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The Tempest

The multi-dimensional text of The Tempest has inspired a rich variety of critical analyses. Despite an atypically strict adherence to the unities of time and place, the play operates in an open, fluid atmosphere of the natural and supernatural that evades ready interpretation. In seeking to examine the numerous contexts which may have informed the writing of the work, recent critics have focused on the character of Prospero and the nature of his magic, as well as the drama's sources and structure.

The Tempest's ability to spark such a variety of interpretation is due in part to the fact that the play's plot and situation defy a single clearly identifiable source. Since the eighteenth century, scholars have identified William Strachey's epistle account of the 1609 shipwreck of the Sea Adventurer while en route to the Virginia colony as a primary source for the plot and setting of the play. Prior to 1960, other potential source materials cited were Montaigne's writings on primitive life in the New World, folkloric magician literature.the commedia dell'arte tradition, and Ovid's Metamorphoses and the Aeneid. Recent scholarship has expanded source studies of The Tempest in several areas. Since 1960 critics have given closer scrutiny to the relationship between the play and Latin literature, especially the writings of Vergil and Ovid. John Gillies (1986), for example, explored Ovidian themes in the play, contending that Shakespeare's presentation of "the official portrait" of the Virginia colony is in fact Ovidian in its emphasis on fruitfulness and temperancr. In addition to this expanded exploration of classical sources, scholarship has focussed on new colonial perspectives in the text. Since the turn of the century, scholars have cited the literature of New World pamphlets in circulation at the time the play was written as evidence that the adventures of the Virginia colony were a source for the setting and political views of The Tempest. This view was vehemently rejected by critics who saw the Bermuda setting of the play as a refutation of Virginian sources. In recent scholarship, Gillies has continued this discussion in his article on the Virginian influence, writing that "with its emphasis on self-discipline, its apparent endorsement of absolute power as a necessary means to general prosperity, and its no-nonsense attitude towards savagery, The Tempest can be seen to reflect not only the events of 1609, but the mood which gave them significance".

The debate over sources often frames the discussion of the play's structure. In particular, critics have viewed the masque of Ceres in Act 4 as the unifying element of the play, expressing political and philosophical concerns in a form then fashionable for court performances. Glynne Wickham (1975), for example, has commented that "The Tempest … emerges … as a single unified work of art firmly held together by the successful incorporation of a masque and anti-masque within the dramatic structure of a stage-play." Similarly, Gillies also has viewed the masque as a crucial structural feature, the means by which the Virginian motifs are translated into Ovidian forms.

For the majority of contemporary critics, the predominant unifying element of The Tempest is the character of Prospero. Perhaps no other character in Shakespeare is seen to be as crucial to the structural and thematic integrity of a play than Prospero is to The Tempest. David Sundelson (1980) has commented that "… the play belongs to Prospero in a way that seems downright un-Shakespearean.… [Prospero' s] very presence restores the world to harmony." Prospero's dominance in the action has led to a vast critical exploration of his powers and motivations. While earlier scholarship tended to concentrate on Prospero's renunciation of magic as a key element of the play, criticism after 1960 has moved towards a broader study of Prospero as a multifaceted coalescence of diverse folkloric and intellectual sources. This expanded study of Prospero's magic has resulted in a bountiful mix of critical interpretations. Regarding Prospero as an example of the neoplatonic magus, Barbara Traister (1984) has placed him within the context of European magical thought of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. For Traister, "Prospero becomes the supreme embodiment … of the paradoxical figure of the magician: a man of great power who can force or influence nature to alter her course for him, but a man … who is, finally, not a god, only human, and thus faces boundaries beyond which he must not pass." Modifying this view, Harry Berger (1969) and Barbara Mowat (1981) have characterized Prospero as a frustrated idealist whose pursuit of magic and the liberal arts serves as an escape from a mundane world. Berger has analyzed as "… an ancient and familiar psychological perplex connected with excessive idealism and the longing for the golden age; a state of mind based on unrealistic expectations." Another important trend in criticism written after 1960 has been to explore psychoanalytic readings of Prospero and his relationship with the drama's other characters. Critics such as Sundelson have anallyzed the play as a study in Prospero's paternal powers. His anxiety over Miranda's budding sexuality, emphasized by Caliban's sexual threat to Miranda, and the need to find a suitable mate for her, is seen as a motivating force behind Prospero's actions. While pointing out the weaknesses behind a psychoanalytic reading of The Tempest, Orgel has commented on the lack of mothers in the play, emphasizing Prospero's hostility towards mother figures in his quest to be both mother and father to Miranda.

Scholars have gained further insight into the character of Prospero by examining his relationship with Caliban.

Departing from older critical notions of Caliban as either the symbol of the uncivilized savage or the embodiment of human suffering, recent criticism has seen him both as a reflection of Prospero's conflicts and ambivalences and as a universal symbol of human attempts to understand reality. As Berger has noted, the parallels between Prospero and Caliban are clearly drawn, yet Prospero fails to recognize them. In an introduction to the play, Stephen Orgel (1987) has demonstrated that Prospero's attitude towards Caliban represents his conflicting identity as a ruler. Although Caliban's claim to the island through his mother is a threat to Prospero's authority, in fact "… it is Caliban who legitimizes Prospero's rule…he reminds us that authority may claim to derive from heaven, but in practice it depends on the acquiescence … of those who are governed by it." Prospero's ambivalence towards Caliban mirrors, then, his ambivalence towards his authority and power as a ruler, an ambivalence that led to his overthrow as Duke of Milan. Prospero's acceptance of Caliban at play's end, Orgel argues, represents a symbolic acceptance of Prospero's own role in his political exile. In a related view, Kott emphasizes Caliban's function as a mythical hybrid, essential in the resolution of "binary oppositions"—good and evil, mortality and immortality, male and female—that Prospero struggles to resolve in his own nature. Psychoanalytical approaches to The Tempest, such as those of Sundelson and Robert M. Adams (1989), the conflict between Prospero and Caliban over ownership of the island reflects the struggle between maternal nad paternal forces. Adams, for example, maintains that "seeing Prospero and Caliban as super-ego and id or as father and son may suggest varieties of intimate interaction between two unreconcilable elements of an unbreakable unity-interaction that controls much of the play." This "unbreakable unity" is acknowledged by Prospero's ultimate acceptance of Caliban as his own. Other scholars, however, emphasize that Prospero's inability to control Caliban through his magic is seen as one of Prospero's central limitations. Traister has noted that Caliban represents not only Prospero's limits but magic's as well, revealing that magic cannot alter a human soul. Despite Prospero's ambivalent feelings towards Caliban and the limitations he represents, the evolution of Prospero's relationship with Caliban is viewed as a symbol of Prospero's movement towards the attempted resolution of inner conflict, acceptance of responsibilities, and reentry into the world.


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Harry Berger, Jr. (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: "Miraculous Harp: A Reading of Shakespeare's Tempest," in Shakespeare Studies: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism, and Reviews Vol. V, 1969, pp. 253-283.

[In the following essay, Berger argues against sentimental approaches to The Tempest and the character of Prospero, maintaining that the magician's resignation of his occult powers at the play's conclusion is in fact "a final attempt to reestablish mastery."]


In many of the later plays, some analogue of dramatic control is imposed—and conspicuously imposed—on action which would otherwise get out of control; action which indeed, in earlier tragedies, did get out of control. The echoes of, or allusions to, earlier tragic patterns in such plays as Measure for Measure, Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest, have often been remarked. The modes of resolution seem deliberately strained, unnatural, artificial, or unrealistic in these plays, especially since they resonate with allusions to earlier tragedies where resolutions were not forthcoming. This pattern tends to emphasize a crucial difference between life and theatre: in art, life's problems are displayed and then resolved, perhaps displayed in order to be resolved, perhaps resolved so that people can get up and go home. Yet on the other hand,—and this distinguishes many of the later plays from the earlier festive comedies,—neither characters nor spectators want to go home: sometimes this is because we are surprised by the unexpected and abrupt happy ending; sometimes because the play fading into a golden past makes us yearn after it; sometimes because the action is protracted, the ending delayed, by characters who seem reluctant to leave the play world and return to actuality. The plays often present themselves as temporary and all too fragile hiding places in, or from, the worsening world.

Such qualities of the last plays have evoked criticism of the sort leveled by Madeleine Doran at the earlier problem plays [in Endeavors of Art, 1964]:

they do not seem to us to be satisfactorily resolved in the conventional happy ending of comedy.… [and this is so] because of the working out of a serious moral problem in an action built of improbable device and lucky coincidence. The result is only too often to make the solutions seem trivial or forced.

The difficulty with these plays is that the problems are realistically viewed, the endings are not.… the manipulation of intrigue and lucky chance to bring about the conventional happy ending gives the effect of an evasion of the serious moral issue the play.

The main difference between the problem plays and the last plays is that in the latter not even the problems are realistically viewed: Shakespeare would want us to distinguish the grim actuality of Vienna from the pasteboard villainies of Cymbeline's court. Though Professor Doran's remarks are helpful as guides to description and interpretation, her intention to criticize detracts from their value. The critical mood is wrong mainly because Shakespeare has anticipated her by building her criticisms into the plays themselves. And in fact, the burden of the present essay will be to suggest that Shakespeare would or could or did level Professor Doran's criticism toward her own reading of The Tempest: "The action of the play is Prospero's discovery to his enemies, their discovery of themselves, the lovers' discovery of a new world of wonder, Prospero's own discovery of an ethic of forgiveness, and the renunciation of his magical power". This is, in epitome, perhaps the most commonly accepted view of the play, and the best defense of this sentimental reading known to me has been made by Stephen Orgel [in In Defense of Reading, edited by R. Poirer and R. A. Brower, 1962], who claims that from the first long dialogue with Miranda in I.ii, "Prospero's suffering … is essentially behind him," therefore he "leads the play … through suffering to reconciliation and a new life." Orgel goes on to cite the pattern of the masque of Ceres as evidence that "the play is at this point moving away from the island and back to civilization": "The conclusion of the revels, the vision of the masque as an 'insubstantial pageant', and all that that vision implies for Prospero, provide a vital transition in the play to the renunciation of extraordinary powers and the return to the ordinary world." Orgel admits that "the transition is a painful one for Prospero", but his major emphasis is on the magician's return, and on his preparing to reassume his old job.

