Study Guide

The Tempest

by William Shakespeare

The Tempest Essay - Redeeming The Tempest: Romance and Politics

Redeeming The Tempest: Romance and Politics

Jonathan Hart, University of Alberta

Since the Romantics the criticism of Shakespeare's The Tempest has been allegorical. Perhaps taking their cue from Coleridge, who said that the appeal of the play was to the imagination, subsequent critics appealed to the fantastic and to aesthetic allegories. Schlegel identified Ariel with air and Caliban with earth; Campbell saw The Tempest as the Shakespeare's fare-well to his art; Lowell equated Caliban with brute understanding, Ariel with fancy and Prospero with imagination. When I was an undergraduate the Romantic reading of this play as the playwright's fare-well to his art was still going strong. But for some time another kind of allegory was going on, that is the political allegory. Once a minority position, the political allegory has, in the last decade, overtaken the aesthetic allegory. My task is to find a version of The Tempest that acknowledges the political and aesthetic dimensions of the play but that discovers a middle ground between them. Although allegorical interpretation may be unavoidable in regard to The Tempest, I want to minimize it, as others have mined this vein, and to try to point up its stresses and intricacies as a means of moving along to a different type of critique. This attempt, then, is to redeem The Tempest from too much redemption.1

As the traditional aesthetic allegory of this play has been synthesized into the history of Shakespearean criticism, I want briefly to outline the shift to political allegory, particularly in light of post colonialism, before proceeding to my own analysis. Between about ninety and a hundred and twenty years ago, a shift seems to have happened in interpretations of The Tempest. Whereas in 1873 Daniel Wilson thought that The Tempest was a social Darwinist work, in 1904 W. T. Stead objected to the imperialism and sided with indigenous cultures. In this century a central debate over the use of canons as a means of promoting tradition and empire has occurred in English-speaking countries. Shakespeare has been at the heart of that debate as in those countries he occupies the centre of literature and education in the humanities. In traditional criticism, Prospero's art and power were sometimes identified with Shakespeare's and Europe's while Caliban was sometimes associated with the physical, moral and political dependency of non-European peoples. As an understandable reaction to this European position, some writers in Africa and the Caribbean set out to use The Tempest for their own literary and political purposes. Between 1957 and 1973, most African and large Caribbean colonies won their independence. Dissenting intellectuals and writers from these regions decided to appropriate The Tempest as a means of supporting decolonization and creating an alternative literary tradition.2 In The Tempest African and Caribbean writers saw hints of pre-European traditions and European colonization. These 'proleptic' signs suggested raw material for retrieving repressed traditions and inventing new ones. In Europe itself, as I have suggested, there was already opposition to the imperial view, so that, as usual, there were not two monolithic sides to this debate, Europe on the one hand and Africa and the Caribbean on the other. For forty years or more—in Spanish, French and English—African and Caribbean writers and critics have, directly and indirectly, appropriated or discussed the appropriation of Shakespeare's play. For instance, in 1961 Aimé Césaire's 'Une Tempête ': d'après ' La Tempête ' de ShakespeareAdaption pour un théâtre nègre is published in Paris.3 During the 1970s, The Tempest is not used as much as a tool of opposition in decolonizing cultures. From the mid-1970s, the interest in colonization in the Renaissance, and in The Tempest, begins among scholars later known as new historicists. This tradition of dissent from within continues among scholars of European descent and seems to have culminated with the five-hundredth anniversary of Columbus' arrival in America. In this most recent manifestation white North American scholars, like the white American-born élite of the Spanish colonies, or criollos, of the late eighteenth century, find themselves in the position of identifying with Amerindians as a means of vindicating the wrongs done to, and prejudices against, those peoples in the past and as a declaration of independence from their own European past.4 While this position is understandable and even laudable, it is difficult to avoid contradiction and to erase the European contact with the first Americans so readily and with an exercise of conscience.

My aim here is to do something much more modest. The aesthetic and political allegorists have created a vast body of secondary literature: in this brief space, I wish to set out the intricate problems of interpretation in the play. This argument is cautionary, as much to me as to any other critic. The recognition here sought is not a new world of religious, aesthetic or political redemption from the sins of our parents but more a chronicle of the difficulties and contradictions in interpreting what appears on the surface to be a well-wrought and self-contained comedy or romance.

The ethical and aesthetic dimensions of The Tempest have been and will be part of the reception of the play, but it is the interplay of the two that demonstrates how intricate the task at hand is. Rather than side with Prospero or Caliban, who both feel wronged, the one that he has lost Milan and the other that he has lost his island, I will look at them both, as well as at Ariel, who is a frustrated figure caught between rebellion and obedience, and at other characters. The Tempest is of the historical moment and is a putative space away from the cares of Milan and Europe. Moreover, the island is a place that lives in the sources of the European past in double exposure with the New World. The play contains much narrative, so that story as meditation, report and description stands in for many actions. The Shakespearean play that represents the so-called classical unities most looks forward to a new world.

Perhaps the nub of the problem of interpretation of The Tempest derives from the stresses between the rules of genre and the historical changes that have transformed the audience for the play. Frank Kermode notes this stress: "In romance there survives that system of ideal correspondences and magic patterns which in actuality could not survive the scrutiny of an informed and modern eye."5 For contemporary critics, it has become increasingly difficult in the face of political and ideological issues arising from The Tempest to concentrate on the genre of the play, which some have called a comedy, others a tragicomedy and still others a romance. Although the generic or aesthetic dimension seems to be obscured at the moment, it would be surprising if it disappeared entirely. Rather, like the neglect of the political and historical aspects, the generic question will endure dismissal and oversight.

If The Tempest is considered to be a romance, it does not fit entirely Northrop Frye's characterization of the genre even if he thought that it was a romance. Romance, according to Frye, dominates the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods of English literature, for instance by taking over Sidney's Arcadia, Spenser's The Faerie Queene and the plays of Shakespeare's last phase. This genre was successful even though it was scorned for its extravagance, neglect of the unities, incredible actions and characters, and attention to 'nature.'6 Unlike The Winter's Tale, The Tempest more or less obeys the classical unities, but, as Frye implies, it is extravagant, represents unbelievable characters and actions and focuses a great deal on nature. To nature it adds the nurture of art. Romance, in its narrative and dramatic forms, suggests the intricate relation between, and refraction of, classicism and popular culture. Like Cymbeline, The Tempest hints at translatio imperii, taking up the westering journey and the movement of empire found in Virgil's Aeneid.7 Romance and the imperial theme, as Wilson Knight argued, do meet.

