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The Tempest
William Shakespeare

THE STORY, continued


By now Alonso and his court are thoroughly exhausted from searching for Ferdinand. Gonzalo complains that the "forthrights and meanders"- the straight paths and winding ones- have fatigued him, and Alonso calls for a rest. Never an optimist, the King, after this long and fruitless search, has given up all hope of finding the Prince.

As the others rest, the conspirators confer. Sebastian assures Antonio that he's still ready to kill his brother. Antonio advises waiting until night-time, since the men are so tired that they won't be able to maintain much of a guard.

An unusually elaborate stage direction calls for "Solemn and strange music," associated as usual with magic. Suddenly the spirits enter, bearing a banquet, and perform a highly courteous dance inviting the men to dine. When they depart they leave Prospero perched, unseen, at the top of the stage.

Naturally, the men are astounded. Sebastian calls the spectacle a "living drollery"- a puppet-show that's come to life. He and Antonio agree that from now on they'll believe all travelers' tales, no matter how preposterous they sound. Gonzalo is more impressed with the spirits' behavior: they may be "of monstrous shape" but their manners are so "gentle" and "kind" that they surpass those of most human beings. Prospero notes how right Gonzalo is, especially since some of the men in his own company are "worse than devils."

Alonso, too, is astonished; he observes that although the shapes didn't speak, they communicated an "excellent" message. Prospero, still unheard, utters the proverb, "Praise in departing," meaning that one should not praise the host until the meal is over. Soon Alonso will think the spirits' message is far less excellent.

Sebastian is hungry, but Alonso hesitates, apparently wary of a meal served by spirits. But the confident Gonzalo reassures him: after all, when they were boys, there were many wonders that they would never have believed in, but now every traveler knows that these wonders really exist. By extension, therefore, there's no need to fear what they've witnessed simply because it's unfamiliar.

NOTE: When Gonzalo mentions "Each putter-out of five for one," he's referring to an early form of insurance at a time when travel was quite dangerous. Travelers leaving England would deposit a sum of money with an agent. If they didn't come back, the agent kept the money; but if they returned safe, he paid it back five-fold. (Some scholars have argued that if Shakespeare was talking about travelers, he should have said "each putter-out of one for five.")

Alonso is convinced, partly because he's so grief-stricken over Ferdinand that he doesn't care whether or not the food harms him. He invites the others to join him. But just as they're starting to dine, thunder and lightning break out; Ariel, transformed into a harpy, swoops down and steals their food. Harpies are legendary creatures of Greek and Roman mythology. They have faces of women and the bodies of predatory birds and not only steal food, but leave a sickening stench behind them. This scene is based on events in Book III of Virgil's Aeneid, the great Roman epic poem. When Shakespeare's noblemen draw their swords against the harpies, they're following Virgil; as in Virgil, their attempt to kill them is useless. The stage direction mentions only Ariel, but some of his fellow spirits probably appeared as additional harpies, since Ariel refers to his "fellow ministers."

By the time The Tempest was written, stage machinery had grown quite sophisticated; the banquet scene, therefore, was probably produced as elaborately as anything Shakespeare ever wrote. The stage directions call for the banquet to vanish "with a quaint device." Although we don't know exactly how this was accomplished, one scholar conjectures that the table rose onto the stage through a trap door, a cloth around the sides concealing a stagehand underneath. Ariel descended from above and covered the table with his harpy's wings; meanwhile, the stagehand snatched the food through a trap door in the table. Thus, when Ariel removed his wings, the food was gone. Shakespeare may have placed Prospero "at the top"- above the upper stage- so the actor could give signals to the musicians behind him, who in turn would relay them to the stagehands. The scene, with music, thunder and lightning, and special effects, must have formed an impressive spectacle.

Ariel the harpy addresses a long speech to Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio- "three men of sin." (Apparently the others don't hear it.) The spirit explains that the ever-hungry sea has put them on an uninhabited island because they're not fit to live among men. He claims he's made them insane, and hints that often, with the courage of that kind of madness, men kill themselves. At this point they draw their swords against him, but he taunts them that they can no more kill harpies than they could kill the sea by stabbing it. Besides, their swords have suddenly become too heavy for them. (Prospero's magic seems to be at work here.) Then he tells them the reason they're being punished: for usurping Prospero's dukedom and casting him and Miranda out to sea. (Note that this is the first you hear of Sebastian's involvement in the plot against Prospero.) The powers of destiny haven't forgotten the crime- they've only delayed the punishment. Now it has started, however, with the tempest and the loss of Ferdinand. Ariel promises the villains "Ling'ring perdition"- prolonged damnation, worse than any quick death- unless they repent their crime and lead a blameless life on the desolate island. With a clap of thunder, he vanishes. The other spirits reappear with "mocks and mows" (jeers and grimaces)- behavior very different from the elaborate courtesy which earlier led Gonzalo to praise their manners.

NOTE: Ariel has delivered the classic Christian message: Repent and be saved; repent or be damned. Shakespeare will further develop this deeply religious theme in the final act.

Prospero praises Ariel's excellent performance, noting that the other spirits have done well, too. He's pleased that his enemies "now are in my power" and he exits to visit Ferdinand and Miranda.

