benevolent rather than a diabolical spirit, although he is capable of chastising
the evil and rebellious: he appears in thunder to Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio, and he frustrates poor
Caliban's scheme for revenge. But he has served the witch Sycorax as a familiar, and it may be that he is a
neutral agent of the magician who controls him. The problem as to whether he is a demon, angel, or symbolic
creation can best be approached not according to his motivation, since he is represented as being subordinate
to Prospero's will, but according to his name, manner of performance, and status as an elemental servant. The
first possible key is the spirit's name, and this leads directly into the other aspects of his nature.
The name's form is that of an angelic epithet, with the -el (God) ending. Emile Grillot de Givry remarks that
the sorcerer's black books, which took on particular interest for learned men of the Renaissance, are filled with
invocations of angels and of God by various words, of which there are "seventy-two divine names, all ending
in el." The use of these names by sorcerers and occultists probably derives from medieval Jewish
demonology, in which Ariel is a spirit of the waters. This name, as well as other similar ones, may have come
into Renaissance magic through the cabala; and while Ariel is not commonly mentioned in spirit invocations,
the variant Uriel is often used: Uriel was the favorite spirit of Dr. Dee, about whom Shakespeare—like all
England—undoubtedly knew. Abel Lefranc, in his "L'origine d'Ariel," reports having found Shakespeare's very
figure in a book written for magicians of the highest order, the Steganographia of Trithemius. This work,
according to Lefranc, names the seven angels who control the seven planets of astrology and, subordinate to
these angels, twenty-one "spiritus subjecti per quos nun-ciantur arcana." The idea that magic works through
the controlling of spirits who direct natural phenomena (in the cabala, angels who animate both celestial and
earthly elements) is in Renaissance occultism a commonplace. But Lefranc emphasizes the fact that in that
order of spirits which is said by Trithemius to serve the magician ("per quos intentionis nostrae oper-amur
effectum") appears a spirit called Ariel, one of the three placed under Zachariel, governor of Jupiter; and he
goes so far as to suggest that the Steganographia is the direct source for Shakespeare's character.
The argument for Ariel as this kind of agent could agree with W. C. Curry's idea of the spirit as a rational
Platonic demon, able to carry out general commands through his own devisings, but not such evil commands
as those of Sycorax. This idea would place Ariel essentially outside the orthodox perspective of Christian
angel and devil. The fact is that this play, like those with classical settings, has no explicit Christian elements,
referring only to the gods and spirits of classicism and folklore; but, intended or not, this omission of the
Christian trimmings is appropriate in a play about a hero-magician on a fantastic island, written during the
reign of a king who abhorred magic. At any rate, even if Shakespeare did not read Trithemius, as one may
reasonably doubt, the concept of natural "angels" or spirits who control the elements and can be in turn
controlled by man, who are Neo-Platonic demons partly translated into Hebrew-Christian terms (their names
ending in -el), certainly bears a relationship to the Shakespearian concept.
Ariel 162
Another suggestion is that Ariel's name comes from the Bible, Isaiah xxix. The Geneva Bible (London, 1594)
uses the term altar in the chapter, but it adds this prominent gloss:
The Ebrewe word Ariel signifieth the Lyon of God and it signifieth the Altar, because ye
Altar seemed to devour the Sacrifice that was offered to God.
And Ariel rather than altar is employed in the Bishops' Bible. This chapter contains, along with the name,
several curiously suggestive phrases. To Ariel it is said (I quote the Geneva text), "thou ... shalt speak out of
the ground, and thy speech shall be as out of the dust: thy voice also shall be out of the ground like him that
hath a spirit of divination." There is something here reminiscent of the strange voices and spirits on Prospero's
island, although this parallel alone must seem far-fetched. But again, "thou shalt bee visited of the Lorde of
hostes with thunder, and shaking, and a great noyse, a whirlewind, and a tempest, and a flame of devouring
fire." The impression of this is strikingly like that made by Ariel's tempest-raising, when the spirit "fiam'd
amazement," appeared as "lightnings ... dreadful thunder-claps ... fire and cracks / Of sulphurous roaring" (I.ii.
198-204), as well as of his later manifestation in thunder (III.ii.53 ff.). This same chapter speaks of hungry
and thirsty men who dream they eat and drink and awake to find their viands gone (8), just as Alonso's
company is amazed to see its magic banquet disappear; and finally there is a "spirite of slumber" which "shuts
up your eyes" (10), reminding the reader of Prospero's causing Miranda to sleep and Ariel's making all of
Alonso's party, save Sebastian and Antonio, drowsy. There is of course no parallel of meaning between this
chapter and the play, but the similarity in imagery and incident makes some relationship—perhaps even a
sub-conscious one on Shakespeare's part—quite possible.
Whatever its direct source, the appropriateness of the name certainly dictates its choice for this creature of air.
According to the Neo-Platonism of Iamblichus the airy spirit is not only rational but is "composed of a
'spiritual matter' ... merely an organic part of the universe," The aerial as contrasted with the celestial spirit is
sublunar, and thus corruptible; he is an administrant of natural processes, and he can be controlled by a wise
man. But sublunar spirits may be further subdivided, and the aerial spirit made only a particular elemental
kind. In general the four-fold division of the elements—fire, water, earth and air—is accepted in magical
writings. Agrippa holds that there are four such elements, that each has three manifestations, and that each
element in its pure manifestation is unmixed and incorruptible; no magician can succeed without grasping this
elemental nature. However, Thomas Vaughan insists that there are only two elements, earth and water, and
that air is "a certain miraculous hermaphrodite, the cement of two worlds and the medley of extremes," where
all of nature is represented in "innumerable magic forms," in which the invisible species of all things are
contained; he quotes Agrippa in calling air "corpus vitae spiritus nostri sensitivi," "The body of life of our
sensitive spirit," and he says mysteriously, "I should amaze the reader if I did relate the several offices of this
body, but it is the magician's back door and none but friends come in at it." Both these views, particularly
Vaughan's, suggest possible bases for Shakespeare's use of a spirit whose element is air.
A contemporary of Shakespeare who is particularly concerned with the subject of spirits, Randall Hutchins,
holds that
We who are formed in nature are sometimes lords over nature, and we effect operations so
marvelous, so unexpected, and so difficult, that even the very Manes obey them, the stars are
disturbed, the divine powers are won over, the elements become our servants.
Since this is true, he argues, it is likely that immortal spirits can perform greater works. And he believes that
such spirits may be evoked by magic means. Evil forces in particular, may be either controlled or diabolically
wilful; the spirits of the air are among these.
Nor certainly should it be otherwise thought than that evil demons agitate the very bowels of
the earth and arouse resounding tempests in the air, since in it some of them have their seat, as
Ariel 163
is by all means the case and obviously apparent. Witnesses to this are: Hermis Trismegistus,
in Ad Asclepium near the beginning, and Peucer in his book on divination by dreams, where
he declares that demons form various phantoms and portents like meteors in the air, portray
representations of armies in conflict, reproduce blares of trumpets, clashes of arms, sounds of
blows, cries of wailing, and applause of the victors, make forms of animals in the air from the
confluence of gathered clouds and passage of light scattered from the sky.
The aptness of this and similar passages in giving a background for Ariel's exploit is apparent. Hutchins' work,
the Tractatus de spectns, attempting to refute both the Roman Catholic view that specters are spirits of the
dead and the "atheistic" one that they are hallucinations only, shows respect for the opinions of Neo-Platonic
philosophers and of magicians. But Hutchins identifies elemental demons as exclusively bad specters. Dealing
explicitly with "aerial spirits," he says
Such can descend to lower regions quicker than thought and, having taken on bodies from the
denser air, appear visibly at times ... These spirits often disturb the air, stir up tempests and
thunders. They do not retain one form, but take on various forms, and change these according
to the manifold variety of attitudes they encounter, when either evoked by the incantations of
witches or impelled by seditious influences to do harm.
And the association of aerial beings with tempest-raising and with such "influences" is not peculiar to this
treatise. Robert Burton, in his "Digression of the Nature of Spirits," not only distinguishes between aetherial
(celestial or angelic) and sublunary or natural spirits, but definitely divides the latter according to elements.
He calls these devils, reflecting the orthodox translation of demons into Christian imps.
His "aerial spirits ... are such as keep quarter most part in the aire, cause many tempests, thunder, and
lightnings, tear Oakes ... Counterfeit Armies in the air, strange noyses ... and cause whirlewindes on a sudden,
and tempestuous stormes ..." Like Bodin, Burton believes that the Tempests of the sea are usually brought
about by such spirits rather than by natural means. The fact that the main function of aerial spirits in this long
passage and in Hutchins is the raising of tempests, resulting in "shipwracks" (and since they are spoken of as
devils, their work is parallel to that of tempest-raising witches), is surely significant, particularly in
conjunction with Burton's statement that these aerial creatures are those "that serve Magicians," the very
spirits who performed the behests of magicians Agrippa, Paracelsus, Simon Magus, Iamblichus, and
Trithemius! Thomas Heywood, who, incidentally, uses the name Ariel to designate a prime elemental angel
("the Earth's great Lord"), also refers to "Spirits of th'Aire" who "Have the cleare subtil aire to worke upon, /
By causing thunders and Tempestuous Showr's ..." He says, too, that Zoroaster "Who of Art Magicke was the
first Art-master," commanded "such spirits." While both Burton and Heywood are writing some years after
Shakespeare, the corroboration of Hutchins (writing in 1593 or thereabout) and Burton's reference to other
authors holding parallel notions suggest that they are reporting a genuinely widespread belief. Here at last is a
definite link between the esoteric-magic and popular traditions, as well as a new key to Ariel's conception; the
Tempest-raising aerial spirits which in Christian demonology are fallen angels are related to the great and
dignified magi, to whom Prospero is certainly a brother in learning, dignity, benevolence, and nobility of
mind.
Ariel, though, is not simply an idea. Use of folklore traditions, here as in the case of Prospero himself, gives a
richness to Shakespeare's magic which the undramatic works of philosophy and occultism could not give.
Ariel is generally understandable as being like the familiar spirit of witchcraft; he is always available and at
Prospero's disposal (although he comes into his own as something more than a willless slave in his speech
which moves Prospero to mercy—V.i.7-19). And he has previously been under the command of a witch,
Sycorax, who shut him up in the tree. The hiding of familiar spirits in such a manner is not uncommon;
George Gifford tells of a witch who "had a spirite which did abide in a hollow tree," and his editor, Beatrice
White, points out the similarity between this and Ariel's imprisonment, calling Sycorax "the typical malignant
Ariel 164
witch" and Prospero a kind of sorcerer, "Dr. Dee translated to the sphere of poetry." The synthesis of esoteric
magic and witchcraft beliefs produces a dignified and even heroic magic possessing the pyrotechnic
attractiveness of the diabolical; and this synthesis is represented in Ariel, a being with the reality and verve of
a familiar spirit or demon, appearing in thunder and lightning, and yet one who is the pure elemental spirit of
higher magic, rather than a devil, and is essentially—like his element—free.
Shakespeare's Ariel-conjuring magic is fantastic; it is a different kind of synthesis from those appearing in the
witchcraft writers or occultists, who conceive magic in one theoretical way or another, either ignoring its
frightening dramatic manifestations in popular lore or rejecting its mysterious appeal and making it perverse
and criminal. If Shakespeare used some source (perhaps Italian) from which Ayrer's Die Schone Sidea and
Antonio de Eslava's parallel tale in Nocbes de Invierno also derived, it seems likely that the magical incidents
added to the story (of a deposed wizard-king whose daughter marries the usurper's son) are the dramatist's
own work. Possibly the choice of Ariel's name from among those commonly used by occultists was largely
prompted by a knowledge that aerial spirits were thought of as magicians' servants; and the use of such a spirit
would apparently be consistent with the work of causing a tempest. The name itself may, in turn, be
associated in memory with the Bible passage concerning voices from the earth, thunder, and a tempest. The
last suggestion, at least, is highly conjectural. But it is interesting to see how all these possibilities are
included as a complex of overtones in the name and nature of Ariel. While it is impossible to succeed with
Shakespeare in the kind of psychological method which Lowes uses with Coleridge, it is important to realize
the probability that the several kinds of source-concepts considered here are drawn upon by the playwright.