The temptation in contemporary criticism of The Tempest is to seek out Caliban as a hero and to see in Prospero the idealization of Europe at the brink of empire. My view is that the stress between the ideals and wish-fulfillment of romance on the one hand and the political objections of modernity and post-modernity on the other suggests additional productive ways to view this play. What my reading attempts is an interpretation that takes into account the aesthetic question of genre and the political question of authority and rebellion but through the literary and dramatic text of The Tempest itself and not through external sources. When discussing historical analogues and contexts, the essay will do so from and through Shakespeare's play and not the other way around.

My supposition is to discuss the problems as they arise from act to act in order to show how bound up the aesthetic or generic dimension is with the political or historical one. The play opens with the Ship-master and the Boatswain trying to save the ship from the storm. In the first line the Master asks the Boatswain to speak to the mariners briskly or the ship will run aground. After the Master exits and the Mariners enter at line 4, the Boatswain, who has not replied to the Master, follows the order by giving the appropriate instructions to the mariners. At line 9, Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Ferdinand, Gonzalo and others enter; here begins the disobedience after only a few lines in which the chain of command seems to have been working. As far as the Boatswain is concerned Alonzo, the King of Naples, is in the way in the fight for survival: 'Hence! What cares these roarers for the name of King? To cabin: silence! trouble us not' (I.1.16-18). When Gonzalo, the old counsellor, reminds the Boatswain that he has the king aboard, the Boatswain, with some sarcasm and under pressure to work while the storm is raging, says he loves no one more than himself and reminds Gonzalo of his apparent impotence:

You are a counsellor; if you can command these elements to silence, and work the peace of the presence, we will not hand a rope more; use your authority: if you cannot, give thanks you have lived so long, and make yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of the hour, if it so hap. Cheerly, good hearts! Out of our way, I say.


Authority is a matter of context, convention and use. The king and his counsellor have no authority in the storm because they hinder, rather than help, the survival of the crew. Gonzalo may pun on the gallows the Boatswain will face, but the nobles are almost comic in the way they presume to assert authority where they have it in name only. By insisting on authority, Gonzalo is showing up its fissures. Fate may, as Gonzalo wishes, save them and hang the Boatswain. The Boatswain's authority in seamanship is not respected. He has four lines of peace before Sebastian, Antonio and Gonzalo re-emerge in another comic brawl with him. He meets them with more sarcasm and they counter with condescending insults. Antonio concludes that 'We are less afraid to be drowned than thou art' (I.1.44-5) and adds later that 'We are merely cheated of our lives by drunkards' (55). Gonzalo and the others show their nobility by joining the king and the prince in their prayers. Even though the nobles seem to have asserted their honour and courage, Gonzalo ends the opening scene with the contradictory: 'The wills above be done! but I would fain die a dry death' (I.1.65-6).

The audience is reminded of motifs of romance in the opening words of Act One, scene two, which Miranda speaks to Prospero: 'If by your Art, my dearest father, you have / Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them' (I.2.1-2). The child orders the father, even if it is after a conditional clause. The motifs of magic, suffering and survival, regeneration and wish-fulfillment occur in Prospero's magical storm and Miranda's desire that it cease (see I.2.3-20). Part of the genre of romance (which is closely related to epic and comedy) is the quest for identity. In this play, Prospero and Miranda have been ship-wrecked and both have had new identities thrust upon them, he knowingly and she not. So Prospero has promised to tell about Miranda's past. She reminds him that 'You have often/Begun to tell me what I am, but stopp'd' (33-4). He now tells her the story of her early life in a dialogue where he leads her to see 'the dark backward and abysm of time' (50). Prospero chronicles his brother Antonio's perfidious usurpation of Prospero's dukedom (66-139). His 'library/Was dukedom large enough,' so that Prospero neglected his Milan until his brother, with the help of the King of Naples, took it by expelling Prospero and Miranda (109-10). The personification of the winds that Prospero creates is supposed to move Miranda and the audience in the theatre to lamentation and indignation over the wrong (149-51). So too is the appeal to Miranda as a cherubim and to Divine Providence as the reason for their survival (152-9). Prospero tells her how Gonzalo helped save them by sneaking them food and books, which allowed him to study on the island (160-74). Miranda wants to know the reason for Prospero's storm, and he thanks Fortune for bringing his enemies to him, and then casts his daughter into a sleep (175-86).

The first appearance of Ariel is one of obedience. He carries out Prospero's art. When Prospero asks Ariel to come, the spirit replies: 'All hail, great master! grave sir, hail! I come/To answer thy best pleasure' (189-90). When Prospero inquires whether he has performed the tempest as he was bade, he enumerates, amid his master's exclamations of joy, its execution, so that the audience is also well informed. Like Prospero's narrative, Ariel's is a device to compress the action of the play, to let the classical unities obtain in a way that Shakespeare had not done since Comedy of Errors.8 In fact, in keeping with romance, Ariel assures Prospero that his actions were regenerative as those tossed in the water now have fresher garments than before (218-19). In this account, Ariel makes the only allusion to the Bermoothes or Bermuda. In a nook, where Prospero once summoned him 'at midnight to fetch dew/From the still-vexed Bermoothes,' Ariel has hidden the ship, while he has put all the other ships on the Mediterranean 'Bound sadly home for Naples' (228-9, 235). Bermuda is an allusion in a subordinate clause, a kind of association with storms in a story-fragment, and with no grid of where the island is located. Here is the only direct and obvious evidence of the New World in the play and it is in passing, and perhaps not far for a spirit who can go from here to there, from Mediterranean to Bermuda, in a glance.9 Even Ariel is rebellious, as he reminds Prospero of his promise of granting him liberty (242-50). Prospero reacts to what he views as ingratitude by reminding Ariel of the torments that Sycorax had devised for him and of the way Prospero rescued him. The phrase, 'Thou liest, malignant thing,' illustrates the vehemence that Prospero shows to Ariel and the quickness with which his mood can swing (257). According to Prospero's account, he found a tyranny on the island. For a crime, Sycorax was banished from Algiers and, pregnant, was brought to the island, where Ariel was her servant. As Ariel would not enact her terrible commands, she imprisoned him in pain in a cloven pine for a dozen years, during which time she died. Only Caliban had a 'human shape' on the island when Prospero found it, and only Prospero's 'Art' could free Ariel from his howling captivity (284, 291, see 256-93). Even after Ariel responds, 'I thank thee, master,' Prospero threatens to do unto him what Sycorax had. After Ariel swears his obedience, Prospero gives up the threats and promises to free Ariel in two days. He also commands Ariel to make himself invisible in his next enactment of Prospero's magic. Prospero claims the barely inhabited island from the bestial yet human Caliban as if it were terra nullius or, in John Winthrop's words, vacuum domicilium. Just as the Portuguese had claimed 'discovery' of populated areas of the African coast in the fifteenth century, so too had the Spanish, English and French used the legal fiction of terra nullius, that nomadic Amerindians ranged but did not inhabit the land as Europeans did, so their land could be possessed.10 If we are sympathetic to Prospero, we can say that he usurped the remnants of a penal colony, founded as the result of some unnamed crime, and became the de facto ruler through justice. On the other hand, his magic is a deterrent and becomes the force of law, especially in relation to Caliban, the son of the tyrannous Sycorax of Prospero's official version, but also to Ariel.

