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The Tempest
William Shakespeare



The Tempest opens with the excitement of a raging storm at sea. The wind is howling violently, and huge waves threaten the ship. Confusion reigns on board. The ship's boatswain (the officer in charge of the deck crew) is vigorously calling out orders as he attempts to save the ship. But a group of frightened noblemen keep hounding him, making it difficult for him to do his job. You get a glimpse of Alonso, the King of Naples, the first of the nobles to speak, and later you hear that he and his son the Prince are praying below. Despite the mariners' best efforts, the storm triumphs; cries of "We split!" signal that the boat is breaking apart. As the scene ends, the men prepare to sink with their king.

In Shakespeare's day, people regarded the social hierarchy- with the king (or queen) at the top, then the nobles, and then the commoners at the bottom- as the earthly reflection of a larger "chain of being." This great hierarchy descended from God, at the top, to the lowest earthly vermin; human beings had their place between the angels and the animals. Monarchs were God's lieutenants on earth, and it was their responsibility to see that the proper order was maintained there. The tempest of this opening scene, however, turns the social order topsy-turvy. In a well-ordered world, the King would be giving directions and the seamen would be obeying them, but in the midst of a natural disaster, the order is inverted.

In the next scene, you'll learn that the social order has been inverted in another way: one of the noblemen on board, Antonio, is a usurper- a false monarch who has stolen power from a real one. In a sense, the tempest, a natural upheaval, is a symbol for this social upheaval.

Though the first scene is brief and chaotic, Shakespeare has already begun drawing character portraits. Spectators wouldn't know yet who Antonio and Sebastian are, but they'd be able to see that they're arrogant, meddlesome aristocrats who don't have the good sense to leave the boatswain alone. (To his credit, the boatswain manages to come back with a snappy response. When Sebastian curses his insolence, he retorts, "Work you, then"- Get to work!) You are also amply introduced to Gonzalo. The old councilor, though talkative, is even-tempered and optimistic. While the other nobles are panicking or praying for their lives, he manages to inject a little humor into the situation. Making a joke of the proverb "He that's born to be hanged need fear no drowning," he observes that the rough boatswain looks exactly like the kind of scoundrel who's bound for the gallows- so perhaps they're all safe from drowning. At the end of the scene, he invokes Providence- the will of a benevolent God- with the words, "The wills above be done!" Providence will form an important theme in The Tempest, for the shipwreck, though seemingly a disaster, will turn out to be a kind of blessing for the men on board.


LINES 1-186

The scene shifts from the enchanted island where the rest of the play takes place. Prospero, scholar and magician, stands before his quarters talking with his kind-hearted daughter Miranda. She knows her father has called up the storm and she begs him to calm it, for she has spotted the ship and is terrified for whomever might be aboard. -

NOTE: Observe that while Miranda addresses her father as "you," he uses the "thou" form of the second-person pronoun with her. In Elizabethan English (as in present-day French, German, and other languages), the "you" form is more formal or respectful; the "thou" form expresses familiarity.

Prospero promises Miranda that the storm hasn't harmed a hair of anybody aboard the ship. But at the moment he wants to speak to Miranda about something else: her background, about which he's so far avoided telling her. He reminds her that she wasn't quite three years old when they came to the island; because he mentions, a few lines later, that they've been there twelve years, you can estimate her age at fifteen.

Prospero tells Miranda that he was once the powerful Duke of Milan (Shakespeare puts the accent on the first syllable: MI-lan. The Italy of Shakespeare's day was not the unified nation it is today, but rather a collection of states, each of which had its own government.) Miranda, the princess, was Prospero's only child and heir. "Foul play" drove them out of Milan, but a blessing brought them to this island. (Note that the theme of divine providence is invoked again.)

The heroes of tragedy are often good men who have a fatal flaw. Although The Tempest is no tragedy, the Prospero who ruled Milan had just such a flaw: he loved learning too much, and it proved to be his downfall. He spent more and more time alone in study, turning the rulership of Milan over to his brother Antonio. But Antonio's head was swayed by power: he convinced himself that he was the rightful duke. Thus, he made a deal with Prospero's enemy, the King of Naples: If the King would help Antonio drive his brother out of office, then Antonio would see that Milan paid him a yearly sum of money ("annual tribute") and would make Milan, which had been a sovereign power, subservient to Naples. His plan wasn't only treacherous, it was unpatriotic. Prospero, recalling it, cringes at the thought of Milan bowing to Naples. The King of Naples accordingly raised a "treacherous army" that one midnight carried off Prospero and the child Miranda. The army didn't dare kill them, because the two were so beloved by the people; instead, they were set adrift in a rotten little boat. The one bright spot was the behavior of Gonzalo, the kindly Neapolitan councilor. He provided them with food and fresh water, and also with some "rich garments"- which may explain the existence of Prospero's magic robe, as well as the fine clothes with which, in Act IV, he tempts a band of thieves. (Antonio, the King of Naples, and Gonzalo have already appeared- though a spectator might not realize it- in the opening of the shipboard scene.)

You may find Prospero's narrative a little difficult to follow at first. These memories excite and anger him, thus his sentence structure isn't as clean and precise as it would be if he were calmer. His excitement is probably also one reason that he keeps asking Miranda if she's listening, though it's perfectly obvious that she's very attentive.

Prospero's long speech provides the background information you need in order to follow the rest of the story. But it would have been almost as easy, and much more dramatic, for Shakespeare to have included one or two early scenes actually showing these events. By giving the narrative to Prospero, he observes what were known as the classical unities.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle had observed that most tragedies confine themselves to "a single revolution of the sun." Renaissance critics turned his observation into a strict rule, insisting that not only must the action of a play be restricted to a single day, it should remain in a single place as well. If you're familiar with Shakespeare's other plays, you'll know that he wasn't impressed by these so-called rules; in fact, he was criticized for not adhering to them. Some scholars believe that in composing The Tempest along such strictly unified lines (the play takes place within a few hours and everything happens on Prospero's island, or just offshore), Shakespeare was showing his critics how rigorous he could be if he wanted to. But it's equally possible that Shakespeare didn't care at all about critical theory- that he constructed The Tempest as he did simply because it suited the effect for which he was striving.

