Part II. Roman 25. The Tempest
Although The Tempest is usually found first in editions presenting the collected works of Shakespeare, it is actually the last play to be written entirely by Shakespeare, its date being 1611. His only work afterward consisted of his contributions to Fletcher's plays Henry VIII (see page II-743) and The Two Noble Kinsmen (see page I-53).
In a way, it is pleasing that Shakespeare ended with The Tempest, for this marks a return to his sunny comedies written over a decade earlier. We may be glad that the great man ended his career on an upbeat.
What's more, The Tempest is Shakespeare's complete creation too, for it is one play in which he apparently made up his own plot.
The play opens with a ship struggling against a tempest. On board are a group of Italian noblemen, for here, as in so many of his other romances, Shakespeare uses Italy as the home of romance.
The crew is desperately trying to save the ship when the Italian aristocrats emerge from below. One speaks, saying:
Good boatswain, have care.
Where's the master? Play the men.
- Act I, scene i, lines 9-10
The speaker is Alonso, King of Naples, and with him on the ship is his brother, Sebastian, and his son, Ferdinand. The kingdom of Naples was from about 1100 down to 1860 the political unit making up the southern half of the Italian peninsula, with Sicily usually (but not always) included. Its capital was the city of Naples.
Alonso is not a typically Italian name. It is a Spanish one, a variant of Alfonso. Both Sebastian and Ferdinand are names best known in history as belonging to Spanish and Portuguese monarchs, rather than to Italians. This is not surprising, for Naples in Shakespeare's time was closely connected with Spain.
In 1420 Naples was under the rule of the aging Queen Joanna II, who had no heirs and who feared that the French would seize her kingdom. Nearby Sicily was under the rule of Alfonso V of Aragon (see page I-545) and she made him heir to her rule. She changed her mind afterward, but Alfonso V had no mind to retire. After she died in 1435, he began a long struggle to fix himself on the Neapolitan throne. By 1443 he had succeeded and made Naples the capital of his entire dominion, including Aragon itself. He reigned as Alfonso I of Naples.
Aragon continued to rule Naples until 1479, when Aragon and Castile formed a dynastic union that gave rise to modern Spain. The united Spanish kingdom continued to rule Naples through Shakespeare's time and beyond. At the time The Tempest was written, Naples was ruled by a viceroy serving the Spanish King, Philip III...
In thinking of Naples, then, Shakespeare automatically thinks Spanish even when he treats it as an independent kingdom. (In Othello, such characters as Roderigo and Iago have Spanish names even though they are supposedly Venetians.)
... the Duke of Milan...
Despite the royalty on board, the ship is apparently sinking and must be abandoned.
The events do not go unobserved, however. There is an island nearby -not one that can be pinned down on a map-but one that exists only in this tale. All we can say is that it ought to be located somewhere between Italy and the African shore.
Two individuals are all the truly human inhabitants the island of the play has: a man, Prospero, and his daughter, Miranda.
The daughter is terribly perturbed over the ship, which is being destroyed in the tempest, but Prospero calms her and assures her that no harm will be done. He says it is now time, at last, to tell her of their past and how they came to be on the island.
Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year since,
Thy father was the Duke of Milan and
A prince of power.
- Act I, scene ii, lines 53-55
Milan is a duchy in northern Italy (see page I-447).
... rapt in secret studies
Prospero, as Duke, had little interest in governing and left the actual conduct of affairs to his brother, Antonio, while he himself was concerned with scholarship:
The government I cast upon my brother
And to my state grew stranger, being transported
And rapt in secret studies.
- Act I, scene ii, lines 75-77
In the Middle Ages there were two kinds of studies: that of theology and related philosophy, which was considered the highest goal of reason; and that of the secular knowledge of the world.
The latter was suspect for a number of reasons. It had its roots in the pagan learning of the Greeks, for one thing. For another, the secular scholars (notably the alchemists) actually cultivated an air of mysticism that reinforced vague beliefs that they consorted with spirits and practiced magic. Naturally, the general public would fear such scholars and suspect that there was much more to their work than they could possibly admit.
And indeed, it becomes clear that Prospero's "secret studies" did indeed involve magic, that he could command spirits and control portions of the universe.
This King of Naples. ..
Prospero's preoccupation with his books and studies allowed his brother, Antonio, to intrigue for the throne. Antonio came to an understanding with Alonso of Naples (the same who was on the ship caught in the tempest).