Finally, then, we have a picture of Ariel as primarily elemental, associated directly with the spirit-operated
phenomenal world of Neo-Platonism, but maintaining the peculiar personality of a true familiar: the
personality which saves him from being a perfectly inhuman thing. The superb combination of a philosopher's
attractive formulation with a folk tale's palpable humanity is typical of Shakespeare. The Tempest unifies such
various elements in a work of art which remains rich in the way no simply veiled abstraction or superstitious
lore could be. And thus Ariel is the appropriate embodiment of what is, in a double sense, Shakespeare's
magic.
SOURCE: "The Genesis of Ariel," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 3, July, 1951, pp. 205-10.
Clifford Davidson
[In the following essay, Davidson explores the nature of the spirit Ariel and the tensions that this represents.
He maintains that Ariel is not purely a benevolent creature, and that he is more driven by the promise of
freedom and by Prospero's threats of punishment than by any devotion to his master. Davidson also notes that
Prospero's magic as a whole, in contrast to the contentions of earlier critics such as Frances Yates, is not
simply good or white magic, but contains elements of so-called black magic, drawn from vindictiveness and
selfishness as much as it is from the desire for human redemption.]
Shakespeare's The Tempest is a play that is dominated by the figure of the magus, who appears in the
character of Prospero. In the early seventeenth century when Shakespeare wrote this play, scientific positivism
had not yet smothered the occultism spawned by the Neo-Platonism revived in Italy more than a century
earlier. This interest in the occult has been the subject of considerable scholarly attention by Frances Yates,
who has recently suggested that Prospero's magic represents "a good magic" capable of being linked with a
broad European tradition still very much alive in the first decades of the seventeenth century. But very careful
attention to the iconography of magic within the play is needed, and we must remember that, in spite of the
contemporary interest in the subject, the very idea of magic during this period could sound at once not only
exciting but also dangerous. "We will see that Shakespeare drew upon the conceptions of this art to build
tensions which have their basis in the paradox of Renaissance magic itself, and in this manner he could set
dramatic harmony and dissonance together before the spectators at the play. The result was not "unified" art,
but a drama grounded in polarities and oppositions.
Ariel 165
Ariel is, of course, the central figure of Prospero's magic, for through him he links himself with vast numbers
of other lesser spirits who of necessity must obey his will. As a spirit of the air, Ariel is apparently one of the
elemental daemons identified by Products and given their classic Renaissance description by Cornelius
Agrippa in his De Occulta Philosophia. Indeed, Ariel is even listed by Agrippa as an elemental daemon, but
of earth rather than air; according to Agrippa, such a spirit as Ariel would have power "over many legions" of
lower spirits. Hence the occult lore of the Renaissance provides an explanation for the presence of the lesser
ministers assigned to this marvellous creature of the air.
But we must not forget that magic, as Dr. Yates admits, was a very controversial topic in the Renaissance, and
that opinions often varied widely concerning its essentials. It is thus that we discover a much darker side to
Ariel than would at first appear. Is his agreement with Prospero of the kind that would classify him as "a
Famiher Divell" of which Le Loyer speaks with such horror? Even as an elemental spirit he would by many
commentators have been associated with the fallen angels. Robert Burton calls them "aerial devils that corrupt
the air and cause plagues, thunders, fires, etc.; spoken of in the Apocalypse, and Paul to the Ephesians names
them the princes of the air ..." These are able to cause "tempests," to "fire steeples, houses, strike men and
beasts," and to "counterfeit armies in the air, strange noises, swords, etc." He cites Cardanus, whose father
possessed "an aerial devil, bound to him for twenty and eight years." These details indeed do remind us
directly of Prospero's spirit, bound to him for a certain length of time. Ariel causes the tempest which, with its
wind, thunder, and lightning, gives its name to the play, and reportedly appears in the course of the storm as a
ghost-like apparition burning in the rigging and in the cabins of the ship. Ferdinand, his hair standing on end,
concludes: "Hell is empty, / And all the devils are here" (I.ii.214-15). Even more ominous is the fact that some
books of Renaissance magic such as The Key of Solomon and the Magia Naturalis et Innaturalis attributed to
"Faust" give the name of Ariel as indeed a demon or fallen angel. In some texts of the latter, Ariel is, along
with Mephistophiel, one of the seven Electors. He is a mercurial spirit who "like quicksilver ... is difficult to
constrain, hates to be tied and therefore dislikes pacts." Shakespeare's Ariel too is not only very quick but is
thoroughly devoted to his own liberty.
The promise of freedom, to which is added threat of severe punishment, surely provides Ariel with a motive
for outward obedience to Prospero. For the same reason, we can know very little with certainty concerning his
character and can hardly make judgments about the degree of beneficence we should attribute to him. He has
done "worthy service" to Prospero, has "Told [him] no lies, made no mistakings, serv'd / Without grudge or
grumblings" (I.ii.247-49). Yet this passionless slave is not inwardly devoted to his master, as the servant
Adam had been to Orlando in As You Like It. Even his lecturing of the apparently vengeful Prospero at V.i.
17-20 could be merely an intellectual explanation of how human feelings ought to be engaged in a particular
situation, though neither should Prospero's observation in Ariel of "a touch, a feeling / Of [his enemies']
afflictions" (V.i.21-22) be entirely disregarded. Clearly, Shakespeare at this point wishes to humanize his little
spirit, perhaps even at the expense of consistency. Like the fairy of folk tales, Ariel not only is a singer of
fairy music, but also can act on the side of good when it suits him.
Ariel has also earlier given some solid evidence that he is not totally evil: he has refused the bidding of the
"damn'd witch Sycorax" whom he once served. Presumably, though he gave her aid in some of the "mischiefs
manifold and sorceries terrible" at Argier before her banishment (I.ii.263-66), he would not assist her in
carrying out the most terrible of her orders. As Prospero notes, Ariel was "a spirit too delicate / To act her
earthy and abhorr'd commands, / Refusing her grand hests" (I.ii.272-74). Ariel has limits beyond which he
will not trespass. Renaissance experts on magic appear to feel that aerial spirits most often are a mixture of
good and evil, yet tend to discover more good in them than malice.
For his rebellion against the foul hag, Ariel had been confined in "a cloven pine; within which rift / Imprison'd
[he did] painfully remain / A dozen years" (I.ii.277-79). Sycorax was terribly enraged at her servant's refusal
to do evil deeds of magnitude, and hence, aided by "her more potent ministers" (I.ii.275), she imprisoned him
in such a way that, even long after her death, he continued suffering the most terrible pain and venting "groans
Ariel 166
/ As fast as mill-wheels strike" (I.ii.280-81). Such pain seems curious in a bodiless creature of air who
presumably does not eat, sleep, or have "such senses / As we have" (I.ii.415-16). Walter Clyde Curry,
however, cites Porphyry's assertion that daemons are not devoid of affections and feelings of pain. Agrippa is
quite explicit: daemons, unlike angels, have bodies "in a manner materiall, as shadows, and subject to passion,
that they being struck are pained ..." They are "spirituall" bodies, yet "most sensible" and capable of pain. In
any case, Sycorax's punishment of her servant was to Ariel "a torment to lay upon the damn'd," nor could the
witch with her limited power thereafter set him free. But upon his arrival on the island, Prospero, with his
higher art of magic, "made gape / The pine, and let [Ariel] out" (I.ii.289-93). The magus does not set the spirit
free merely out of good will, however; he utilizes him for his own purposes and indeed even threatens him
with worse punishment if he is not totally compliant with his commands:
If thou murmur'st, I will rend an oak,
And peg thee in his knotty entrials, till
Thou hast howl'd away twelve winters.
(II.294-96)
For the present, Prospero requires absolute obedience so that his ambiguous scnemes may move toward their
conclusion.
Ariel and the lesser spirits act as Prospero's instruments by which he is able to extend his control over his
enemies, who through the same magic have been brought to the island. Prospero is observed almost always
thinking in terms of power, not of contemplation. The masque in IV.i is the major exception to the above
statement, for otherwise he ordinarily appears to use his art for more practical ends than the achievement of
understanding, illumination of mind, gnosis. He will send Ariel forth attired "like a nymph o'th' sea" and yet
"invisible" at I.ii.301-06 partly in order that his noble antagonists might be led to the point of ultimate despair,
which they will reach by the end of Act III. In II.i, Ariel may act the role of a guardian angel preserving
Alonzo's life, but later he takes a more vengeful shape when he assists in the urchin show that will taunt the
visitors with the table of food. For this latter episode, Ariel, his appearance changed to the visible "figure of
[a] Harpy" (III.iii.83), will speak words of vengeance to the "three men of sin" after he has caused the food to
disappear "with a quaint device" at the moment when he "claps his wings upon the table." He tells them that
"Destiny" has caused "the never-surfeited sea ... to belch up you" (III.iii.53-56). Swords cannot destroy him or
his "fellow-ministers," though the spirits' invulnerability would not guarantee them against pain or "hurt" in
the eventuality of being wounded. Ariel, speaking allegedly for "the powers"—i.e., Providence—pronounces a
qualified curse upon Prospero's enemies: "Ling'ring perdition—worse than any death / Can be at once—shall
step by step attend / You and your ways ..." (III.iii.76-79). Here the mood of the masque which will be seen in
the next scene almost breaks in upon the play, for Ariel in his most terrible shape of vengeance will promise
some hope if these enemies will feel sincere "heart-sorrow" and thereafter live "a clear life" (III.iii. 81-82).
The movement of the action toward a terrifying vindictiveness seems fortunately abated, and foreshadowed is
the exchange of the romance pattern, with its eliciting of wonder, for the tragic pattern of woe.
The description of the banquet in the stage direction at III.iii.52 has been called a translation of a passage in
the Aeneid in which harpies come "from downe the hills, with grisly fall the syght" to spoil a table laid out
with food. But in Virgil there are no little ministers appearing as "strange Shapes" who first set up the banquet
with gestures of invitation, nor is there a table from which, when a harpy "claps his wings" on its top, the food
magically will be snatched up in an instant. The gimmick of having food instantaneously vanish is clearly
what Reginald Scot would have called "juggling"; the trick itself was probably not unrelated to one trick
"which the jugglers call the decollation of John Baptist." In this instance, a special table with a sliding top is
used to make a boy's head appear as if it has been cut off and placed in a platter. In The Tempest, the food laid
out on a similar table top could well have been made to disappear when the mechanism was triggered by a boy
under the table. It might be hard to believe that such a trick could utterly convince an audience of the power
and success of Prospero's "high charms" (III.iii.88), but the total effect of his art is, admittedly, far more
Ariel 167
grandiose than these mere spectacles designed to deceive the eyes of his enemies.
Ariel also assists Prospero, of course, in the matter of handling the not so noble characters in the sub-plot.
Here the spirit again leads men with music and helps (at V.i.255) to put them to confusion by setting the
inferior "goblins" upon them "in shape of dogs and hounds, hunting them about." Such transformations of
spirits under Prospero's control seem a far cry from the high goals, ideals, and methods professed by, for
instance, the early Dr. John Dee, whose Monas Hieroglypica has been said to be mainly concerned with the
idea of "the gnostic ascent to the One, to God." If it were not for the evidence of the masque, we would say
that Shakespeare's magician has no more than worldly goals—goals which, to be sure, a popular audience
might understand more readily than the highly complex and often suspect theories of Renaissance
Neo-Platonism. Prospero is very correct when he labels his art "this rough magic" (V.i.50).