After Ariel leaves, Prospero wakes up Miranda in order to find Caliban, whom Prospero calls 'slave' to his face five times in this scene (310, 315, 321, 346, 376). As in the opening scene, a conflict between classes occurs here, but in its most unsavory manifestation (at least for a modern audience), that is in the relation between master and slave. Prospero understands Caliban's indispensability, whereas Miranda feels repugnance.11 Ariel makes a brief entrance as a water nymph, as if to provide a contrast with Caliban (318-20). According to Prospero, Caliban is the offspring of a witch and an incubus, a fiend whose mother is in many ways a witch from the classics.12 Prospero and Caliban curse each other (323-32). Caliban claims the island was his: he was a king who has now become Prospero's only subject. He curses Prospero, whom he once loved and showed the fruits of the island, for detaining him in a rock. For Prospero, this state arose because Caliban attempted to rape Miranda, an attempt that Caliban wishes Prospero had not thwarted. Miranda (some editors make it Prospero) curses Caliban as 'Abhorred slave' and upbraids him for his betrayal of trust (353-64). Here, then, is an irreconcilable dispute over the history of the island, a meeting of two sides who are incommensurate, whether this irreconcilable difference possesses any dimension of an allegory of the New World. Caliban makes his position clear: 'You taught me language; and my profit on't/Is, I know how to curse' (365-6). He then proceeds to do just that chiasmically, for he curses Prospero (and Miranda) for teaching him their language. But even then Shakespeare weighs the debate rhetorically in Prospero's favour, making Caliban almost too much of a tabula rasa. As in the case of Ariel, Prospero threatens Caliban with physical pain if he does not obey him. Even if there is no direct evidence that this Old World island is also of the New World, it seems that the berry drink Caliban remembers as a gift of Prospero is like the one the Bermuda castaways drank in Sylvester Jourdain's A Discovery of the Bermudas (1610) and that Caliban must obey Prospero, who could control Sycorax's god, Sestebos, whom, as Richard Eden mentions in History of Travaile (1577), in his description of Magellan's voyage, the Patagonians summoned for help.13 But, like Ariel's stopover in Bermuda, Caliban's allusion, which is more unconscious, is part of a diffuse context of Shakespeare's reading rather than a distinct fictional world based in the New World.

The next segment of the scene involves Ariel leading Ferdinand to Prospero and Miranda (377-504). His songs of wild waves and drowning remind Ferdinand of his father, who was apparently lost in the storm (377-411). Miranda considers Ferdinand a spirit, and, as Prospero has planned it, she thinks the young man 'A thing divine' (421). For Ferdinand, Miranda is a wonder, and more wonderful still for speaking his language (429-33). His wish fulfilment is that of the traveller who hopes to find a paradise that speaks his language and bears his names. The Europeans began to rename the New World, but Ferdinand does not need to in this scene that Prospero has made for him. Prospero is so pleased that in asides he promises to set Ariel free for his good work: he also calls Ferdinand a spy who wants to usurp his island and tests him in case he takes Miranda too lightly for having wooed her so easily (422-69). Nor does Prospero fail to test Miranda as he says that she has seen two men, Ferdinand and Caliban, and this young man needs to be obedient (469-501). The scene closes with Prospero promising freedom to Ariel if he does exactly 'All points of my command,' which Ariel promises 'To th' syllable' (503). Prospero controls the freedom of all the other characters in the play.

The political themes of authority and rebellion or freedom and slavery continue to interact with the romance themes of survival, regeneration and wonder. In Act Two, scene one, Gonzalo tries to cheer A lonzo with thoughts on the miracle of their preservation, while the king will not be so easily humoured. Sebastian and Antonio make fun of Gonzalo's efforts and wit in a satirical running commentary made in asides, until they mock the old counsellor directly as Hamlet does with Polonius. Gonzalo notes the freshness of the garments as Ariel had (II. 1.1-68). The first one hundred and eighty-five lines of this scene involve a diversion in which Antonio and Sebastian send up Gonzalo, thereby showing their youthful impatience with him, indirectly their opposition to Alonzo, whom Gonzalo serves, and their impatient and sharp characters as opposed to Gonzalo's well-meaning but official character. The marriage between Claribel and the King of Tunis, to which Gonzalo alludes, is the pretext for the journey in which Prospero has trapped them by means of the storm. Gonzalo's comparison of the couple to 'widow Dido' and Aeneas causes Antonio, Sebastian and Adrian much merriment. They were not married but were lovers—and Aeneas abandoned Dido to found Rome and to become part of the translation of empire. As Adrian points out, Gonzalo confuses Carthage with Tunis. In Antonio's and Sebastian's response the subsequent allusion to the miraculous harp of Amphion, which raised the walls of Thebes, reveals that Gonzalo's gaffe has made a new city. Antonio and Sebastian also make fun of his wondrous geography, mocking him for making magical mistakes (66-97). Just as Gertrude grows impatient with Polonius' logorrheia, so too does Alonzo tire of the surfeit of words. He is lost in his grief and he will not abide Gonzalo's verbal insistence (102-09). Not even Francisco's hopeful description of Ferdinand's possible escape from the storm will placate the doleful Alonzo. It is his distraction that has allowed Gonzalo to be the butt of the jokes for so long in this scene as the men wile away the time until the king's grief abates. Alonzo's brother, Sebastian, blames the king for marrying his daughter to an African, for not listening to all of them who argued against the marriage and for not heeding his daughter, who ' Weigh' d between loathness and obedience' (126). Besides this aspect of obedience, the theme of widows recurs, as Sebastian reminds him of the men lost at sea, but his bluntness earns him Gonzalo's gentle rebuke—to think of the king's feelings (118-36).