This King of Naples, being an enemy
To me inveterate, hearkens to my brother's suit;
- Act I, scene ii, lines 121-22
The King of Naples therefore sent an army to Milan. Antonio treacherously opened the city gates so that Milan was taken and then ruled as new Duke, but tributary to Naples.
Though The Tempest is fictional throughout, there is an echo of history here. In 1535 the last native Duke of Milan, Francesco Maria Sforza, died without heirs. The duchy was taken over by Emperor Charles V (see page II-747), who in 1540 gave it to his son, who was later to be Philip II of Spain. Milan remained Spanish throughout Shakespeare's life and for nearly a century beyond. And since Naples had been Spanish before that, it is almost as though Naples had taken Milan.
As it happens, Antonio, the usurper, is also on the sinking ship, along with the King of Naples.
... a cherubin
Once the coup d'etat had been effected, Prospero and Miranda were taken away, placed on a small ship, and set afloat on the Mediterranean. Fortunately, a sympathetic Neapolitan lord, Gonzalo, made it possible for them to survive the ordeal by secretly giving them clothing and other necessaries and, most of all, a number of the most valuable books from Prospero's library. And, as it happens, Gonzalo is also on the ship.
Miranda is affected by the tale but, in her gentle sympathy, does not think of her own danger then but only of the added trouble she must have been to her father. He denies that she was any trouble. Rather the reverse, for she was
O, a cherubin
Thou wast that did preserve me!
- Act I, scene ii, lines 152-53
A cherub is a creature mentioned in the Bible. From the wording in some places, it would seem to represent the storm blast. Thus, in Psalms 18:10 it is written: "And he [the Lord] rode upon a cherub and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind."
The cherub is nowhere described in the Bible except for the indication that it had wings. It may have been represented as a fearsome creature along the lines of the eagle-winged, man-headed bulls that were so characteristic a feature of Assyrian sculpture.
Whatever its origins, however, the cherub came to be considered as an infant angel and took the place in Christian art of the cupids of pagan art. It is in the sense of infant angel that Shakespeare uses the word here.
Incidentally, the Hebrew plural is, characteristically, indicated by an "-im" suffix, so that one can speak of one cherub, but two cherubim. Such a plural is utterly foreign to English, of course, and the tendency is to consider cherubim (or cherubin) as a singular and then speak of cheru-bims or cherubins if the plural is needed. Shakespeare uses such a false singular here.
... my Ariel.. .
Having completed his tale, Prospero makes Miranda sleep by his magical art and proceeds about the more serious business of the day. He calls to him the chief spirit at his command:
Come away [here], servant, come! I am ready now.
Approach, my Ariel! Come!
- Act I, scene ii, lines 187-88
Ariel is a spirit of the air, wild and free, and untainted by any form of earthiness or earth-bound humanity.
The name has a biblical sound. In Isaiah 29:1 the prophet says: "Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt!" The word means "lion of God" or possibly "hearth of God" and is meant as a poetic synonym for Jerusalem.
Yet it sounds like the name of a spirit or angel, since all the angelic names in the Bible and the Apocrypha end in the suffix "-el" (God), as Gabriel, Rafael, Azrael, and Uriel. The first part of the name, "Ari-" sounds like "airy," which makes it fitting for an airy spirit.
The name Ariel is also to be found in the heavens through a queer concatenation of events.
In 1787 the German-English astronomer William Herschel discovered two satellites of the planet Uranus (which he had discovered a few years earlier) and broke with the long-established custom of naming bodies of the solar system after Greek and Roman deities. Instead, he called them Titania and Oberon (see page I-28).
In 1851 the English astronomer William Lassell discovered two more satellites, closer to the planet, and went along with the spirit names. He called the new satellites Ariel and Umbriel.
These two spirits are from the poem The Rape of the Lock by the English poet Alexander Pope, published in 1712. In the poem, Ariel is the name given to a sylph who guards Belinda, the heroine. (It seems quite reasonable to suppose that Pope borrowed the name from Shakespeare.) Umbriel, on the other hand, is a melancholy spirit, always sighing and weeping, with a name suggested by the fact that umbra is Latin for "shadow." Umbriel is always in the shadows and the name occurs nowhere else in literature.
Nevertheless, so much better known is The Tempest than The Rape of the Lock that the satellite Ariel is much more likely to be associated with the former than with the latter.
Thus, in 1948, when the Dutch-American astronomer Gerard P. Kuiper discovered a fifth satellite of Uranus, closer (and smaller) than any of the others, he automatically allowed Ariel to suggest another name from The Tempest and the new satellite he named "Miranda."