For in practice his magic is indeed often "rough," rude, violent, and uncivil. He hardly merits the extravagant
praise reserved by Paracelsus for only the most illuminate magus. Since he seems not to be a holy man
comparable to the legendary occult master Hermes Trismegistus—the figure whose fame in the Renaissance
most closely identified him with the ideal—or the wise men who followed the star to Bethlehem, Prospero is
not among that very highest order of magicians. Yet his occult wisdom gives him immense power on his
island—and it is a power over nature which extends very far beyond any normal limits. Prospero has caused a
solar eclipse, has raised storms at sea, has set loose thunder and lightning (V.i.41-46). There is even cursed
necromancy, for "graves at [his] command / Have wak'd their sleepers, op'd, and let 'em forth / By [his] so
potent art" (V.i.48-50). Shakespeare thus does not allow his Prospero to be free from some practices of
sorcery, which involve lower and less pure forms of magic.
Of course, as critics have noted, the catalogue of Prospero's magical feats in V.i.41-50 is part of Shakespeare's
borrowing from Medea's prayer in Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses VII.265ff. But, as Prospero
here is free to follow his source in linking his lesser spirits or "demi-puppets" with English fairy lore
(V.i.34-40), so also he picks out from Medea's prayer those details which describe his own art. These details
thus should be taken more seriously than sometimes has been the case. The Renaissance dramatist has chosen
from Ovid some effects of magic that are, first, verifiably Prospero's; then he has added the manipulation of
thunder and lightning; and finally, he has borrowed from Ovid's Medea her ability to cause earthquakes and to
"call up dead men from their graves." Sandys' commentary on this passage finds Medea's necromantic magic
which raises "the dead from their graves" to be "more credible" than her other acts, for there is biblical
precedent in the case of "the witch of Endor: although whether done by divine permission, or diabolical
illusion, as yet is in controversy." The whole practice of necromancy, incidentally, is set forth by "one T.R."
in a treatise on magic written about 1570 and printed by the skeptical Reginald Scot. According to tradition,
Dr. Dee himself stooped to this art in collaboration with Edward Kelley, who functioned as his medium:
together they are said to have raised a corpse in the churchyard of Walton-le-Dale Park. There is no reason
that Prospero should not have the power likewise to call up dead men with his "so potent Art."
At very least, Shakespeare wanted his audience to be thoroughly impressed with the efficacy of Prospero's
magic: he is indeed much more powerful than the vile witch Sycorax whose sorceries nevertheless could
affect the tides. As her son Caliban comments, "his Art is of such pow'r / It would control my clam's god,
Setebos, / And make a vassal of him" (I.ii.374-76). Sycorax, since she was a witch, was a servant of her
demon; Prospero, a conjurer or magician, is in command over his spirit Ariel. Further, as an emblem of her
submission to the demonic, the hag had become linked sexually with an incubus who fathered Caliban
(I.ii.321-22). It perhaps matters little in this play whether we see this perverse son as actually, like Merlin, the
offspring of a devil, or as the result of conception from stolen semen taken from another source by a sterile
incubus. English Renaissance incubi, lacking vital heat, are often reported to feel very cold to the women with
whom they have intercourse. There may nevertheless have been good sport at Caliban's making, but, whatever
he is, he surely stands in striking contrast to Prospero's issue. Miranda is in every way an almost miraculous
child of a wise man: how utterly different is she from the witch's son!
Ariel 168
Prospero's commanding position with regard to the spirit world is, however, dependent upon the books of
learning with which Gonzalo graciously provided him at the time of his expulsion from Milan. Even Caliban
recognizes that without his books, Prospero as a magus would be powerless (III.ii.90-93). In no sense is
Prospero to be identified as a precursor of the idea of the modern autonomous man, for his books contain
truths which must have been passed down faithfully by generations of learned men since the time of Hermes
Trismegistus and Moses. He is dependent on the past, on the learning of the Egyptians, the Greeks, the writers
of the Cabala. Among his books there is one, of course, that is more important than the others. This is his
conjuring book which we see him holding and to which he refers at V.i.57. It is a text which Prospero perhaps
has prepared for himself out of older treatises on magic, for such a book is allegedly most effective if written
out in the hand of the operator. The book is black.
The conjurer's staff and robes are also carefully made and are marked with talismanic symbols such as appear
profusely, for example, among the illustrations in A.E. Waite's The Book of Ceremonial Magic. The rod
would seem to be, along with the book, of particular importance in Shakespeare's play, for in his promise to
abjure his magic he vows not only to "drown my book" but also to "break my staff (V.i.54, 57). Prospero's
"magic garment" is being worn by him, of course, when we first see him in the play, for he has apparently
clothed himself in it initially in order that he might stir up the tempest. According to Scot's text, the exorcist
"must be cloathed in cleane white cloathes"; elsewhere, linen cloth is specified. The Solomonic cycle even
indicates that the linen thread, of which the garment is made, must have been spun by a maid. The breast of
the finished garment should have talismanic characters embroidered on it, and the operator must also be
protected by pentacles. The Key of Solomon says: "for the safety both of soul and of body, the Master and the
Companions should have the Pentacles before their breasts, consecrated, and covered with a silken veil, and
perfumed with the proper fumigations."
At the opening of Act V, Prospero exhibits himself in his long "magic robes" for the final time. The "King
and 's followers'' are now effectively imprisoned by the magic which has been practiced: "They cannot budge
till [Prospero's] release" sets them free (V.i.8-11). As the magician prepares to meet these enemies, he most
likely makes his circle with chalk on the stage. The circle then will be occupied by Prospero at V.I.33ff as he
launches into his conjuring, while at V.i.58 he will be joined in the circle by his frantic enemies. This circle
must be marked with fantastic symbols of the kind that hardly would find their way into the text of a play in
an age which took such matters seriously. Examples of possible designs may be seen in Pseudo-Agrippa, Scot,
and other works on magic. To King James I, the use of such "cirkles and art of Magie" could not fail to
involve the operator in "an horrible defection from God."
The magic practiced by Prospero, however, has been called white magic, theurgia, by one of the most astute
critics of The Tempest, and Frances Yates insists that it is "a good magic, a reforming magic." Nevertheless,
the vengeful Prospero surely seems to practice an art that is neither purely white nor absolutely black: it is an
art characterized by its ambiguity. Like the weird Sisters in Macbeth, Prospero is more effective as a character
in this play because he fits no easily pre-conceived categories of either a moral or metaphysical nature. Of
course, despite the clear theoretical distinctions claimed by Pico della Mirandola and others between white
and black magic, in practice these distinctions tended to break down. And it would appear that Shakespeare
set out deliberately to draw elements of Prospero's art from both kinds of magic. Hence the safest suggestion
would appear to be that Prospero's art is theurgia-goetia, which in the Solomonic cycle is the term applied to
magic that controls aerial spirits.
If the masque presents a quiet center within the structure of the play, a good deal of the action surrounding it
in The Tempest is thus demon-ridden and turbulent. Yet even through the tempestuousness comes the sound of
sweet music which strikes the senses mightily and which elicits from the spectator a feeling of wonder. Music,
which Balf's Academy had really expected to function as a source of political concord in troubled France, is
balanced against storm as forgiveness is balanced against vindictiveness, romance against tragedy. Prospero
stands on both sides of this division, since in the action of the play he is responsible for both good and evil,
Ariel 169
order and chaos. As an operator working his magic on those around him, Prospero in a sense "projects" his
own ambivalent spirit "into the enchanted thing, so as to constrain or direct it." Hence Alonzo, feeling the
force of the enchantment, hears "The name of Prosper" pronounced by the winds and billows and thunder
(I.iii.97-99); magically present in the swirling tempest is the former Duke of Milan. From Prospero flow both
tempest and sweet music—sounds that without doubt are pervasive in the play.
SOURCE: "Ariel and the Magic of Prospero in The Tempest" in Susquehanna University Studies, 1978, pp.
229-37.
Caliban
Caliban has remained one of the most compelling characters in The Tempest, and has elicited a large portion
of the critical interest in the play. Early commentators were often drawn to Caliban. In 1679 John Dryden
cited this figure as an example of Shakespeare's genius for creating distinctive and consistent characters, and
he remarked on the creature's malice, ignorance, and sinful nature. Dryden's emphasis on Caliban's negative
qualities was not the rule, however, and later criticism has demonstrated the complexity of his character.
John E. Hankins
[In the following essay, Hankins searches for the origins of Caliban in accounts of primitive peoples that were
available to Shakespeare. Beginning with the likelihood that the name Caliban is a metathesis of the word
"canibal," Hankins gives evidence from records of man-eating peoples that bear a resemblance to Caliban's
character. Further extrapolation allows him to identify Caliban as a type of the "bestial man," a term derived
from the writings of Aristotle that signifies an individual who is unable to perceive the difference between
right and wrong, good and evil. This assessment permits a greater understanding of the savage's character
with respect to his lack of moral sense and almost total inability to demonstrate moral improvement in the
play.]
The character of Caliban continues to be a source of speculation to readers of The Tempest, but gradually we
are learning those elements of sixteenth-century thought which suggested him to Shakespeare. Some years
ago Mr. Morton Luce pointed out that Caliban can be viewed in three separate ways: 1) as a hag-born
monstrosity, 2) as a slave, and 3) as a savage, or dispossessed Indian. The second of these ways may be
explained by the third, since the English could read many accounts of the manner in which the Spaniards had
reduced the Indians to slavery. But, while Caliban worships a Patagonian god, he is the child of an African
witch from Argier (Algiers). This would seem to indicate that Shakespeare is not trying to represent primarily
a red Indian from the New World but has broadened the conception to represent primitive man as a type. The
name Caliban, a metathesis [metathesis refers to the transposing of letters, syllables, or sounds in a word] of
canibal, supports this view, for contemporary voyagers, as well as early travelers from Homer and Herodotus
to Mandeville, had found cannibals in many different quarters of the world.
Caliban's birth furnishes an explanation of his appearance and character. He was "got by the devil himself"
upon the witch Sycorax, and Prospero refers to him as "hag-seed," "demi-devil," and "a born devil." These
references stamp him as the offspring of an incubus. In sixteenth-century demonology the incubus is
sometimes the devil, sometimes a devil, who takes the form of a man in order to seduce women to illicit
sexual relations. When he takes the form of a woman in order to seduce men, he is known as a succubus.
The offspring born to such unnatural unions are usually deformed in shape or possess some other singularity
which makes them unlike normal human beings. Professor Cawley quotes evidence to this effect from Sir
John Mandeville, Pierre Le Loyer, and Reginald Scot. Caliban's parentage would thus account for his
monstrous appearance. It is also possible that Shakespeare thought of such parentage as explaining the more
debased tribes of savages. The fact that Caliban "didst gabble like A thing most brutish" before learning
Caliban 170
Prospero's language is highly suggestive of a passage added to the 1665 edition of Reginald Scot's A
Discourse concerning Devils and Spirits (II.iv):
Another sort are the Incubi and Succubi, of whom it is reported that the Hunns have the
original, being begotten betwixt the Incubi, and certain Magical women whom Pkihmer the
King of the Goths banished into the deserts, whence arose that savage and untamed Nation,
whose speech seemed rather the mute attempts of brute Beasts, than any articulate sound and
well distinguished words.
While Shakespeare could not have read this passage, he may have read its original or its equivalent in some
earlier source which has remained undetected. It would account very neatly for his having combined into one
individual the incubus-begotten monster and the debased savage or type of primitive man.
While Caliban's deformity makes him look like a fish, he is not like the ordinary conception of a merman, for
he is "legged like a man! and his fins like arms!" (II.ii.34). Some monster of this kind had clearly been in
Shakespeare's mind for a considerable period before he wrote The Tempest, as we gather from Thersites'
jesting characterization of Ajax in Troilus and Cressida, III.iii.265: "He's grown a very land-fish,
languageless, a monster." Caliban is a fish-like monster who dwells on land and was languageless until
Prospero taught him speech.