When Gonzalo speaks of his ideal commonwealth, he draws on Montaigne's Des Cannibales, which John Florio published in translation in 1603 (143ff).14 Montaigne, and therefore Gonzalo, draws on reports of cannibals in the New World. Those critics who emphasize the New World in The Tempest have seized on something important in the play. The notion of Europe's connection with Africa and America occurs in passing, in brief allusions and in sources. It is a significant subtext that Shakespeare uses but does not stress explicitly. For ethical and political reasons, critics have increasingly felt the need to focus on the theme of colonizer and colonized. The ideal commonwealth, which Gonzalo borrows from Montaigne, is something Antonio and Sebastian scorn in their continued mockery of the old man. Whether Shakespeare is satirizing Montaigne's natural commonwealth is unclear. Nature is abundant and sufficient to ensure human happiness. Is Gonzalo a good man who is wrong about the ideal state or are Antonio and Sebastian as misguided in their mockery as they are in their plot against Alonzo? It is true that Gonzalo would need the authority not to admit sovereignty, which would be a trick of government this world has not yet seen. Sebastian and Gonzalo treat Gonzalo as an upstart king of his dreams, and tell him they laugh at him (139-79). They willingly literalize Gonzalo's words, beginning with his first words about the commonwealth that equate 'plantation' with planting and forgetting its equivalence with colonization, so to ridicule his ideas. But Gonzalo is good-natured as he asks his two mockers to laugh him to sleep (180-5). It is, however, Ariel who lulls Gonzalo and then Alonzo to sleep with solemn music (179-93).

It does not take Antonio long to tempt Sebastian with Alonzo's crown (193-203). Sebastian thinks that Antonio is speaking a language of sleep in this torpid place. Antonio says that Ferdinand is dead and that Claribel is in Tunis and therefore out of the way from Naples, so that Sebastian could be king; he also replies to Sebastian's remark that Antonio supplanted Prospero and to his question about conscience by representing himself as happy and without regret (204-75). The audience experiences dramatic irony as it knows that Ferdinand is alive and that Prospero has orchestrated the storm to trap Antonio and to redeem his lost kingdom. Whereas Antonio is hyperbolic, Sebastian is not. He would kill Alonzo while Sebastian killed Gonzalo. But, as Ariel says, Prospero has foreseen this rebellion, so that Sebastian's agreement will get him nowhere. Ariel awakens Gonzalo with song, and the two guards, who had promised A lonzo his safety, have to lie about drawing swords against bulls or lions (276-320). The scene ends with Ariel promising to report his work to Prospero, and his wish: 'So, King, go safely on to seek thy son' (322).

Ariel may be obedient, but Caliban, like Sebastian, is not and is open to suggestion. Yet another rebellion is simmering. Caliban opens Act Two, scene two with a curse on Prospero (H.2.1-4). Caliban mistakes Trinculo for one of Prospero's spirits, and Trinculo does not know whether Caliban is a man or a fish. In England, Trinculo says, a monster makes a man rich: there, when people 'will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian' (32-4). From Frobisher onward (1576), the English brought many Indians home and exhibited them. Montaigne spoke with some Amerindians who visited France. As Indians became more familiar, they replaced the wild man in masques and pageants.15 This comic incident of the fishiness of Caliban demonstrates that, through allusion, he was at least in part associated with the Amerindian in Shakespeare's mind. When Stephano enters with his bawdy sailor's song, Caliban mistakes him as well for one of Prospero's tormenting spirits. Stephano misapprehends the four-legged beast under the gabardine, that is Trinculo and Caliban: 'Have we devils here? Do you put tricks upon's with salvages and men of Ind, ha?' (58-9). Stephano wonders how the 'monster of the isle' learned our language,' an astonishment not unlike Ferdinand's when he hears Miranda speak (66-8). Like Trinculo, Stephano is thinking of how a show of this 'monster' will make him rich at home (69-80). On stage the humour is more apparent as the monster that Stephano is talking about is Trinculo and Caliban under cover, and Stephano thinks it the devil when it calls him by name (99-100). In an aside, Caliban considers Stephano a god who 'bears celestial liquor' (118). Stephano admits that he escaped the storm on a butt of sack, a comic gesture for a drunkard but also a detail from the Bermuda narratives.16 Rather than swear on the Bible, Caliban declares uninvited: 'I'll swear, upon that bottle, to be thy true subject; for the liquor is not earthly' (126-7). Here is a parodic oath of allegiance, a type of comic inversion of the obedience Caliban once gave to Prospero. Shakespeare represents a kind of parodic first encounter between Amerindian and European:

Caliban Hast thou not dropp'd from heaven?
Stephano Out o' the moon, I do assure thee: I was the man i'th'moon when time was.
Caliban I have seen thee in her, and I do adore thee.


Other Europeans had thought that they had beguiled the Natives so, but that might have been hubris on their part.17 The famous Letter of Columbus concerning the first voyage represents the first contact with the Amerindians in similar fashion: 'And they do not know any creed and are not idolaters; only they all believe that power and good are in the heavens, and they are very firmly convinced that I, with these ships and men, came from heaven.'18 It is questionable whether the Natives thought of the Europeans in the grandiose ways that the Europeans represent for themselves.

