The Tempest

Genre of The Tempest Included among the “comedies” in the first folio.Starting in the 19th century, a number of critics have emphasized a distinction in tone and content between Shakespeare’s earlier comedies and the “late” plays: Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest.”Romances” or “Tragicomedies”?
Shakespeare’s Romances Name refers not to plots involving love affairs, but to content that emphasizes the strange and the marvelous: shipwrecks, magic, miraculous reconciliations.Focus on older characters rather than young lovers. Sometimes events that threaten to veer towards tragedy. If comedies inspire laughter and tragedies inspire pity and fear, “romances” work to inspire wonder, amazement, admiration.
Frequently used Words in the Play Miranda- Admirable, wondering (Latin)Words used frequently in the play: StrangeWonder / wondrous MarvelousRareIn evoking wonder, the play is self-consciously artful. Prospero’s magic is theatrical.
Ariel Song to Ferdinand Full fathom five thy father lies;Of his bones are coral made;Those are pearls that were his eyes;Nothing of him that doth fade,But doth suffer a sea-changeInto something rich and strange.Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knellHark, now I hear them. Ding dong, bell.
Enters Mariners Wet An bit of theatrical verisimilitude which turns out to be…an illusion.We find out in the second scene that the first scene was not what it seemed.The people end up dry and clean
Roarers “Roarers”: winds and waves; also, term for riotous people. As in King Lear, it appears that the elements do not respect distinctions of rank. In the storm, the social hierarchy is inverted: the king and his companions should “keep below” (10)—out of the way.Boatswain, sarcastically: “Use your authority” (21).
Botswain vs Noblemen “What cares these roarers for the name of king?” (1.1.15-16; 1718)-Boatswain saying that the weather doesn’t favor nobility
“If by your art, my dearest father…” (1.2.1)-Miranda But in fact, the elements are not indifferent to hierarchy (or morality): they are under the command of Prospero.Does this mean the world is an orderly place, in which nature helps to right offenses against order, morality, and family?Or does Prospero merely use his (magical? theatrical?) “art” to make it appear that way?
Space and Time As very few Shakespeare plays do, The Tempest follows the so-called “unities” of space and time.Setting: the island. Time-span: less than a day.What kind of place is the island? Differently experienced by everyone.To set up the situation…a series of potentially tedious narratives.
1.2: Prospero and Miranda “Thou attend’st not” (1.2.87). (You’re Not Paying Attention) Does he fear she will not be moved by a story in the same way that she was moved by a (false) spectacle?”Oh, I have suffered / With those that I saw suffer” (1.2.5-6; 1739).-Miranda talking about the shipwreckProspero’s anxiety about his own story: his need for it to be heard, understood, remembered.
Prospero and Ariel “Dost thou forget…Hast thou forgot…Hast thou forgot…?” (250, 257, 259).Once again, importance of the past, importance of others remembering it the way he does. “I must / Once in a month recount what thou has been, / Which thou forgett’st” (1.2.161-3; 1745).Prospero insists that Ariel be grateful to him—though apparently Ariel has no choice but to serve him.
Prospero Caliban Miranda Ariel and Caliban: air and earth.Caliban: “I must eat my dinner” (330; 1747).Is Caliban a representation of lower faculties and desires (hunger, lust) while Ariel represents imagination, thought?Or is the story of Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban a story of colonialism, of natives of a place responding to foreign rule?
“This island’s mine” (1.2.331).-Caliban Competing narratives of Caliban and Prospero.What is Caliban? Does he have a human shape, or not? Was his father really the devil?Is he “naturally” servile, merely replacing one master with another (Stephano)?Prospero: “But, as ’tis, / We cannot miss him [cannot do without him]. He does make our fire, / Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices / That profit us” (1.2.310-13).