It is entirely probable that Caliban's physical appearance is derived from some freak of nature brought back or
described by returning voyagers. The early travelers give many descriptions of curious creatures, and
Shakespeare shows a strong interest in them. Professor Cunliffe has noted a passage in Purchas, describing
the voyage of Friar Joanno dos Sanctos in 1597. As the passage seems to have escaped general notice, I
include it here:
Heere I may mention also a Sea monster, which we saw neere the River Tendanculo, killed by
the Cafres, found by Fisher-men on the Shoalds, Hee was ashcoloured on the backe, and
white on the belly, hayne like an Oxe but rougher: his Head and mouth lyke a Tygre, with
great teeth, white Mustachos a span long, as bigge as bristles which Shoo-makers use. He was
ten spans long, thicker then a man; his tayle thick, a span long, earns of a Dog, armes like a
Man without haire, and at the elbowes great Finnes like a fish; two short feet nigh his tayle,
plaine like a great Apes, without legs, with five fingers a span long on each foot and hand,
covered with skin like a Goose foot, the hinder feet having clawes like a Tygres; neere his
tayle were the signes of a Male, his Liver, Lights and Guts like a Hogs. The Cafres seeing our
Slaves slay him, fell upon him and eate him; which they which spare nothing had not done
before, because they thought him (they said) the sonne of the Devdl (having never seene the
like) the rather, because he made a noyse which might be heard halfe a league off.
The monster here described has certain features in common with Caliban. He is thought to be a son of the
devil, he is found in the country of the cannibals, he has fins on his arms, he has dog's ears like "puppy-headed
Caliban," he has a roaring voice. Shakespeare could not have read Purchas, but he may have read this account
in manuscript, since the voyage took place thirteen years before the composition of The Tempest.
The influence of the voyagers is evident, not only in Caliban's appearance, but in the "un-inhabited island"
where he dwells. While the island is supposedly in the Mediterranean, it draws certain features from accounts
of the New World. Caliban's deity is Setebos, the "great devil" of the Patagonians. The storm is brewed with
dew brought by Ariel from "the still-vex'd Bermoothes" and is patterned after the storm in the several
accounts of Sir George Somers' shipwreck among those islands. The presence of spirits in the island has been
attributed to the same accounts, which refer to Bermuda as "the isle of devils."
Caliban 171
While these narratives were almost certainly in Shakespeare's mind, I suggest that the appearance of spirits in
conjunction with Caliban was developed from two passages in another book which he had read, Ludwig
Lavater's Of Ghostes and Sprites Walking by Nyght (1572):
Ludouicus Viues, saythe in his firste booke De verkatefidei that in the newe world lately
found out, ther is nothing more common, than, not only in the night time but also at noone in
the midday, to see spirits apparantly, in the cities & fields, which speake, commaund, forbyd,
assault men, feare them & strike them. The very same do other report which describe the
nauigations of the gret
ocean.
They whiche sayle on the greate Ocean sea, make reporte, that in certayne places, where the
Anthropophagi doo inhabite, are many spirites, whiche aoo the people there very muche
harrae.
Lavater gives as a marginal note to Anthropophagi:
"Which are people that eate and deuoure men." Shakespeare's familiarity with this common term is shown by
Othello's reference to "the Canibals that each other eat, The Anthropophagi" (I.iii. 143-144).
The activities of the spirits described by Lavater bear a certain resemblance to the treatment visited by Ariel
and his fellows upon Caliban and the other plotters. As in Shakespeare, their location is indefinite, occurring
at various points in the New World and "the greate Ocean sea." Most significant is Lavater's placing the spirits
particularly in the lands of the Anthropophagi, or cannibals. For, as already mentioned, it is now generally
conceded that the name Caliban is a metathesis of canibal; and in Lavater's account of spirits who plague the
cannibals we find a probable source of Shakespeare's contrast between Ariel and Caliban.
We know that Shakespeare had read Montaigne's essay Of the Caniballes, in which the author describes
certain savages from the New World and tells what he has learned concerning their native society. He is
favorably impressed with this view of the "natural man," and his praise is reflected in Gonzalo's glowing
description of the Utopian state (II.i.147-168). Montaigne refers to the cannibals only incidentally as eaters of
human flesh and seems more concerned with studying mankind in a primitive stage of social development. He
says they were brought from "Antartike France." Eden places the savage worshipers of Setebos at "the 49
degree and a halfe vnder the pole Antartyke" and a few lines earlier mentions a meeting with "certeyne
Canibals" farther up the coast in Brazil. The use of "Antartyke" and "Canibals" by both authors may have
caused Shakespeare to connect the two accounts of primitive savages and to adopt Setebos as a deity of the
cannibals, and hence of Caliban.
It is clear, however, that Shakespeare does not share Montaigne's enthusiasm for primitive man. Indeed, the
personality of Caliban might be considered a refutation of the "noble savage" theory. He is a slave because he
cannot live successfully with human beings on any other terms. He is educable to a certain extent but is
completely lacking in a moral sense. He has repaid Prospero's kindness by attempting to violate Miranda's
chastity, and he cannot be made to see anything wrong in his action. He has imagination and sufficient
intelligence to learn human language, but neither punishment nor kindness can give him a sense of right and
wrong. He is not particularly to blame for his character "which any print of goodness will not take," since it
resulted from his birth; and, in fact, his complete amorality makes him seem amusing rather than culpable. His
love of music and his worship of Stephano as a god are probably based upon contemporary accounts of the
Indians. Prospero's condemnatory words, like Othello's phrase "the base Indian," align Shakespeare with those
who viewed the savages as a lower order of beings, rather than with idealists of primitive man.
Caliban 172
Yet Caliban is something more than the primitive savage of the voyagers' narratives. His character is
developed in accordance with a definite philosophical conception, the key to which is Prospero's phrase "the
beast Caliban" (IV.i.140). This phrase is not spoken in anger but is intended to convey a precise meaning.
In my article "Misanthropy in Shakespeare," I have shown that Shakespeare used extensively the concept of
bestiality as applied to human conduct and that he drew this concept directly from Aristotle's Nicomachean
Ethics. According to Aristotle, there are three evil states of the human mind: incontinence, malice, and
bestiality. The incontinent man's evil appetites overcome his will to do good; the malicious man's will is itself
perverted to evil purposes, though his reason perceives the difference between right and wrong; the bestial
man has no sense of right and wrong, and therefore sees no difference between good and evil. His state is less
guilty but more hopeless than those of incontinence and malice, since he cannot be improved.
While men can degenerate into bestiality through continued wrongdoing, Aristotle declares, a natural state of
bestiality is relatively rare in the human race, existing occasionally among remote and savage tribes.
Illustrating natural bestiality, he writes:
I mean bestial characters like the creature in woman's form [lamia?] that is said to rip up
pregnant females and devour their offspring, or certain savage tribes on the coasts of the
Black Sea, who are alleged to delight in raw meat or in human flesh, and others among whom
each in turn provides a child for the common banquet.
It is probable that Shakespeare remembered this particular passage in the following lines from King Lear:
The barbarous Scythian
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his oppelite, shall to my bosom,
Be as well neighbour'd, pitied, and reliev'd,
As thou my sometime daughter.
(I.i.118-122)
The significant resemblance is the reference to tribes who eat their own children, a reference sufficiently
uncommon to suggest a borrowing from the Ethics. His "barbarous Scythian" is also equivalent to Aristotle's
"savage tribes on the coasts of the Black Sea," since the Scythians inhabited the northern and western shores
of that sea. Herodotus gives many instances of their barbarities; Montaigne follows Pliny and the medieval
map-makers in referring to them as cannibals. The combining of the Black Sea savages (Scythians) and the
child-eaters in the same order by both authors suggests that Aristotle may be the source of Shakespeare's
reference.
At any rate, it is difficult to see how Shakespeare could have avoided comparing Aristotle's Black Sea tribes
with the savages of the New World. Aristotle convicts his tribes of bestiality on the ground that they ate their
meat raw and had a taste for human flesh. Both Hakluyt and Stow condemn the Indians for eating raw meat,
and numerous authors testify to their cannibalism. Such adjectives as "brutish," "bestial," and "base" are
applied to them, and they become the type of the debased savage in certain areas of popular opinion. Stow
also comments on the unintelligibility of their language, a point of resemblance to Caliban and to the
incubus-begotten savages of Scot's Discourse.
In these parallels we can find a clue to the philosophic explanation of Caliban. The references to cannibals
brought Aristotle and Montaigne together in Shakespeare's mind. Aristotle sees in the cannibal an example of
bestial man in his natural state. Montaigne also uses the cannibal as an example of the "natural man" and
praises highly the climate and customs of his country. Shakespeare uses that praise in Gonzalo's Utopian
speech, stating what such a country might be ideally, but he does not repeat Montaigne's praise of the cannibal
Caliban 173
as he actually exists. Rather, his Caliban, or canibal, is the embodiment of Aristotle's bestial man. The
dramatist has sought to realize in the flesh the philosopher's concept of a primitive savage who has not
attained the level of humanity.
If Caliban is to be regarded as a type of the bestial man, it is desirable that we determine in what his bestiality
consists. He is not an eater of human flesh, possibly from lack of opportunity; but neither Montaigne nor
Aristotle gives major emphasis to the eating of human flesh. They use cannibalism simply as an illustration of
primitive or bestial conduct. Bestiality, in Aristotle, results from the absence of certain mental faculties which
distinguish men from beasts. As men have immortal souls and beasts do not, it has been the task of philosophy
to make the distinction with as much precision as possible.
Since the ancient Greeks, philosophy has recognized the three-fold nature of the soul. Every living thing has a
soul. Plants have the vegetal soul, to which are assigned the powers of nourishment, growth, and reproduction.
Animals have the vegetal soul included in the sensible soul, which possesses simple powers of perception.
Man has both the vegetal and sensible souls included in the rational soul, which gives him the power of
thought. To determine the exact division of functions between the sensible soul and the rational soul is not
easy. Thomas Aquinas attempts it in his commentary on Aristotle's treatise On the Soul. According to
Aquinas, the sensible soul possesses "intelligence," but only the rational soul possesses "intellect."
Intelligence has the power to "apprehend," while intellect has the added power to "judge." Intellect may also
be called "sapience" or "judgment." Intelligence is susceptible to error through following false knowledge or
opinion. It is also prone to follow the "phantasies" or first impressions of things, lacking the reflective power
of reason which allows man to "judge" between the true and false, the right and wrong, in his own imaginings.
When man's intellect is obscured in any one of three ways (triphciter), he also follows his phantasies, in the
same manner as a beast:
Unde quando intellectus non dominatur, agunt animalia secundum phantasiam. Alia quidem,
quia omnino non habent intellectual, sicut bestiae, alia vero quia habent intellectual velatum,
sicut homines Quod contmgit "triphciter." Quandoque quidem ex aliqua passione irae, aut
concupiscentiae, vel timons aut aliquid hujusmodi Quandoque autem accidit ex aliqua
mfirmitate, sicut patet m phreneticis vel funosis. Quandoque autem m somno, sicut accidit in
dormientibus. Ex istis emm causis contmgit quod intellectus non praevalet phantasiae, unde
Homo sequitur apprehensionem phantasticam quasi veram.
Shakespeare shows his knowledge of these distinctions made by Aquinas. He thus distinguishes men from
beasts in The Comedy of Errors, II.i.20-23:
Men, more divine, the masters of all these, ...
Indued with intellectual sense and souls,
Of more pre-eminence than fish and fowls.
"Sense" is here used with the general meaning of "perception." The word "intellectual" modifies both of the
nouns following it. Intellectual sense is an attribute of intellectual souls, which distinguish men from beasts.