Prospero ends his tale by informing Miranda that his enemies are now on the shore of his island, and that he must act swiftly to make his good luck secure. Miranda promptly, and rather unexpectedly, falls asleep. Possibly she sleeps because it suits Prospero's purposes: he wants her out of the way so he can talk privately with Ariel. But there's also a chance that Shakespeare is poking fun at himself here, as if to say, "I know how tedious all this background is getting. Look, even the actors can't keep their eyes open."

LINES 187-304

Perhaps you noticed that Prospero, in his narrative, moved from a rather stark and tragic realism, as he recalled his downfall, to the almost fairy-tale tone with which he described the journey to the blessed island. The texture of the play has changed, too. It began with a terrifying and realistic storm; now, as Prospero summons the spirit Ariel, it moves into the realm of delightful fantasy.

Ariel is described in the opening cast of characters as "an airy spirit." He's all lightness, speed, fire, and music; there's nothing bodily about him. In fact, you can only call him "he" for the sake of convenience, since he can assume a female form as easily as a male one.

Prospero asks whether Ariel has created the tempest he was commanded to create, and Ariel replies with a description of his mischief. Turning himself into fire, he danced in the guise of flames all around the ship, terrifying the men. All the noblemen on board jumped into the sea, but Ariel has seen to it that they're all safely ashore; in fact, their clothes are even fresher than before. Ariel has separated them into groups; the King's son, Ferdinand (who was the first to jump overboard), is by himself. The ship is hidden in a "deep nook" in the harbor; the sailors are below deck, sleeping a sleep that's half exhaustion, half enchantment.

When Ariel mentions going to "fetch dew" from the Bermuda Islands, it's the only allusion to the Bermudas in the play, but it isn't coincidental. (The spelling "Bermoothes" imitates the Spanish pronunciation of the name.) In 1609 a group of British ships had set sail for the new Jamestown colony in Virginia; one of the ships, separated from the others in a storm, ran aground in the Bermuda Islands. But the report that first reached England was that the ship had sunk, and that the crew was dead. Thus, when the English public learned the next year that the seamen had survived after all, the news caused quite a stir. Several pamphlets about the adventure were published, and Shakespeare, who was writing The Tempest at about that time, apparently read them attentively, since some of them seem to have provided a source for certain descriptions in the play. The storm scene at the outset, for example, echoes phrases from the Bermuda pamphlets. Ariel's description of his fiery antics recalls a description of "Sea-fire" in one of the pamphlets.

The safety of the shipwrecked men on the lush Bermuda Islands caught the imagination of the English public for another reason as well. Until then, there was a great deal of superstition surrounding the islands. They were associated in the public mind with winds and enchantments, with fairies and demons. That's why Ariel calls them "still-vexed," ever-tormented. (In our day there's talk about the treacherous Bermuda Triangle, where ships and airplanes have disappeared.) The disaster that turns out to be a blessing is, as you will see, an important theme in The Tempest. The theme has already been mentioned once: in Prospero's speech describing the way he and Miranda reached the fortunate island, "By providence divine."

The idea of an exotic island, inhabited by fairies appealed to Shakespeare's imagination. Geographically, however, Prospero's island is nowhere near the Bermudas; it's somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. You know this because you learn, in Act II, that the King of Naples' fleet was returning to Italy from North Africa when the tempest struck.

Prospero is pleased with Ariel's report, and he tells him that the next four hours- from two until six- will be of the highest importance. But Ariel isn't eager for more work. He reminds Prospero of a promise he made to take a year off Ariel's term of service. You may be surprised that Prospero is angered by Ariel's request. The magician suddenly becomes threatening. He makes Ariel recall the terrible punishment from which he once saved him. Years earlier, Ariel had been the servant of the "foul witch" Sycorax, who was banished to the island from her native Algiers "For mischiefs manifold, and sorceries terrible." (When Prospero calls her a "blue-eyed hag," he's referring to the color of her eyelids, not her eyes, Blue eyelids were considered a sign of pregnancy, and when Sycorax arrived at the island she was pregnant with the monster Caliban- whom you'll shortly meet.)

Sycorax's commands were so horrible that Ariel refused to carry them out. As a punishment, she imprisoned him in a cloven (split) pine tree, and he remained there, in groaning agony, for a dozen years, during which time Sycorax died. Eventually Prospero arrived on the island, opened the pine with a magic stronger than Sycorax's, and released Ariel- on the condition that Ariel work for him.

Sycorax's punishment seems especially terrible because Ariel, the air spirit, is the very essence of freedom. By the same token, it may strike you as wrong that he should have to be anybody's servant. Thus, Prospero's rage at Ariel's wish for liberty seems overly harsh, and when he threatens to imprison Ariel in an oak tree for another twelve years, you may think he's gone too far. (The horrified Ariel quickly promises to do whatever he's told.)

You should keep several factors in mind, however. The first is that the following hours are very important indeed. Prospero has already told Miranda that if he doesn't seize his good fortune now, it will desert him forever. A second, deeper factor concerns what Prospero has learned from past experience. He lost Milan by being a weak, inattentive ruler; thus, he keeps a firm (but not cruel) control over his island domain. Finally, it was part of fairy folklore that anyone who controlled the spirits had to keep a careful eye on them, because their natural inclination was toward freedom, not work.

But just when Prospero is starting to seem tyrannical, he becomes kindly- as if his harshness had been a joke. Once he's assured of Ariel's service, he promises Ariel that if he performs well, he'll set him free in two days. Ariel is delighted. Prospero orders him to assume female shape- "a nymph o' th' sea"- and to make himself invisible to everyone but Prospero.