I flamed amazement...
When Ariel arrives, it appears that the tempest is no true tempest but an appearance raised by magical arts, designed to frighten the men on the ship and set the stage for Prospero's plan to set all things to rights. Ariel explains how he carried out his task of creating panic:
Now on the beak,
Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
I flamed amazement.
Sometime I'd divide
And burn in many places;
- Act I, scene ii, lines 196-99
Ariel was, in other words, converting himself into "St. Elmo's fire." This is the glow produced on dark, stormy nights by gathering static electricity, which is discharged from pointed objects. Such a discharge, if vigorous enough, will produce a glow.
It will appear on the points of masts or spars, for instance. If one glow is seen it is called "Helena" (in reference to Helen of Troy) and if it divides in two it is "Castor and Pollux" (the twin brothers of Helen).
There is no St. Elmo. The name is thought to be a corruption of "St. Erasmus," the patron saint of Mediterranean sailors. The glow was thought to be the visible sign of the saint guarding them during the storm.
... the still-vexed Bermoothes ...
Ariel carefully explains that no one has been hurt, although they have been separated: the King's son brought to shore alone; the other royalty brought to another place; the ship itself taken safe to harbor; and the rest of the fleet sent sadly on its way thinking they had seen the flagship, with the King on board, wrecked.
Ariel describes the place where he has bestowed the ship, saying:
Safely in harbor
Is the King's ship; in the deep nook where once
Thou call'dst me up at midnight to fetch dew
From the still-vexed [always stormy] Bermoothes ...
- Act I, scene ii, lines 226-29
The Bermoothes are the Bermudas, a group of small islands which, all together, are no larger than Manhattan. They had come dramatically into the news shortly before The Tempest was written.
In 1607 the English had made their first permanent settlement in what is now the United States, at Jamestown in Virginia. The settlement barely managed to survive its first few years and it required periodic infusions of new colonists and supplies from England to keep going. In 1609 a fleet of nine ships sailed westward to supply Jamestown.
A storm hit them off the Bermudas and the flagship, carrying the admiral and the new governor of Virginia, was separated from the rest. The remaining eight ships made it to Jamestown; the flagship did not and was given up for lost.
Apparently, though, it had managed to come ashore in the Bermudas and there its passengers and crew managed to eke a living until they could build two small boats that carried them west across the six hundred miles that separated them from the mainland. They showed up in Jamestown nearly a year after the storm and it was as though they had come back from the dead.
It was a sensation and the tale of the adventure filled England to the point where Shakespeare calls the islands "still-vexed" because of the association with the storm that wrecked the flagship, though the.Bermudas are not more stormy than other places. The description of the Bermudas by those who were stranded there so long was most favorable and Prospero's magic island seems modeled on the reports of Bermuda (which has remained British territory ever since).
In fact, there seems no question but that the tale of this shipwreck inspired Shakespeare to write The Tempest. There is a storm that separates the flagship from the fleet. Men are lost and yet not lost but are saved in almost miraculous fashion after spending time on an almost magical island. All Shakespeare had to do was add an Italian-style romance.
The foul witch Sycorax.. .
Pleased with himself, Ariel reminds Prospero that the long term of service he has rendered draws to a close and that he has been promised his freedom. Prospero, who is working out his climactic scheme, and needs only another day, is irritated, and reminds Ariel from what misery he had been rescued.
Hast thou forgot
The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy
Was grown into a hoop?
- Act I, scene ii, lines 257-59
The name is an invention of Shakespeare's, though it may have arisen out of the combination of Greek words for "pig" and "crow." Prospero asks Ariel where Sycorax was born and the spirit answers:
Sir, in Argier.
- Act I, scene ii, line 260
Argier is a distorted version of Algiers, a city on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, 650 miles southwest of Naples. It had been founded in 950 as a Moslem town and has remained Moslem ever since. To the Christians of Europe, a Moslem town would seem like a natural birthplace for a witch.
Algiers had, besides, made the news in the sixteenth century. In 1545 Emperor Charles V had sent a fleet to Algiers, hoping to capture it. That fleet had been dispersed by a storm and the attempt ended in disaster. It was easy for good Christians to suppose that the diabolical Moslems had raised the storm by means of witchcraft and so it would seem natural to associate Sycorax with that city.
Sycorax was so evil a witch, however, as to have been banished even from Algiers. She was taken to the island that later became Prospero's and was left there.