In the passage quoted, Aquinas points out that when man's intellect is "veiled" he follows his phantasies as
does a beast. Intellect may be veiled by any strong passion, such as wrath, lust, or fear; by illness, such as
frenzy or madness; and by sleep, as in dreams. In these instances, man cannot exercise rational control over
his imaginings. These points are reflected in Shakespeare. When Romeo tries to kill himself in despair, Friar
Laurence taxes him with showing "the unreasonable fury of a beast." When Cassio expresses remorse for
getting drunk, he says: "I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial ... To be now a
sensible man, by and by a fool, and presently a beast." Claudius describes Ophelia in her madness as "depriv'd
of her fair judgement, Without the which we are pictures, or mere beasts." These instances show that
Caliban 174
Shakespeare does not use "beast" merely as a word of obloquy but as a precise term to indicate the absence of
the intellectual faculty. When the deficiency is permanent, as in Caliban, the man is a beast, and "the beast
Caliban" is an accurate characterization.
It should be noticed that Caliban has to high degree the qualities of "intelligence" allowed by Aquinas to the
beasts. He enjoys the sweet music of the isle, dreams of riches falling from heaven, and otherwise shows a
fertile imagination. His foolish worship of Stephano as a god shows his lack of "judgment" (v.i.295-297),
while his attempts upon Miranda's virtue and Prospero's life show the lack of a moral sense. Antonio and
Sebastian are also would-be murderers, but at the end they are able to recognize the evil of their schemes, as
Caliban cannot do, having no sense of right and wrong. It is this lack, rather than physical deformity or
dullness of wit, that stamps him as a type of the bestial man.
Prospero believes that Caliban's nature is hopelessly incapable of moral improvement (I.ii.352-360), but
Caliban's recognition of his folly at the end of the play might indicate some latent capacity for the perception
of error. We need not debate the point. It is sufficient for our purposes that Shakespeare has shown, through
Prospero's words, his intent to use the bestial-man tradition as an element of his play.
Caliban is Shakespeare's most original character, but even he has literary forebears. His parentage is taken
from contemporary demonology. His appearance and environment are suggested by writers on distant lands.
His character results from Aristotle's conception of the bestial man. Yet here the whole is greater than the sum
of its parts, which seem hardly more than hints for the remarkable creation that Shakespeare has based upon
them. Fortunately, he has given us a clue to his sources in his choice of Caliban's name.
SOURCE: "Caliban the Bestial Man," in PMLA, Vol. LXII, No. 3, September, 1947, pp. 793-801.
D. G. James
[In the following excerpt, James focuses on Caliban's character and his thematic significance to the play as a
whole. Describing Caliban as a misshapen but definitely human creature likely drawn from contemporary
reports of New World primitives, James recounts his history and his encounter with Prospero, who taught him
language, but also heaped scorn on his new slave. James remarks, however, that Caliban possesses the ability
to perceive the wonder of the world and to capture its sense of mystery and supernatural awe with his naive
mind. James adds that the lines Caliban speaks "disclose the deepest truth about him" and argues that, as a
primitive, he represents man in contact with the transcendent nature of life so often obscured in civilized
man.]
I turn now to the figure of Caliban. I have said [elsewhere] there was nothing unimaginable to a Jacobean
audience in a creature born of a witch and incubus. But I have also said that Shakespeare will have had in
mind John White's drawings of the Indians he saw on Grenville's expedition of 1585. If Caliban emerges out
of the murky past of daemonology and witchcraft, he also emerges as a human figure out of a New World
whose inhabitants had been disclosed in White's drawings to the gaze of the ancient civilization of Europe.
Shakespeare had taken on a complicated job. He must have his magician and his daemonology, and his Ariel;
and Caliban must somehow belong to their world. But Prospero is also the Old World in its dealings with the
New; and in this world, Caliban is no monster but a man; and nowhere in The Tempest is Caliban to be seen as
less than human. Caliban was 'a freckled whelp hag-born', says Prospero; but in the next line he gives him a
'human shape'. Prospero indeed also calls him 'a misshapen knave', and says that he is 'as disproportion'd in
his manners as in his shape'; but it is Trinculo, Stephano, and Antonio who talk of a monster and a fish.
Prospero speaks vaguely of Caliban's misshapenness in describing a creature represented as of monstrous
birth: some measure of compromise there had to be, in order to relate the 'poor Indian' to the offspring of
witch and daemon.
Caliban 175
But it is also true that Prospero everywhere pours scorn and loathing on Caliban: Caliban was 'filth', a
'demi-devil', 'capable of all ill', 'would take no print of goodness', and was a 'born slave' beyond the reach of
freedom. There could, indeed, be no question of Shakespeare's giving a sentimental picture of the primitive
Indian. No doubt he had read the early descriptions of the Indians by Hariot and Barlowe; but by 1610 the
picture had changed. The author of the True Declaration spoke of the ills and accidents that befell the colony
of 1609; and he went on to describe how Powhatan like 'a greedy vulture' carried out ambush and massacre at
the expense of the enfeebled colony. This, or something like it, had become the picture of the Indian which
now prevailed and was officially acknowledged; and there was nothing, in Prospero's eyes, which relieved the
malignity of Caliban.
But Shakespeare is at pains to recount the history of Caliban from the time of Prospero's coming to the island,
and it is clear that there is much more to Caliban than Prospero allows. Caliban's age, when Prospero came to
the island, can, we may suppose, be measured by Ariel's twelve years' imprisonment; and Sycorax had died
within the space of these twelve years, leaving the island
Save for the son that she did litter here,
A freckled whelp hag-born—not honour'd with
A human shape.
But when Prospero came to the island Caliban was alone and languageless.
When thou cam'st first, says Caliban,
Thou strok'st me, and made much of me; would'st give me
Water with berries in't; and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night; and then I lov'd thee,
And show'd thee all the qualities o' th' isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile.
Cursed be I that did so! ...
All the charms Of Sycorax: toads, beetles, bats, light on you'
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own King: and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o' th' island.
Prospero: Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness' I have us'd thee
Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodg'd thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate The honour of my child.
Caliban: O ho, O ho! would't had been done!
Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans.
Prospero: Abhorred slave
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other: when thou did'st not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but would'st gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endow'd thy purposes
With words that made them known. But thy vile race,
Though thou did'st learn, had that m't which good natures
Caliban 176
Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou
Deservedly confined into this rock,
Who hadst deserv'd more than a prison.
Caliban: You taught me language, and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language.
And when Prospero orders him off to fetch his logs, Caliban says:
I must obey: his Art is of such pow'r
It would control my dam's god, Setebos,
And make a vassal of him.
This, then, is the history of Caliban up to the time of the play's beginning; and I now comment briefly upon it
before those coming straight from the sophistication of Naples and Milan appear upon the scene, and initiate
the proper action of the play.
In the beginning, Prospero had cherished Caliban, and Caliban loved Prospero in return. But Caliban will be
so quick at a later stage to take Stephano for a god that we may fairly assume that he had earlier taken
Prospero for one. Thus the Indians in the early days had been disposed to view the white man. Prospero, like
Stephano, must have dropped from heaven. 'Hast thou not dropped from heaven?' he said to Stephano; and
when Stephano declares himself the man in the moon, Caliban says:
I have seen thee in her, and I do adore thee:
My mistress show'd me thee, and thy dog, and thy bush.
For Stephano, Caliban will do what he had done for Prospero when Prospero loved him:
I prithee, let me bring thee where crabs grow;
And I with my long nails will dig thee pig-nuts;
Show thee a jay's nest, and instruct thee how
To snare the nimble marmoset:
I'll bring thee To clustering filberts, and sometimes I'll get thee
Young scamels from the rock. Wilt thou go with me?
And then, if Caliban will speak like this, filled with the wonder of the world he sees and knows, he will also
speak of the wonder of what transcends the world.
Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twanginng instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That, if I then had wak'd 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 wak'd, I cried to dream again.
What shall we say of this? There is first the music Caliban hears, and then the voices; and the voices win him
back to sleep and dreams after long sleep; and then, in dream, the clouds open to him and show him riches
ready to be yielded to him; but they are denied him by his waking; his waking is a morning; and he cries to
Caliban 177
dream again. Mr. Robert Graves has remarked that in these lines there is 'an illogical sequence of tenses which
creates a perfect suspension of time'; and this is so. Caliban is not narrating his past, but describing his
continuing condition: his continuing sense of wonder and mystery, and of a transcendent and supernatural life
to which also the 'perfect suspension of time' applies. This is the dreaming innocence and grace of Caliban. At
a later stage in the play, Prospero, in words as famous as those of Caliban, will speak of sleep and dream, and
of our life in terms of them:
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
I shall speak later of these last lines; but I remark now that if Caliban's lines disclose the deepest truth about
him, what above all Shakespeare saw in the primitive man about whom such contradictory reports came to
him from the New World, Prospero will yet say of him that he is a born devil, upon whose nature nurture will
never stick, on whom all his pains had been quite lost. Prospero is the highest and most spiritual form of
sophistication in the play; yet he can speak like this of Caliban. This is not all, indeed, as we shall see, that
Prospero has to say about Caliban. But I shall now give, in what may seem a strange apposition to the lines of
Caliban of which I have been speaking, these words from one of the greatest spirits of Christendom:
In this Divine union the soul sees and tastes abundance, inestimable riches, finds all the rest
and the recreation that it desires, and understands strange kinds of knowledge and secrets of
God, which is another of those kinds of food that it likes best. It feels likewise in God an
awful power and strength which transcends all other power and strength: it tastes a
marvellous sweetness and spiritual delight, finds true rest and Divine light and has lofty
experience of the knowledge of God, which shines forth in the harmony of the creatures and
the acts of God. Likewise, it feels itself to be full of good things and far withdrawn from evil
things and empty of them; and, above all, it experiences, and has fruition of, an inestimable
feast of love ...
It may seem a far cry from Shakespeare's Caliban to the mysticism of St. John of the Cross. But in truth, it is
not so far. Shakespeare was writing within the limits imposed by the secular Jacobean theatre; and we see
Caliban, in his primitiveness, credulity, polytheism, terrified by daemons and spirits (which he distinguishes
from 'gods') which set upon him; but he is also, in his helplessness and dependence, exposed to a mysterious
and transcendent reality. This, in the end, is 'the thing itself, divided, in the encompassing darkness, between
terror and love, despair and adoration, and aware, above all, of a transcendent, supernatural world'. This is
Caliban disclosing to us the primary fact about our life: and I add that if Shakespeare's play may be said to be
about anything, it is, for one thing, about the tragic diminution, which 'sophistication' and civilization must
bring, of man's sense of his dependence on a transcendent world. What is primordial in man's nature is forced
back by nature, culture, and authority; but the deep thing remains, however obscured. The brittle edifice of
civilization, culture, and science cannot change it; and this we see if we look to the saints and the poets who
break through the prison of sophistication in which many men find a delusory safety.
SOURCE: "The New World," in The Dream of Prospero, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1967, pp. 72-123.
The Tempest: Selected Quotes
The Tempest opens with a storm at sea. Travelling back from Tunis with Alonso, King of Naples, and Antonio
who had previously usurped his brother Prospero's role as Duke of Milan, Gonzalo ('an honest old councillor')
attempts to engage the Boatswain in an urgent debate about their prospects of survival:
The Tempest: Selected Quotes 178
Boatswain: Keep your cabins! You do assist the storm.
Gonzalo: Nay, good, be patient.
Boatswain: When the sea is. Hence! What cares these
roarers for the name of king? To cabin! Silence!
Trouble us not.
Gonzalo: Good, yet remember whom thou hast aboard.
Boatswain: None that I more love than myself. You are
a councillor. If you can command these elements to
silence, and work the peace of the present, we will not
hand a rope more. Use your authority. If you cannot,
give thanks you have lived so long… (1.1.14-25)
This immediately brings into question the nature of authority. The King and his court cannot control the
storm. Unknown to the crew, however, Prospero does control it.