LINES 305-374

Prospero wakens Miranda, then calls Caliban, the monster son of Sycorax. Miranda hates Caliban ("'Tis a villain, sir,/I do not love to look on"), but Prospero reminds her that they need him: he builds their fire, fetches their wood, and performs similar menial tasks.

Caliban is described in the opening cast of characters as "a salvage [that is, savage] and deformed slave." Prospero keeps him imprisoned in a kind of rock-den. His first words, a complaint from offstage, are typical: "There's wood enough within." He knows he's being called to work, and he doesn't feel like it. Caliban is sullen, insolent, uncooperative, and lazy. When Prospero says that he was "got by the devil himself/Upon thy wicked dam," he's probably referring to the actual circumstances of Caliban's birth rather than simply insulting him. The monster's mother, you remember, was the witch Sycorax; his father was apparently a demon.

At first Caliban seems sympathetic even though he's bad-tempered. Prospero has nothing but nasty words for him ("poisonous slave," "lying slave" and so forth), and when Caliban resists his authority, Prospero is even harsher than he was with Ariel. Prospero threatens to set "urchins" (goblins) on him, who will pinch him so cruelly he'll look like a honeycomb. Caliban delivers a speech that makes him seem even more cruelly victimized, claiming that the island, which once belonged to him, has been stolen from him. When Prospero first arrived on the island, he treated Caliban kindly, teaching him language and petting him. In return, Caliban acquainted him with his wide knowledge of the island. Now he curses himself for having helped Prospero, since Prospero has made him a slave and imprisoned him. Poor Caliban can't even roam the island that was once all his own. Consider the plight of the seventeenth-century American Indians if you want to show some sympathy for Caliban.

One of the qualities that made Shakespeare a supreme dramatist was his profound understanding of, and sympathy for, his characters- even his villains. For the moment, Shakespeare takes you into the monster's mind and shows you the world from his point of view; he gives Caliban a fair chance to speak for himself.

Prospero retorts that Caliban is a liar, and that what works with him is whipping, not kindness. He had raised and educated the monster with great kindness- which Caliban repaid by trying to rape Miranda. Caliban, on being reminded of his crime, cries, "O ho, O ho! Would't had been done!" and he basks, remorseless, in the vision of an island populated by baby Calibans. Suddenly you glimpse Caliban's true nature.

You should keep in mind that English citizens of Shakespeare's day held very different ideas about the social order than we do. Notions of equality and democracy were completely foreign, even upsetting, to them. They believed in a strict hierarchy, from king down to commoner, and they believed that the world was ordered that way because that was how God had ordained it. Kings ruled by divine right, a right bestowed on them by God. Aristocrats weren't just lucky men and women who had the benefits of wealth, education, and comfort- they enjoyed these blessings because their noble natures deserved them. Similarly, laborers toiled because physical work suited their lower, earthier natures. Such ideas may strike you as silly and superstitious, but they were fundamental to the Elizabethan picture of an ordered society.

Caliban is a slave by nature. (Prospero calls him "slave" six times in this brief section.) Servitude is what he's fit for. The attempt to educate him for something better and nobler has only perverted him- a fact Prospero has learned the hard way. No wonder Prospero sometimes appears so stern, even authoritarian. Caliban represents his second failure as a ruler. (Losing Milan to his brother Antonio was his first.)

In many ways, Caliban is central to the structure of The Tempest. Shakespeare has set up implied contrasts between the monster and several other characters. For example, Caliban is described in the cast of characters as "deformed," and his ugliness- which is the outward reflection of his inner vileness- contrasts sharply with Miranda's beauty, which is in turn the emblem of her beautiful nature. Prospero has taken great pains to educate his daughter:
Have I, thy schoolmaster, made thee more profit
Than other princess' can, that have more time
For vainer hours, and tutors not so careful.

Miranda benefits greatly from her education because she has a noble nature to begin with. On the other hand, the main benefit Caliban has reaped from learning to speak is that he's become an expert at cursing. Education has only made him into a malcontent concerning his low position. He may have been born to serve, but learning has made him hate serving.

Miranda isn't the only character with whom Shakespeare contrasts Caliban. As the former ruler of the island, and the representative of "nature," Caliban is a counterpart to the current ruler, Prospero, the representative of "art" or learning. Caliban is even more obviously Ariel's precise opposite. Ariel is "an airy spirit"- light, speedy, intelligent. But almost the first words Prospero speaks to Caliban are "Thou earth, thou!" Caliban may be viewed as heavy, earthbound, stupid- everything that Ariel isn't. Whereas Ariel is pure spirit, Caliban is all body, and thus, all uncontrolled appetite. He doesn't control his desires because he can't. (Hence his attempt to rape Miranda.) Later he'll turn out to be a drunkard as well.

You'll see another contrast with Caliban in Ferdinand, the King of Naples' son. Ferdinand, like Miranda the child of royalty, has a noble nature. Among his many virtues is chastity, or, more broadly, self-control. Caliban, all appetite, will never know the meaning of self-control.

LINES 375-503

Ariel returns singing, invisible to everyone but Prospero (this effect was probably accomplished in Shakespeare's day by having the actor wear a special robe signaling invisibility). Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples, closely resembles a fairy-tale prince- handsome, brave, and noble. Shakespeare never really develops an in-depth portrait of his character. (Similarly, he doesn't develop Miranda much, beyond making her charming and virginal- a fairy-tale princess.)

Ferdinand had been weeping over what he thought was the death of his father when this strange music came creeping by him. It calmed both him and the storm, and Ferdinand followed it almost against his will.

Ariel's second song, even lovelier than his first (and more understandable), describes the "sea- change" of a drowned man whose eyes turn to pearls and whose bones turn to coral. Sure that the words concern his father's drowning, Ferdinand decides that the music must be the work of spirits- "no mortal business." Prospero spots the young man and points him out to Miranda.