Trinculo insults Caliban as 'A most poor credulous monster!' while Caliban asks Stephano to 'be my god' and swears to be his subject (146, see 142-59). Thus Caliban promises to serve Stephano as he had served Prospero by exploiting the island's resources for him. Amid these promises and his curse of Prospero, whom he calls a tyrant, Trinculo comments: 'A most ridiculous monster, to make a wonder of a poor drunkard!' (165-6). Once again, dramatic irony limits the usurpation of new authority. The audience knows that the king and company live even as Stephano tells Trinculo the contrary and that 'we will inherit here' (175). Trinculo thinks that Caliban is drunk (179). Although Caliban sings that he will make no more dams for fish, he has promised to fish for Stephano (161, 180). In this drunken scene of mistaken identity, there is comedy from the ironic blindness with which Caliban and Stephano end it:

Caliban 'Ban, 'Ban, Cacaliban
Has a new master:—get a new man.
Freedom, high-day! high-day, freedom! freedom,
high-day, freedom!

Stephano O brave monster! lead the way. 


Here the class delusions of Stephano are as great as the illusions of Caliban.

Act Three, scene one represents Ferdinand as he performs his labours cheerfully for Miranda, though he is not without criticism for Prospero (1-14). She bids Ferdinand rest and circumvent her father's orders because Prospero is studying but he is actually observing them at a distance unseen. She tells Ferdinand her name against her father's wishes. They swear their love and Prospero asks heaven to shower its grace on this pair. Prospero is less happy with their promise to marry than they are (15-96). Like Caliban and Stephano, the lovers are full of wonder, but their oaths will see them farther than the two rebels because in the context of romance, they are the young who will regenerate the world through marriage. Their obedience in comedy would not be so necessary as they could circumvent the senex, but here in romance, the magus helps their love with his spell, which also heals the impotent king.19

Shakespeare surrounds the love scene in the middle of the play with the antics of Stephano and Caliban and the satirical comments of Trinculo. Folly continues to be Trinculo's theme: 'They say there's but five upon this isle: we are three of them; if th'other two be brain'd like us, the state totters' (III.4.6). Both Caliban and Stephano are reeling with drink. Of Trinculo, Caliban says, 'I'll not serve him, he is not valiant' (22-3). He appeals to Stephano when Trinculo abuses him, and Stephano warns the offender: 'if you prove a mutineer,—the next tree!' (33-4). Ariel plays tricks on the three so that when he says 'Thou liest' to Caliban's lament, that Prospero is a tyrant who cheated him of the island, Ariel is mistaken for Trinculo and this brings about new threats from Stephano (40f). By repeating this phrase at key times, Ariel disrupts Caliban's plot to deliver Prospero to Stephano and raises the new master's ire against Trinculo. Caliban wants Stephano to possess and burn Prospero's books, 'for without them/He's but a sot, as I am' and promises that Stephano will have Miranda in bed and produce 'brave brood' (90-103). Stephano declares that Miranda will be his queen after he kills Prospero and that Caliban and Trinculo will be vice-roys. Ariel's invisible presence makes this all unlikely and increases the dramatic irony. Thoughts of Prospero's death by violence make Caliban 'full of pleasure,' and Stephano cannot remember the song Caliban wants but comes up with a nonsensical catch that ends 'Thought is free' (114, 120). Stephano and Trinculo are afraid of Ariel's music, so that Caliban must tell them not to be afraid of this island so 'full of noises' (131-2). As in the scene before the pledges of Ferdinand and Miranda, Caliban leads Stephano, to make the inversion complete.

Not surprisingly, the next scene represents more rebellious thoughts. Gonzalo is tired and Alonzo out of hope: Antonio and Sebastian plot to kill them. Now Prospero and Ariel put on a banquet for them and play more tricks. This time Prospero's asides point out the evil in Alonzo's party. He leaves the banquet behind, but Alonzo does not want to touch it. Gonzalo, however, tries to reassure him that this feast is not more strange than 'men/Whose heads stood in their breasts' (III.3.47). This Mandevillian motif also occurs in Walter Ralegh's The Discovery of Guiana (1595) and in Othello's Anthropophagi, so that it combines old world fiction with new world rumour (I.3.144-5).20 When Alonzo decides to eat, Ariel, as a Harpy, makes the banquet vanish. Ariel appeals to himself as an agent of Destiny and Fate. He reminds the three that they 'From Milan did supplant good Prospero' and tells Alonzo that for such actions the ministers have taken away his son and leave the father to perdition (70). Ariel vanishes; the spirits reappear and carry out the table; Prospero praises Ariel's role as harpy and speaks of his control over his enemies and his impending visit to Ferdinand, whom they suppose drowned. Another case of dramatic irony shows the limitations of those who oppose Prospero: the conventions of romance check political rebellion. Alonzo thinks the events 'monstrous,' that the wind seemed to call out the name of Prospero and make him so aware of his guilt that he will seek his son in the deep. Sebastian and Antonio think that they are fighting fiends. Realizing that Alonzo, Antonio and Sebastian are desperate and that 'their great guilt,/Like poison given to work a great time after,/Now 'gins to bite the spirits,' Gonzalo sends Adrian to restrain the three (104-06).

Shakespeare has been contrasting the loyalty and honour of Ferdinand with the treachery of Caliban, Sebastian and Antonio. In Act Four, scene one, he intensifies this comparison. Prospero tells Ferdinand that he has passed his tests and now has won Miranda's hand, a daughter who 'will outstrip all praise' (IV.1.10). Still, Prospero threatens Ferdinand not to break Miranda's virginity before the marriage ceremony, and Ferdinand swears by his honour that he will not (13-32). Prospero, the trickster, still needs Ariel to perform tricks, so that he can regain Milan and ensure the dynastic marriage for his daughter. After checking the young couple's resolve, Prospero arranges for the masque. It is stylized, its verse in rhymed couplets. Iris, Juno's messenger, speaks of Ceres, the goddess of the harvest, in appropriately pastoral imagery. Juno descends. Ceres asks Iris why Juno has summoned her, and Iris replies that 'A contract of true love to celebrate;/And some donation freely to estate/On the blest lovers' (84-6). Ceres wonders whether Venus or Cupid now attends Juno as they plotted to allow Dis or Pluto, the ruler of the underworld, to carry off Ceres' daughter Proserpine to be his queen. Thus, Ceres has foresworn their company, and Iris assures her that Venus and Cupid will not carry out their vows to put a 'wanton charm' on the young couple, for they are defeated (95). Juno asks Ceres to go with her to bless the couple's marriage, and they do with images of increase and agricultural bounty. Ferdinand praises this 'most majestic vision' and asks Prospero whether these are spirits, which the magician says he has summoned. The audience response or interruption, so common in Shakespearean plays-within-plays, ends with Ferdinand's praise of Prospero's ability to make this place 'Paradise,' and Prospero's call for silence for fear that the spell will be broken (118-27). On behalf of Juno, Iris calls forth the Naiads, or chaste nymphs, to 'celebrate/A contract of true love' (132-3). This emphasis on chastity amplifies Prospero's lesson to Ferdinand and Miranda. The reapers join the nymphs in a dance, but at the height of harmony, which would usually end a comedy, Prospero ends the vision because of his memory of Caliban's conspiracy (139-44). The political theme will not let the romance theme alone.