His daughter Miranda watches from the shore, and she has her suspicions:
Miranda: If by your art, my dearest father, you have
Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
The sky it seems would pour down stinking pitch,
But that the sea, mounting to th'welkin's cheek,
Dashes the fire out. O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer! A brave vessel,
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her,
Dashed all to pieces. O, the cry did knock
Against my very heart! Poor souls, they perished.
Had I been any god of power, I would
Have sunk the sea within the earth, or ere
It should the good ship so have swallowed and
The fraughting souls within her.
Prospero: Be collected.
No more amazement. Tell your piteous heart
There's no harm done.
Miranda: O, woe the day!
Prospero: No harm.
I have done nothing but in care of thee,
Of thee, my dear one, thee my daughter, who
Art ignorant of what thou art, naught knowing
Of whence I am, nor that I am more better
Than Prospero, master of a full poor cell,
And thy no greater father. (1.2.1-21)
This passage introduces Miranda as a sensitive and sympathetic figure, and also shows a lack of
communication between father and daughter. Miranda finds her suspicions confirmed, and cries out; Prospero
tries to calm her (note the repetitions 'of thee'). He then has to embark on an explanation of the 'back-plot'. His
explanation is fairly tortuous, and he frequently checks to see if Miranda is following him. He then charms her
to sleep, and gets a report on the storm from his spirit Ariel. Ariel wants freedom.
Prospero: The time 'twixt six and now
Must by us both be spent most preciously.
Ariel: Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me pains,
Let me remember thee what thou hast promised,
The Tempest: Selected Quotes 179
Which is not yet performed me.
Prospero: How now? Moody?
What is't thou can demand?
Ariel: My liberty.
Prospero: Before the time be out? No more. (1.2.240-246)
Prospero bullies Ariel (who has created the storm) into renewed submission.
Prospero: If thou more murmur'st, I will rend an oak,
And peg thee in his knotty entrails, till
Thou hast howled away twelve winters.
Ariel: Pardon, master.
I will be correspondent to command,
And do my spriting gently.
Prospero: Do so, and after two days
I will discharge thee.
Ariel: That's my noble master!
What shall I do? Say what! What shall I do? (1.2.294-300)
This is not the end of Prospero's difficulties, however. After Miranda and Ariel have been controlled, we are
introduced to the recalcitrant Caliban, son of Sycorax.
Caliban: I must eat my dinner.
This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam'st first
Thou strok'st me, and made much of me; would'st give me
Water with berries in't; and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night: and then I loved thee
And show'd thee all the qualities o'th'isle,
The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile:
Curs'd be that I did so! All the charms
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you!
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own King: and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o'th'island. (1.2.332-346)
Caliban was himself usurped, by Prospero. He is not grateful.
Caliban: You taught me language; and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language! (1.2.365-367)
When Miranda first sees Ferdinand (son of Alonso, King of Naples) she is impressed.
Miranda: I might call him
A thing divine, for nothing natural
I ever saw so noble. (1.2.418-420)
Miranda: There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple.
If the ill spirit have so fair a house
The Tempest: Selected Quotes 180
Good things will strive to dwell with't. (1.2.458-460)
This shows the Neo-Platonic notion that beauty equals virtue. Caliban repeats his error when he meets the
servants Stephano and Trinculo, enslaving himself, and hoping they will overthrow Prospero. In Act 3 he
gives this lovely speech.
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 sometimes voices,
That, if I had then wak'd 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 wak'd,
I cried to dream again. (3.2.133-141)
When Caliban's futile rebellion interrupts the betrothal Masque for Ferdinand and Miranda, Prospero relates
his theatrical illusion (within the play) to the larger world:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a wrack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vexed;
Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled. (4.1.148-159)
Prospero shows signs of exhaustion here. He becomes unnecessarily angry about Caliban's plot, and not until
Act 5, with everyone under his control, does he relax.
Ariel: 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. (5.1.17-20)
He is persuaded to sympathy by a spirit who has no human feelings.
Prospero: Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury
Do I take part. The rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance. (5.1.26-28)
He then bids farewell to magic:
Prospero: graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure, (5.1.48-51)
The Tempest: Selected Quotes 181
Ferdinand gives his summation of events on discovering his father is alive.
Ferdinand: Though the seas threaten, they are merciful;
I have curs'd them without cause. (5.1.178-179)
Miranda, seeing the Court gathered, is impressed. Her father is not so sure.
Miranda: O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't.
Prospero: 'Tis new to thee. (5.1.181-184)
The Tempest: Suggested Essay Topics
Act I, Scene 1
1. With disrespect for the king, the Boatswain says, “What cares these roarers for the name of king?”
Explicate this passage in the light of the king’s authority at sea. To whose authority did the king succumb?
Did the Boatswain have power over the king? Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
2. Gonzalo keeps a sense of humor in spite of the chaos of the storm. Write an essay explaining his joke
concerning the Boatswain. Why did he think the Boatswain was the kind of fellow who was born to be
hanged? Why would that keep him from drowning? What effect would the Boatswain’s fate have on the other
passengers and crew? Draw your examples from the play to support your ideas.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 1-188
1. A primitive island and a civilized Milan are the two opposing worlds of the play. Compare these two
worlds in view of the theme of illusion versus reality. In what way is the island an illusory world? In what
way is Milan the world of reality? Do the leaders of Milan harbor any illusions? Give examples from the play
to support your opinion.
2. The people of Shakespeare’s day believed that the natural order was based on the hierarchy of all beings.
In what way does this idea apply to the usurpation of Prospero’s dukedom? What was the result when
Antonio became the new Duke of Milan? How did his actions affect the natural harmony of Milan? How did
it affect the mutual trust between the two brothers? Cite examples from the play to explain your answer.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 189-320
1. Prospero’s magic is set in contrast to that of the “foul witch Sycorax” in this scene. Compare and contrast
the magic of Prospero to the magic of Sycorax. In what way could Prospero’s use of the supernatural be
labelled “white magic”? Was Sycorax practicing “black magic”? How do they compare? How are they
different? Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
2. Ariel frightened the passengers as he “flam’d amazement” during the storm at sea. Explicate this term in
the light of Ariel’s powers as a spirit. In what way does he appear as the element of fire on the topmast of the
ship? As the element of air? As the element of water? Would this have been a believable phenomenon in
Shakespeare’s day? To support your explanation, use examples from the play.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 321-374
1. Caliban’s brutish nature is set in opposition to the civilized nature of Prospero and Miranda in this scene.
Contrast the two natures in relation to the idea of a corrupted society. Does Caliban seem less corrupt because
The Tempest: Suggested Essay Topics 182
he is a natural man? How has learning a language affected him? Do Prospero and Miranda seem more corrupt
because they are civilized? Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
2. Caliban is described as “a savage and deformed slave” in the “Names of the Actors.” Write an essay
explaining the idea of savagery and deformity. Give a definition of a savage as it relates to the sixteenth
century and explain how Caliban fits that definition. In what way was Caliban deformed? Why was he
subhuman? Would his portrayal have been credible to Shakespeare’s audience? Give examples from the play
to support your answer.
Act I, Scene 2, lines 375-504
1. Ariel informs Ferdinand that his father “suffers a sea-change” at the bottom of the sea. Explicate this
passage in the light of Alonso’s crimes while he was still in Milan. How does the “sea-change” symbolize
what will happen to him on the island? How will the “sea-change” affect Prospero? How will it affect the
world of Milan? Cite examples from the play to support your essay.
2. Ariel invites his invisible attendant spirits to the dance. Write an essay explaining how the dance
symbolizes the relationship of Ferdinand and Miranda. How will the young couple imitate the dance in their
daily lives? How will their lives affect the kingdom of Milan? To support your view, give examples from the
play.
Act II, Scene 1, lines 1-184
1. Gonzalo’s ideal commonwealth is patterned after that of Montaigne. Compare and contrast the two
societies. In what way is Montaigne’s natural society ideal? How does Gonzalo’s commonwealth measure
up to that ideal? What is the irony of Gonzalo’s so-called primeval society? Are there any elements of
European civilization in either of the two societies? Cite examples from the play to support your argument.
2. Sebastian and Antonio demonstrate relentless cruelty to Alonso who is grieving for his son. Write an essay
analyzing their hope of receiving forgiveness and reconciliation by the end of the play. Do Sebastian and
Antonio feel guilty for anything they have done in the past? Does Antonio feel guilty about his usurpation of
Prospero’s dukedom? Do either of them feel guilty about their cruelty to Alonso in this scene? To support
your argument, give examples from the play.
Act II, Scene 1, lines 185-328
1. Antonio is often thought of as a villain in The Tempest. Write an essay explaining his role as the villain. Is
Antonio completely evil? What is his attitude toward his conscience? In what way is he different from
Sebastian? Explain his attitude toward power in the play. How far will he go to gain power and position? Cite
examples from the play to support your ideas.
2. There are numerous references to sleep in this scene. Write an essay in which you enumerate the sleep
images and explicate their meanings. What is Alonso’s feeling about sleep and how is it symbolic of his
healing process? Explain the meaning of the sleep images used by Antonio and Sebastian. What does
Sebastian mean when he says that Antonio speaks a “sleepy language”? Why does Sebastian let his “fortune
sleep”? Use examples from the play to support your explanation.
Act II, Scene II
1. Most critics feel Caliban is superior to Stephano and Trinculo in the play. Write an essay comparing
Caliban to Stephano and Trinculo. Compare the language of the three characters. Why does Caliban speak in
verse? Why do Trinculo and Stephano speak in prose? Does Shakespeare consider Caliban superior? To
support your argument, choose examples from the play.
The Tempest: Suggested Essay Topics 183
2. The Tempest contains more songs than any other play in the canon. Write an essay explaining the dramatic
function of Stephano’s songs in this scene. How do they delineate his character? Why are they both “scurvy”
tunes? What is his attitude about women? Cite examples from the play to support your essay.
Act III, Scene 1
1. Ferdinand carries logs for Prospero at the opening of the scene just as Caliban did in the previous scene.
Compare and contrast Ferdinand’s soliloquy in this scene with Caliban’s in the last scene. In what way are
they similar? How are their attitudes set in contrast to each other? What are the reasons for the difference?
Give examples from the play to support your view.
2. In the romantic tradition the lovers are idealized and subjected to great difficulties during the course of their
love. Write an essay describing Ferdinand and Miranda’s love in the light of the romantic tradition. In what
way does Ferdinand idealize Miranda? Describe Miranda’s ideal man. What trials do they need to overcome
in their love relationship? To support your essay, give examples from the play.
Act III, Scene 2
1. The conspiracy to kill Prospero and regain the island is often considered to be the subplot of the play. Write
an essay comparing this plot to the main plot. In what way are the two conspiracies comparable? Has Prospero
usurped Caliban’s kingdom on the island? If so, in what way? How do Prospero’s actions compare to the
actions of his brother Antonio? Was Caliban the rightful king of the island before Prospero’s arrival? Cite
examples from the play to support your view.
2. Caliban states that “the isle is full of noises, sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.”
Explicate this passage in the light of Caliban’s nature. How does this speech reflect Caliban’s poetic
sensibilities to the natural sounds of the island? Is Caliban more sensitive to the natural harmony on the island
than Stephano and Trinculo? In what way? Explain your answer with the use of examples from the play.
Act III, Scene 3
1. Ariel’s speech is central to the theme of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Critics have often
interpreted Ariel’s speech in the light of the Christian tradition. Write an essay explaining the possible
Christian influence on Ariel’s speech. What must the “three men of sin” do to avoid their doom? What kind
of life must they live thereafter? What sins have they committed? Cite examples from Ariel’s speech to
explain your answer.