NOTE: Prospero's words are, "The fringed curtains of thine eyes advance/And say what thou seest yond." These lines have been the center of a lively controversy for centuries, with such famous literary names as Alexander Pope and Samuel Taylor Coleridge lining up on opposite sides. Pope's followers think the phrasing is too pompous, since it's nothing more than an overblown way of saying, "Look what's coming." Coleridge's followers defend Shakespeare, arguing that the words are appropriate to Prospero's general solemnity, and that Prospero obviously wants Miranda's first view of Ferdinand to make a strong impression on her. It's a small but unresolved issue, and you'll have to read the lines several times in context to decide which argument you favor.

When Miranda sees Ferdinand, she's so overwhelmed by his good looks that she decides he must be a spirit, or even a god (a "thing divine"). Ferdinand has the same reaction: is Miranda a goddess? Prospero observes that everything is proceeding according to his plan: "They have changed eyes", that is, they've fallen in love at first sight (another fairy-tale convention). Prospero is so delighted that he promises the invisible Ariel he'll set him free for this.

But Prospero doesn't show his pleasure to the young lovers. Ferdinand, surprised to hear Miranda speaking his own language, tells her that he's "the best," the highest-ranking, of the people who speak it. Prospero challenges him: What would the King of Naples say if he heard that statement? The King of Naples does hear, Ferdinand replies, because Ferdinand himself is the King of Naples. (Remember, Ferdinand thinks his father has drowned.)

NOTE: Ferdinand's statement that the Duke of Milan (Antonio) and his son went down with the ship is a mystery, because it's the only mention in the play of Antonio's son. Scholars have offered various explanations: perhaps the reference is a holdover from an earlier version of the play; perhaps at this point in the writing Shakespeare hadn't decided on all the character relationships. Because the statement gives Prospero an opening for a witty response, it's possible that Shakespeare left it in the play simply because he didn't want to cut a good line.

Miranda is shocked at her father's harshness; she's never seen him behave so unpleasantly.

Prospero explains in an aside that if he doesn't make it difficult for Ferdinand to win Miranda, Ferdinand might not value her highly enough. Do you think this is a convincing explanation? Keep in mind, at least, that you're in the realm of fairy tale here. It's also probably worth remembering that Shakespeare had two daughters of his own. He must have understood Prospero's mixed feelings at seeing his young daughter leaving the nest- even though she's leaving it for a fine young man.

NOTE: "ASIDE" You'll encounter this stage direction frequently. It indicates that a line is to be spoken secretively- either to another character onstage (for example, when Prospero speaks to Ariel out of Miranda and Ferdinand's hearing), or directly to the audience (Caliban's lament that he must obey Prospero because his magic is so powerful). Asides to the audience are particularly useful for letting spectators in on a character's thoughts.

To Miranda's horror, Prospero grows even more belligerent. He accuses Ferdinand of trying to steal his island, and he threatens to imprison him. Finally he drives the young man to anger. Ferdinand draws his sword, but before he can use it Prospero freezes him with a charm. Ferdinand's action tells you that he's brave, but his bravery is no match for Prospero's magic.

Miranda begs her father to be merciful. Ferdinand, for his part, is ready for hardship, even imprisonment, as long as he can glimpse Miranda once a day. (Again, his declaration has a storybook quality.) The act closes with Prospero maintaining his facade of harshness but secretly whispering his delight, and promises of freedom, to Ariel.

It isn't unusual for storybook characters like Ferdinand and Miranda to be attractive, but you may be wondering why Shakespeare places so much emphasis on their appearance. Isn't there more to a person than good looks? As a matter of fact, it was commonly believed in Shakespeare's day that physical beauty was the outward reflection of moral beauty. After all, according to the Bible, God created man in his own image. Ugliness was believed to be evidence of some kind of inward evil. (See Richard III for clear evidence of this theory.) Thus Caliban, with his low nature, is ugly and deformed. His mother, the witch Sycorax, was "with age and envy/Grown into a hoop." Throughout the play, physical beauty is linked with moral beauty.


LINES 1-188

Attention now focuses on Ferdinand's father, the King of Naples, and the other nobles you met in the storm scene. Kindly old Gonzalo- the same good councilor who provided Prospero and Miranda with food, fresh water, and clothing when they were set adrift twelve years ago- is trying to cheer King Alonso. But Alonso is in no mood for words of comfort; his first line is "Prithee, peace"- Please be quiet.

Gonzalo is supported in his efforts at optimism by two lords- Adrian and Francisco. They're no match, however, for two nasty, cynical noblemen who keep interrupting their cheerful talk with jeers and insults. One of these mockers, Antonio, is Prospero's brother, who drove Prospero and Miranda out of Milan and usurped Prospero's dukedom. The other cynic, Sebastian, is Alonso's brother, who is no more likable than Antonio.

You might pause here to consider with what symmetry Shakespeare has cast The Tempest. Almost every character has a counterpart. Prospero and Alonso, rightful rulers as well as fathers, form one pair; their wicked brothers, Antonio and Sebastian, form another; their children, Miranda and Ferdinand, form a third. Adrian and Francisco, two lords, both have bit parts. Ariel and Caliban, the two fantastic beings on Prospero's island, are counterparts and opposites. In Act II, Scene II, you'll meet Trinculo and Stephano, two low-born clowns who survive the shipwreck. Among the major characters, only Gonzalo stands alone outside these symmetries; he has no counterpart. Why do you think this is the case? You might say he's the exception that proves the rule, though in fact sometimes Gonzalo is paired with Alonso, as the voice of optimism countering Alonso's voice of pessimism.

As Antonio and Sebastian continue their sarcastic comments and stupid jokes, you may find them more and more irritating. Here Shakespeare gives you an example of the way a person's temperament shapes his perceptions. To the optimistic Gonzalo, the grass on the island is "lush and lusty... how green!" But to the sour Antonio it looks "tawny"- dried up by the sun. (Can you give a similar example from your own experience of how two people saw the same incident in two different ways?) Gonzalo is amazed that their clothing, instead of being stained with salt water, seems clean and fresh. (Recall that in Act I, Scene II, Ariel told Prospero that his magic had made the men's garments "fresher than before.") However, Antonio and Sebastian don't seem convinced.