She was a powerful witch and when Ariel would not obey her wicked commands, she imprisoned the spirit in a pine tree for twelve years. She died in that interval and Ariel might have remained imprisoned forever, had not Prospero arrived and freed him. It was in gratitude for this that Ariel was serving Prospero.
... Caliban her son
When Sycorax died, however, she left something behind. She had been pregnant when brought to the island and had borne a child upon it whom Prospero describes as
A freckled whelp, hagborn, not honored with
A human shape.
- Act I, scene ii, lines 283-84
Yes, Caliban her son.
- Act I, scene ii, line 284
This Caliban, the offspring of a witch and, presumably, one of the devils that served her, is a semihuman monster, earthy, dull, and savage. The name has entered the language to mean any brutal and debased person. The name is Shakespeare's invention but it may be guessed that it was suggested by "cannibal," a word which had been made prominent by explorations of the New World (see page I-617).
... my dam's god, Setebos
Caliban is called forth to do some labor and appears, railing and cursing, misshapen and monstrous. He complains that it was his island before Prospero came and that now he has been enslaved, but Prospero insists that they had tried to treat him with humanity and kindness and that in response he had tried to rape Miranda.
Caliban, however he may wish to rebel, must do as he is told. He says:
I must obey. His art is of such pow'r
It would control my dam's god, Setebos,
And make a vassal of him.
- Act I, scene ii, lines 372-74
Setebos was a god worshiped by the Patagonians of southern South America. He was first mentioned by Ferdinand Magellan, whose expedition in 1519-22 was the first to circumnavigate the world. Setebos then appeared in English in a book called History of Travel by Robert Eden, published in 1577. Apparently Shakespeare saw it there and thus another aspect of the New World entered the play.
... the King of Tunis
Prospero's plans continue to progress. Ariel leads Ferdinand, the young son of the King of Naples, to the cell. Ferdinand is in deep grief for his father, who, he is certain, is dead. Nevertheless, upon first sight of Miranda he falls head over heels in love. For her part, Miranda, who never saw a young man before, is equally smitten. Prospero is delighted, but, to test the youth, pretends anger and keeps them apart.
On another part of the island, the rest of the party is sunk in grief over the loss of Ferdinand. (These multiple griefs are part of the revenge Prospero is taking.) Gonzalo, the kindhearted old lord, is desperately trying to cheer up the King with cheerful conversation. They have their lives, he points out, and the island seems fruitful and comfortable. Besides, there are other blessings to be counted, for he says:
Methinks our garments are now as fresh
as when we put them on first in Afric,
at the marriage of the King's fair daughter
Claribel to the King of Tunis.
- Act II, scene i, lines 71-74
This tells us what the trip was all about. A royal party has crossed the Mediterranean from Naples to Tunis and it was on the return voyage that the tempest brought them to this island.
Tunis is at the point where Africa approaches most closely to Italy. It is. only 90 miles west of Sicily and but 350 miles southwest of Naples.
From the eighth century on, Tunis and the country surrounding it had been Moslem, and this area is still Moslem today. It seems unlikely that Shakespeare would be describing the marriage of a Christian princess to a Moslem king.
But then, in 1535, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, had sent a naval expedition against Tunis (as ten years later he was to send one against Algiers). This earlier expedition had been successful and Tunis was taken with great slaughter. It was not a permanent conquest and did not in the least affect the Moslem character of the city, but it made a great stir and, presumably, Tunis emerged out of the shadows as the result of that victorious impingement of Christendom upon it.
... of Carthage. ..
The mention of Claribel causes everyone to praise her and to say that Tunis had never had so fair a queen. But Gonzalo brings up Dido (see page I-20) as a possible competitor. Adrian (one of the courtiers present) objects and says:
She [Dido] was of Carthage, not of Tunis.
- Act II, scene i, line 85
To which Gonzalo replies with equanimity:
This Tunis, sir, was Carthage.
- Act II, scene i, line 86
This statement is almost true.
Carthage was originally a Phoenician colony which had been utterly destroyed (after three wars) by Rome in 146 b.c. A new city was founded on the same site in 44 b.c. at the orders of Julius Caesar and was given the same name. The new Roman city was settled by Romans and Romanized Africans, however, and had nothing in common with the older Phoenician colony but the name and the site.
