Music and noise are important to The Tempest . Noise often raises the fear of discord or disaster, as do the loud noises that suggest the ship is likely to be destroyed by the tempest that arises in act I, scene i, and gives the play its name. Interpreting the...
Music and noise are important to The Tempest. Noise often raises the fear of discord or disaster, as do the loud noises that suggest the ship is likely to be destroyed by the tempest that arises in act I, scene i, and gives the play its name. Interpreting the competent boatswain's unwelcome words as "noise," Antonio characterizes himself as an arrogant figure, while the noise of the storm rightly conveys danger. However, I might focus on Ariel and Caliban as two characters who can be understood, in part, by their use or response to music.
Music, the kind of sound most associated with Ariel, is the opposite of "noise" in the play, at least on the surface. However, while not discordant to the ear, it is used to mislead and frighten those who do not know how to interpret it. In act I, scene ii, Ferdinand is misled by Ariel's tricky song to believe his father is dead, though this is not what the words say.
Music characterizes Ariel as a poetic trickster throughout much of the play and not just when he sings misleading words to Ferdinand. In act III, scene ii, the invisible Ariel, for example, mocks Trinculo and Stephano by playing the same song they are singing "on a tabor and pipe." The two are frightened at Ariel's mischief and Trinculo cries:
This is the tune of our catch, played by the picture of Nobody.
But Caliban, characterized by Prospero and Miranda as a monster, responds to Stephano and Trinculo saying:
Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep
Will make me sleep again
This is a lovely and sensitive appreciation on Caliban's part of the sounds of the island and is meant to comfort his new friends. Caliban's response to music hints that he may be a character of greater depth than is understood by his European masters.
It is interesting that the ability to use and appreciate music (and noise) is most associated with Ariel and Caliban, the two creatures native to the island. Their appreciation of it affirms the island's sounds as good, though Prospero may have turned them to the ill purposes of revenge.