Miranda tells Ferdinand that she has never seen Prospero so distempered, and to cheer up his new-found and unsolemnized son-in-law, Prospero comments with his famous speech, beginning 'Our revels now are ended' (148f. See V.1.309). The spirits dissolve just as the masque did, but from that dissolution Prospero makes his well-known generalization about human life, 'We are such stuff/As dreams are made on; and our little life/Is rounded with a sleep' (156-8). This metatheatrical moment calls attention to the metaphysics and aesthetic experience of drama. The politics of ingratitude, which Caliban and Antonio represent for Prospero, break in on the theatrical illusion but do so in the self-conscious space of the theatre.

After Miranda and Ferdinand have gone, Ariel enters and says that he did not want to anger Prospero by mentioning Caliban. Ariel left Caliban and his cohorts up to their chins in a foul lake and in their conspiracy. Prospero dismisses the idea of Caliban as 'A devil, a born devil, on whose nature/Nurture can never stick' (188-9). He thinks that the outward decline of his body reflects the inward decline of his mind. There is now great dissension among the three conspirators, and even Stephano has begun to threaten Caliban. Caliban wants Stephano to kill Prospero, but his king is drawn to what his monster knows to be a trashy wardrobe. It is as if Stephano and Trinculo cannot measure up to Caliban. Prospero and Ariel drive the three conspirators out. Prospero wants them to feel pain, and he reminds Ariel one more time that he will soon be free (264-5).

The fifth and final act shows Prospero in control as he had planned. Ariel tells him about Alonso and his other prisoners and says that Gonzalo's tears have moved him and should therefore move Prospero, who is human. The magician orders his spirit to release his prisoners from the spell. Alone, Prospero chronicles his power as a magician and concludes: 'But this rough magic/I here abjure;' he says he will break his staff and drown his book (V.1.50-7). Ariel brings Alonso and the others to Prospero, and he notes how the charm dissolves. The nub of Prospero's meditation is the loyalty of Gonzalo and the unnaturalness of his own brother Antonio, who resembles Caliban in this: 'I do forgive thee,/Unnatural though thou art' (78-9). This act of forgiveness is spoken for the benefit of Prospero and the audience because Antonio is still spell-bound. Prospero will dress as he did as Duke of Milan (86). Politics lie behind his art of magic.

Ariel sings while attiring him in ducal dress. Prospero says he will miss Ariel and promises him freedom once more. The last bit of magical business that Prospero wants Ariel to perform is to wake up the crew and bring them to him. Gonzalo and Alonso awaken to Prospero, dressed as the Duke of Milan. Understandably, Alonso is confused whether Prospero is an apparition or the person himself, but he gives up Milan's tribute. Here is the ultimate recognition scene in which Alonso asks pardon for his wrongs (112-19).

Prospero's generous welcome yields to his reproach for his brother, Antonio, who is blind to recognition of his faults and does not answer or make amends (129-34). But Alonso deflects the confrontation by asking Prospero to tell his story (134). The greatest moment of dramatic irony occurs in this scene. Alonso has lost his son, and Prospero says he has lost his daughter. The audience knows his double meaning: Alonso does not. He wishes that they were both alive to be King and Queen of Naples. Prospero will not tell his story in full Tor 'tis a chronicle of day by day,/Not a relation for a breakfast, nor/Befitting this first meeting' (163-5). When speaking about the recovery of his dukedom, Prospero uncovers the final piece in the comic cogito or discovery. As the stage direction indicates, 'cognitio he discovers FERDINAND and MIRANDA playing at chess' (171). This game of chess as moment of recognition is wonderful theatre and is also a romance motif. Like the resurrection of Hermione in The Winter's Tale, this scene is, as Sebastian says, 'A most high miracle!' (177). More than the similar scene in The Winter's Tale, this scene involves two-way recognition. Alonso learns that Ferdinand is alive, but the son also sees that the father still lives. And Miranda discovers her 'brave new world,' even if it is new to her and not to Prospero (183-4). Ferdinand and Gonzalo, who says he is speechless with inward weeping, claim that it is Providence that has brought Miranda and Ferdinand together.

Gonzalo summarizes the comic triumph of this romance. Through this good counsellor, Shakespeare represents, for the characters if not for the audience, the comic catastrophe, how events driving towards tragedy, reverse themselves to a happy ending:

Was Milan thrust from Milan, that his issue
Should become Kings of Naples? O, rejoice
Beyond a common joy! and set it down
With gold on lasting pillars: in one voyage
Did Claribel her husband find at Tunis,
And Ferdinand, her brother, found a wife
Where he himself was lost, Prospero his dukedom
In a poor isle, and all of us ourselves
When no man was his own.


Alonso and Gonzalo bless the much-blessed couple as if to amplify the blessings of Prospero and Juno and Ceres in the masque. But Shakespeare keeps his lightness of touch by having Gonzalo confront the foulmouthed Boatswain, who arrives after an absence since the first scene of the play. The Boatswain ignores the confrontation and is glad to see his king safe. The chaos, which began with the storm that made him question the use of his ruler and the counsellor on deck, is over. In asides that punctuate this part of the scene, Prospero praises Ariel's work. In response to the Boatswain's wondrous tale about what happened to the crew in the storm, Alonso gives another perspective on events: 'This is as strange a maze as e'er men trod; / And there is in this business more than nature/Was ever conduct of (242-4). He asks for an oracle to make all clear, and Prospero says he will later give every detail of events.