Roman Carthage flourished until 698, when it was finally taken by the Arabs. With that, it died a second time and this time forever, but Tunis, a dozen miles westward along the seashore, became great in its place. Tunis is near the site of Carthage, but, strictly speaking, it is wrong to say, as Gonzalo does, that it is Carthage. In fact, Tunis (then called "Tunes") existed as a distinct and separate town when Roman Carthage was at its height.
... the miraculous harp
Antonio, the usurping King of Naples, comments on the fact that Gonzalo has, in a moment, re-created the vanished city of Carthage. He says:
His word is more than the miraculous harp.
- Act II, scene i, lines 89-90
This is a reference to the Greek myth of Amphion and Zethus, twin brothers, whose father had been ruler of Thebes but had been deposed and killed by a younger brother. (Odd that Antonio should make such a reference.) Amphion and Zethus captured Thebes from their usurping uncle and wished to fortify it against a counterattack. They therefore built a stone wall around the city. Zethus carried the stones and piled them near the wall while Amphion, playing a magic lyre (or harp), made the pile of stones move of their own accord into the wall.
The conversation continues until Ariel enters and causes all but Sebastian and Antonio to fall asleep.
Antonio, the wicked usurping brother of Prospero, takes the opportunity to urge Sebastian to kill his brother and become King of Naples in his place. Sebastian allows himself to be tempted, but when they draw their swords to kill the King, Ariel wakes all the sleepers and Sebastian and Antonio must pretend they had heard wild beasts and had drawn their swords for that reason. (Thwarted ambition is presumably another part of Prospero's revenge.)
... this mooncalf ...
Meanwhile another pair of individuals are to be found wandering on the island. Trinculo, the King's jester, has escaped and is wandering aimlessly. So has Stephano, the King's butler.
Caliban sees Trinculo approaching and, in terrible fright, pretends he is dead. Trinculo finds him, doesn't know what to make of the half-human monster, but crawls under his garment to stay out of the last dregs of the tempest.
Stephano, who has salvaged some bottles of liquor, is carrying one and is 'drunk. He comes across the Caliban-Trinculo combination and views it as a monster with four legs and two voices. When Trinculo calls his name, Stephano is terrified and says:
... This is a devil, and no monster.
I will leave him; I have no long spoon.
- Act II, scene ii, lines 102-3
Stephano refers to the proverb which is usually quoted, now, as "Who sups with the devil must needs have a long spoon."
But Trinculo identifies himself before Stephano is out of earshot. Stephano returns, pulls Trinculo out from under Caliban's garment, and says:
Thou art very Trinculo indeed!
How cam'st thou to be the siege [excrement]
of this mooncalf? Can he vent Trinculos?
- Act II, scene ii, lines 110-12
A mooncalf is the name given to the occasional deformed calf born of a cow, because this was thought to be due to the malign influence of the moon (see page I-629). Eventually, the expression came to be used for any monstrous form of life.
Stephano gives Caliban a drink and the grateful Caliban (who has never tasted liquor before) wishes to worship Stephano as a god, and suggests to him that he kill Prospero and become king of the island, making Miranda his queen. Stephano thinks this is a good idea and all three troop off on this errand. There is obviously no danger, though, for Ariel is (invisibly) on guard.
... the phoenix' throne. ..
Prospero, meanwhile, has put Ferdinand to work moving logs, and though the young prince is engaged in a demeaning manual labor, he loves it because it gives him a chance to be near Miranda. And Miranda, when she enters, cannot bear to see him working, and tries to carry the logs for him. The love grows with every second and Prospero, overhearing, is happy indeed.
The situation is not quite so pleasant for the King and his party. Gon-zalo is half dead with walking; and Sebastian and Antonio are still plotting the assassination. Suddenly, though, a banquet is set before them through Prospero's magic.
They are astonished, and Sebastian says, in stupefaction:
Now I will believe
That there are unicorns; that in Arabia
There is one tree, the phoenix' throne; one phoenix
At this hour reigning there.
- Act III, scene iii, lines 21-24
Sebastian compares the incredible sight they have seen with two other incredibles: the unicorn and the phoenix.
The unicorn is generally pictured as a horselike creature with a single spiral horn on its forehead. Belief in this creature originated from three sources.
First, the Bible speaks of unicorns. This, however, is a mistranslation of the Hebrew re'em, which is the aurochs or wild ox. The Assyrians showed these in bas-relief in profile so that only one horn showed. In the Greek translation of the Bible, re'em therefore became monokeros (one-horn) and in Latin unicornis (one-horn).