Caliban Caliban: When thou cam’st firstThou strok’st me and made much of me; wouldst give meWater with berries in’t, and teach me howTo name the bigger light and how the lessThat burn by day and night. And then I loved theeAnd showed thee all the qualities o’th’ isle:The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile.Cursed be I that did so!…For I am all the subjects that you have,Which first was mine own king, and here you sty meIn this hard rock whiles you do keep from meThe rest o’th’ island. (1.2.332-44; 1748-8)
Prospero v. Caliban Prospero: Thou most lying slave,Whom stripes may move, not kindness, I have used thee,Filth as thou art, with humane care, and lodged theeIn mine own cell till thou didst seek to violateThe honor of my child.Caliban: Oh ho, oh ho! Would’t had been done!Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled elseThis isle with Calibans. (1.2.344-50)So they seem to agree on what happened, but they see it very differently.
Prospero’s Project Miranda’s “honor” will have a value in Italy that it doesn’t have on the island. Ferdinand: “Oh, if a virgin, / And your affection not gone forth, I’ll make you / The Queen of Naples” (1.2.446-48; 1750).While Caliban sees Miranda as a means to reproduce himself (and take control of the island), Prospero is very aware of her dynastic importance.
Michel de Montaigne, “Of Cannibals” (trans. John Florio, 1603) Argument that European “civilization” is full of practices more justly called “savage” than the behavior of the “uncivilized” peoples of the New World.”There is nothing in that nation that is either barbarous or savage, unless men call that barbarism which is not common to them. As indeed, we have no other aim of truth and reason, than the example and ideas of the opinions and customs of the country we live in.”
Montaigne, “Of Cannibals”
Gonzalo’s Utopia Gonzalo: I’th’ commonwealth I would by contrariesExecute all things. For no kind of trafficWould I admit; no name of magistrate;Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,And use of service, none; contract, succession,Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;No occupation, all men idle, all;And women too, but innocent and pure;No sovereignty— (2.1.142-151; 1755)Sebastian: Yet he would be king on’t.Antonio: The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning.Gonzalo: —All things in common nature should produceWithout sweat or endeavor. Treason, felony,Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engineWould I not have; but nature should bring forthOf it own kind, all foison, all abundance,To feed my innocent people.Sebastian: No marrying ‘mong his subjects?Antonio: None, man, all idle: whores and knaves.Gonzalo: I would with such perfection govern, sir,T’excel the golden age. (2.1.160-63; 1756)
Cannibal, Caliban? Europeans tended to think of “New World” societies in idealistic terms, as natural and Edenic; or in negative terms as wild, depraved, and savage.Gonzalo imagines a Golden Age, an Eden. But his vision is inherently contradictory. Caliban does not seem to be a “noble savage.”But the European world is not idealized, either. Trinculo: “When [Londoners] will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian” (2.2.30-31; 1760).
Good and Evil Prospero and AntonioProspero’s dukedom is usurped; does he end up reenacting this usurpation on the island, taking it from Caliban? Or does he see Caliban as another Antonio, turning against him?Prospero and SycoraxBoth marooned on the island with a child.Both make Ariel serve them.Both have magical powers.
“Our revels now are ended” (4.1.148). Enter certain Reapers, properly habited. They join with the Nymphs in a graceful dance, towards the end whereof Prospero starts suddenly and speaks, after which, to a strange, hollow, and confused noise, they heavily [sorrowfully?] vanish.Why does Prospero break off the masque?
“I had forgot that foul conspiracy / Of the beast Caliban and his confederates” Why does Prospero remember Caliban at this moment?Why is he so disturbed, given that Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo hardly present much of a threat?Prospero to Ariel: “Spirit, / We must prepare to meet with Caliban” (4.1.165-6; 1777). In fact, little preparation is needed.Why is he moved to speak about the evanescence of the world?
Masque Our revels now are ended. These our actors,As I foretold you, were all spirits andAre melted into air, into thin air;And like the baseless fabric of this vision,The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,The solemn temples, the great globe itself,Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,And, like this unsubstantial pageant faded,Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuffAs dreams are made on, and our little lifeIs rounded with a sleep. (4.1.148-58; 1777)
Meaning of Masque A “masque” was an costly entertainment performed at court, involving dance, song, speech, and elaborate stage effects. The courtiers themselves participated. The subject was usually allegorical or mythological, celebrating the monarch and his family.Masques often celebrated the monarch’s power, his ability to establish order and universal harmony.The dissolution of the masque suggests that Prospero’s power is incomplete.New sense of weakness, age, mortality: “Bear with my weakness: my old brain is troubled. / Be not disturbed with my infirmity” (4.1.159-160).