Gonzalo, meanwhile, is puzzled: why is Alonso suddenly staring so wildly? Alonso's answer seems almost deranged: the waves, the winds, the thunder spoke to him during the tempest, and what they uttered was: "Prospero." (When he says, "it did bass my trespass," he's using a musical figure, turning his crime or "trespass" into music to which the thunder, speaking Prospero's name, provided the bass line.) Understanding that Ferdinand was snatched from him as a punishment, he determines in a fit of despair to kill himself and join his son in the underwater mud. Alonso then runs out.

Sebastian and Antonio, however, don't seem to feel the remorse that Ariel told them would be their only salvation. Instead, they agree to fight the spirits, even though they've just seen how useless that is. They too dash out.

The others may not have heard Ariel's speech, but Gonzalo at least understands what's happened: their old guilt about Prospero has worked on the "three men of sin" like a slow poison and suddenly driven them mad. Gonzalo suggests that they be watched closely lest they do harm to themselves in their insanity.


LINES 1-59

Prospero is addressing Ferdinand in a tone very different from his earlier crustiness. The trials he put the young man through were severe, but Miranda was worth the struggle. Prospero estimates her value at "a third of mine own life," a line that readers have interpreted in several ways. Is he dividing "mine own life" into himself, his dead wife, and Miranda; or, perhaps, into himself, Miranda, and his kingdom? Or does he mean that raising his fifteen-year-old daughter has taken a third of his forty- five years? In any case, he's offering her now to the young prince, who has passed all his tests to Prospero's great satisfaction. Ferdinand may be smiling at Prospero's extravagant praise, because Prospero assures him that he isn't exaggerating, but Ferdinand declares that he'd believe him even if an oracle pronounced the opposite. (An oracle in Greek and Roman religion, was the utterance of a deity, usually spoken by a priest or priestess.)

Prospero then delivers a speech that has caused many readers to wonder about its meaning. There's nothing unusual in praising chastity before marriage- many parents still do it. But Prospero speaks so harshly- more like the severe old father of the earlier acts- that his words border on gracelessness. Instead of emphasizing chastity's positive aspects, he delivers a warning that is very nearly a threat: if Ferdinand takes Miranda's virginity before their wedding day, their marriage will be full of "disdain" and "discord"; he also speaks of "barren hate," implying that they won't have any children.

Some readers have felt that Prospero's tone is inappropriate here- hasn't he been hard enough on Ferdinand already? Do you agree with them? Ferdinand's reply, however, shows that he isn't offended. He agrees that premarital sex would threaten the peace of the marriage, as well as "fair issue" or healthy children. He promises Prospero that no matter what the temptation, he'll preserve Miranda's virginity so he'll be able to enjoy the "edge"- the keen pleasure- of sexual love on their wedding day. He ends by picturing that day,

When I shall think or Phoebus' steeds are foundered
Or Night kept chained below.

That is, he'll be so impatient for his wedding night that it will seem either that the horses that draw the sun god, Phoebus, have gone lame, prolonging the daylight, or that Night (personified here) is being kept in chains so he can't arrive when he's supposed to. It's an elaborate flourish, not the kind of speech you would choose in the heat of passion. Ferdinand is thus talking about chastity abstractly.

Prospero's speech is more than the advice of a protective father to his prospective son-in-law; it's central to the meaning of The Tempest. Chastity is a convenient symbol for general self-control, an ability to govern one's appetites. The personification of appetite in the play is Caliban, who has no control over his own desires, and who, you'll remember, once tried to rape Miranda. Thus the contrast between him and the chaste Ferdinand is clear. In Shakespeare's day, self-control was regarded as an important attribute of the successful magician as well as the successful ruler. You could argue that Prospero's downfall in Milan was due to his lack of self-control: he allowed Antonio to take over the reins of government so he could satisfy his own uncontrollable appetite for knowledge. On his island, Prospero has to learn the lesson of self-control. You'll see him put this lesson into practice in the fifth act, when he must demonstrate his self-control by restraining his anger.

Prospero, pleased by Ferdinand's speech, leaves the young man chatting with Miranda while he calls Ariel, who appears immediately. The magician commends the way Ariel and the lesser spirits ("thy meaner fellows") carried off the performance at the banquet. Now he wants them to perform for Ferdinand and Miranda. He tells Ariel to bring the lesser spirits (the "rabble") and gives him command over them. Ariel declares his readiness with a light and airy five-line rhyme.

When Prospero turns around again, evidently the young lovers are doing more than chatting, because Prospero has to admonish them to be more temperate. Probably they are embracing. Oaths, after all, mean very little in the heat of the moment. Ferdinand's response has been variously interpreted:

The white cold virgin snow upon my heart

Abates the ardor of my liver.

The liver was considered the seat of sexual passion. Some readers think Ferdinand is saying that the idea of Miranda, like snow on his heart, cools his passion. Other readers, however, think he's speaking more literally: Miranda's breast against his heart cools his passion- though it's hard to imagine, no matter how pure Miranda is, how embracing her could lessen his passion. Of course, a young man who has been caught like Ferdinand has, might have to talk his way rapidly out of an embarrassing situation.

Prospero replies with a curt "Well," but it's uncertain whether he accepts Ferdinand's response or just doesn't want to argue. He summons Ariel and his fellow spirits to start the masque.

Prospero's admonition is more than just a request for polite attention. It was thought that silence was absolutely necessary during magical operations; the spirits would flee at the sound of human voices (which in fact is very like what happens at the close of the masque). Later Prospero warns, "Hush and be mute,/Or else our spell is marred."