Second, there were dim tales of actual creatures with a single hornlike structure. These were the rhinoceroses, rumors of which reached Europe from India (the earliest report on record being contained in the writings of the Greek physician Ctesias about 400 b.c.).
Finally, there was the narwhal, a species of whale in which a single tooth (not a horn) formed a long, tapering spiral. These were brought back by sailors and called horns of unicorns, for as such they could be sold for fabulous sums for their supposed efficacy against poisoning. The effect of this was to make the horn of the unicorn appear in illustrations as though it was a transplanted narwhal tusk.
The phoenix is more fabulous still and had its origins, perhaps, as an Egyptian solar myth. The Egyptians used a calendar in which the year was considered to be exactly 365 days long (instead of 365 1/4). The extra quarter-day was ignored and the individual days crept ahead of the seasons from year to year, therefore, until they had made a complete circuit in 1461 Egyptian years (or 1460 actual years). In other words, if a particular star were directly overhead at midnight on New Year's Day, it would not be overhead at midnight on New Year's Day for 1461 more years. This length of time was called the Sothic cycle because the Egyptians used Sirius as their reference star and in their language this star was called Sothis.
Perhaps this 1461-year cycle of the sun versus the Egyptian calendar was mythologized into a long-lived flaming bird which, after 1461 years, died and gave rise to a new bird like itself.
If so, the Greeks, who used a Babylonian calendar and not an Egyptian one and who therefore knew nothing of the Sothic cycle, altered the length of time to a rounder number-500 years is often mentioned. The bird is called the phoenix (from a word meaning "red-purple," as a hang-over perhaps from the Egyptian notion of a flaming sunlike bird).
There were all sorts of accretions to the myth-the nature of the flaming pyre in which the bird consumes itself, the details of the birth of the new bird, and so on. The place where the death and rebirth takes place also varies; some place the site, significantly enough, at Heliopolis, the Egyptian city at which the sun god was worshiped. Others place it in Arabia or India (on the basis that the farther east, the more wonderful).
There is only one phoenix at a time (as there is only one sun), and it seemed reasonable to suppose that if the phoenix immolated itself on a palm tree, it would be a palm tree as unique as itself. The Arabian desert is barren, so one can imagine it containing a single tree, the one on which the phoenix dies and is reborn.
... the figure of this harpy...
Before the bemused and grateful travelers can eat, Ariel appears in horrible shape and the feast is taken away. Ariel denounces the malefactors for their treatment of Prospero. (The frustration of desire is another punishment and Alonso begins to feel remorse at his treatment of Prospero and to fear that the loss of his son is punishment therefore.) Prospero is pleased with Ariel's action and says:
Bravely the figure of this harpy hast thou
Performed, my Ariel...
- Act III, scene iii, lines 83-84
The Harpies were originally spirits personifying the storm winds-rather like the cherubs. The Greeks finally personified them as hag-headed birds, with long talons and horrible screeches. Sometimes they were described as carrying off individuals.
The most famous myth concerning them, however, involves Phineus, a soothsayer in eastern Thrace who incurred the anger of the gods. He was bunded and condemned to eternal hunger, for whenever food was placed on the table, Harpies would descend shrieking, snatching away some and fouling the rest. The Harpies were driven away at last by Jason and his men (see page I-505).
The fame of the myth fixed this particular picture of the Harpy and made it appropriate for Ariel to assume the guise of one when the feast was snatched away from the Neapolitan King and his followers.
Ceres, most bounteous lady. ..
But Ferdinand's ordeal is over. Prospero is satisfied with him and tells him that he may marry his daughter. To make up for the pain caused him, Prospero puts on a spirit show for the happy couple. The classical goddesses are brought down to bless them.
Iris comes in first, calling on another:
Ceres, most bounteous lady, thy rich leas
Of wheat, rye, barley, fetches, oats, and peas;
- Act IV, scene i, lines 60-61
Ceres (the Roman version of the Greek goddess Demeter) is the personification of the cultivated and fruitful soil, and all the food it produces. (We get our word "cereal" from her name.) She is naturally one whose blessing will ensure a fruitful marriage. After having enumerated Ceres' products, Iris says:
- the queen o'th'sky,
Whose wat'ry arch and messenger am I,
Bids thee leave these, and with her sovereign grace,
Here on this grass plot, in this very place,
To come and sport; her peacocks fly amain.