The Blessings of Juno and Ceres Goddesses of marriage and fertility.Venus and Cupid are banished.The masque thus echoes—and seeks to allay—Prospero’s anxieties about sex before marriage (and possibly sex in general?)Imagines the restoration of the Golden Age—humanity in harmony with nature, no winter: “Spring come to you at the farthest, / In the very end of harvest” (114-115).
But also, reminders that the Golden Age is past. Ceres evokes the loss of her daughter Proserpina to the underworld—the cause of winter.Also, there is no returning to the truly golden time before agriculture (and labor). “Earth’s increase and foison plentyBarns and garners never empty,Vines with clust’ring burden bowing…” (110-112; 1775).
What the masque does not acknowledge: No fertility without sex.No harvest without labor.No year without winter.
What does Caliban mean for Prospero? Lust, base appetites.Provider of labor.Failure.Prospero: A devil, a born devil, on whose natureNurture can never stick; on whom my pains,Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost; And, as with age his body uglier grows,So his mind cankers. I will plague them all,Even to roaring. (4.1.188-93; 1777-8)
Prospero on Antonio I, thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicatedTo closeness and the bettering of my mindWith that which, but by being so retired,O’erprized all popular rate, in my false brotherAwaked an evil nature; and my trust,Like a good parent, did beget of himA falsehood in its contrary as greatAs my trust was, which had indeed no limit,A confidence sans bound. (1.2.89-97; 1741)
“My project” What is Prospero’s “project”? “At this hour / Lies at my mercy all mine enemies” (4.1.259-260). Does even know what he will do? Forgiveness or revenge? Both?What are the limitations on his power?
Ariel as Harpy You are three men of sin, whom destiny—That hath to instrument this lower worldAnd what is in’t—the never-surfeited seaHath caused to belch up you, on on this island,Where man doth not inhabit—you ‘mongst menBeing most unfit to live. I have made you mad… (3.3.54-9; 1771)
It is all a performance, a theatrical illusion. Prospero: “Bravely the figure of this harpy hast thou / Performed, my Ariel; a grace it had, devouring” (4.1.84-5; 1772).Ariel not a minister of fate, or the servant of higher powers. Prospero may be—but neither we, nor he, can know if he is serving a higher purpose or pretending he is, for his own gain.
Gonzalo on Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio: All three of them are desperate; their great guilt, / Now gins to bite the spirits” (4.1.105-107).But does it? Prospero may be able to drive people mad, but can he make them feel remorse?To Ferdinand: “Put thy sword up, traitor, / Who mak’st a show but dar’st not strike / Thy conscience / Is so possessed with guilt” (1.2.468-470; 1751). Ferdinand here is not guilty, just under a spell.
Alonso’s First Encounter Alonso: Oh, it is monstrous, monstrous!Methought the billows spoke and told me of it,The winds did sing it to me, and the thunder,That deep and dreadful organ pipe pronouncedThe name of Prosper. It did bass my trespass.Therefore my son i’th’ ooze is bedded, andI’ll seek him deeper than e’er plummet sounded,And with him there lie mudded.Sebastian: But one fiend at a time,I’ll fight their legions o’er!Antonio: I’ll be thy second. (96-103)
Caliban speaks in Verse Caliban: Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises,Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.Sometimes a thousand twangling instrumentsWill hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,That, if I then had waked after long sleep,Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,The clouds methought would open and show richesReady to drop upon me, that when I wakedI cried to dream again.Stephano: This will prove a brave kingdom to me, where I shall have my music for nothing. (3.2.128-38; 1769)
Forgiveness or Revenge? Ariel: Your charm so strongly works ’emThat if you now beheld them, your affectionsWould become tender.Prospero: Dost thou think so, spirit?Ariel: Mine would, sir, were I human.Prospero: And mine shall.Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feelingOf their afflictions, and shall not myself—One of their kind, that relish all as sharplyPassion as they—be kindlier moved than thou art? (5.1.17-34; 1780) Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th’quick,Yet with my nobler reason ‘gainst my furyDo I take part. The rarer action isIn virtue than in vengeance. They being penitent,The sole drift of my purpose doth extendNot a frown further. (5.1.25-30)Pity, or a sense that he should feel pity?Moved by emotion, or placing reason above emotion?Determination to take the high moral ground?