Gonzalo and his tormentors argue rather trivially for several lines. Gonzalo identifies the city of Tunis, from which the King's fleet was returning, with the ancient city of Carthage. In fact, the ruins of Carthage are quite close to Tunis. But Antonio and Sebastian belittle him as if he were an idiot for saying so. When Gonzalo refers to the "widow Dido," they hoot at that too; apparently because people don't usually think of Dido, the passionate lover of Aeneas in Virgil's epic The Aeneid, as a widow, even though she was one. The whole passage is difficult to follow, and scholars still aren't completely sure what all the characters are talking about here. But the gist is clear: Sebastian and Antonio are mocking the old man for no good reason.

Finally the King has tolerated enough. He complains that he doesn't feel like being cheered; grief- stricken, he laments the death of his son Ferdinand. Francisco offers some comfort: he says he saw Ferdinand swimming strongly over the water, and there's every reason to believe he reached the shore. Nevertheless, Alonso still doesn't believe that Ferdinand might be alive.

Sebastian doesn't even try to comfort his brother. Instead, he's cruel enough to rub salt in his wounds. The whole disaster, he says, is the King's fault. The storm struck while their fleet was on its way home to Naples from North Africa, where they had all attended the wedding of the King's daughter Claribel to the King of Tunis. Sebastian reminds the King that he (Sebastian) and many others- including Claribel herself- opposed the marriage. They didn't want her marrying someone from so remote a land. Alonso had refused to yield, however, and his stubbornness, Sebastian tells him, was the real cause of the present catastrophe.

Gonzalo reproaches Sebastian for talking to a grieving man that way. Still determined to cheer the King, the old councilor decides to entertain him with a fantasy of what he'd do if he had "plantation of this isle"- that is, colonization rights. (But Sebastian and Antonio make another inane joke- that Gonzalo would plant it with briars and weeds.)

Gonzalo's odd little speech envisions an island without money, jobs, or farming; without ownership, inheritance, or weapons. An innocent, uncivilized population would live off the fat of a fertile land, an Eden. His fantasy of an ideal society is a far cry from the highly organized monarchies of seventeenth- century Europe.

Gonzalo's speech is one of the few spots in The Tempest for which we are sure of Shakespeare's source: a piece of writing called "On the Cannibals" by the great French essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592). Montaigne's essay was published in an English translation in 1603, and Gonzalo's speech echoes phrases from it so closely that it's certain Shakespeare had read it.

Montaigne idealized primitive, "natural" societies at the expense of the highly "artificial" social organization of European monarchies, with their crime, poverty, and vice. Shakespeare's purpose in quoting him, however, is less clear. Gonzalo, trying to divert the King, is speaking half-jokingly. But is he half-serious too? The Shakespeare who created Caliban certainly hasn't idealized brute nature. On the other hand, like Montaigne, he's evidently concerned with the corrupting influence of civilization, because he includes Antonio and Sebastian in the play. These two men, you could argue, are worse than Caliban; the monster behaves according to his low nature, but in their corruption they've allowed their higher nature to be perverted. How seriously Shakespeare intends Gonzalo's speech is a point you'll have to decide about later, after gathering evidence from the rest of the play. Watch for two themes: the benevolence of nature, and the corrupting force of civilization.

Patient as he is, Gonzalo doesn't enjoy the jeers of Antonio and Sebastian. He keeps his temper, but he leaves no doubt as to his opinion of their "wit."

LINES 189-331

Ariel enters, still invisible and playing magical music that immediately puts Gonzalo, Adrian, and Francisco into an enchanted sleep. As Alonso grows drowsy too, Sebastian encourages him to sleep and soothe his grief. Antonio promises that they'll guard the King's safety while he dozes- an outrageous lie, in view of the murderous scheme he's about to hatch with Sebastian. Ariel leaves, and Sebastian and Antonio wonder why they haven't become sleepy too. As you'll see, leaving them awake is part of Prospero's plan.

With the others out of the way, Antonio draws Sebastian into a plot to kill the King and take the crown for himself. (If you've read Macbeth, what resemblance do you find between Antonio and the scheming Lady Macbeth?) Sebastian only gradually perceives his meaning. Antonio tells the King's brother that he has a great opportunity here, if he'll only seize it. The King is asleep, defenseless; Ferdinand, who would inherit the crown if anything happened to his father, has surely drowned, despite Gonzalo's optimism. Ferdinand's sister Claribel, to whom the crown would belong after Ferdinand's death, is so far away in Tunis that for all practical purposes she's out of the picture. Antonio's style is elevated, but his meaning is simple and brutal: if Sebastian murders his brother as he sleeps, he can take the crown for himself- just as Antonio stole the crown of his own brother, Prospero.

Antonio's reasoning may sound logical to someone who's ready to be convinced, but a closer examination will reveal its falsity. Look at these sleeping lords, Antonio says; if they were dead, they'd be no worse off than they are right now. Besides, Sebastian could rule Naples just as well as Alonso. Furthermore, murdering the talkative Gonzalo would be no loss to anybody. Antonio reminds Sebastian of his own crime against Prospero; just see how he's benefited from it, he says.

Sebastian's brief reply is straightforward: what about Antonio's conscience? Antonio assures him that his conscience doesn't even bother him as much as a kibe (a cold sore) on his foot would- less, in fact, because he would feel the sore, but he doesn't feel guilt. He tells the hesitant Sebastian that he'll murder the King at once if Sebastian will draw his sword beside him and kill loyal Gonzalo. The rest of the lords, he promises him, won't cause any problem- they'll support whoever holds the power.