- Act IV, scene i, lines 70-74
The "queen o'th'sky" would be Juno, of course (the Greek Hera), who is that because she is the wife of Jupiter (Zeus). Juno was considered by the Romans to have marriage and motherhood as her prime concern; she was the idealized wife. It was her place, therefore, to preside over the festivities on this occasion. The peacock was considered particularly sacred to her and these birds were supposed to draw her chariot.
Iris is the personification of the rainbow. Since the rainbow, though clearly in the heavens, seems to arch down to earth, it is easy to imagine it as a bridge linking heaven and earth, and one along which a messenger can travel. The bridge and the messenger become one and Iris is pictured here as serving Juno, in particular. The "wat'ry arch" is, of course, the rainbow, which appears after a rain, when the air is full of water droplets.
The rainbow attribute of Iris is indicated by Ceres' first words when she enters:
Hail, many-colored messenger. ..
- Act IV, scene i, line 76
... dusky Dis...
Ceres has one reservation about attending the festivities. She says to Iris:
Tell me, heavenly bow,
If Venus or her son, as thou dost know,
Do now attend the Queen? Since they did plot
The means that dusky Dis my daughter got,
Her and her blind boy's scandaled company
I have forsworn.
- Act IV, scene i, lines 86-91
Dis is one of the Roman equivalents of the Greek god of the underworld, Pluto. Pluto seized Persephone, the daughter of Demeter (Ceres), and took her to the underworld to be his queen. Demeter located her only after a weary search and even then could only arrange to have her returned for part of each year. It is only in that part that Demeter allows the earth to bear crops; while Persephone is underground the earth lies blasted and cold. (This is an obvious way of mythologizing the cycle of summer and whiter, see page I-5.)
Pluto would not have fallen in love with Persephone had he not been wounded by the arrows of blind Eros (Cupid), the son of Aphrodite (Venus), which is why Ceres holds her grudge.
... towards Paphos.. .
Actually, Venus and her son have no place at the celebration. They are the personification of erotic love and Prospero has made it plain that Miranda is to remain a virgin until the marriage rites are fully performed. Iris says, therefore, of Venus:
I met her Deity
Cutting the clouds towards Paphos, and her son
Dove-drawn with her.
- Act IV, scene i, lines 92-94
Paphos (see page I-15) was a city where Venus (Aphrodite) was particularly venerated.
... they may prosperous be
Juno now enters and says to Ceres:
Go with me
To bless this twain, that they may prosperous be
And honored in their issue.
- Act IV, scene i, lines 103-5
This "wedding masque," which occupies so much of the play, may have been deliberately inserted to apply to a real wedding at which The Tempest was to be shown; or else, since the wedding masque was there, the play was thought particularly appropriate for such a celebration.
At any rate, The Tempest seems to have had one of its early productions in the winter of 1612-13 as part of the festive preparations for the marriage of Elizabeth, the daughter of King James I, with Frederick V of the Palatinate (son of the Frederick IV who was ridiculed by Portia in The Merchant of Venice, see page I-506).
The two were married in February 1613, both bride and bridegroom being seventeen years old. Juno's statement that they be "honored in their issue" came true, as it happened. The couple had thirteen children.
... called Naiades...
Juno and Ceres sing, and with that done, a dance must be next. For that purpose, Iris makes a new call:
You nymphs, called Naiades, of the wandring brooks,
With your sedged crowns and ever-harmless looks,
Leave your crisp channels, and on this green land
Answer your summons. ..
- Act IV, scene i, lines 128-31
The nymphs were the spirits of wild nature, pictured as beautiful young women. (The very word means "young woman.") These came in a number of varieties. The nymphs of the mountains were "oreads," those of the trees were "dryads," and those of the rivers and streams (whom Iris has called) are "naiads."
Properly speaking, if the nymphs were called, satyrs ought also to have been called, for they were the male counterpart, masculine spirits of the wild. However, the nymph-satyr association is an almost entirely erotic one (see page I-630), which we memorialize these days by the use of "nymphomania" and "satyriasis" as medical terms, and that would have been unsuitable for the celebration Prospero designed for the young people. Instead, harvestmen are called, and a chaste pastoral dance is staged.
... the great globe itself
At the conclusion of the dance, Prospero bethinks himself that Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo are plotting to kill him and realizes he must get back to business. He ends the masque and when the young couple look troubled, he says:
These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
- Act IV, scene i, lines 148-58
This is a surprisingly somber speech for what is, essentially, a happy play, especially since it comes at a particularly happy time for Prospero, who sees the best part of his plan coming to such lovely fruition.