2. The disappearance of the banquet is often seen as an allusion to Virgil’s Aeneid. Compare and contrast the
banquet scene in The Tempest to the story of the harpies in Virgil’s Aeneid. What lesson can be learned from
both? Why are the characters in both accounts subjected to hunger as punishment for their sins? How are the
stories different? Are the sins in both accounts of equal magnitude? Give examples from Virgil’s Aeneid and
Shakespeare’s The Tempest to support your argument.
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 1-163
1. The masque is often interpreted as a ceremony celebrating the union that will usher in the new order or the
“brave new world.” Write an essay explaining the symbolism of that order in the union of Ferdinand and
Miranda. How will their marriage affect the political situation in Milan and Naples? How will it affect
Prospero’s political position? How will their union affect Alonso? Cite examples from the play to support
your view.
2. Prospero’s famous speech beginning “Our revels now are ended” is often seen as a poetic statement
revealing Shakespeare’s philosophical view of life. Explicate this speech in which Prospero compares life to
the masque. What has happened to the “insubstantial pageant”? In what way does this compare to all the
things that people hold dear? Why are people’s lives like a dream? Use examples from the play to support
The Tempest: Suggested Essay Topics 184
your explanation.
Act IV, Scene 1, lines 164-266
1. Prospero says that Caliban is a “born devil, on whose nature/ Nurture can never stick.” Explicate this
passage in the light of Prospero’s attempt at educating and civilizing Caliban. Why does Prospero feel it is an
impossible task? What have been Prospero’s frustrations when he thought he was treating him humanely? Is
Caliban’s nature evil because he is not civilized? How does he compare to Stephano and Trinculo who are
civilized transplants on the island? Cite examples from the play to support your argument.
2. Stephano is unduly impressed with the finery of Prospero’s wardrobe. Write an essay explaining
Stephano’s illusions in regard to his future kingship on the island. What illusions does Caliban have about
Stephano? Is Trinculo opposed to Stephano as his king? Why does Trinculo imagine Stephano in Prospero’s
royal robes? What is Caliban’s image of an ideal king on the island? Explain your answer with examples
from the play.
Act V, Scene 1, lines 1-87
1. The Tempest is often interpreted in the light of the Christian theological concept of sin followed by
repentance and forgiveness. Write an essay explaining this concept as it applies to Alonso’s sin and suffering
and Prospero’s consequent forgiveness. What has been Prospero’s sole purpose for his actions toward
Alonso thus far in the play? Is Alonso aware of his sin? Is he sorry for what he has done? How does his
attitude reflect the Christian concept of sin? Cite examples from the play to explain your answer.
2. Prospero’s “rough magic” in his speech abjuring magic conflicts with the image of “white magic”
portrayed in the play thus far. Write an essay in which you compare and contrast the magic in the play so far
with his description of his magic in this scene. In what way did Shakespeare’s borrowings from Ovid
influence the description? Have we seen Prospero dim the sun? Have we seen him call forth the winds? Why
was his magic “rough”? Give examples from the play to support your argument.
Act V, Scene 1, 88-171
1. Ariel’s song “Where the Bee Sucks” is a freedom song. Write an essay in which you compare and contrast
Ariel’s song to that of Caliban. In what way are they alike? How do both songs relate to Prospero? In what
way are the songs different? What is the tone of each song. Cite examples from the play to explain your view.
2. Alonso expresses his wish that his son and Prospero’s daughter would be king and queen of Naples. Write
an essay addressing the political implications of Alonso’s statement. In what way will it affect Prospero’s
new world in Milan? Why is Prospero ready to reunite Ferdinand and Alonso? How will Ferdinand and
Miranda’s marriage affect the political world of Milan and Naples? Give examples from the play to support
your view.
Act V, Scene 1, 172-255
1. When Ferdinand meets his father, he regrets having cursed the sea since he now realizes that it is, after all,
merciful. Explicate Ferdinand’s words in the light of Prospero’s “sea-change” in “Full Fadom Five.” Why
is Alonso’s supposed death symbolic of his change on the island? In what way is the tempest symbolic of
Alonso’s inner struggle? In what way has Alonso changed? What is Prospero’s role in Alonso’s change?
Cite examples from the play to support your answer.
2. Miranda expresses an exuberance for all the “goodly creatures” who are part of the “brave new world”
that she will soon inhabit with Ferdinand. Write an essay explaining the changes that will, hopefully, take
place in the future world of Italy. What is the basis for the change? Do all the leaders share in the new hope
for a world of peace and reconciliation? How will Sebastian and Antonio fit into this “brave new world”?
Use examples from the play to support your argument.
The Tempest: Suggested Essay Topics 185
Act V, Scene 1, Lines 256-330
1. At the end of The Tempest, Antonio and Sebastian remain unrepentant for their past deeds. Write an essay
in which you state the ramifications of their unrepentant attitude in the light of the future new order being
established in Milan and Naples. Will they continue to remain acquiescent? Will they cooperate with Prospero
as the restored Duke of Milan? How will they accept Ferdinand and Miranda’s marriage and the consequent
union of the two families? Will the “brave new world” be one of peace and reconciliation? Cite examples
from the play to support your argument.
2. In the “Epilogue” Prospero asks the audience to “release me from my bands/ With the help of your good
hands./ Gentle breath of yours my sails.” Explicate this passage in the light of Prospero’s decision to become
part of the real world of Milan again. How does the island compare to the stage? Explain the symbolism of the
spell the audience holds over the actors. How does the world of Naples compare to the world of the island? In
which world does the audience dwell? To explicate this passage use examples from the play.
The Tempest: Sample Essay Outlines
The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the play as a whole and analyze
important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to help you get started.
Topic #1
In “Full Fadom Five” the image of Alonso’s “sea-change” symbolizes the change he goes through on the
island and reflects one of the central themes of the play which is repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Write an essay tracing the progress of Alonso’s “sea-change” as his suffering brings him to the realization of
his sin and guilt and to his subsequent regeneration.
Outline
I. Thesis Statement: Alonso who suffers a “sea-change” on the island as he mourns the loss of his children,
reaches an awareness of his sin and guilt, and repents for his past deeds which lead him to a reconciliation
with Prospero.
II. Mourns the loss of his children.
A. Mourns the supposed death of Ferdinand.
1. Ferdinand was the heir to the throne.
2. Suffers the loss of his loving son.
B. Regrets the loss of his daughter.
1. He has lost his daughter through her marriage to the
King of Tunis.
2. She has moved so far away that he is afraid he will
never see her again.
C. Alonso becomes despondent.
1. He longs for sleep to shut out his thoughts.
2. He loses hope in his search for his son.
III. Reaches an awareness of his sin and guilt.
A. Alonso becomes aware of his sin against Prospero.
1. His conspiracy with Antonio in the usurpation of
Prospero’s dukedom.
2. Prospero and Miranda were left to die at sea.
3. Ariel appears, telling him to repent.
B. Alonso becomes aware of his guilt for his son’s death.
The Tempest: Sample Essay Outlines 186
1. He feels his son’s death is his punishment for his sin
against Prospero.
2. He feels his son’s death is his punishment for his sin
against Miranda.
C. Alonso entertains thoughts of suicide.
1. He longs to join his son at the bottom of the sea.
2. Symbolically, the sea will reunite father and son.
IV. Alonso’s repentance and reconciliation.
A. Asks Prospero to forgive his sin against him.
1. The sin of the usurpation of Prospero’s dukedom.
2. Alonso’s sin against Miranda.
3. Prospero forgives Alonso.
B. Restore’s Prospero’s dukedom.
1. Alonso is regenerated as a result of his repentance.
2. He has lost his madness.
C. Alonso accepts the marriage of his son to Prospero’s
daughter.
1. Is desirous of Miranda’s forgiveness.
2. Wishes Ferdinand and Miranda were king and queen
of Naples.
V. Conclusion: Alonso’s “sea-change” is symbolic of the inner tempest that rages inside of him as he suffers
a period of grief and loss, accompanied by despondency and thoughts of suicide. Because of Ariel’s warning,
Alonso becomes aware of his sin against Prospero which is followed by his repentance and Prospero’s
forgiveness. Alonso restores Prospero’s dukedom and accepts the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda which
leads to his reconciliation with the former duke and makes his change on the island complete.
Topic #2
The Tempest is filled with music, containing more songs than any other Shakespearean play. Write an essay
analyzing the function of the songs in the play in relation to theme, dramatic action, characterization, and the
natural setting on the island.
Outline
I. Thesis Statement: The songs in The Tempest function for the purpose of assisting the dramatic action,
delineating character, depicting themes, and lending atmosphere to the island.
II. The songs assist the dramatic action.
A. “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” and “Full Fadom Five”
lead Ferdinand onto the island.
1. The song allays the tempest.
2. The song calms Ferdinand’s passion concerning his
drowned father.
B. “While You Here Do Snoring Lie” moves the action along.
1. Wakes the sleepers, Alonso and Gonzalo.
2. Prevents the murder of the king and Gonzalo.
C. “Honor, Riches, Marriage-blessing,” the masque song, lifts
the action out of the play. Ferdinand and Miranda are
shown their future life in Naples.
The Tempest: Sample Essay Outlines 187
III. The songs delineate character.
A. “The Master, the Swabber, the Boatswain and I” delineates
Stephano’s character.
1. Stephano represents uninhibited sensuality.
2. Stephano embodies discord on the island.
B. “Where the Bee Sucks” delineates Ariel’s character.
1. Ariel is “dainty.”
2. Ariel is a natural being of the island.
C. “No More Dams I’ll Make for Fish” delineates Caliban’s
character.
1. Caliban is a raucous natural man.
2. Caliban is a “howling monster.”
IV. The songs depict themes of the play.
A. “Full Fadom Five” depicts the theme of Alonso’s “seachange.”
1. Through suffering Alonso recognizes his sin, repents,
is forgiven and is regenerated.
2. Metaphorically, the “sea-change” represents Alonso’s
change throughout the play.
B. “Where the Bee Sucks” and “No More Dams I’ll Make for
Fish” depict the theme of freedom.
1. Caliban’s freedom from Prospero’s servitude.
2. Caliban’s servitude to Stephano is an illusion.
3. Ariel is given a well-earned freedom at the end of the
play.
C. “Honor, Riches, Marriage-blessing” depicts the theme of
hope for a future “brave new world.”
1. The song promises a world based on love.
2. The song promises a world of pastoral abundance and
fruition.
3. Together, Ferdinand and Miranda will kiss “the wild
waves whist” or still the tempest of hatreds and
political rivalries of the play.
V. The songs lend atmosphere to the island.
A. An atmosphere of peace, tranquillity, and freedom from
fear
1. “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises,/ Sounds, and
sweet airs.”
2. “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” depicts a pastoral
scene with dogs barking and roosters crowing.
B. An atmosphere of beauty.
1. “Where the Bee Sucks” depicts Ariel’s world of cow
slips, owls, and bats.
2. “Full Fadom Five” depicts the sea with its beautiful
pearl and coral.
VI. Conclusion: In The Tempest the songs are not mere “ditties” meant to entertain but function to assist the
dramatic action, delineate character, depict themes, and lend an atmosphere of peace and natural tranquillity to
the island. The songs are an artistic success in the play, adding beauty and functioning as an integral part of
The Tempest: Sample Essay Outlines 188
the poetic drama.
Topic #3
Shakespeare portrays Caliban as a natural man “on whose nature/ Nurture can never stick.” Write an essay
contrasting Caliban’s nature to that of the civilized characters on the island as they interact with one another.
Outline
I. Thesis Statement: Caliban, “a savage and deformed slave,” is seen in stark contrast to the civilized
characters in the play with regard to education, social mores, leadership, and a respect for nature.
II. Contrast in Caliban and Miranda’s education.
A. Prospero has taught both Caliban and Miranda.
1. Miranda benefits; she recognizes the nobility in
Ferdinand and in the “goodly creatures” of her future
“brave new world”.