Sebastian reaches a firm resolution: he'll do it. And for helping him this way, he'll free Antonio from the annual tribute that Alonso exacted for helping Antonio get rid of Prospero. If Antonio has any motive beyond sheer wickedness for urging Sebastian into the scheme, this is probably it. The two villains prepare to draw their swords, but the nervous Sebastian hesitates again, and they pause for a moment to discuss the matter further.

When Shakespeare decided to observe the classical unities in The Tempest, he sacrificed a great dramatic possibility. Antonio's plot against Prospero, which is central to the drama, would have supplied some exciting scenes. Moreover, by not staging them, Shakespeare risked not having his audience see how villainous Antonio really was. It's one thing to hear about a crime, but another to see it being planned and carried out. Therefore, by having Antonio mastermind this plot against Alonso- a plot that's almost identical to his earlier crime against Prospero- Shakespeare portrays Antonio as a usurper without having to spread the action of the play over twelve years. He even manages to create a little suspense- though not a great deal, since you'll shortly learn that everything is proceeding according to Prospero's plan.

Prospero has foreseen the danger to his old friend Gonzalo, just as he's foreseen Sebastian and Antonio's scheme. Ariel reenters and awakens Gonzalo the same way he had put him to sleep: with music. This time there's nothing vague about his song: it's a clear warning of danger. When Gonzalo opens his eyes to see Sebastian and Antonio with their swords drawn, he cries out, waking the King and the other lords.

Caught red-handed, the two villains have to invent a story. Sebastian starts rattling that he heard a noise like bulls or lions- evidently he hasn't gotten his story straight yet. Antonio chimes in that the noise was terrible. Alonso seems slightly suspicious ("I heard nothing"), but Gonzalo admits that he heard something too, though it was more like humming than roaring. Gonzalo seems ready to accept their tale if for no other reason than that he doesn't like being suspicious. Reassuring the King once more that Ferdinand must be alive somewhere on the island, they go off searching for him, while Ariel leaves to report to Prospero.


On another part of the island, Caliban is at one of his chores, hauling firewood; as usual, he's cursing Prospero with every plague he can think of. He isn't worried about the spirits overhearing him because he knows they won't torment him unless Prospero orders them to. Caliban reveals their pet tortures: they pinch him, throw him in the mud, lead him astray with magic lights, turn into apes that grimace and bite him, or into hedgehogs that prick his feet, or into snakes that wind around him. Then he sees Trinculo and mistakes him for one of Prospero's spirits come to punish him for working too slowly. He falls flat (there are no trees to hide behind) in the hope that the "spirit" won't notice him.

Trinculo, another survivor of the storm, is a jester from Alonso's court. After enduring the terror of the storm, he's still nervous about the weather. It looks like a new tempest is brewing, but he doesn't see any trees or bushes to shelter him. He sees only Caliban, and he doesn't know what to make of him. The monster smells as bad as an old fish, but he seems more like an inhabitant of the island struck dead by lightning. (Caliban, frightened of the "spirit," is lying very still.) Trinculo reflects that in England, Caliban could make his fortune: people would gladly pay a high price to behold such a marvel. Indeed, as Shakespeare knew, the English were great fans of side-shows.

NOTE: At the time Shakespeare was writing The Tempest, American Indians were a popular curiosity in England. They were brought over to be exhibited, but after suffering abuse they rarely lived to return home- thus, perhaps, Trinculo's reference to "a dead Indian."

Trinculo is a jester to Alonso, and he functions in the play as a clown, too. Shakespeare hasn't made him convincingly Italian; after all, he makes topical jokes about England. Note the way he uses images of drinking. The black cloud he spots looks like "a foul bombard"- a large leather jug- "that would shed his liquor"; he'll have to wait until "the dregs of the storm" are past. At this point he isn't drunk (his friend Stephano is the drunkard), but before long he'll be reeling around the stage. In any case, though he dislikes Caliban's looks, the approaching storm convinces him to crawl under Caliban's gaberdine (cloak) for protection.

Stephano, described in the cast of characters as "a drunken butler", wanders in at this point. He too was on the King's ship, and like Trinculo he thinks he's the only survivor. He stumbles around, bellowing a song about dying on dry land. It suddenly strikes him that this is hardly an appropriate song, in view of the fact that his friends have all drowned. So he takes another swig and launches into a lewd song about a woman who doesn't like sailors.

Caliban, meanwhile, is terrified of Trinculo, who's crawled under his cloak: "Do not torment me!" he cries. Stephano hears Caliban's voice, then notices the four legs (Caliban's and Trinculo's) jutting out from the cloak, and decides that he's stumbled on some kind of talking monster. It occurs to him, as it had to Trinculo, that a marvel like this could make his fortune at home.

Caliban, who still thinks he's being punished by a spirit, promises, "I'll bring my wood home faster." Stephano decides that Caliban must be having some kind of fit, and he offers the monster his favorite remedy: a swig of wine. Caliban is wary, but Stephano assures him he's a friend.

Trinculo, meanwhile, has heard Stephano's voice, and believing that Stephano drowned with the others, he decides devils must be at work. Stephano, on hearing Trinculo's voice, is even more confused: the monster seems to have not only four legs but two voices as well. They talk, and finally he drags Trinculo out with an obscene joke about Trinculo's being the dung ("siege") of a monster ("mooncalf").

Trinculo is so delighted to see his friend that he embraces him a little too energetically. Stephano, whose stomach is queasy from too much drink, asks him to stop. These two clowns form a sorry spectacle, but Caliban is convinced they're gods. After all, Stephano has given him "celestial liquor," and so he kneels to him.

Stephano, it turns out, floated to safety on (appropriately) "a butt of sack"- a keg of wine. His repeated oath, "by this bottle," is a drunkard's joke. But Caliban takes it seriously, and he offers to swear "upon that bottle" to serve Stephano. Trinculo and Stephano pay no attention to him at first. They're more excited about the butt of sack Stephano managed to save.