It is almost irresistibly tempting to think Shakespeare is talking to himself at this point. At the time Shakespeare wrote The Tempest he was forty-seven years old, the prime of middle age by our standards, but quite old in his time. He may have felt the infirmity of the years creeping up on him and he may have been thinking more and more of death. As a matter of fact, he had only five more years left to live, for he died in 1616 at the age of only fifty-two.
These beautiful lines, then, may have been his thoughtful salute to his own inevitable death and to the end of all the "insubstantial pageants" he had invented.
It might also be viewed (without Shakespeare possibly being able to know) as an extraordinary prediction of the future life of the young couple whose real-life forthcoming nuptials were being celebrated. Young Elizabeth and Frederick, who were entering so happily into princely marriage and life, were to experience tragedy soon.
In 1619 Frederick was elected King of the Protestant nation of Bohernia (see page I-148), which was revolting against Catholic Austria. He was still only twenty-three and he could not resist the advance in title from Elector to King. This was the beginning of the Thirty Years' War, but one year of it was enough for poor Frederick. He was defeated at the Battle of the White Mountain near Prague on November 8, 1620 (four years after Shakespeare's death), and he spent the rest of his life as a landless refugee, living on a pension granted him by the Protestant Netherlands. He died in 1632.
His wife, Elizabeth, lived on long enough to see her brother, Charles I, defeated by revolting Englishmen and executed in 1649. She did not return to England till 1661, when her nephew had become King as Charles II. She died the year after. For Frederick and Elizabeth, a short-lived happiness had indeed dissolved and left not a rack (cloud) behind.
And yet Juno's blessing did not go for nought (and here as elsewhere, see pages I-593 and II-192, Shakespeare's intuition led him into the making of true predictions). Frederick and Elizabeth were "honored in their issue." Not only did they have thirteen children, but one of them, Sophia, was the mother of the man who eventually became King George I of England. All the monarchs of England since 1714 have been descendants of Elizabeth and Frederick.
I'll break my staff
Caliban and the others do not prove to be hard to handle. Ariel has already lured them on through thorns arid swamps, and when they reach Prospero's cell, spirits in the shape of dogs are set to snarling at them and drive them away.
It remains only to settle matters with the King and the others, who, after the tantalizing episode of the banquet that came and then vanished, have been kept charmed into motionlessness till Prospero be ready for them.
Ariel is sorry for them and expresses his sympathy, and if Prospero has been meditating any final cruelty against his enemies he abandons it. He, a human, cannot be less kind than the inhuman Ariel.
Prospero announces that he will be satisfied to inflict no further punishment provided only the criminals are penitent. He has accomplished all he wants and it is no longer important to him that he possess his magic powers. There will be one last item to round out all and then, he says:
I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.
- Act V, scene i, lines 54-57
Many critics seem to think that this is Shakespeare's farewell to his art. He is saying he will write no more and will no longer practice the matchless magic of his literary genius. (This is, in my opinion, too sentimental an interpretation and I doubt it. For one thing, a compulsive writer like Shakespeare couldn't deliberately plan to give up writing while he was capable of holding a pen-on this one point I claim to be an authority. For another, he did continue to write in actual fact, engaging in two collaborative efforts with Fletcher: Henry Vlll and The Two Noble Kinsmen.)
... brave new world
Point by point, all is brought to a conclusion. The King and the others are brought in and are scolded and forgiven; while Gonzalo, at least, is praised and thanked. Prospero reveals his identity and takes back his dukedom.
What's more, Ferdinand (whom Alonso and the rest thought dead) is revealed, playing chess with Miranda-to Alonso's great joy.
Miranda, herself, is wide-eyed at all these men. She had never imagined there could be so many and she cries out in naive astonishment:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave [splendid] new world
That has such people in't!
- Act V, scene i, lines 181-84
The glad exclamation of Miranda has been made into part of our language in the form of a bitter sarcasm by Aldous Huxley, who in 1932 published his book Brave New World, which pictures a future society that has been completely saturated with scientific technology but at the loss of all the human values we hold dear.
And now the crew of the ship arrive with the amazing news that despite all appearance, the vessel is in perfect shape and that not a man has been lost. Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo also enter and are forgiven as having been sufficiently punished.
All are to go aboard the ship, which Ariel shall speed so that it will rejoin the fleet, and then he, himself, will be free at last.
It is a happy ending in which not one person, not one, not even the most: villainous one, Antonio, comes to any physical harm. It is as though Shakespeare in his last complete play could not leave the boards without everyone entirely happy.
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