I find it hard to accept this reading as it stands, not because it is wrong, but because it does not hit the play where it lives. The renunciation pattern is there, but only as a general tendency against which the main thrust of the play strains. There are too many cues and clues, too many quirky details, pointing in other directions, and critics have been able to make renunciation in this simple form the central action only by ignoring those details. Some of the puzzling items may be listed here: First, Prospero's language in describing the usurpation to Miranda, encourages us to believe that he is partly responsible for what happened, yet he never seems to take this into account; throughout the course of the play, he acts the part of the good man wronged by villains, and he is not above an occasional reference to his injured merit. Second, Gonzalo, for all his goodness, was in effect Antonio's accomplice; as Alonso's counselor he mitigated the harshness of Prospero's exile, but the fact remains that he was master of the design, responsible for its execution. Furthermore Gonzalo, for all his goodness, is just a bit of fool—maybe not as much as his knavish companions make him out to be, but a fool nonetheless. And yet the affinities between Gonzalo and Prospero are curiously insisted on in a number of verbal and ideological echoes. One more detail about Gonzalo: in any good romance his final speech would be the concluding sentiment; what ancient Gower is to Pericles Gonzalo would be to The Tempest; only it is not that kind of play, and his epilogue is badly timed, preceding the end by 113 lines.

Third: a very important set of questions emerging from the exposition in I.ii have never, to my knowledge, been pursued: What are we really to do with Ariel, Sycorax, and Caliban? Why was Ariel punished by being stuck in a tree, why does he continually ask for his freedom, why the names Sycorax and Caliban, why the business about the witch's exile from Africa with its obvious echoes of Prospero's exile from Europe? What to make of a fact which many readers have noticed, the difference between Prospero's view of Caliban and ours? Why do we respond to certain qualities in Caliban which Prospero ignores, and why are we made to feel that the magician is more vindictive than he needs to be? Why the very full sense Shakespeare gives us of life on the island before the ship sailed in from Tunis, where Alonso had just married off his daughter Claribel to the Prince? In this connection, what are we to do with the odd set of references and allusions to Africa and Carthage, and especially to episodes from the first half of Virgil's Aeneid? These references prod us into remembering Aeneas' journey from Troy to Italy, from an old to a new world; they offer that journey as a shadowy resemblance to the various voyages and themes of the plot action, and they ask us to make some sense of the resemblance, or at least not to ignore it. Finally, why the twenty-line epilogue, in which Prospero asks the audience for applause, sympathy, and release?

The framework within which I shall consider these questions will be my disagreement with the sentimental reading I summarized earlier. The center of disagreement lies in the way I conceive the relation of Ariel and Caliban to Prospero. I want to begin, therefore, with something like an allegorical sketch of each of the first two characters.


To run through some preliminary and elemental distinctions, Ariel is air and fire to Caliban's earth and water. He is, in David William's words [in Jacobean Theatre, 1967], "'an airy spirit', once imprisoned in a pine, and aspiring towards total liberty." Caliban, on the other hand, "is capable of not a few human conditions … so that his appearance, however brutal, must indicate an aspiration towards human nature, whereas Ariel's is away from it." Ariel's vision of freedom is to fly merrily after summer on the bat's back, and to live in the blossom that hangs on the bough; to spend his life far from the pains and labor of humanity, pleasuring himself in a green and garden world. He is not so much a spirit of nature as a spirit for nature. He looks forward to a time when the last vestiges of man will have enriched nature's strange treasuries and traceries, bones into coral and eyes into pearls. But Ariel is also gifted with magical powers, with theatrical and rhetorical talents. And though he demands his freedom, his powers are recreative in the sense that their exercise affords him delight. His last song—"where the bee sucks there suck I"—reminds me of Plato's familiar comparison of the poet to a honey-gathering bee in the garden of the muses. Like Plato's poet, Ariel is a winged thing whose art is magically inspired, therefore brought forth without labor. He bears a light and melodious burden, a far cry from firewood. As a figure of the idyllic fancy, he is at once pleasure-seeking and detached, a cool narcissist and a spirit of play. He plans to retire in a delicate and diminutive greenworld where he may compute his thyme among flowers, securely separated from the baser elements of man. He acknowledges as his own no things of darkness but owls and bats.

Ariel, then, is a recreative and self-delighting spirit whose art and magic are forms of play; a spirit freed by a magician whose presence on the island owes not a little to his own self-delighting recreative impulse, his own playing with arts and magic. Spirit and master have much in common: each has both a histrionic and a rhetorical bent which he delights to indulge, and each savors his performances to the full. In the case of Ariel, this is perhaps unambiguously clear only in his opening speech, but it is marked enough there to set up the analogy. Notice, in the following lines, how his obvious delight in magical performance is doubled by his pleasure in describing it, how his speech builds up to its final heroic period, changes from past tense to the more vivid present, and pushes beyond descriptive report to a high-toned epic personification. "Hast thou," asks Prospero, "performed to point the tempest that I bade thee?" And Ariel answers, "to every article":

I boarded the King's ship: 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; on the topmast,
The yards, and boresprit would I flame
Then meet and join. Jove's lightnings, the
O' th' dreadful thunderclaps, more momentary
And sight-outrunning were not. The fire and
Of sulphurous roaring the most mightly Neptune
Seem to besiege and make his bold waves
Yea, his dread trident shake.
Prosp: My brave spirit!

No doubt, as we learn a moment later, Ariel's enthusiasm owes something to his eagerness to get out from under and be free. Yet at the same time we respond to his gratuituous delight in putting on a good show and describing it in brave rhetoric. That this speaks to an answering delight in Prospero is evident throughout the play, most clearly in the two masques. At the end of the masque of judgment, he commends Ariel for performing "bravely the figure of this harpy," but also for following the script: "Of my instruction hast thou nothing bated / in what thou hadst to say" (IH.iii.86). And the script contains far more than is necessary to induce fear and contrition. As the majority of onstage responses indicate, it is for the most part a bravura display of hocus-pocus and spectacular effects mixed with a certain amount of learned allusion in the imitation and adaptation of the third Aeneid. John Cranford Adams remarks that Prospero did not have to be present up top throughout the show, and this only rein-forces my feeling that he is there so that we can watch him enjoy his god's-eye view as he sees his work performed and observes the audience reaction;—a little like Tom Sawyer at his funeral. If he missed the first spectacle reported by Ariel, he is not going to miss this one.

In this connection, his way of announcing the wedding masque is a little odd:

                                   I must
Bestow upon the eyes of this young couple
Some vanity of mine Art: it is my promise,
And they expect it from me.

He says this to Ariel, who doesn't seem to have known about it before (and therefore answers, "Presently?"—"right away?"). He may well have promised it to Ferdinand and Miranda, but there is no previous mention of it. "Some vanity of mine Art," uttered after his previous tours de force, has about it a comic note of Chaucerian self-deprecation, stressed immediately by his sense of his own image—"I must live up to their expectations." Shortly after, when Ferdinand rises to the occasion by asking, "May I be bold / To think these spirits?," Prospero willingly explains, "Spirits, which by mine Art / I have from their confines call'd to enact / My present fancies" (IV.i.119). The masque itself reveals much about his present fancies, and more is revealed by the very fact of its having been rather suddenly and gratuitously conceived.

Ariel and Prospero thus share a common delight in art which—in Prospero's case—continually distracts him from his ethical purpose, and in one famous instance leads him to forget what goes on around him. His ingenuous pleasure tends to make him sacrifice plot to spectacle, and drama to theater. David William remarks that "in no play is the visual trap more tempting or more dangerous," but he directs this criticism toward "producers [who] offer a visual accompaniment that more often than not distracts from the action instead of illuminating it." I think we can also read this as part of Shakespeare's portrayal of Prospero, a part intimately connected with the presence and meaning of Ariel, who—like Lear's fool—reflects his master's mind.

It may be pedantic to load theological symbolism onto the tree in which Ariel was trapped, but I shall do so for heuristic purposes, viz., let Ariel trapped in the tree of fallen human nature (in medio ligni) be an emblem of Prospero's Milanese experience. From the beginning, the Duke's own airy-recreative impulse asserted claims that made him view his social and political circumstances as unduly burdensome. He neglected worldly ends for the seclusion in which he bettered his mind, made the liberal arts all his study, allowed himself to be transported and rapt in secret studies, claiming indeed that its very with-drawn exclusiveness made this study "o'erprize all popular rate." Thus he was easily deceived, betrayed, and exiled by the brother he trusted with "a confidence sans bounds," and to whom he committed his government. Prospero no less than Ariel might be deemed "a spirit too delicate / to enact … [the] earthy and abhorred commands," not of Sycorax, but of government in a world full of Antonios, Sebastians, and Alonsos. It may also be owing to Ariel that the ex-Duke of Milan has a fairly unhealthy attitude toward labor—toward good clean manual work. We hardly expect him, as an aristocrat, to wash his own dishes and light his own fires. But he seems to have an ethical as well as a practical and social aversion to labor: Caliban and Ferdinand do not simply do his chores for him; he makes it clear that they are doing it as punishment and as an ordeal of degradation. Work is the evil man's burden, and I find this cavalier attitude consonant with Prospero's general lack of interest in the active and common life, consonant also with his neoplatonic preference for the more refined labors of the contemplative life. For Prospero's secret study pretty clearly springs from and leads to a particular view of man. The curriculum consists of two courses, magic and liberal arts, a combination familiar to anyone acquainted with the optimism or meliorism of the Florentine Neoplatonists. The Duke of Milan may well have trusted his brother so much because his studies led him to envisage a brave new world peopled with noble creatures; a world purified of the baser strains of human nature, the more mundane problems of social order, which he seemed inclined to avoid. On the other hand, Prospero's boundless confidence and careless trust in Antonio suited his impulse to retirement. His ethical idealism and esthetic or hedonistic idyllism tend to reinforce each other, tend in fact to converge.