Renouncing Magic Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves…”Speech closely follows a invocation made by the witch Medea in Arthur Golding’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1567).”Ye elves of hills, of brooks, of woods alone, / Of standing lakes and of the night approach ye every one.”Medea famously uses her sorcery for violent ends, first to aid her lover, and then to take revenge when he betrays her.Is the echo supposed to emphasize the differences between Prospero and Medea…or to hint at similarities?
Rough Magic “Rough”: violent; discordant; crudely approximate.”to the dread rattling thunder / Have I given fire, and rifted Jove’s stout oak / With his own bolt” (44-46). Presumption? Blasphemy?”Graves at my command / Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forth” (48-9). Necromancy. VERY BAD.
The Final Spell: “Heavenly Music” Is there really something “heavenly” about it? Or is it just an empty adjective?Why such a long speech to characters who cannot hear him?
Costume Change Prospero: Fetch me the hat and rapier in my cell.I will discase me and myself presentAs I was sometime Milan. (5.1.84-6)”Behold, sir King, / The wronged Duke of Milan, Prospero” (106-7). Maybe fine garments are not simply “trash” and “trumpery.”Caliban: “How fine my master is!” (265)
Reconciliation Prospero to enchanted Antonio: “Flesh and blood,You, brother mine, that entertained ambition,Expelled remorse and nature […] […] I do forgive thee,Unnatural though thou art.” (74-79)Prospero to Antonio awake:”For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brotherWould even infect my mouth, I do forgiveThy rankest fault—all of them—and requireMy dukedom of thee, which perforce I knowThou must restore. (130-134)
Antonio to Prosperio Sebastian: Ha, ha! What things are these, my lord Antonio? Will money buy ’em?Antonio: Very like. One of themIs a plain fish, and doubt marketable. (5.1.267-9)How much of Prospero’s following speech is actually about Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo?Prospero: Mark but the badges of these men, my lords;Then say if they be true. This misshapen knave,His mother was a witch, and one so strongThat could control the moon, make flows and ebbs,And deal in her command without her power.These three have robbed me, and this demi-devil—For he’s a bastard one—had plotted with themTo take my life. Two of these fellows youMust know and own; this thing of darkness IAcknowledge mine. (5.1.270-79; 1786)
What Happens to Caliban Caliban’s final words:”Ay, that I will; and I’ll be wise hereafterAnd seek for grace. What a thrice-double assWas I to take this drunkard for a godAnd worship this dull fool!” (5.1.296-9).Does he stay on the island? Sail to Naples?If he stays, is he glad or lonely?
Happy Ending Prospero: “And thence retire me to my Milan, where / Every third thought will be my grave” (312-313).Miranda: Oh, wonder!How many goodly creatures are there here!How beauteous mankind is! O brave new worldThat has such people in’t! Prospero: ‘Tis new to thee. (181-4)
Epilogue Gentle breath of yours my sailsMust fill or else my project fails,Which was to please. Now I wantSpirits to enforce, art to enchant:And my ending is despair,Unless I be relieved by prayer,Which pierces so that it assaultsMercy itself and frees all faults.As you from crimes would pardoned be,Let your indulgence set me free. (9-20)Power given to the audience: “your spell.”Who is the speaker? Prospero the character, or the actor playing Prospero?Typical for an epilogue to ask the audience’s forgiveness for any failures in the performance—but this language of despair (“as you from crimes would pardoned be”) is jarringly heavy.

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