LINES 60-142

Before considering the play-within-a-play that the spirits now present in Ferdinand and Miranda's honor, you will need some background on this unique form of drama, known as a masque. The masque evolved from older spectacles and games; in its medieval form, it involved a surprise visit by masked dancers to an unwitting person's home. By the time of Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled England from 1558 until her death in 1603, it had become popular at court and had already developed formal conventions. But it was really under Elizabeth's successor, James I, who ruled from 1603 to 1625, that the masque reached its height as a dramatic form.

The story line of a masque was often insignificant; the emphasis was on spectacle. Huge sums of money were spent on sets and costumes. Music and dance were also important elements. It's generally agreed that nothing more spectacular has ever been presented on the English stage. You might even compare these spectacles to multimillion-dollar science-fiction films, especially because these movies also usually depend more on spectacle than on content.

Masques were often performed on such special occasions as a wedding or, as here, a betrothal. This betrothal masque made The Tempest a particularly appropriate play to revive at court, as indeed it was, during the winter of 1612-1613, as part of a series of entertainments that celebrated the betrothal of King James' daughter Elizabeth to the Elector Palatine (an elector was a German prince) during his visit to the English court.

Because the masque was such a popular form, it's not surprising that several of Shakespeare's plays show its influence. In addition to the actual masque in The Tempest, some readers have pointed out masquelike elements in the overall structure of the play. Prospero resembles a traditional masque "presenter," a ringmaster who introduces the other characters and controls their actions. In a sense, the action of The Tempest has as much in common with the static spectacle of the masque as with the developing tension and resolution of the traditional five-act drama. Little true tension develops; there's never much uncertainty about the outcome of the plot. This isn't to say that The Tempest is a masque in disguise; however, you can see that Shakespeare responded to one of the popular dramatic forms of his time.

The masque opens with a speech by Iris, who in Greek mythology was the messenger of the gods as well as goddess of the rainbow. Thus, Ceres addresses her as "many-colored messenger" and as "heavenly bow." Iris is speaking for Juno, queen of the gods. (Ceres and Juno are Roman names for the Greek goddesses Demeter and Hera.) Although her meaning is quite simple ("Please come"), Shakespeare gives her sixteen lines of highly elaborate, highly artificial verse. The diction in this masque is far more stilted than anywhere else in The Tempest, which has led some readers to suspect that another writer had a hand in it. In fact, however, the conventions of the masque demanded a much more formal diction than did a five-act drama, In addition, there's probably an element of parody: Shakespeare may be poking gentle fun at the stilted verse of the popular masques. Shakespeare's "plays within plays" are often cast in verse much more artificial than his usual expert poetry. You may be familiar with the rhymed couplets of the traveling players in Act III of Hamlet, or the ridiculous "Pyramus and Thisby" in Act V of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

As goddess of the harvest and, by extension, of fertility, Ceres is a natural choice to bless a young couple who want to have children. In a similar vein, Juno is the protector of marriage. Iris's speech includes numerous images of the fertility associated with her: fields of wheat, rye, barley, pruned vineyards, and so forth. Iris announces that Juno is already approaching in a chariot drawn by the peacocks that were her special birds. Although the stage direction says, "Juno descends," Juno doesn't speak for another thirty lines. It's possible that she appeared at this point in a device that descended very slowly to the stage.

Ceres enters, with an equally elaborate speech and an equally simple point: What does Juno want? Iris replies, more briefly, that Juno wants her to celebrate and bless a betrothal, "a contract of true love."

Ceres returns to the theme of chastity that Prospero and Ferdinand discussed earlier. She wants to know if Venus and her son Cupid are with Juno. Although Juno is the protector of marriage, Venus is the goddess of love and of the passion about which Prospero has been warning Ferdinand. Cupid carried a bow and arrows, and anyone he pierced would fall passionately in love.

Ceres has a particular reason to resent Venus and Cupid, who she says "did plot/The means that dusky Dis my daughter got." She's alluding to the way the god of the underworld, Dis (better known as Hades or Pluto), kidnapped her daughter Persephone (Proserpine). Ceres' grief was said to be the cause of winter.

In a reply rich with classical allusions, Iris assures Ceres that although Venus and Cupid had been planning some mischief, it's been averted. Iris may be referring to the embrace between Ferdinand and Miranda that Prospero promptly ended. The dove is Venus's bird; thus, she and Cupid travel "Dove- drawn" away from them and toward Paphos, the city in Cyprus that was the center of her cult. She is referred to as "Mars's hot minion" because Mars, the god of war, was her lover. The core of Iris's speech is her assurance "that no bed-right shall be paid/Till Hymen's torch be lighted." Hymen is the god of the wedding feast; he was often pictured carrying a torch. Iris means that Ferdinand and Miranda won't sleep together until after the wedding.

Finally Juno appears, greets Ceres, and invites her to join her in singing a blessing to Ferdinand and Miranda. Their song was probably divided, with Juno singing the first four lines, which refer specifically to her, and Ceres singing the remaining eight, which are mainly about her particular concerns, harvest and abundance ("foison"). When she sings,

Spring come to you at the farthest
In the very end of harvest

she's saying, "May spring come right on the heels of fall"; in other words, "May your lives be without winter." The sentiment was a conventional one in Shakespeare's day.