As an emblem, the freeing of Ariel suggests that Prospero's exile had for him—whether or not he was aware of it—the character of a liberation. Alonso, Antonio, and Gonzalo simply accomplished on the level of external action what he would wish—what he already wished—for himself. He had renounced the dukedom in his mind before handing it over to Antonio. His being set adrift on the ocean, committed to a course which washed away the old burdensome world of civilization and translated him magically to a new world, unpeopled and unreal—this removal and isolation fulfill the process by externalizing his self-sufficient insularity. I think Shakespeare presents in Prospero the signs of an ancient and familiar psychological perplex connected with excessive idealism and the longing for the golden age; a state of mind based on unrealistic expectations; a mind therefore hesitant to look too closely at the world as it is. Under the pressure of actual life, so unguardedly sanguine a hope dialectically produces its opposite, extreme disillusionment with things as they are. This in turn sometimes leads to the violent repressiveness of iron-age justice, vaguely hinted at in Prospero's attitude toward Caliban; and it sometimes generates the wish to escape back into a paradisaic state of nature. Wish-fulfillment and nightmare are simple contraries, twinned and mutually intensifying impulses neither of which is more realistic than the other, both of which seize the mind they possess and carry it out of the world.

Freed from the mortal coil and body politic of Milan, the Ariel within Prospero finds and releases its double in the outside world. The fact that no one else knows of Ariel's existence testifies to the peculiar inwardness and privacy of Prospero. Ariel, the picture of Nobody, the secret who embodies Prospero's detachment and isolation, is his only confidante. And Ariel's persistent thrust toward absolute freedom from humanity exerts a corresponding pressure on Prospero. I read his desire for liberty as allegorically related to the central action of the play, Prospero's reinvolvement with human beings after twelve years of magic for magic's sake. This action produces a conflict within the enchanter between his recreative and ethical, his egocentric and social, concerns—between the pleasure and power of his art on the one hand, and on the other, the claims of revenge or forgiveness, his obligations and privileges as a father, a fellow man, a ruler, and a victim. He feels the freedom of the inward Ariel jeopardized; he knows he cannot easily return while still possessing, or possessed by, a spirit which prefers coral to bones and pearls to eyes. Ariel's demands are therefore the other side of Prospero's decision to re-enter the riven wood of humanity, and this decision is confirmed in action when Prospero splits the ship which will ultimately bear him to Milan. By the time of the epilogue, the two will have all but changed the places they occupied when Prospero first came to the island: Ariel will move from the tree-trunk to his flowery Eden, Prospero from his magic hideaway to the bare platform surrounded on three sides by Englishmen—most of whom, we may imagine, might correspond to Trinculo's holiday fools who "will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar," but "will lay out ten to see a dead Indian," and probably more to see a live savage.

Caliban and Sycorax throw another kind of light on Prospero. The name Sycorax means, among other things, hooped together: "with age and envy grown into a hoop," as Prospero says. Turned in upon herself with envy, raven-black with malice, exiled for "mischiefs manifold and sorceries terrible," she appears to be Prospero's antithesis—the nightmare which complements his wish-fulfullment—and this contrast is emphasized by their parallel situations. Both owe their banishment to motives which lead them to the study or practice of magic. Though Sycorax is motivated by pure evil, and Prospero's motives by contrast seem very good, both are equally anti-social, both have withdrawn into themselves, have proved unfit for, or inadequate to, social and political existence. If Prospero withdrew for traditional reasons—extreme idealism and idyllism, contemplation and recreation—Sycorax embodies some of the features of a contrary though equally traditional form of withdrawal: the plaintive withdrawal of the have-not, those figures of envy and malice whose dissatisfaction with their lot produces hatred of self and others; who long for the beauty they lack and hate it in others; who spend their time trying to violate others either to possess their beauty and otherness, or simply for the temporary relief and communion gained by seeing them suffer.

Something of this disposition has been transmitted to Caliban. To the familiar etymological interpretations of his name—cannibal and blackness (Romany, cauliban, E. K. Chambers)—I would add Kali (beauty) + ban or bane, and I would translate it in two ways: first, and most simply, "the bane of beauty," which is the way Prospero comes to see him. The second translation is a little more complicated, and it refers to what we—as opposed to Prospero—see in Caliban: "banned from beauty, beauty is his bane." Many critics have observed that he has areas of feeling and sensitivity of which Prospero is unaware. Stephen Orgel remarks on his rich fantasy and his concrete sense of the island's natural resources. Clifford Leech notes [in Shakespeare's Tragedies, 1950] that although there is "no moral good in him," "Caliban speaks throughout the play in blank verse: he is aware of beauty, whether in Miranda or in the fair features of the island or in music or his dreams." But these awarenesses lead only to frustration. And since he is only, so to speak, a first-generation human being, his desire apprehends limited forms of beauty—money, wine, woman, and song; his impulses to love and worship are moved by brave and fine appearances when they are not moved by mere alcohol and lust.

The important point to be made about Caliban is that he can by no means be reduced to a figure of pure evil, the antithesis of Miranda or Ariel, the counterpart of Antonio. His baseness is shot through with gleams of aspiration, though the mixture is unstable and the diverse motives often undifferentiated. He displays the most transcendent, the most poignant, and the most natural urges of man as well as the most foolish and murderous and disloyal. Critics have noted the persistent parallels between Caliban and Miranda in regard to the nature-nurture theme, but there is no reason why they stopped there. Situational parallels exist to Ferdinand (the logbearing), to Antonio (the plot), and to Prospero (who supplanted him on the island). His longings appear modulated into ideal civilized form in Miranda's capacity for wonder and Ferdinand's for worshipful service; his visions of riches are sublimed in Prospero's insubstantial pageant and cloud-capped towers. Prospero's original openness and subsequent antipathy to Antonio are reflected by both himself and Caliban in their island relationship. Finally, though it may seem odd, Caliban is not unlike Gonzalo in his attitude toward the island, and in the way his simpleminded good will is abused by Stephano and Trinculo (as Gonzalo's by Sebastian and Antonio). Childlike in his fears and passions, ingenuous in the immediacy of his responses to nature and man, open in the expression of feeling, Caliban at his most evil and traitorous shows up as a mere puppy, a comic Vice, a crude conspirator in the pointed contrast to Antonio established by their plots.

He is thus a moonlight distortion not not only of the villains but of all the figures who have come to the island from the daylight world of civilization. In this sense he stands for the world; a handy and compact symbol of human nature, not as we know it, but as we might have found it at the beginning of time, in the pre-history of civilization, when Carthage, Tunis and Troy were no more advanced than the Bermudas or Americas. We see in him all man's possibilities in their undeveloped form, and this means that we see the longing for brightness and beauty as no less real, no less rooted and persistent, than the tendency to darkness and evil. This is not what Prospero sees. Caliban is his epitome of human degradation: he is Milan without Prospero and Miranda; the cloven tree without Ariel; man as he really is and has become, rather than man as he could or should be—man, in short, as Antonio, spreading his poison from the top of civilized Italy down to its boot and root.

But Caliban in fact differs radically from his European counterpart. The difference is intimately bound up with the new world Prospero has created on the island, and to understand this we have to take very seriously Shakespeare's many efforts in the play to direct our glance back-ward to the history of the island before the play begins. This early history discloses an edifying transition from evil to good, and the emergence of a mythic or romance order. In his best of all impossible worlds, Prospero sees himself as the new god who has displaced the old, therefore the hero and savior as well as the king of his island universe. The only ripple of disorder is caused by a difference between the old and new generations of evil. Sycorax, who died before Prospero reached the island, belongs to the archetypal past and is therefore an absolute or pure figure of evil. She may also be Prospero's archetype, his figment of evil, a relief from the various shades of human gray in Europe. She was, or would have been, easy to identify as the enemy. There would have been no such complicating factors as love, or trust, or kinship, or hypocrisy. She could have been dealt with by force alone, and Caliban comforts us on this point by suggesting that Prospero's magic is stronger than his mother's. Thus no problem about Prospero's dealings with Caliban could develop were Caliban identical in these respects with Sycorax. What initially confused Prospero was the ambivalence and instability, the mixture of human motives we have already seen in Caliban. Unlike his mother, he offered Prospero a chance to exercise his more humane gifts in the liberal arts. When this failed, Prospero consigned him to the category of pure evil, alongside Sycorax and Antonio. The interesting thing about this whole episode is its resemblance to the Milanese experience, of which it is a modified repetition. Caliban claims that the island was taken from him by Prospero, and Prospero complains in return that he tried to be kind to Caliban, that he lodged him in his cell and gave him lessons. Like Hamlet's "Mousetrap," the situation admits of a certain amount of role-switching: either character in the island drama can be seen as playing both parts, loser and winner, in the Milanese coup. Caliban is "all the subjects that he (Prospero) has," and in kicking him about, Prospero may continually, and securely, re-enact his failure in Milan. The analogy also points in the other direction: Prospero's ethical and symbolic reduction of Caliban to a figure of pure evil may suggest his share of guilt in encouraging Antonio to his crime; for unwittingly he did everything he could to cultivate whatever dram of evil his brother may have been heir to; in that sense, he—no less than Antonio—new-created the creatures that were his and gave them the occasion to say, with Caliban, "have a new master; get a new man."