When they do turn to Caliban, the innocent monster wants to know if they dropped from heaven. Taking advantage of his trustfulness, Stephano claims to be the man in the moon. (In fact, the early European explorers told lies very much like this to the innocent Indians.) In any case, Stephano is delighted to have anyone admiring him. He accepts Caliban's services and gives him more wine. Trinculo, in contrast, is disgusted with Caliban's gullibility as well as his increasing tipsiness, and he's suddenly embarrassed that he feared the monster at first.

Caliban begs Stephano to let him kiss his foot, and he promises to show them all the nooks and crannies of the island exactly as he had done twelve years earlier for Prospero. He's so delighted at the idea of escaping Prospero that he offers to catch fish for Stephano and to fetch his wood. Notice that the idea of slavery itself doesn't bother him, because he's a natural slave. All he wants is a new master.

NOTE: It's curious that while Stephano and Trinculo speak in prose, Caliban's speech is beautiful poetry. The jester and the drunken butler are ordinary men- funny, but contemptible. Caliban may be a monster, but he isn't merely brutal. He's a fairy-tale monster, and the beauty of his language describes his wonderful and magical nature. Do you know of another less than admirable Shakespearean character who also delivers some potent and moving lines?

Stephano decides that, because the real King has drowned, he is now the king of the island. He turns his bottle over to Trinculo, and they head off to refill it. Caliban, now thoroughly drunk, leads the way, singing and howling in joy at his new "freedom."


The action returns to Prospero's part of the island. Ferdinand enters, carrying a log. Although Ferdinand was born a prince, Prospero has him hauling firewood, which is usually the slave Caliban's task. Because this scene immediately follows the Caliban-Trinculo-Stephano farce, the shift in tone from low comic to elevated is extremely striking. While Caliban curses and complains about his chores, Ferdinand performs his task with joy, as he explains in his opening soliloquy. (A soliloquy is a form of thinking aloud- a monologue addressed directly to the audience.) Some sports, Ferdinand reflects, are painfully strenuous, but we take part in them because the fun outweighs the pain. By the same token, chores which under other circumstances would be disgusting to someone so high-born are a pleasure because he's doing them in order to win Miranda. She's easily worth the toil, though her father is "composed of harshness." Miranda has wept to watch Ferdinand engage in such base labor; but thinking of her, he says, makes the work easy.

Ferdinand's task is appropriate to the fairy-tale aspect of his character: Prospero has ordered him to remove a thousand logs and pile them up. This kind of feat is typical of legends that were old by the time Shakespeare wrote The Tempest. In older versions, the young man being tested had to chop the wood, plow the ground, and reap the harvest all in one day.

NOTE: "MOST BUSIEST WHEN I DO IT." Scholars have spent centuries trying to decipher this line. The Tempest, written about 1611, was first published in 1623 in the First Folio, the famous first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays. There the line reads: "Most busie lest, when I doe it." Since that time, a number of conjectures have been offered. One is that the word should be "busieliest," meaning "most busily" (an odd formation, but it has parallels elsewhere in late Shakespeare). Another is that the line was supposed to read "Most busiest when idlest," but some letters were dropped off in the process of printing, and the printer then patched the line up incorrectly. Other explanations have also been suggested. Editors of Shakespeare often have to deal with this type of difficulty. Because spelling wasn't standardized in Shakespeare's day, and because printers were often careless, there are a number of lines in the plays where we can't be certain we're reading what Shakespeare actually wrote. Fortunately, these difficulties are usually minor; in any case, Ferdinand's meaning here seems relatively clear. Beginning with "I forget," he's reflecting that in pausing to think aloud this way, he's forgetting to continue his labors, even though thoughts of Miranda make those labors pleasant.

Miranda enters and urges Ferdinand to rest, since her father is busy studying and won't stir for the next three hours. But Miranda is wrong: Prospero is secretly watching the two young lovers. Miranda says she wishes that lightning had burned the logs during the tempest, so poor Ferdinand wouldn't have to stack them now. Creating a beautiful metaphor of the resin they'll exude when they finally do burn, she says they'll "weep for having wearied you."

Ferdinand won't stop, however, even when Miranda offers to work in his place. (A princess aiding her toiling prince was another feature of old legends.) They argue charmingly, and Prospero sees how deeply in love Miranda is.

Ferdinand doesn't even know Miranda's name, and when she tells him (even though her father had told her not to), he cries, "Admired Miranda!" This is another example of Shakespeare's puns, for the word "admire" comes from the Latin for "to wonder at"; "Miranda" means "wonderful." (Recall that when Ferdinand first saw Miranda, in Act I, Scene II, he addressed her, "O you wonder!") Ferdinand says he's known many women, but they each had some flaw. But not Miranda: she's perfect and peerless.

Miranda answers, modestly, that unlike Ferdinand she's inexperienced. She can't compare herself to other women, because she doesn't know any. For that matter, she doesn't know any men, either, except for her father and now Ferdinand. But she knows she wants no other man than Ferdinand.

Ferdinand admits that as royalty he would ordinarily detest this kind of labor. Because his heart has made him Miranda's slave, however, he can bear it patiently. Miranda very simply asks if he loves her; his reply is such an ecstatic "yes" that it makes her cry. Prospero, still watching, is delighted.

Miranda is weeping, she says, because she feels so unworthy. Because she wants to be simple, not sly, she asks him straightforwardly if he will marry her. She also promises to be his "maid" if he refuses, with a pun on "maid" as both "virgin" (because she won't marry anybody else) and "servant." Ferdinand, of course, is as eager to marry her as a slave is to be free- an appropriate comparison, considering his present bondage. Thus, they part happily.

Prospero, left alone onstage, reflects that though he can't be as happy as the lovers, he couldn't be any happier than he is. Still, there's much to be done to complete his plan.

NOTE: RECONCILIATION OVER GENERATIONS Prospero and Alonso are old enemies, as you know from Prospero's reminiscences in Act I, Scene II. Now their children, Miranda and Ferdinand, have fallen in love. The notion that a younger generation can heal the rifts between their parents is an element in several of Shakespeare's later plays. It may also remind you of one of the earlier plays in which the tragic love of Romeo and Juliet ultimately brings together their feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets.