Ferdinand is so impressed with the masque that he can't resist offering a compliment. He asks whether the players are spirits; Prospero confirms that they are and that he called them up himself. Ferdinand chatters on that Prospero is wise and that the island resembles paradise. At this point, Prospero warns him to be quiet: the masque isn't finished, and human talk could break the spell.

At the behest of Juno and Ceres, Iris calls forth a group of Naiads, or water nymphs, and another group of reapers. The masque closes with its traditional ending, a dance. (In court masques, the dancers were often drawn from among the spectators.) Toward the end of this graceful entertainment, however, Prospero suddenly remembers the conspiracy of Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano to murder him. His face darkens, and his agitated words break the spell. Sorrowfully, the spirits vanish in a confused mass.

LINES 143-266

It's probably at this point that Prospero seems least godlike, most human and fallible. The change that's come over him is so sudden, and so extreme, that it upsets both Ferdinand and Miranda. Miranda says she's never seen her father so angry. But Prospero notices their concern and urges them not to worry. Then, beginning with "Our revels now are ended," he delivers the most famous and, many readers believe, the most beautiful lines of poetry in the play.

The masque, by its very nature, was a form that left the audience thinking about the transitory nature of life. Its time span was brief, and at its end the audience was probably thinking rather sadly about how the maskers would disband and the breathtaking scenery would be dismantled. ("The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,/The solemn temples, The great globe itself" were probably all pieces of masque scenery.) Thus, the kind of sentiment that Prospero now delivers was, not surprisingly, rather commonplace at the end of masques. After viewing a vision of perfection- an ideal world of beauty and abundance, a world without winter- the thought of Caliban returns Prospero sharply to the real world of brutality and evil. His immediate anger yields to profound depression. As he contemplates the end of the masque, it seems to him for a moment that life is equally insubstantial: "We are such stuff/As dreams are made on [of]." Have you ever felt this way in a moment of depression- you can work, study, exhaust yourself trying to do good; however, the final reality is death. As Prospero says, "our little life/Is rounded"- that is, finished off- "with a sleep."

But Prospero at least recognizes that his bleak thoughts are the result of his melancholy mood. He tells the young lovers to bear with him: he only needs to walk it off and collect himself. They understand and exit obediently, wishing him peace of mind.

Prospero summons Ariel: "Come with a thought." Traditionally, spirits were supposed to be able to travel as fast as thought, and thus appear at their masters' desire. Prospero reminds him that it's time to deal with Caliban, and Ariel tells him that the matter was on his mind, too, "when I presented Ceres."

NOTE: This phrase could mean simply that Ariel was the "presenter" of the masque, but it might also mean "when I played Ceres." Ariel probably played one of the roles, though Iris would be as likely a choice as Ceres.

At a question from Prospero, Ariel tells you what's happened to Caliban and his cohorts since you last saw them. They were drunk when he surprised them with his magic music. They followed, unable to resist, like calves after their mother. Then Ariel started playing tricks. He led them through briars and thorns, and finally into a pond with a coat of filthy scum. There they stood, with the water chin-high and smelling so awful that it "O'erstunk their feet."

Prospero is rather vindictively satisfied at this report, and he sends Ariel off for "stale"- decoys- with which to trap the conspirators. He then utters some extremely bitter thoughts on the subject of Caliban. The monster, he says, is "a born devil," which is probably literally true, as Caliban's father was a demon.

NOTE: Don't forget that the "three men of sin" (Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian) are, according to Prospero, "worse than devils." The difference between Caliban and them lies in their respective low and high natures. Caliban was born low; thus, he's not responsible for his beastliness. This is not the case with the noblemen, however.

Prospero assails Caliban as a beast "on whose nature/Nurture can never stick." This pun summarizes one of the play's important themes. Lowborn Caliban has a low nature; thus, "nurture"- Prospero's nurturing education- can't stick to it and do him any good. The embittered Prospero laments the humane efforts he wasted on the monster: "all, all lost, quite lost." In that aching repetition, you can sense Prospero's anguish. But perhaps Prospero is really lamenting his own failure. After all, it isn't Caliban's fault that he can't be educated, but it may be Prospero's fault that he failed to recognize this fact. Prospero has failed twice to keep persons or beasts at their proper station. First he elevated Antonio to the level of ruler while he himself studied undisturbed; then he tried to educate Caliban. In both cases it may be impossible for Prospero to reverse the damage. Antonio hasn't shown any signs of repenting. And there's no way for Prospero to take back Caliban's education and return his contentment with his low station.

Instead of accepting the blame, Prospero seems to vent a rather cruel bitterness: "I will plague them all,/Even to roaring." Do you think he is being unfair? He may have been mistaken in trying to educate Caliban, but he was erring on the side of kindness. Surely he has the right to be angry upon discovering a plot to murder him. Or do you feel that as a ruler, Prospero should have known better than to treat Caliban as he did? To what extent do you think Prospero is wrong?

NOTE: Prospero observes, "And as with age his body uglier grows,/So his mind cankers"- his thoughts grow more evil. Note again that physical ugliness is related to moral vice, a theme discussed in the Note at the end of Act I, Scene II.