The magic circle is a pastoral kingdom, a simplified and more controllable analogue of Prospero's former situation. To introduce some needless jargon, it is a version of what Erik Erikson [Childhood and Society, 1963] calls the microsphere, "the small world of manageable toys" which the child establishes as a haven "to return to when he needs to overhaul his ego." There he constructs a model of his past painful experiences which will allow him to "play at doing something that was in reality done to him." In this way he "redeems his failures and strengthens his hopes." The actual demands of Caliban's role in the microsphere differentiate him from the civilized force of evil he symbolizes to Prospero. His value as a scapegoat exceeds his usefulness as a handyman. Continued in his helplessness, he stands as a token of his master's victory and power; continued in his boorish ingratitude, he is a constant reminder of Prospero's beneficence and patience. And to attenuate the tedium of the island's perfect bliss, his surliness no doubt gives Prospero a legitimate excuse for periodically venting his spleen and clearing his complexion. As a scapegoat and member of Prospero's micro-sphere, Caliban is bound by two basic conditions: First, he can always be controlled; this is of course guaranteed by the pleasant coupling of his general inefficiency with Prospero's magic. Second, so clearcut a case of villainy sets Prospero's mind permanently at ease; there will be no deception, no misunderstanding of motives, no need to worry about Caliban's soul or conscience; he can be counted on to behave in a manner deserving only of righteous anger, discipline, and punishment. Poor Caliban is a platonist's black dream: Prospero feels he has only to lay eyes on his dark and disproportioned shape to know what Evil truly Is, and where.


In William Strachey's letter describing and commenting on the 1609 Bermuda shipwreck and the expedition's subsequent fortunes in Virginia, there is a passage which supplies a close analogue to Prospero's experience with Caliban. Sir Thomas Gates, one of the leaders of the expedition, and Lieutenant Governor of the colony, had sent a man out on a mission, and the man was killed by Indians. Strachey reports that "it did not a little trouble the Lieutenant Governour, who since first landing in the Countrey … would not by any meanes be wrought to a violent proceeding against them, for all the practises of villany, with which they daily indangered our men; thinking it possible, by a more tractable course, to winne them to a better condition: but now being startled by this, he well perceived, how little a faire and noble intreatie workes upon a barbarous disposition, and therefore in some measure purposed to be revenged".… Strachey's letter is dated 1610, and Shakespeare could have seen it in its unpublished form, but my interest is in something he could not have seen, a marginal comment in Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625), in which the letter was first published: "Can a Leopard change his spots? Can a Savage remayning a Savage be civili? Were not wee our selves made and not borne civili in our Progenitors dayes? and were not Caesars Britaines as brutish as Virginians? The Romane swords were best teachers of civilitie to this & other Countries neere us."

To this hard-headed historical perspective we may contrast another view of the—or a—New World, and a very different idea of the acquisition of civility. Imagine Prospero's delight were he to find himself translated to the island of Utopia where "the people are in general easygoing, good-tempered, ingenious, and leisure-loving. They patiently do their share of manual labor when occasion demands, though otherwise they are by no means fond of it. In their devotion to mental study they are unwearied.… after a little progress, their diligence made us at once feel sure that our own diligence would not be bestowed in vain. They began so easily to imitate the shapes of the letters, so readily to pronounce the words, so quickly to learn by heart, and so faithfully to reproduce what they had learned that it was a perfect wonder to us." [(Sir Thomas More, Utopia).] Here all things have been set in good order from the beginning. Within the scope of a single regime and lifetime, the first king "brought the rude and rustic people to such a perfection of culture and humanity as makes them now superior to all other mortals".… In that island, which is Nowhere, Truth is not the daughter of Time. Time has no utility there, history no meaning. The hard-won accomplishments of western civilization have been handed to the Utopians in the Aldine edition, so that they can quickly and painlessly riffle through two thousand years of culture during study hour.…

Shakespeare's image of unspoiled man lies somewhere between Prospero's view of him as a bora devil and the vision Thomas More assigned to the professional traveller Raphael Hythloday (which means "well trained in nonsense"). But I think it is Hythloday's vision, rather than the more hard-headed attitude recorded by Purchas, which lurks behind Prospero's rejection. Prospero's phrase, "the dark backward and abysm of time," has a rich and profoundly resonant ring to us, but to him it signifies the space of twelve years, not the incredible vast of time which separates us from our progenitors. Shakespeare would have us remember that we cannot new-create Caliban from savagery to civility in twelve years, any more than we can new-create unregenerate Europeans in three hours, except in the world of romance.

The dark backward and abysm of time: Purchas gives us a better clue to its resonance than Hythloday or Prospero, and this clue is to be found in the dominant atmospheric effect of the play. Let me repeat David William's remark that Caliban's appearance "must indicate an aspiration towards human nature, whereas Ariel's is away from it." The two figures are separated by the whole of human history, civilization, and development. In Ariel alone, all calibanic urges except the desire of freedom have been transcended, sublimed away, become pure esthetic play. Compressed into the insistently noted limits of an afternoon and a small island, are not only twelve years of experience, but the beginning and the end of civilized man, the new world and the old, Africa and Europe, the travels of Aeneas and those of Sir Thomas Gates, the golden age and an earnest of apocalypse. Similarly, our sense of spatial scale varies from the mini-world of elves and mushrooms through oceans and continents to the great globe itself; from unplummeted depths of earth and ocean through the green sea and cloud-capped towers toward the moon and the azure vault of heaven. The archaic world of folklore and superstition, the world of the mythy mind, is set beside the ultimate refinements of literary artifice, and the marvels of theatrical and hermetic thaumaturgy.

These spatial and temporal coordinates are significantly distinguished by the fact that Prospero is aware of the first but not of the second. Unitl he has bad dreams in the fourth act, his magic allows him to command infinite space while bounded in the nutshell of his microsphere. Yet his view into the distant past extends only half a generation. Milan seems long ago because he has spend his time in so different a world, and because there are no clocks on the island; in the romance milieu, it would make little difference whether Ariel howled away in his tree for one, twelve, or twelve hundred years. But there is another measure in the play which magnifies the dark backward and downward of time, a scale of which neither Prospero nor the other characters are seriously cognizant: We, however, may remember that Amphion's miraculous harp raised the Theban wall in the fabled age of gods and heroes; that in what seems like the dawn of history Dido came to Carthage from Phoenicia, and Aeneas relinquishing his first wife with his first civilization passed through Carthage on his way to Italy; that his settlement was to become the high and palmy state of Rome; that he abandoned his former home at the behest of the gods and for reasons of state; that the Trojans did not bring forth islands by sowing kernels in the sea—they ploughed the ocean to plant a difficult harvest they would not live to enjoy.

These echoes vibrate with the sense of history; they stretch out the expanse of time separating Caliban from the play's modern characters. And they provide us with a vantage point from which we may view with detachment as well as sympathy the turning point of the play—the moment during which Prospero suddenly recalls Caliban's conspiracy, interrupts the masque of Ceres, and delivers his elegy on the end of the revels and the end of the world.

The action beginning with the tempest and culminating in this moment saves Prospero from becoming, or rather remaining, another Raphael Hythloday. Until his disenchantment, he too fits the image of the colonizer as frustrated idealist, wishing for and therefore finding himself in a new world, unhampered by decadent fellow Europeans; eager to start over from the beginning and project a golden age of towers, palaces, temples, and theaters; a culture brought forth not through centuries of "sweat or endeavor," but like nature's foison, perhaps by "sowing kernels of it in the sea."

The source of his disenchantment is the same as the cause of his original abdication, and here again we find a close analogy in More's Utopia. Hythloday had also "devoted himself unreservedly to philosophy" (Utopia); he had left his patrimony to his brothers and voyaged to the New World where, like Jaques in As You Like It, he begged to remain rather than return to the worldly stage. He considered service to king or commonwealth a futile disturbance of his own peace and quiet. More had lectured him on his disinterest and disillusion, saying, "If you cannot pluck up wrongheaded opinions by the root, if you cannot cure according to your heart's desire vices of long standing, yet you must not on that account desert the commonwealth. You must not abandon the ship in a storm because you cannot control the winds." … This reproof follows the famous passage in which More criticizes Hythloday's Platonic disdain of the real world. Hythloday wants to free himself of that world because it neither listens nor lives up to his Utopian philosophy: There is no room, More says, for this scholastic philosophy which would impose itself absolutely and rigidly on life's situations without regard to the needs, differences and limits of particular contexts: "But there is another philosophy, more practical for statesmen, which knows its stage, adapts itself to the play in hand, and performs its role neatly and appropriately. This is the philosophy you must employ.… Would it not … [be] preferable to take a part without words than by reciting something inappropriate to make a hodgepodge of comedy and tragedy? You would have spoiled and upset the actual play by bringing in irrelevant matter—even if your contribution would have been superior in itself. Whatever play is being performed, perform it as best you can, and do not upset it all simply because you think of another which has more interest." …

Prospero thought of another play. In this, he and Hythloday differ from the old counsellor Gonzalo. Gonzalo performs the play in hand as well as he can, but not quite well enough. He is very much the man Hythloday refuses to be, the well-intentioned advisor who remains haplessly in the world. He believes in, or at least clings to, the happy solutions wherever they may be found; he tries to ease matters when it is possible to do so without causing trouble. Shakespeare places in his mouth the famous if muddled speech about the golden age (some of it borrowed from Montaigne's essay on the cannibals), and even though Gonzalo claims he uttered it merely to make the king feel better, it accords with the sentiments he expresses elsewhere in the play. "Had I plantation of this isle … and were [I] the King on it" I would admit "no kind of traffic",

                           no name of magistrate;
     Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
     And use of service, none; contract,
     Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
     No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
     No occupation; all men idle, all;
     And women too, but innocent and pure:
     No sovereignty;—
Seb.              Yet he would be King on 't.
Ant. The latter end of his commonwealth forgets
           the beginning.
Gon. All things in common Nature should
     Without sweat or endeavor: treason, felony,
     Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any
     Would I not have; but Nature should bring
     Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
     To feed my innocent people.…
     I would with such perfection govern …
     T' excel the Golden Age.