The final loose end is the three rebels, Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo. Ariel drives these drunkards on stage. After Sebastian and Antonio return to their sardonic repartee (this time about these three) as if nothing happened, Prospero tells of Caliban's origins and how he plotted to take Prospero's life (263-74). This parodie Saturnalia must have an end. In a kind of comic accommodation, but with some political tensions in our day, Prospero says of the three drunken plotters: 'Two of these fellows you / Must know and own; this thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine' (274-6). Prospero is probably referring to darkness as evil because he has called him 'this demi-devil' (V.1.272), but some critics, like E. K. Chambers, have thought that Prospero is referring to Caliban's skin.21 Despite Prospero's assertion that Caliban's ill shape reflects his ill manners, he sees that Caliban looks 'To have my pardon' (293). Perhaps part of the logic of the comic ending of romance, which may be generally seen as part of general comedy, Caliban asks forgiveness and seems to be assimilated into the comic triumph. He will obey Prospero and go promptly to his cell: 'and I'll be wise hereafter, / And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass/Was I, to take this drunkard for a god, / And worship this dull fool!' (294-7). The comic imperative can also allow Sebastian, who was part of Antonio's plot to kill Alonso and Gonzalo, to correct Alonso, who asks the three drunkards to take their luggage, saying that they stole it. Prospero invites everyone to his cell to rest for a night and to hear the story of his life. Unlike the end of Cymbeline, where Shakespeare represents a long narrative to enlighten the characters about events the audience already knows, here the narrative is but a promise for the future. In the morning Prospero hopes to go to Naples, to see the nuptial solemnized and give every third thought to his grave. Alonso continues to do what he has done in this scene: he speaks about the strangeness of the events, a reminiscent theme of the endings of Shakespearean comedy and romance, something, for instance, much evident in A Midsummer Night's Dream:: 'I long/To hear the story of your life, which must/Take the ear strangely' (311-13). Once again, Prospero promises to 'deliver all' and he hopes for good winds. His last act is to set Ariel free (313-18).

But of course that is how the body of the play ends. The Epilogue, which Prospero speaks, is famous for his request that the audience set him free from the island through its applause. The breath of the audience in his extended metaphor will blow his ship and make his project succeed, because his magic has left him. Prospero is out of character and out of magic. He needs the audience's mercy and prayer to free him from his faults. His last two lines are 'As you from crimes would pardon'd be/, Let your indulgence set me free' (19-20). This is metatheatrical pleading along the lines of Rosalind's Epilogue at the end of As You Like It. Here is the imperfect perfection beyond the bounds of the body of the play: the audience rounds off the illusion of drama with a mediation back into the world. I have tried to take the middle way and look at the intertwined themes of romance and politics, the two allegories of Shakespeare's taking leave of his art and of the politics of colonizer and colonized. These two allegories, especially Shakespeare's return to Stratford, are understandable ways of reading the need for pardon in the play and in the Epilogue. But as an audience, we have to remember that we too have faults, aesthetic and political, for which we need pardon and understanding.


1 For a discussion of earlier criticism of the play. All citations and quotations from The Tempest are from William Shakespeare, The Tempest, ed. Frank Kermode (1954. London: Methuen, 1958).

See Kermode, Introduction, The Tempest, lxxxi. I thank Jean-Marie Maguin, Angela Maguin, and Charles Whitworth for their invitation to give an earlier version of this essay as a seminar at their Centre d'Études et de Recherches sur la Renaissance Anglaise, Université Paul Valéry (Montpellier III) in March 1994.

2 Aimé Césaire, 'Une Tempête: ' d'après 'La Tempête' de ShakespeareAdaptation pour un théâtre nègre (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1961). See Thomas A. Hale, "Sur Une tempête d'Aimé Césaire," Études Littéraires 6 (1973): 21-34. For early debates of imperialism and Shakespeare, see:

Daniel Wilson, Caliban: the Missing Link (London: Macmillan, 1873) and W. T. Stead, "First Impressions of the Theatre," Review of Reviews 30 (October 1904): 360-7. For discussions of this postcolonial use of Shakespeare, Charlotte H. Bruner, "The Meaning of Caliban in Black Literature Today," Comparative Literature Studies 13 (1976): 240-53; Trevor R. Griffiths, "'This Island's Mine:' Caliban and Colonialism," Year-book of English Studies 13 (1983): 159-80; Diana Brydon, "Re-writing The Tempest," World Literature Written in English [WLWE] 23 (1984): 75-88; Peter Hulme, 'Prospero and Caliban, ' Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean 1492-1797, London: Routledge, 1986. 89-134; Rob Nixon, "Caribbean and African Appropriations of The Tempest," Critical Inquiry 13.3 (1987): 557-78; Laura Donaldson, "The Miranda Complex: Colonialism and Question of Feminist Reading," Diacritics (1988): 65-77; Jonathan Hart, "Traces, Resistances and Contradictions: Canadian and International Perspectives on Post-Colonial Theories," Arachne, 1.1 (1994): esp. 77-8.

3 See also Frantz Fanon, Peau noire, masques blancs (Paris: Seuil, 1952); George Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile (London: M. Joseph, 1960); C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution, (New York: Vintage, 1963); Dominique O. Mannoni, Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization, trans. Pamela Powesland (New York: Praeger, 1964); Edward Braithwaite, Islands (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1969); Lemuel Johnson, Highlifefor Caliban (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1973). Roberto Fernandez Retamar, "Caliban: Notes Toward a Discussion of Culture in Our America," Massachusetts Review 15 (1974): 7-72.

4 See Anthony Pagden, Spanish Imperialism and the Political Imagination, New Haven: Yale UP, 1990 10-11.

5 Kermode Ivi.

6 Northrop Frye, Foreword to George M. Logan and Gordon Teskey eds., Unfolded Tales: Essays in Renaissance Romance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1989) ix.

7 Geoffrey H. Hartman, The Fate of Reading And Other Essays, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975); Northrop Frye, A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearian Comedy, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965) 88; see A. Kent Hieatt, "Cymbeline and the Intrusion of Lyric into Romance Narrative: Sonnets, A Lover's Complaint, Spenser's Ruins of Rome," 117-18 and Patricia Parker, "Romance and Empire: Anachronistic Cymbeline," 189-208 both in G. Logan and G. Teskey eds., Unfolded Tales (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1989) 191-207.