In another sharp contrast, a delicate and serious exchange is now followed by some broad slapstick humor, including a barrage of comic puns.

Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo are all roaring drunk at this point. Stephano commands the others to drink up. Trinculo observes that if the other inhabitants of the island (Caliban has told them about Prospero and Miranda) have brains like theirs, then "the state totters"- a pun on their drunken staggering.

Stephano is swaggering as usual, claiming that he swam "five-and-thirty leagues" (around 120 land miles) to reach the shore. He offers to make Caliban his standard-bearer, or flag-carrier, at which Trinculo cracks that he'd be an unfit standard because he's too drunk to stand. He'd make a better lieutenant, "if you list." This is yet another pun: the phrase means "if you wish," but Stephano is listing like a ship- tilting drunkenly to the side.

As for Caliban, he's drunk so much wine that at first he seems barely able to talk. When he finally does, he's still fawning on Stephano. Earlier he'd begged to kiss Stephano's foot; now he wants to lick his shoe. But Caliban is not so drunk that he can't sense Trinculo's contempt. Trinculo can't believe that Caliban regards a fool like Stephano as a lord, and so he taunts him, "That a monster should be such a natural!" with still another pun. A "natural" is an idiot, but a monster, of course, is unnatural. Stephano finally comes to Caliban's defense, and with his usual exaggeration he threatens to hang the jester.

Now Caliban is ready to inform Stephano of the scheme he's been formulating: he wants his new master to rid him of Prospero. As soon as he starts to outline his plot, however, Ariel enters and begins his mischief. When Caliban claims that Prospero cheated him out of the island, Ariel says, "Thou liest." Because the airy spirit is still invisible, Caliban and Stephano assume the words are Trinculo's. Stephano threatens to knock the jester's teeth out, and Trinculo, understandably, protests his innocence.

Caliban continues: once Stephano eliminates Prospero, the island will be Stephano's. His idea is to sneak up on Prospero and kill him while he's sleeping. Notice the parallel with Antonio and Sebastian's plot to murder Alonso in his sleep- another instance of symmetry in The Tempest. In some respects, the drunkards act out on a comic level what the noblemen attempt on a more serious plane.

When Ariel once again calls Caliban a liar, the monster turns on the innocent Trinculo and jeers him as a "pied ninny," referring to his multi-colored jester's costume. He threatens to refuse to show Trinculo where to find fresh water on the island. Stephano's threat, to "make a stockfish out of" him, is more direct: stockfish was dried cod that had been beaten flat. Again, Trinculo claims he's blameless. But when Ariel repeats, for the third time, "Thou liest," Stephano grabs the jester and pummels him, to Caliban's delight. (Caliban's sadistic pleasure is another indication of his ignoble nature.) As you read, try to imagine this broad and basic comedy performed: if it's staged well it is hilarious.

Once Trinculo is beaten to Caliban's satisfaction, the monster continues with his scheme, offering a list of sadistic ways to kill Prospero. (He obviously enjoys picturing each one.) Stephano must remember to seize Prospero's magic books, because without them, Caliban claims, the magician can't command his spirits. At this point he also mentions the remarkably beautiful Miranda.

NOTE: You've probably observed that the monster continues to talk largely in verse while Stephano and Trinculo speak in prose. In fact, scholars have noticed that even Caliban's prose speeches seem to split into lines of poetry. These lines may well be "verse fossils" of an earlier draft of the play, but what this means isn't clear. Perhaps Shakespeare intended at first to have Caliban speak solely in verse, and then changed his mind. It's possible, too, that some other writer may have done some tampering. And there's always the chance- since the lines don't divide exactly- that their closeness to verse is just a coincidence.

When Caliban says, "I never saw a woman/But only Sycorax my dam and she" ("she" is Miranda), Shakespeare has drawn a further parallel between the monster and the young women, who's already said that she can't remember seeing any men other than her father and Ferdinand. Recall that in Act I, Scene II, Shakespeare offered a parallel, or at least a contrast, in the way Miranda and Caliban were educated. Whereas education had beneficial effects on Miranda's high nature, its effects on Caliban's low one were extremely harmful. Keep these parallels in mind, as they continue developing until the end of the play.

Stephano is charmed with the prospect of so beautiful a woman; thus, he drunkenly decides to follow Caliban's advice and kill Prospero. Then he'll rule the island with Miranda as his queen and Caliban and Trinculo as his court. Ariel eavesdrops on Stephano's plan and pledges to report the plot to Prospero. Stephano is so elated with the plan that he begins a "catch" (a musical round similar to "Row, row, row your boat"). He gets the tune wrong, however, and Ariel, playing pipe and drum, corrects him. This invisible music startles them all. Trinculo, sure that it comes from demons, cries out, "O, forgive me my sins!" Stephano is more defiant. But Caliban calms them both. In another unexpected contrast, he interrupts this farce to deliver one of the loveliest speeches in the play, in which he assures them that there's music all over the island, and that it's nothing to fear. Once again, there's something wonderful about the way in which music charms the monster.

NOTE: MUSIC It should be apparent by now that music is a vital element in The Tempest. In fact, this relatively brief play has more songs in it that any of Shakespeare's others, as well as frequent intervals of instrumental music. While the songs don't always advance the plot, they seem perfectly designed to fit each singer. Thus, Ariel's music is light, airy, often mysterious; Caliban's is robust; Stephano's is coarse. And, as you can see from Caliban's speech, the instrumental music is a convenient stage device for making the island seem truly enchanted.

Caliban's speech does calm the two men. Stephano is pleased at the prospect of ruling an island where music is free. Trinculo, at first so fearful, now wants to pursue the music. They follow Ariel out, with Caliban in the lead, and Trinculo, still perhaps a little nervous, bringing up the rear.

THE STORY, Continued


ECC [The Tempest Contents] []

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