This kind of pastoral wish-fulfillment was a cliché in Shakespeare's time—getting rid of all problems by getting rid of civilization, throwing the baby out with the bath, letting Nature and the gods do with greater ease and certainty what men try to do and always bungle. The interesting thing is that the speech is echoed in some of the significant details and themes of Prospero's masque of Ceres, put on in Act IV as a betrothal celebration for the benefit of Ferdinand and Miranda. Gonzalo's speech is simple and simple-minded, direct and unreflective, inconsistent but well-intentioned. Prospero's masque is a very artful, sophisticated and refined—not to mention magically induced—expression of the same pastoral escapism. The affiniities between counsellor and magician are stressed in a number of ways: First, Prospero is obviously fond of Gonzalo. Second, both assume that the masque of judgment has produced the desired feelings of contrition in Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio, though we see nothing in the sinners' behavior to justify this assumption. Third, both seem to have suppressed or ignored the question of their own contribution to the Milanese coup. Both characters thus share equally in a refusal to look too closely at the actual state of affairs, and more generally, at the world they live in.

But here the resemblance stops. The same attitude which is high-strung, sharply pitched, in Prospero, is loose and jangly in Gonzalo, who is marked by a certain intellectual and moral slackness. What Gonzalo naively accepts, Prospero tries to re-create by his art; he has come during the course of the action to suspect that this is the only way in which things can be made to happen as he would like them to happen. Gonzalo expresses and embodies the attitude Prospero left behind him the other side of romance from disenchantment. As he favors Gonzalo, so he clings to the sentimental attitude he no longer believes, and tries briefly to evoke it by the techniques of magic and theater. Gonzalo's closing speech is in fact a statement of the usual sentimental reading of The Tempest:

                    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
In a poor isle; and all of us ourselves
When no man was his own.

To which we may imagine Prospero's unheard reply: "'Tis so to thee."

In one respect, the two characters are diametrically opposed: In my ideal kingdom, Gonzalo affirms, "letters should not be known," and this bears out our own suspicion about his literacy. His knowledge of the classics is a little shaky, and Antonio justifiably refers to him as "a lord of weak remembrance." He confuses Carthage with Tunis, and tries to console Alonso by comparing Claribel to the notable Carthaginian widow and suicide. "His word," Antonio jeers, "is more than the miraculous harp" of Amphion, who raised the walls of Thebes by music. And then he and Sebastian finish poor Gonzalo off:

Seb. He hath rais'd the wall, and houses too.
Ant. What impossible matter will he make easy
Seb. I think he will carry this island home in his
  pocket, and give it his son for an apple.
Ant. And sowing the kernels of it in the sea,
  bring forth more islands.

More than the miraculous harp: in a way, the last laugh is on Antonio, since his own plans are about to be foiled by something like a miraculous harp. But the phrase ripples outward beyond its context. It is the harp of convenient forgetfulness and the sweet air of fantasy rearranging history, fact, and life, to accord with one's wish. And it is also the miraculous harp of romance and magic, theater and art, raising Gonzalo's untutored hopes and evasions to the level of man's highest accomplishments; raising within the brief compass of island and stage, the brief space between afternoon storm and dinner, the wall, the houses, the towers, palaces and temples, of the great globe new-created.

The opposing music, the resonance which makes The Tempest more (that is, less) than the miraculous harp, is heard most clearly in the Virgilian echoes which are thrown away by the flippancy of the ignorant villains no less than by the happy vagueness of Gonzalo. The way of Virgil and of Thomas More is felt in the specter of Aeneas who played the part handed him by the gods, from the chaos of his first tempest through the threats and temptations of Celaeno and Dido to the final victory, if one can call it that, over Turaus. The endurance of Aeneas suggests something also about the endurance of civilization, especially when we place his encounter with the Italic New World beside the play's image of the American New World. The presence in The Tempest of Troy, Italy, and Bermuda, provides a sense of rhythmic recurrence, a ground bass to the elegiac burden of the revels speech. There will always be new worlds both behind us and ahead of us, and it is not likely that the work of twelve years or three hours will finally jeopardize the good, or uproot the evil of the ancient globe we inherit and transmit.

Yet on the other hand, the Virgilian echoes do establish a measure of the condition of present-day Naples, once part of Aeneas' new world. Alonso left Naples to marry his apparently unwilling daughter Claribel to the Prince of Tunis. For reasons which strike me as worth looking into, but which I have not yet been able to puzzle out, Africa has lost a Sycorax and gained a Claribel. Claribel's pale romance name pushes her toward the status of a personification, and if we put this together with the questionable nature of the marriage, the oddly inappropriate analogy to the widow Dido, and the confusion of Tunis with Carthage, we may be willing to entertain one more allegorical fantasy, in which Alonso's voyage is a reflection of his state: the civilized European soul compromising with darkness, surrendering its clear-beautiful ideals for the sake of expediency, and thereby reversing the forward direction of western man's arduous Virgilian journey. The voyage does not begin but ends, at least temporarily, with a Virgilian storm, and the angry divinity is not Juno but Prospero.


Prospero's twelve years of romance, following Ariel's release from the cloven tree, seem to have consisted mainly of shadow boxing. Perhaps by the time he releases the Italians from the cloven ship, he is ready for a real enemy. During the early scenes he is clearly intent on, and excited by his project. He has already made and confirmed his decision in raising the tempest; and in his speeches to Miranda, Ariel, and Caliban, he seems on the verge of packing. In all three interchanges he has the air at once of summarizing the past and looking toward the future. And one of his chief concerns is to impress his image on his auditors. "Look what they have done to us," he says to Miranda. "Beware of my power and remember what you owe me," he says to Ariel and Caliban. Staging himself in roles designed to evoke sympathy, fear, or guilt; working on them by rhetoric rather than by magic; reviewing the past to place it in clear perspective: these aspects of his behavior reveal Prospero going through a test run, a dress rehearsal, preparatory to his confrontation with Alonso and Antonio.

As he moves from Miranda to Ariel to Caliban, his tone and bearing undergo significant changes. He is least easy and assured with Miranda, most with Caliban. It seems harder for him to deal, or know how to deal, with the daughter he loves than with his pet monster. He chooses his words very carefully; his sentences are at first disordered, his thoughts rambling, his narrative hesitant and digressive. Only gradually and with effort does he find the didactic handle, and gain confidence that he is producing the desired effect. To evoke the proper moral feelings in Miranda, he presents the past as a didactic romance, a parable of good and evil brothers. The interjections with which he punctuates his story—his "attend's" and "mark me's"—serve in every case to underline Antonio's perfidy. At the same time, they betray a certain rhetorical nervousness: he wants to make sure he is getting his message across. This is apparently not the sort of thing he has had much practice in during the last twelve years.

The homiletic impulse gains force with Ariel, to whom he speaks in terms of hellfire, purgatory, and redemption, using—or rather creating—the pretense that Ariel has forgotten the causes and nature of his debt to Prospero. Critics have mistakenly assumed that Prospero is angry in this scene. No doubt he feels some impatience at first, since Ariel's demand for freedom delays his project. But he immediately warms to the chance to stage himself in a moralizing vein, and I think he relishes the display of righteous anger through which he dramatizes for Ariel the latter's ingratitude and his own Powerful Goodness. This is characteristic of Prospero as of other Shakespearian figures: his delight in the present moment of playing, speaking, or performing, distracts him from his larger purpose, leads him momentarily to digress and indulge the immediate impulse. The pleasure of his little scene with Ariel gives him the idea of trying a repeat performance on wretched Caliban. Clifford Leech, who is not overly fond of Prospero, amusingly points up this motive: "After he has told Miranda his story and given Ariel his instructions and his morning lesson in obedience, he awakens Miranda … and oddly suggests: 'We'll visit Caliban my slave, who never / Yields us kind answer.' Miranda is reluctant to join in this kind of sport, but she is easily overridden".… Prospero has already settled Caliban's ethical hash, and knows that he is a much better prospect for the role of ingrate than Ariel, whom he had to interrupt in order to keep him from yielding a number of kind answers not in the script. In contrast to his arduous effort with Miranda, the dialogue or flyting match with Caliban is released like a coiled spring.