8 See Jonathan Hart, "Introduction: Narrative, Narrative Theory, Drama: The Renaissance," Special Issue/Numéro Spécial. Renaissance Narrative and Drama/Récit et Théâtre à la Renaissance, ed. Jonathan Hart, Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée 18 2/3 (1991): 117-18, 145-65.

9 Here I use the word 'direct' advisedly. There is other evidence of the 'American' dimension of this play. If at one time, too little emphasis was placed on the New World in The Tempest, in recent years this dimension has eclipsed all other aspects. What I have been suggesting is a balance between the aesthetic and political elements. In arguing for that intricate relation, it may seem that I am playing down the Utopian or new-world thematics, but such a position is only apparent because elsewhere I have recognized the importance of the play for colonialism and post-colonialism. Now, in response to so much discussion of this dimension, I am now saying that we should look at as many views of The Tempest, as possible [see Hart, "Perspectives" Arachne 1 (1994) 78, Griffiths, "'This Island's Mine,'" Yearbook of English Studies 13 (1983): 159-80]. In his recent Oxford edition of the play, Stephen Orgel provides a useful reminder that it is too easy to underestimate utopia and the New World in this drama which Malone first called attention to in 1808 [Stephen Orgel, Introduction, William Shakespeare, The Tempest (1987. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994) 31-6)]. For instance, in the body of this essay, I mention Gonzalo's Utopian speech (II. 1.145-62). Both Kermode and Orgel remind us that this speech is taken almost verbatim from Florio's translation of Montaigne's "Of the Cannibals" and echoes Renaissance thought about the relation of Europe to the New World. Shakespeare uses Strachey's account of Bermuda. The playwright associated with members of the Virginia Company like Southampton, Pembroke, Christopher Brooke, Dudley Digges and others. Other allusions to the New World exist besides "the still-vexed Bermudas" as E. E. Stoll argued in 1927 [Orgel 31-2; Charles Mills Gayley, Shakespeare and the Founders of Liberty in America (New York: Macmillan, 1917); Leslie Hotson I, William Shakespeare, Do Appoint Thomas Russell, Esquire (London: Cape, 1937), 203-36; E. E. Stoll, "Certain Fallacies and Irrelevancies in the Literary Scholarship of the Day," Studies in Philology 24 (1927) 487]. Charles Frey, as Orgel notes, suggests that travel narratives gave Shakespeare models of behaviour in the exchange between European and Native (Orgel 33; Charles Frey, "The Tempest and the New World," Shakespeare Quarterly 30 (1979) 34; Philip Brockbank, "The Tempest: Conventions of Art and Empire," Later Shakespeare, ed. J. R. Brown and B. Harris (London: Arnold, 1966) 183-201). From the time of Columbus into the seventeenth century, free love, utopia and cannibalism recur in the New World narratives in word and iconography. As reading Thomas Harriot shows, there is a the typology between Old World savages, such as the ancient Britons, and New World Natives (Orgel 34, Harriot, Thomas. A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (London, 1590) sig Er). A tension exists in Shakespeare's play between notions of the Natives as predatory (Purchas, John Smith) and the ideas that the Europeans are thus (Montaigne) (see Orgel 35-6, Stephen Greenblatt, "Learning to Curse," First Images of America, ed. Fredi Chiapelli (Berkeley: U of California P, 1976) 561-80).

10 L. C. Green, L. C. and Olive P. Dickason, The Law of Nations and the New World (Edmonton: U of Alberta P, 1989) 221, 235, see 87; Neal Salisbury, "Squanto: Last of the Patuxets," David G. Sweet and Gary B. Nash ed. Struggle and Survival in Colonial America (Berkeley: U of California P, 1981) 239-40).

11 See Sidney Lee, "The American Indian in Elizabethan England," Scribners 42 (1907): 313-30.

12 Kermode xl.

13 See Kermode xxxii, 141.

14 See Kermode 145-7.

15 This practice of kidnapping the aboriginal peoples of the New World begins with Columbus and, for the English, appears to have occurred earlier than Kermode (62) says. For instance, in Sixteenth Century North America: The Land and the People as Seen by the Europeans [Berkeley: U of California P, 1971], Carl Ortwin Sauer notes the practice amongst the Portuguese: The two ships of Gaspar and Miguel Vaz Corte Real, returning from the coast of Newfoundland, brought back to Lisbon "several score of natives, male and female, described in attentive detail. They were Indians, not Eskimos, and are thought to have been Beothuks, inhabitants of Newfoundland" (13). Sauer talks about voyages from Bristol to north of Newfoundland. In March 1501 Henry VII gave letters patent to six men of Bristol, three of whom being originally from the Azores, including John Fernandes, to explore any seas yet unknown to Christians. Two voyages occurred, the ships of the second "returning with three savages, presumably Eskimos" (15).

16 See Kermode 122.

17 Kermode xxxvii, 66; see Cawley, "Shakespeare's Use of the Voyagers," PMLA 41 (1926): 688-726.

18The Four Voyages of Columbus: A History in Eight Documents, Including Five By Christopher Columbus, In The Original Spanish, With English Translations Cecil Jane trans, and ed. (1930, 1933. New York: Dover, 1988) 8-10. See Jonathan Hart, "Images of the Native in Renaissance Encounter Narratives," Ariel 25 (October 1994): 55-76. Other related papers that I gave at Cambridge, Warwick, Deakin, and Melbourne from April to mid-July 1994 provide other points of view on the European and Native encounter; see Hart "Mediation in the Exchange Between Europeans and Native Americans in the Early Modern Period," special issue, CRCL/RCLC 22 (1995), 319-43 and "Strategies of Promotion: The Prefatory Matter of Oviedo, Thevet and Hakluyt," Imagining Culture: Essays in Early Modern History and Literature, Jonathan Hart, ed. (New York and London: Garland Publishing, forthcoming 1996).

19 See Northrop Frye, Natural Perspective (1965) 87.

20 See Kermode xxxii, 88.

21 E.K. Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1930) vol. 1. 94, cited in Kermode xxxviii.

Source: "Redeeming The Tempest: Romance and Politics," in Cahiers Elisabethains, No. 49, April, 1996, pp. 23-38.