Ariel returns laden with "glistering apparel," perhaps the "rich garments" that Gonzalo long ago supplied Prospero with. When the three conspirators enter, they are soaking wet and smell terrible. Stephano and Trinculo are particularly irked that they've lost their bottles; Stephano is ready to dive for the wine. Caliban pleads for quiet: he doesn't want them to wake Prospero. Then Stephano and Trinculo notice the garments.

NOTE: Trinculo's exclamation- "O King Stephano! O peer! O worthy Stephano, look what a wardrobe here is for thee"- is a joking allusion to a popular ballad. One version of it is sung in Act II, Scene III of Shakespeare's Othello:

King Stephen was and a worthy peer
His breeches cost him but a crown.

Stephano and Trinculo grab the clothes so greedily that they forget all about their murder plot. Caliban is more level-headed. He warns them to ignore the trousers, which are a decoy, but they act like children, their appetites uncontrolled, enthralled by every new bauble. They pile fine clothes on the protesting monster.

Prospero directs Ariel to hang the garments on a line. It's uncertain whether the words means "clothes-line" or "lime tree," but it doesn't really matter. Stephano and Trinculo, however, offer a number of puns on the word "line." First it's the "line" on which the clothes are hanging. Next a jerkin (jacket) is "under the line"- across the equator. (It's a "bald jerkin," apparently, because when people crossed the equator, they supposedly ran fevers that made their hair fall out.) Then they're stealing "by line and level"- literally, by plumb-line and carpenter's level, but the phrase means "according to rule." When Trinculo tells Caliban to put some lime on his fingers, he's probably taking the pun even further. "Lime" is birdlime, a sticky substance that was used to snare birds, and which was almost a synonym for theft (similar to "sticky fingers").

Finally, justice arrives, in the form of further spectacle. The spirits return as hounds, set on by Prospero and Ariel, and chase away the three conspirators. You can imagine the comic possibilities. But perhaps there's an undertone of cruelty, too, as Prospero orders his goblins to torment them with convulsions, cramps, and pinches. Ariel cries, "Hark, they roar!"- fulfiling Prospero's vow to "plague them all,/Even to roaring." This is Prospero's supreme moment of power: "At this hour/ Lies at my mercy all mine enemies." As the act closes, he's in complete control.


LINES 1-57

As previously noted, The Tempest is one of the few plays that Shakespeare actually cast in classical five-act structure. Hence the break between Acts IV and V, even though Act V opens with the same two characters onstage and little, if any, time having past.

It's six o'clock, the hour that Prospero earlier forecast would mark the end of his plan. The "three men of sin," Ariel informs him, are gathered in a nearby lime ("line") grove, gripped by an enchanted madness from which only Prospero can release them. The others are mourning them, with the tearful Gonzalo forming an especially pitiful spectacle. The sight would make Prospero's feelings grow tender, Ariel tells him; his own feelings certainly would if he were human. Remember that Ariel is a spirit; thus, he can only imagine human feelings.

Some readers view Ariel's comment as the turning point in the drama, because it prompts Prospero's forgiveness. Others argue that because Prospero has arranged the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda, he was obviously planning to forgive his enemies all along. Which view do you agree with? Prospero won't be outdone by a spirit when he himself is "One of their kind"- that is, human- and thus should be "kindlier" affected than the inhuman Ariel. (This pun on "kind"- both "kindhearted" and "sort,"- is one of Shakespeare's favorites.) Prospero doesn't downplay his sufferings. He's still aggrieved when he thinks of his enemies and "their high wrongs." It's something of a higher order than emotion- "my nobler reason" working "'gainst my fury"- that convinces him to forgive them. He forgives them not so much because he wants to as because he ought to: "the rarer action is/In virtue than in vengeance." This concise observation crystallizes a major theme of the play. Christian virtue, with its great emphasis on forgiveness, is a higher mode of behavior than pagan revenge. Remember that this sentiment, though conventional, was uttered before an audience for whom the revenge tragedy was a major form of entertainment.

Do you see The Tempest as a deeply Christian drama? If so, you will place a great deal of emphasis on the above lines, as well as on the ones that follow. Prospero declares that his only purpose in tormenting Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio is to make them repent. As you'll recall, this was also Ariel's message in Act III, Scene III. Readers who support a religious interpretation point out that Prospero isn't merely godlike: he stands in relation to the other characters much as God traditionally does to humanity- judging, punishing, forgiving. In the figure of Ariel you might think he even has an angel. Other readers, however, feel that this interpretation can be carried too far. They point out that Prospero, powerful and wise as he is, isn't perfect. You already know of his failures with Antonio and Caliban. In addition, his forgiveness, though noble, is tinged with anger; it isn't quite the all-embracing love of a completely merciful God.

At a word from Prospero, Ariel leaves to fetch the wrongdoers. Prospero now delivers the soliloquy that's generally known as his farewell to his art. This speech can be divided into three roughly equal parts. The first eight lines form an address to his magical helpers: the fairies who leave no footprints on the beach, the puppet-sized elves who make small circles of discolored grass, sometimes called "fairy circles," on the ground, and who make mushrooms grow overnight (a natural phenomenon that seems magical), and so forth.

Lines 41 to 50 describe some of Prospero's magical feats. He's dimmed the sun at noon. He's made the wind blow and created huge waves which he describes as setting the sea at war with the sky). He's called forth thunder and lightning and shaken the ground- in other words, he's created tempests. He's even summoned the dead from their graves.