These very different styles of behavior evoked by Miranda and Caliban establish the problem of the play. Even as he begins to set his plot machinery in motion, he is confronted by two alternatives: In consoling Miranda over the shipwreck, he says, "I have done nothing but in care of thee." The implications of this care reach beyond Ferdinand to Naples and Alonso. If he is going to do right by Miranda as well as himself, it will not be enough to discipline Ferdinand, to save the younger generation while their elders sink in the slough. The more difficult and humane course entails reconciliation with Alonso, but this would in itself be hollow unless preceded by "heart's sorrow / And a clear life ensuing" on the king's part. And since Antonio now infects Alonso's presence, Prospero perhaps hopes that he may influence even him to repent. In this way he might make all of them find themselves "when no man was his own," and he might restore the world to that brave and new condition he seems to have implanted as a prospect in Miranda's mind. This, I think, is one alternative, the favored one, entertained by Prospero. It is involved with his concern for Miranda and her future, it demands a delicacy and tact he he has not had to exercise for years (if ever), and its various issues are by no means easily predictable. The other and much simpler alternative, suggested by Caliban, is vengeance, discipline, servitude, and liberal doses of magic. The choice is complicated by Prospero's interest in putting on impromptu amateur theatricals. He is obviously more at home in roles allowing him to cleave the ear with horrid speech, make mad the guilty and appall the free. All these pressures are at work in the last part of I.ii, the scene with Ferdinand. His eagerness to unite Alonso's son with Miranda is balanced by his natural desire to try Ferdinand and assess his quality (to make the swift business uneasy). But the balance is upset by the carryover of the theatrical anger generated in the previous scenes with Ariel and Caliban. The situation is at once funny and a little unpleasant: Miranda puzzled and upset, Ferdinand confounded, Prospero carried away by the chance to play at being the local constabulary, all the while chortling happy asides to Ariel and to himself. The scene reveals the extent to which his reliance on his various arts allies itself with his tendency to swerve toward the easier alternative. His use of theatrical indirections—eavesdropping, role-playing, hiding his true feelings from others—is intimately connected with his habitual isolation, his aversion to social intercourse and consequent inexperience in dealing with others. He seems reluctant to confront people directly, to trust his spontaneous reflexes or commit himself to the normal channels of communication.

And yet I think that at the outset he would prefer the more difficult alternative, Miranda's way not Caliban's. He would like to undo Antonio's evil and new-create the others by making them feel the inward pinches of conscience, rather than—as with Caliban—the merely physical pinches inflected by his spirits. He would like to awaken and quicken them to their stagnancy, their ebbing reason mudded in spiritual ooze, so that the cleansing tide will return and purge them of their foul weather. This, rather than dunk them by magic force in some filthy mantled horse-pond, and send them off punished, impressed by his power, but otherwise unchanged—like Caliban, who leaves the stage muttering a travesty of the sentiment Prospero would like to hear: "I'll be wise hereafter, / And sue for grace."

What happens to Prospero's intentions during the play is a modified repetition of what happened when he swerved from Miranda through Ariel to Caliban in I.ii; and of what happened after he tried to deal humanely with Caliban; and of what happened after he entrusted Milan to Antonio. Only this time the effect cuts much deeper. For of all Shakespeare's human characters he is the only one to have become a god of power, to have attained to Hamlet's kingdom of infinite space in the nutshell of his microsphere, to have entered and passed through pure romance, to have achieved the dearest wish of hermetic sage or mage. His must therefore be the greatest disenchantment. He finds that magic cannot save souls, cannot even pinch the will. More than this, he finds that magic is the only effective policeman, and perhaps he comes to feel that there is very little to look forward to in a world without magic, the world to which he has committed himself to return. This mood has been well described in a recent study by Robert Hunter [Shakespeare and the Comedy of Forgiveness, 1965], who discussed the play's insistence on the inveteracy, the indestructibility of evil. "Only a rigid and unceasing control of the sort that Prospero had exercised over Caliban and … Antonio, can keep good in its … ascendancy." Prospero's pardoning of Antonio lacks any feeling, Hunter observes, because he knows that "to forgive unregenerate evil is safe only when … the good are in firm and undeceived control." But control here should be understood in a more restrictive sense than Hunter intends it; it is a control exerted nowhere but in the never-never land of magic and romance. This is why Prospero connects despair to his lack of "spirits to enforce, art to enchant," in the epilogue.

Caliban's role and function in this process are peculiar. As a model and scapegoat, everything that rendered him psychologically useful in the microsphere contributes to Prospero's disenchantment during the course of the play. The reduction of Caliban or man to a devil was the easier way out when Prospero wanted to resolve his mind, protect himself from humane attachments, maintain his psychic distance and mastery in his withdrawn world; but it is no help when he is preparing himself to return. Caliban's ineffectiveness now sets him apart from evil man and links him more closely to those ideal conditions of the microsphere which Prospero is about to renounce—there are, after all, no mooncalves in Milan. I can see no evidence for the view that Caliban is a real threat who keeps Prospero on edge, nor for the pietistic reading of the subplot as moral parody—e.g., the idea that Caliban's plot to murder Prospero as a comic analogue to the crimes of Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian reduces the pretensions of the latter by comparing their behavior "to the deformed and drunken idiocies of the clowns" (Hunter). On the contrary, the analogy stresses the difference between the unreal symbol and what it represents—between the comic helplessness to which Prospero has reduced his symbol, and the insidious craft which would have succeeded anywhere but on the island. It is only in respect of the rootedness of evil that symbol and referent, Caliban and Antonio, coincide. And it is the awareness of this coincidence, intensifying through the play since the murder attempt in the second act, which is surely on Prospero's mind when Ariel tells him that the three drunkards are "bending toward their project." "A devil," he exclaims, "a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick: on whom my pains, / Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost!" He is deeply troubled, as Ferdinand and Miranda had noticed, but this has nothing to do with the external plot, the threat on his life, such as it is.

He is troubled because at this moment the meaning he has read into Caliban, and the way represented by Caliban, become for him the meaning and the way of reality. The series of reenactments of the same pattern of betrayal persuades him to generalize and validate his disillusion as the one abiding truth of life. The radical persistence of evil which he validates for himself at this moment is only the objective consequence of another persistence—his idealistic separation of Ariel from Caliban; of Ariel from the cloven tree; of liberal arts from servile labor; of the vanished age of gold which must be restored, from the present age of iron which must be either repressively disciplined or willfully ignored. The implied validation of Caliban as the real model of man is matched by the equally hasty act of generalization which connects the dissolving masque, first to a dissolving culture, then to a dissolving world. I think we are meant to note the suddenness, the violence and facility, with which this reversal of his divided values takes place. What he feels this time, and for the first time, is that everything golden, noble, beautiful and good—the works of man, the liberal arts, the aspirations variously incarnated in towers, palaces, temples, and theaters—that all these are insubstantial and unreal compared to the baseness of man's old stock. And not merely as vanities; but as deceptions, fantasies which lure the mind to escape from its true knowledge of darkness and which, dissolving, leave it more exposed, more susceptible, more disenchanted than before.

Here and now, Caliban becomes most truly Prospero's bane of beauty, the catalyst leading him, in his revels speech, to criticize as groundless the arts and projects, the beliefs and hopes by which he had ordered his life. The crux of his self-criticism lies in the phrase, "the baseless fabric of this vision," and especially in the word baseless. Baseless means two things: insubstantial, not firmly based, without proper grounds; but also, not base, not evil, too purely beautiful, excluding the dark substance of man; therefore, once again, without grounds. "We are such stuff / As dreams are made on"—on as well as of: the evil matter or basis, the Calibanic foundation on which our nobler works are built, which they deceptively cover over, or from which they rise as in escape. Prospero would say, as Spenser said of the golden House of Pride, "full great pittie, that so faire a mould / Did on so weake foundation ever sit" (The Faerie Queene, I.iv.5). And man's works are dreams not only in being vanities, fragile illusions, but also in being—as Freud called them—the guardians of sleep protecting the mind in its denial of or flight from reality. Feeling this, Prospero might well envy his actors for being spirits who can melt into thin air after their performance. The best the vexed and aging mortal creature can hope for is to have his little life rounded—crowned—with sleep.

The perspective of the revels speech is itself a form of escape from mortality. It is the god's-eye view and therefore identical to that which dominated the masque of Ceres, even though the content of the masque was pastoral and that of the revels speech heroic. Pastoral and heroic perspectives may be used indifferently, as here, to distance or diminish the immediate problems of real life. The masque is in every respect an exorcism of evil. It was arbitrarily introduced as a distraction, a vanity of Prospero's art. "Some vanity of mine art" (IV.i.41) is meant to sound self-deprecating: "Just a little something extra, and I'm only doing it because they expect it of me." But it also sounds apologetic, for he is asking Ariel to bear with him while he puts on one more show, and the revels speech shows him to have become aware of his self-indulgence. At any rate, his spirits enact his "present fancies," and thus reveal the state and tendency of his mind: by incantation and evocation they dispel not only the foul plot but also the thoughts of lust, intemperance, and disloyalty which had occupied him in his previous conversation with Ferdinand and Miranda.

Stephen Orgel speaks of the masque as a boundary leading the play from nature back to society … but this is almost certainly inaccurate: The masque pictures an idyllic nature, winterless, moving directly from harvest to spring. It begins when Iris calls Ceres away from a less ideal and very English nature whose character—"thy seamarge, sterile and rocky-hard"—communicates itself to the conventional woes imposed on lasslorn bachelors by cold nymphs crowned for chastity (IV.i.64-69)—as if Prospero sees only untempered chastity or intemperate lust, one or another kind of nunnery, possible in the actual world; the extremes may be tempered nowhere but on the magic island and in the masque where love is guided by gods. Married fertility is praised on the model of the securely determined round of nature. The imagery of this improved cycle seems to me a deliberately simplified and purged image of the human contract it celebrates, for it avoids those very problems of trust and self-discipline which Prospero himself had earlier raised with Ferdinand. At the same time the more unpleasant themes on Prospero's mind resonate even in their exclusion: The possibilities fulfilled in the fourth Aeneid are carefully exorcised (IV.i.87-101), though just as carefully mentioned. Iris, announcing Juno's command to the Naiads, "temperate nymphs" of "windring brooks," warns them to "be not too late." The celebration of married sex is depicted by a conventional image of harvest dancing, yet even in their displacement to natural and collective activity, the details echo Prospero's concerns: "You sunburned sicklemen, of August weary, / Come hither from the furrow and be merry" (IV.i.134-135). The passage of time, the brevity of holiday, the weariness of laborers, and the sexual associations, all press into the couplet. Finally, Prospero's desire to protract the entertainment and delay the return to actuality, is evident in the rhetoric of the masque, with its catalogues, its clustering adjectives, its appositions, and its "windring" sentences. The masque is thus a brief withdrawal into the golden age, Gonzalo's dream as magical theater, yet the realities of life which it evades are woven into its texture, revealing those pressures which now distract Prospero and become explicit in the revels speech.