2. Caliban was taught language, and his only benefit was
that it taught him “how to curse.”
B. Educating Caliban was useless.
1. “Good natures/ Could not abide to be with” Caliban.
2. All efforts to educate him have been frustrated.
III. Contrast in Caliban and Ferdinand’s social mores.
A. In their relationship to Miranda.
1. Caliban violates Miranda’s honor.
2. Ferdinand does not allow his honor to turn into lust.
B. In their attitudes toward log-bearing.
1. Caliban views it as punishment.
2. Ferdinand bears logs in the service of his mistress.
IV. Contrast in Caliban and Prospero’s leadership abilities
A. Caliban has been his own king who inherited the island
from the evil witch, Sycorax, his mother.
1. Prospero arrives to be lord on it.
2. Prospero takes Caliban as his slave.
B. Caliban leads Stephano and Trinculo in a plot to kill
Prospero.
1. Caliban’s plan is aborted.
2. Caliban admits he had poor judgement in seeing
Stephano as a god.
V. Contrast in attitudes toward nature among Caliban and his fellow conspirators.
A. Caliban is unimpressed with the duke’s royal clothing.
1. Thinks the royal robes are “trash”.
2. Begs Stephano and Trinculo to stop doting on the
duke’s luggage.
B. Caliban is in tune with the music of the island.
1. Stephano and Trinculo are afraid of Ariel’s music.
2. Caliban consoles his friends with “be not afeard, the
isle is full of noises,/ Sounds, and sweet airs, that give
delight and hurt not.”
3. Caliban speaks the poetry of the island in verse.
The Tempest: Sample Essay Outlines 189
4. Stephano and Trinculo speak in the prose given to
servants.
VI. Conclusion: Caliban is the “natural man” of the island. He is portrayed as a savage who cannot benefit
from the civilizing influence of Prospero’s education which has only taught him “how to curse.” He views
Miranda as a natural female to be pursued and overtaken. Though he has been his own king on the island, his
powers cannot match Prospero’s sophisticated art. He is, however, in tune with the natural rhythms of the
island which “give delight and hurt not.”
The Tempest: Modern Connections
The Tempest is filled with music, magic, and supernatural spirits, much of which appears during the betrothal
masque conjured up by Prospero for Ferdinand and Miranda in IV.i. A masque is an elaborate theatrical
production with little or no plot, usually featuring characters from mythology and consisting of music, dance,
and splendid costumes. Masques were a popular form of courtly entertainment in Shakespeare's time,
particularly during the reign of King James I. At their height, they were showcases for special effects:
trapdoors and ropes on pulleys were used to raise and lower actors and props; scenery was painted on panels
that would shift to reveal different locations or convey a sense of animation. Mountains were constructed
onstage that would open up to reveal caves. Smoke was used to conceal stage machinery, and multicolored
lighting was devised for illumination and dramatic effect. Renaissance audiences watching the betrothal
masque in The Tempest would have been treated to goddesses dressed in gorgeous costumes and Juno
"magically" descending in a "car," or chariot. Today, audiences continue to be fascinated with the magic of
special effects. It can be argued, for example, that films such as Total Recall (1990), Jurassic Park (1993),
Twister (1996), and Independence Day (1996) have been more popular for their spectacular illusions and
computer imaging than for their storylines.
Shakespeare wrote The Tempest at a time when Europeans were voyaging to and colonizing the Americas, or
the New World. Critics have pointed out that colonial attitudes toward the original inhabitants of the New
World were extreme and contradictory. On the one hand, natives were described as pure and noble dwellers in
paradise; on the other, they were called vicious savages who needed to be civilized for their own good as well
as for the safety of the colonists. It has been suggested that the character of Caliban reveals these distorted
views at least in part, and that his presence also demonstrates the Renaissance fascination with the New World
inhabitants as novelties or sideshows rather than as people. Trinculo underlines this point on his first
encounter with Prospero's slave in II.ii.31-33, when he observes that a "strange beast" like Caliban would be
worth a fortune in England, where they will not give a do it to relieve a lame beggar, [but] they will lay out
ten to see a dead Indian." Thus Shakespeare reflects the advent of an issue which continues to be
problematical today, as indigenous people work to preserve their heritage and to educate others about their
culture.
Finally, the fact that Alonso and his courtiers at first believe themselves to be shipwrecked far from home on
an uninhabited island results in Gonzalo's cheerful description in II.i.148-57, 160-65 of what, under the
circumstances, could be an ideal commonwealth:
I' th' commonwealth I would, by contraries,
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
The Tempest: Modern Connections 190
No occupation, all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty—
All things in common nature should produce
Without sweat of endeavor: treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,
Of it own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people.
Gonzalo's depiction of a community without commerce, laws, money, work, or literacy sounds extreme to his
fellow castaways as well as to modern audiences; all the same, this exercise in reinventing society is relevant
today in light of people's discontentment with taxes and "big government," and in the wake of recent
experiments in overhauling health care, welfare, and education.
The Tempest: FAQs
Did Shakespeare intend The Tempest to be his last play?
Some scholars have identified Shakespeare with Prospero and have interpreted the epilogue that Prospero
speaks at the end of The Tempest as the playwright's farewell speech to the theater. Whether Shakespeare
intended this play to be his last contribution to the London stage is highly problematical. We know that he
wrote the bulk of the play in 1610 or 1611, and that it was probably first performed in early November, 1611.
It is widely believed that by the timing of the play's first staging, Shakespeare had left London for
"retirement" in Stratford. In comparison with his other works, The Tempest contains a large number of stage
directions. This could be interpreted as an indication that Shakespeare composed The Tempest in Stratford,
knowing that he would not be physically present for its actual production. On the other hand, the unusual
number of stage directions may simply reflect the unique features of The Tempest itself, a play with few
changes of scene and no changes in setting that features a number of pageants in which movement and music
are crucial to the overall effect. While in "retirement," Shakespeare probably wrote Henry VIII and
collaborated with John Fletcher on The Two Noble Kinsman. Plainly, while Shakespeare realized that his
career was winding down, it is not possible to affirm that he meant The Tempest to be his final, crowning
achievement.
Where is Miranda's mother?
Miranda is the only female character in The Tempest, and in the play's second scene, we learn that she came to
the Island with her father, Prospero (the former Duke of Milan) when she was three years old. Directed to
recall her life in Milan, Miranda dimly recalls "Had I not/Four, or five, women once that tended me" (I, ii,
ll.46-47). But while Miranda can recall her nurses, she has no recollection of her mother. In that same scene,
Prospero makes the only explicit reference to Miranda's mother in the play, first noting that "Thy mother was
a piece of virtue" and then adding that "She said thou was't my daughter," thereby adding a comic note to his
praise for his erstwhile wife (I, ii, ll.56,57). We do not know what happened to Miranda's mother, but her
absence from the cast of characters can be partially explained. First, Shakespearean acting companies were
comprised exclusively of males, with young boys playing the roles of young women. There are, in fact, very
few older women among the Bard's major characters. Second, possibly based on his own experience as the
father of two daughters, Shakespeare explores the relationship between father and daughter to a much greater
extent than any other parent-child bond, as for example, in King Lear and The Merchant of Venice. Third, the
The Tempest: FAQs 191
inclusion of a consort with him on the island might diminish Prospero's status as the solo director of the action
on stage. And last, at the play's conclusion, Miranda is the paragon of chaste womanhood who will one day
become Queen to Ferdinand's king. Under these circumstances, the addition of another female into the
proceedings would be superfluous.
Why did Shakespeare include the sub-plot of Antonio and
Sebastian scheming against King Alonso?
In Act II, scene i., as King Alonso and his trusted advisor Gonzalo lay sleeping under Ariel's spell, Prospero's
brother, Antonio, suggests to the king's brother, Sebastian, that they kill Alonso so that Sebastian can become
King of Naples. The plot is Antonio's brainchild and he broaches the scheme to Sebastian by saying "My
strong imagination sees a crown/Dropping upon they head" (II, i., ll.208-209). Not only is Sebastian slow to
get Antonio's drift, at the last minute he stays their swords from the heads of the sleeping King and the worthy
counselor, and Ariel re-appears to awaken them. At this point, the conspirators jettison their scheme. The
question becomes: Why did Shakespeare insert this minor intrigue into the play given that it goes nowhere so
quickly? The sub-plot appears to perform a number of relatively minor functions. It highlights the diversity of
the activities that take place on the Island, some of which are magical and extraordinary others of which and
mundanely human. Second, it allows us to distinguish between a passively evil Alonso, a character who
undergoes a full transformation and is admitted to the play's concluding masque, and the actively evil
Antonio, a character who acknowledges his guilt but is not fully redeemed. Lastly, it suggests that
"imagination" is not always a powerful force for good, it can also be a force for evil and an object of ridicule.
Does Prospero undergo any character development?
With the sole exception of Miranda, all of the human characters in The Tempest undergo a transformation
under Prospero's sway. Whether Prospero himself experiences a change of character or heart as a consequence
of his experiences during the play debatable. He tells us that he has decided to opt for the virtue of mercy over
his original plans for revenge, but this apparently occurred prior to the action of the play since he assures
Miranda that no harm will come to those stranded in the shipwreck. Prospero does appear to mellow by the
play's end. Before the final act, the wizard is given to temperamental outbursts, as when he scolds the innocent
Miranda for failing to pay attention to his account of how they got to the island. Above all, Prospero
voluntarily relinquishes his magical powers and returns to his rightful place as the Duke of Milan. Seen in this
light, not only does Prospero effect changes in the character of the other humans on his island, he too enjoys a
transformation from an authoritarian controller of events into a "normal" human being with a defined niche in
society.
The Tempest: Bibliography and Further Reading
Primary Sources
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.
The First Folio of Shakespeare, The Norton Facsimile, ed. Charlton Hinman. New York: W. W. Norton,
1968.
Secondary Sources
Berger, Karol. “Prospero’s Art,” Shakespeare Studies, Vol. X. New York: Burt Franklin, 1977.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Shakespearean Criticism. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1961.
Where is Miranda's mother? 192
Craig, Hardin. “Magic in The Tempest,” Philological Quarterly, 47 (1968): 8-15.
Cutts, John P. “The Tempest, the Sweet Fruition of Revenge,” Rich and Strange. Washington State
University Press, 1968.
Dowden, Edward. Shakespeare: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul,
1875.
Dryden, John. “Prologue to The Tempest,” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 1. New York:
W. W. Norton, 1968.
Frye, Northrop. A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance. New
York: Columbia University Press, 1965.
Godschalk, William Leigh. Patterning in Shakespearean Drama: Essays in Criticism. University of
Cincinatti: Mouton-The-Hague-Paris, 1973.
Johnson, Samuel. Johnson’s Notes to Shakespeare. Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library,
1956.
Kermode, Frank. The Arden Shakespeare, The Tempest. London: Methuen, 1969.
Knight, G. Wilson. The Crown of Life: Essays in Interpretation of Shakespeare’s Final Plays. London:
Oxford University Press, 1947.
Long, John H. Shakespeare’s Use of Music. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Press, 1961.
Lowell, James Russell. The English Poets. London: Kennikat Press, 1888.
Lovejoy, Arthur O. The Great Chain of Being. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1950.
Nuttall, A. D. Two Concepts of Allegory, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967.
Sisson, C. J. “The Magic of Prospero,” Shakespeare Survey II. London: Cambridge University Press, 1958.
Traversi, Derek. Shakespeare: The Last Phase. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1969.
Virgil. The Aeneid, ed. Moses Hadas. London: Bantam Books, 1965.
Wright, Neil. “Reality and Illusion as a Philosophical Pattern in The Tempest,” Shakespeare Studies, Vol. X.
New York: Burt Franklin, 1977.
Zimbardo, Rose A. “Form and Disorder in The Tempest,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 14 (1963): 49-56.