Prospero is clearly a good magician whose "white magic" is very different from the "black magic" of Caliban's mother, the witch Sycorax. White magicians gained their abilities only through long study and strict self-control; black magicians made pacts with demons. (Sycorax worshipped the demon Setebos and mated with a devil to produce Caliban.) Magic was a serious subject to Shakespeare's audience. King James I was an authority on the subject, and Shakespeare had to present magic very carefully on the stage. He could have created serious legal problems for himself and the King's Men if his play seemed to glorify black magic.

Prospero's list of his accomplishments has therefore created a snag for Shakespeare scholars. Getting spirits to work for them was the natural province of white magicians; however, raising storms, and especially raising the dead, were the domain of black magicians. Many of Prospero's claims seem to be based on lines in Book III of the Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid. Shakespeare was apparently more engrossed in creating a play than in keeping the domains of white and black magicians separate. Raising the dead, which is found in the Metamorphoses, doesn't play a serious role in the plot. Raising a storm, however, does- it's essential both to the story and to the title of the play.

In any case, Prospero and Ariel's tempest doesn't harm anybody. It doesn't even stain the clothes of the survivors of the shipwreck. In fact, the storm that seemed so terrible will turn out to be a blessing. Thus, Prospero can hardly be convicted of performing evil magic. Nevertheless, the fact that Prospero now renounces his magic probably is related to the poor reputation sorcery had in Shakespeare's England. Prospero has accomplished his goals with his magic. Now he demonstrates his good faith by giving it up.

The last eight lines of Prospero's soliloquy comprise his actual renunciation. His plan completed, he says, he'll break and bury his magic staff and throw his magic book into the sea. But he'll require two or three more spells. The first is a "heavenly music" to bring Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian out of their madness; a stage direction now calls for "solemn music."

As was noted earlier, one popular theory identifies Prospero with Shakespeare himself. Like a skilled dramatic poet, Prospero manipulates the characters, involving them in situations that he created for them. In this interpretation, Prospero's magic stands for Shakespeare's poetry. Ariel and Caliban can even be regarded as two different aspects of the poet. Ariel, with his lightness, elegance, and speed-of-thought grace, is the poet's genius. Caliban is his appetite or desire, and the fact that Prospero keeps him chained down in a rocky den denotes the poet's self-control or self-discipline.

Prospero's farewell to his art is central to the autobiographical interpretation. The Tempest may be the last play that Shakespeare wrote, or wrote alone. Just before or, more probably, just after he created it, he retired from theatrical life in London to the quiet country village of his birth, Stratford-on-Avon. We don't know why; he doesn't seem to have been ill. In his late forties, he could reflect on an active and successful career in the theater. Perhaps he just wanted to enjoy his leisure. In any case, readers looking for hints of autobiography see Prospero's farewell to his art as a parallel to Shakespeare's farewell to his own dramatic art. Indeed, there's something melancholy and final about the tone of the entire play.

On the other hand, some readers find the autobiographical interpretation unlikely. They argue that it isn't necessary to look outside the work to find its meaning. They feel that it's ludicrous to try to make The Tempest fit the mold of Shakespeare's life, about which very little is known. No matter how you feel about this interpretation, it's probably true that at this point in his own career, Shakespeare could appreciate Prospero's emotions. It's this deep empathy that makes the speech so convincing.

LINES 58-215

Prospero has drawn a magic circle on the ground (a typical feature of magic ceremonies), into which Ariel leads Alonso and his court. All six men stand there frozen in enchantment, as the solemn melody gradually soothes the three maddened "men of sin." (Music was- and still is- a widely accepted therapy for nervous agitation.)

Although moved by Gonzalo's tears, Prospero can't resist rehashing the crimes committed against him. It's clear that though he's planning to forgive them, he still feels wronged. Because the men are regaining consciousness little by little, he sends Ariel to fetch the royal robes by which they'll recognize him as the deposed Duke of Milan.

As Ariel dresses Prospero, he sings the last of his fairy songs; this one tells of sucking nectar with the bees and riding on the backs of bats. Then Prospero sends him to the ship to get the master (captain) and the boatswain.

By now the noblemen are coming out of the spell. Gonzalo, the first to speak, calls on "some heavenly power" to get them off this eerie island. Note that even when he's terrified he trusts in Providence. Observing rank, Prospero speaks first to the flabbergasted king. He announces that he's the "wronged Duke of Milan," and before Alonso can respond he embraces him to demonstrate his lack of anger.

Alonso has endured so much in the past hours that he doesn't know whether to believe Prospero or not. At least Prospero feels real to the touch- real enough to make Alonso grow defensive: "Thy dukedom I resign," he quickly assures him. Of course, Alonso has never been ruler of Prospero's dukedom. He refers to the annual tribute that Milan has been paying Naples since Prospero was ousted.

Prospero embraces his old friend Gonzalo, who, like Alonso, isn't quite sure that all this is really happening. He's tasting "some subtleties o' th' isle," Prospero tells him. "Subtleties" were Renaissance pastries in the shapes of castles, temples, and so forth; Prospero is joking that Gonzalo can't believe that what he's seeing is any more real than those pastries.

Prospero welcomes them all; then, almost in the same breath, he threatens Sebastian and Antonio. He tells them in an aside that he knows all about their plot against Alonso. With distinct overtones of blackmail, perhaps in order to be able to keep them in line in the future, he promises to remain silent, at least for the moment.