The play does not end with the revels speech, however, any more than the epilogue ends with the word despair. The consequences of this private recognition scene are very odd. In fact there do not seem to be any consequences at first. Caliban and his new friends come onstage, freshly pickled and following Ariel's display of "glistering apparel." Caliban is here at his most cunning and Antonine. But shortly after, the plotters are put to rout. Prospero, to quote Leech once more, "turns his canine spirits on Caliban and his companions" and "bids Ariel see that the tormenting is done soundly" (p. 148). It clearly relieves him from his attack of Weltschmerz to get back into the role of punishing magician and have his egregious culprit handy. But Ariel's description of the plotters preceding their arrival onstage had made them look like helpless idiots, unworthy of Prospero's fury. No such anger or vengeance is directed toward Antonio, and I think the reason for this is Prospero's deeper sense of the futility of such responses rather than his more humane intentions where evil men are concerned. With Caliban, he retreats temporarily into the microsphere, where punishment had therapeutic value, and relieves himself once more at the expense of his scapegoat. The exigencies of the subplot, the demands of immediate physical danger, the rewards of an immediate physical solution, the panacea of magic: all these are now a positive diversion because they have so little relation or correspondence to the subtler and less effective, the more difficult and less satisfying modes of activity to be encountered in the macrosphere.

The diversion continues on another and more significant level in Act V, during which he relies heavily on magic and spectacle, giving free expression to his love of theatrical display. Act IV concludes with Prospero in better spirits. "At this hour," he crows, "Lie at my mercy all mine enemies." In this mood he retires, and emerges to open the fifth act in the same frame of mind, but all dressed up in his magic robes: "Now does my project gather to a head, / My charms crack not, my spirits obey, and time / Goes upright in his carriage." The words have the ring of incantatory self-persuasion. No doubt he feels to some extent the exhilarated sense of approaching triumph, but he is also intent on keeping himself keyed up for the performance which lies ahead.

Ariel reports that the king, Sebastian, and Antonio, "abide all three distracted, / And the remainder mourning over them," but chiefly good old Gonzalo, whose "tears run down his beard." It is important to notice just how much or little Ariel says here. "Your charm," he continues, "so strongly works 'em, / That if you now beheld them, your affections / Would become tender":

Pros: Dost thou think so, spirit?
Ariel: Mine would, sir, were I human.
Pros:                          And mine shall.
             Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a
         Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
         One of their kind … be kindlier moved
     than thou art?
        Though with their high wrongs I am struck
     to th' quick,
         Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury
         Do I take part. The rarer action is
         In virtue than in vengeance. They being
       The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
       Not a frown further, Go, release them,
      My charms I'll break, their senses I'll
       And they shall be themselves.

Ariel has said nothing about their being penitent; he said they were distracted, that is, enchanted, which made the others, chiefly Gonzalo, "brimful of sorrow and dismay." His phrase, "your charm so strongly works 'em," may suggest the inner effect on their souls, but Ariel's context throughout is visual, and seems to mean, "if you saw how terribly uncomfortable and helpless they appeared, and if you saw how sorry this made the others, you would have pity on them." (Them may refer to Gonzalo and the rest of the entourage as well as the distracted trio.) So far as we know, only Alonso has displayed anything resembling remorse, and this is by no means clear: his final words in the masque of judgment scene suggest that he feels himself involved in some kind of retributive action connected with Prospero's old grievance, an action which has taken his son from him and which therefore impels him, in his grief for Ferdinand, to contemplate suicide. Sebastian and Antonio respond to the masque with two lines of foolish bravado before leaving the stage, and it is Gonzalo who makes the interpretation preferred by Prospero: "All three of them are desperate," he says; "their great guilt, / Like poison given to work a great time after, / Now gins to bite the spirits" (III.iii.104). In view of what we have just seen, I do not think this is, or is meant to be, an accurate inference. It is of a piece with Gonzalo's other perceptions and judgments on the island, and I think it conveys more information about him than about his companions.

Prospero's "they being penitent" is also an unwarranted inference which tells us less about the inner state of his enemies than about the state he wants to produce in them by his magical spectacles and illusions. The masque of judgment, with Prospero occupying the god's position on top, was intended not simply to offer his courtly spectators roles, like an ordinary masque, but to assign them changes of heart, to catch their consciences. It was his major attempt to follow Miranda's alternative. And in the present speech, Prospero is not considering a change of heart in himself, but a change, a slight adjustment, of role which will make his part in the recognition scene more effective. Thus the deliberate and detached tone of the phrase, "with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury / Do I take part," suggests to me that he is selecting, rather than experiencing, his response. And the next statement is not so much a sententious commonplace as it is the critical musing of an artist or playwright aiming at the right touch: "The rarer action is / In virtue than in vengeance." The sentiment accords with his deeper feeling that both vengeance and forgiveness are futile, but his attention here is to the dramatic moment: it will make a better effect, because unexpected, if he reacts to their contrition with a display of divine forbearance, if he shows himself trying to fight down his just anger and offer them more leniency than they deserve. Therefore—and he is still thinking of theatrical effects—"therefore, not a frown further." Throughout the speech he holds his image at arm's length to apply the finishing touches before going onstage.

He does not go onstage, however, until he has delayed the action once again in the nostalgic summary of past magical achievements over which he lingers before threatening to drown his book (V.i.33-57). As the speech dramatizes his growing reluctance to rejoin humanity, so the rough magic he fondly recalls was practiced in a world devoid of any other human presence. The use of pastoral and heroic perspectives which characterized the masque of Ceres and the revels speech is repeated here: His former playgrounds were scaled to sub- and superhuman dimensions: the world of elfin pastoral and the cosmic arena where he played a game which anticipated Milton's War in Heaven. His elves rejoice to hear the curfew, they work when people sleep, and they leave the sands printless. These insubstantial spirits were his assistants, his "weak masters," in staging wars fought not by men or angels, but by the elements in the empty space "twixt the green sea and azure vault." The two details which do not square with the desert island locale are both relevant to his preference for a world without living or conscious men: the solemn curfew, and the graves which Prospero commanded to open. And the remark about the elves who "chase the ebbing Neptune, and to fly him / When he comes back" (V.i.35-36) is oddly echoed forty-five lines later, when he observes that his charmed victims are returning to their senses:

                  Their understanding
Begins to swell, and the approaching tide
Will shortly fill the reasonable shore,
That now lies foul and muddy.

The elfin instruments of his magic will fly the swelling tide of reason in a more permanent manner, when the world of ordinary daylight and common recognition returns. And as far as Prospero is concerned, it would be better if the sinners could remain asleep; in restoring them to their sinful waking selves, he forces himself away from the magic island and closer to the real world.

Two interrelated factors contribute to his growing pessimism about human nature and his increasing reluctance to abjure his self-delighting magical existence: 1) With the exception of Alonso, none of the characters undergoes substantive changes as a result of Prospero's actions. Neither Antonio nor Sebastian gives any sign of remorse. Ariel's efforts to please his master spring, in spite of Prospero's affection for him, chiefly from his eagerness to be free. 2) I think we are meant to notice that he displays a limited knowledge of human nature. This is most evident in relation to Miranda and Ferdinand. They are so obviously pure and good, so obviously literary stereotypes of youthful love and virtue, that his "trials" of Ferdinand's love, and his warning about temperance, seem excessive and unnecessary. The trial itself is peculiar: it amounts to proving oneself a true and faithful lover by carrying some thousand logs of wood and not behaving like Caliban in the process. We may justify Prospero's obtuseness in discerning or trusting apparent virtue on the grounds of his own betrayal by Antonio. But there is a more general reason, which is simply that "the liberal arts," not people, politics, or society, were all his study. Neglecting worldly ends for the seclusion in which he bettered his mind, how could he be expected to have normal acquaintance with concrete human motives, character, and behavior? Like the Duke of Vienna, he seems to have been incapable of coping with, much less ruling, his fellow men in the normal ways and in direct encounter.

His inwardness and privacy are sustained throughout the play. We hardly ever see him engage others in the easy or open way of friendship. I do not mean this statement to be understood in the context of actual life, which would make such an observation ridiculous. Rather I have in mind the relations of other Shakespearian heroes to their fellows. Most of them have at least one companion whom they love, or trust, or with whom they deal openly, very often the opposing voice or foil which Maynard Mack has remarked [in Jacobean Theatre, edited by John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris, 1967] as a characteristic feature of the tragedies. Prospero is much more the Complete Loner than these heroes, closer in this respect to the wicked characters who keep their own counsel. He combines typical motives of the magician and the actor: Like the first, he prefers the security of the one-way window relationship in which he may observe without being observed, and may work on others from a distance. Like the second his reticence to expose himself in spontaneous or unguarded dealings blends with a love of the limelight, a delight in shows and performances, and a desire to impress others. Thus he hides either behind a cloak of invisibility, or behind a role, a performance, a relationship, which has been prepared beforehand. He is unguarded only when his attention is reflexively fixed on some aspect of his own art.