NOTE: When Sebastian says, "The devil speaks in him," he isn't merely making a rude comment. Sebastian doesn't know that Prospero is a white magician; thus, he has every reason to believe he's a sorcerer in league with the devil.

Prospero now formally forgives Antonio. Read this speech carefully; do you think Prospero has conquered his anger and resentment? Notice that he begins by addressing his brother formally, as "you"; however, with forgiveness comes the more intimate "thou" form:

For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother
Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive
Thy rankest fault- all of them; and require
My dukedom of thee, which perforce I know
Thou must restore.

This is one of several places in Shakespeare's comedies where a villain is forgiven even though he seems to deserve punishment rather than mercy. Some readers think Shakespeare is suggesting that humanity is so depraved that Prospero must forgive, because he can't spend his life drowning in hate. In a Christian view, everyone is flawed; everyone needs to be forgiven. Prospero knows how villainous Antonio is, but as he's explained already, he's using his reason instead of his anger because he knows that virtue is superior to vengeance.

It's not difficult for Prospero to forgive Alonso. The King is genuinely remorseful; he even pleads for forgiveness. In contrast, Antonio shows no remorse at all. Although both Ariel and Prospero have stressed the importance of repentance, Antonio gives no indication, either now or later, that he's sorry for his crimes. Prospero's kindness to him, like his kindness to Caliban, doesn't improve him, for Antonio is a true villain.

This doesn't mean, however, that Prospero is wrong to forgive Antonio. Shakespeare's audience was composed of Christians, and they would have agreed wholeheartedly that forgiveness was essential. It does mean that in the future, Prospero would be foolish to put much trust in his brother. As a wise prince, he should know how to temper Christian virtue with princely authority. In fact, he does this here, demonstrating virtue by forgiving, and authority by demanding the return of his dukedom.

As the thought of Ferdinand strikes Alonso again, he grows miserable once more. His loss is so deep, he claims, that patience can't help. Prospero gently rebukes him: You haven't really sought help from patience.

This theme correlates with the notion of Providence. A good Christian trusts in God; no matter how terrible events seem on the surface, a benevolent God is watching. Gonzalo personifies this virtue. He's always hopeful, always optimistic; in contrast, impatient King Alonso is always sure that things will turn out for the worst. Thus, the tempest can teach Alonso an important lesson in patience: an apparent disaster can turn out to be a blessing.

Prospero claims that just as Alonso lost a son in the tempest, he, Prospero, lost a daughter. Prospero is referring to the fact that he has "lost" Miranda to Ferdinand. When Alonso cries out that he wishes their children were alive as King and Queen of Naples, Shakespeare is sharing a joke with you, because you know that not only are they alive, they will someday rule Naples.

Prospero promises to explain the whole story when there's more time. He welcomes them all again, and, he stretches the truth by claiming that here in his small dominion he has no subjects. But because Alonso has returned his dukedom, Prospero will give him "as good a thing." Probably by throwing back a curtain, he reveals Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess. The lovers, absorbed in their game, don't notice the others at first. Their words here have caused some confusion, but the general meaning is clear: Miranda is teasing Ferdinand about cheating, and he's swearing innocence.

Alonso's first response is characteristic: he's worried. If this is another illusion, he says pessimistically, then he'll have lost his son twice. Ferdinand notices his father, and his words express the theme of Providence in a nutshell: "Though the seas threaten, they are merciful."

Miranda's wonder is different. She's never seen so many people before, and she's awed by their noble appearance:

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!

"Brave" is used here, as elsewhere, to mean excellent or fine.

These are among the most famous lines in The Tempest. The English novelist Aldous Huxley took the title of his futuristic novel Brave New World from them. He uses the word ironically, though, because the future he depicted was anything but excellent. You can feel Miranda's wonder and admiration, and once more you should recall the notion of humanity created in God's image. But Shakespeare also knows that among these "goodly creatures" there lurk villains like Sebastian and Antonio. Thus, he gives Prospero the rather wry comment, "'Tis new to thee." Prospero knows that the novelty will wear off; someday a sadder but wiser Miranda will learn to be more discriminating.

Like Ferdinand when he first beheld Miranda in Act I, Alonso is ready to take the young woman for a goddess. But Ferdinand, invoking Providence once again, assures him that she's mortal and she's his. He asks his father's pardon for having become betrothed without his permission. Alonso, in turn, wants to ask Miranda's pardon for his long-ago treachery in casting her and her father out to sea. Prospero, however, generously insists that there's no reason to dwell on an old sorrow, Gonzalo hasn't said much up to this point. He explains that he was inwardly weeping, but now the good-natured old councilor is ready to talk. He calls upon the gods (a Renaissance convention; he means God) to bless the young couple. He sees clearly now that it was Providence that brought them to the island and turned disaster into blessing. And he asks,

Was Milan thrust from Milan that his issue
Should become kings of Naples?

That is, was the Duke of Milan, Prospero, banished from the city-state of Milan so that his offspring- Miranda's children and grandchildren- should become kings of Naples? After urging everyone to rejoice, he delivers the play's great message of Providence. In one voyage, Claribel found a husband at Tunis; Ferdinand found a wife "Where he himself was lost," on Prospero's island; and Prospero regained his dukedom. Perhaps he's overwhelmed by his beautiful language, because he adds that "all of us [found] ourselves/When no man was his own," suggesting that everyone has acquired self-knowledge. In the glory of the moment, no one thinks about what Gonzalo has said. It's true for Alonso and Ferdinand, but is it true for Sebastian, Antonio, and Gonzalo?

Alonso blesses the young lovers, and Gonzalo offers a hearty "Amen." Ariel returns leading the master of the ship and the boatswain, though they, of course, can't see him. You may be a little puzzled at Gonzalo's jokes about the boatswain's blasphemy, because there's nothing in the boatswain's lines either here or in Act I that really qualifies as blasphemy. Possibly the boatswain's oaths were censored from the published version of the play.

The boatswain tells an amazing story. He and the master were asleep with the other sailors (Ariel's enchanted sleep) and were wakened by horrible noises. Suddenly they were looking at the ship, which appeared to be in excellent condition, even though they'd given it up for ruined some three hours earlier. Then just as suddenly they were brought dazed to this spot.

Prospero, after promising to explain everything later, commands Ariel to bring in Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo. They enter in their stolen clothing, and the tone shifts to comedy again.

When Caliban regards the assembled group, he cries, "These be brave spirits indeed!" This isn't the first time a character mistakes human beauty for a supernatural quality. Recall that in Act I, when Miranda and Ferdinand first saw each other, she thought he was a spirit or a "thing divine"; he addressed her as a goddess, just as Alonso did earlier in this act. Now Caliban, too, is sufficiently awed by human splendor to take the company for spirits. He immediately recognizes their superiority over him, just as he recognizes Prospero's authority: "How fine my master is!"- dressed in his robes as Duke of Milan. "I am afraid/He will chastise me." The implication is that the unteachable Caliban has learned a lesson; at least, he appears in a better light throughout this scene than do the unrepentant Sebastian and Antonio.

There is no mistaking the echo in Caliban's words of Miranda's "O brave new world/That has such people in't!" For the last time, Shakespeare draws a parallel between them; this time, however, rather than holding Caliban up for disapproval, Shakespeare compares him favorably with Miranda. In your last view of Caliban, you see a monster who's not entirely unsympathetic. If his nature is low, at least he's learned his place; unlike some of the higher-natured human beings on stage, at least he regrets his wrongs.

When Antonio sees Caliban, his reaction is very much like Stephano's and Trinculo's in Act II. He calls the monster a "fish" (a reference to Caliban's general oddity, not to his aquatic nature) and reflects that he's "marketable," that is, that he could be displayed as a freak.

Prospero reveals that Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban robbed him and plotted to kill him. But he doesn't mention Antonio and Sebastian's plot against Alonso. Stephano and Trinculo, he declares, are Alonso's men; he acknowledges Caliban as his own.

NOTE: This straightforward statement has been cited by readers who support an autobiographical reading of the play. These readers think that Prospero is saying that this dark, physical, greedy thing (Caliban) is one side of his personality, but he keeps it under control. Do you agree, or do you have another explanation?

Trinculo lightens the mood by making puns on "in a pickle" (in a mess) and "pickled" (both drunk and preserved). He adds that he's so pickled that he won't have to worry about flies, for pickling preserved meat from flies. Stephano is in so much pain from the briars, the pond, and the goblin hounds Prospero and Ariel set on them that he says he's "not Stephano, but a cramp."

But Prospero's forgiving mood is pervasive, and he sends Caliban off, with Stephano and Trinculo, to clean his cell, promising a pardon if Caliban does his task well. Caliban's reply tells you that he may really have learned something from his experiences. He may be one of the characters who, as Gonzalo suggested, has acquired self-knowledge. He resolves to "be wise hereafter,/And seek for grace"; he perceives what a fool he was to mistake Stephano and Trinculo for gods. Standing next to the rest of the magnificent company, he probably sees them more easily for what they really are.

Alonso orders Stephano and Trinculo to put the treasure back where they found it, and Sebastian adds, "Or stole it rather." Both Alonso and Sebastian helped steal Milan from Prospero; Sebastian even plotted to steal the crown from Alonso. Do you find their lines here hypocritical? Shakespeare may be making gentle fun of them here, but he doesn't press the point.

Prospero tells the group that he'll relate the story of his life on the island. After that, he promises, they'll sail back to Naples, where Ferdinand and Miranda will be married; then he'll return to Milan, where "Every third thought shall be my grave." In Act IV he'd said that Miranda made up "a third of mine own life,/Or that for which I live." Perhaps every first and second thought will be of his daughter and his dukedom. Or it may be a figure of speech for thinking a great deal about death.

Prospero's last promise is that the winds will be so helpful that their ship will catch up with the rest of King Alonso's fleet before it reaches Naples. Speeding the ship homeward is Ariel's last assignment; after that, he tells the spirit, "Be free, and fare thou well!" With this command, the curtain falls on the final act.


At the end of Act V, the actor playing Prospero returns to the stage and addresses the audience directly in twenty brief, rhyming lines. He requests that just as he pardoned Antonio, the audience should pardon any faults in the production.

Prospero's words here continue to stress the theme of forgiveness, but his appeal for approval and, specifically, applause ("the help of your good hands") was a conventional way to end a comedy.



ECC [The Tempest Contents] []

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