Prospero's farewell to magic is followed by what seems to me to be the strangest and most revealing scene in the play. He assembles the still charmed Europeans in the magic circle, and before they have been allowed to regain their senses, he preaches to them. After some words of praise and promises of reward for Gonzalo, he turns to Alonso and the others:

         Most cruelly
Didst thou, Alonso, use me and my daughter.
Thy brother was a furtherer in the act.
Thou art pinched for 't now, Sebastian. Flesh
  and blood,
You, brother mine, that entertained ambition,
Expelled remorse and nature; who, with
(Whose inward pinches therefore are most
Would here have killed your king, I do forgive
Unnatural though thou art.

No one hears this but Ariel; it is, in effect, a soliloquy. It is as if he hesitates to put on the real scene without one more dress rehearsal; or as if he is primarily aiming the words at himself, reminding himself of the part he has decided to play, and of the parts he has written for them, as penitents. He seems less concerned about Alonso here, and more about Sebastian and Antonio; he has fewer doubts about Alonso, but he has no reason to think that the others have been or could be pinched in any world but the world of his morality play; only when they stand distracted in the magic circle of the microsphere will he trust them to follow his script.

When they return to their senses, a few moments later, his actual playing of the recognition scene is inflected very differently. The final act has little to do with disenchantment, with morality, forgiveness, and contrition. Or at least if these occur they do so only in a play Prospero puts on, and this is something of which he seems quite aware: It is a logical development of his feeling that he cannot in any real sense new-create souls or catch consciences unless the others play the moral parts he has written for them. Therefore, he runs back into magic and art. Of the play's final 214 lines, one sentence is devoted to gently pinching Alonso's conscience, followed later by 32 lines of cat-and-mouse about Ferdinand's supposed death, which has less to do with arousing contrition than with what Clifford Leech irritatedly calls the "celestial stage-manager at work once again, … the almighty contriver [who] must be allowed his thrill in building up his effect".… Prospero allows himself four-and-a-half lines to warn Sebastian and Antonio of his power over them, through his knowledge of their conspiracy; five-and-a-half to throw Antonio a cold pardon—really a contemptuous dismissal—and reclaim his dukedom. For the rest, morality, contrition, and forgiveness take a back seat to the miraculous return of the lost prince, the subtleties of the island, and the theatrical chef d'oeuvre of the genius at the magic console. In his finest hour, he hogs the stage as actor, director, and hero; as the official greeter welcoming the visitors aboard; as the presenter supplying explanations and promising more entertainment after dinner; as the impresario busily pouring wonders, surprises, and reunions out of his baroque bag of tricks.

This is so clearly his last fling that I find it hard to accept the sentimental interpretation which centers merely on the fact of Prospero's renunciation and return. At the end he seems more unwilling to leave than ever. The closer he gets to leaving, the more Shakespeare shows him protracting and delaying the inevitable conclusion. Four times, beginning with "our revels now are ended," he bids farewell to his art and island, and prepares to leave (IV.i.148; V.i.29,34,64). Four times he reminds Ariel that he will soon be free (IV.i.261; V.i.5,95,241). On three different occasions he promises to tell his story later (V.i.162,247,302), which is a way of attenuating the absoluteness of the break, and extending the experience into the future. Throughout the fifth act his attention is centered on the present enjoyment of his magic and his theatrical triumph. Finally, with the air of one winding things up, he looks forward to his return to Milan; promises good sailing on the morrow, and—at long last—frees Ariel. At this point, the audience begins to think of leaving. But not Prospero: His momentum carries him through the end of the play: Before we can flex a muscle or raise hands in applause, before the other characters can have vacated the stage, he has moved toward us; stopped us with "Please you draw near"; and in the tuneless, oddly skewed cadences of the epilogue, has asked us to release him too from "this bare island"—bare of magic, of other characters, of the play itself; a no man's land between conclusion and egress; now an apron in the theater more than an island in the sea:

Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have 's my own,
Which is most faint. Now 'tis true
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
And my ending is despair
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

This is his final and most telling gesture, not only of delay, but also of scene stealing. Yet its mood is in sharp contrast to the theatrical carpe diem of the previous scene. The first impression is that of drained energy; literally, of collapsed spirits. And this is of course essential to bring out the true strain of feeling under his exhilaration in the final act; a strain which might otherwise have been visible only in his aside to Miranda's "Brave new world": "'Tis new to thee." But the epilogue is not easy to make out, because so much of what has happened is packed into it. Voicing his plea in the situational metaphors generated by the play—magic, performance, sailing, and pardon—he asks the help of the spectators' "good hands," first in applause, and then in prayer. The interesting thing about this is that in asking to be freed, asking for auspicious winds and pardon, he places himself in the same relation to the audience as previously Ariel, the Italians, and also Caliban, had stood to him. If we think of him as Ariel, then he is asking to vanish into thin air, or into a cowslip's bell, or wherever he may be far from humanity; for he has, he hopes, done his spriting correspondently, has answered to the spectator's higher and more disengaged pleasures in art. As Caliban, asking to be released from his laborious service, seeking a new master, or simply grace from his present master, as Caliban he asks the audience to pray for him, pardon him, and release him from a bondage which comes to sound more ethical than theatrical toward the end of the epilogue. He may indeed claim to have been a scapegoat for the audience, to have taken their sins upon himself and reflected their true nature or true longings; to have lived their idyllic urges for them and so, perhaps, to have helped them stay in the world; to have kept them from his crime, which consisted of asking too much of that world, and giving too little. Finally, he may, as the reinstated Duke of Milan, be begging them to help him return to the world.

And yet this is not all. The other side of this closing performance is that it is gratuitous; it keeps him from returning to Milan, and from leaving the stage; it momentarily frees him from rounding out his little life, and it allows him to solicit a further range of spectators. He has tried to work on the souls of others; he has at least produced the expected happy ending; and now he moves toward us, as if he is not really at ease about that accomplishment. He wants to be reassured about the success of his project, "which was to please." He continues to play on the spectators as he had on the characters, trying out his new role as mere fellow mortal, testing the audience response, to the end. An indecisive air dominates the tone and rhythm of the epilogue almost to the end; it leaves us wondering whether he is entirely sincere in claiming that his project was to please:

       my ending is despair
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

Here, as throughout the speech, the reference hovers uncertainly between the options of applause and prayer, the plight of the entertainer and of the sinner, the spectator's concern for pleasure and for moral profit. The lines which introduce the request can go both ways: "release me from my bands / With the help of your good hands." And the final line may mean no more than, "be kind to the player and at least indulge him to the extent of showing your enjoyment." If we take these words as the utterance of the character and entertainer Prospero, rather than of Burbage or Shakespeare, then we are obliged to reconcile this sense with the other one.

The same words may offer the audience a share in Prospero's mood of weariness, and in his growing conviction that it will take more than human magic to work any changes in our old stock. I think the point of these two very different levels of reference, working together and at cross-purposes in the same set of words, is that Prospero is not sure of his audience. He knows—or suspects—that there are more Trinculos and Antonios than there are Gonzalos and Alonsos among the spectators. He offers them two kinds of response: one for those who may be moved by an appeal to common humanity and sympathy, and who may have received the play and its message at the level of conscience; but another for observers who may be more cynical, or more disillusioned, or merely more casual, and who have for this variety of reasons come to the theater to be entertained, to be briefly transported to another world, to be spellbound by the combined magic and machinery of the spectacle, and to be released new-created at play's end. Yet this is not all. The end is a final attempt to reestablish mastery. The closing couplet has too much bite and sweep to it to be characterized as expressing weariness alone. It points the finger; it does not simply play on the spectator's sympathy; it reminds him of the bond of common humanity which obliges him to assist Prospero. He has shifted his role slightly but significantly in the final couplet, from that of fellow sinner to that of homilist, the voice of conscience. It is part of his refusal to vanish that at the very end, before losing all his strength and art, he wills, he ritually bequeathes, his role to the audience. And at the same time this effort at mastery, like those which preceded it during the play, is a dress rehearsal. It is our first view of Prospero in the real world, standing beyond the confines of his magic circle, preparing to confront life with only the ordinary means of persuasion. The epilogue is thus another prologue; he is still tentative and still experimental; still unresolved and still on the verge of a new phase of life. Although he knows his word is less than the miraculous harp, he lays the harp aside.

L. C. Knights (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: "The Tempest," in Shakespeare's Late Plays, edited by Richard C. Tobias and Paul G. Zolbrod, Ohio University Press, 1974, pp. 15-31.

[In the following essay, Knights discusses the paradoxical elements in the structure and technique of The Tempest, focusing in particular on the unities of time and place, the use of the masque form, the treatment of music and song, and the handling of various modes of speech.]


Of all the greatest works of art it seems true to say that they contain an element of paradox, that what imposes itself on our imaginations as a unified and self-consistent whole contains contradictory elements tugging our sympathies—and therefore our judgments—in different ways: part of the continuing life of the great masterpieces is due to the fact that they will not allow the mind of the reader to settle down comfortably with the sense that he has finally reached the meaning which can now be put in a pocket of the mind with other acquired certainties producible at need. More than is the case with any other of Shakespeare's plays, with the exception of King Lear, paradox is of the essence of The Tempest, a fact that is reflected in the history of Shakespeare criticism. I am not referring to the truism that every work of art, without exception, 'means' something different for every age and every reader, but to the completely contradictory accounts that have been given of this play. It is not so long since critics, identifying Prospero with Shakespeare, saw the play either as embodying the serene wisdom of age or as a deliberate turning aside from the harsh realities of life to the more easily manageable world of romantic fantasy. More recently the views to which I have alluded have been sharply challenged, most notably by Jan Kott,—in Shakespeare our Contemporary—for whom The Tempest is "a great Renaissance tragedy of lost illusions," its ending "more disturbing than that of any other Shakespearean drama." Others have written to much the same effect. And even for those who are not unduly swayed by critical opinion there is difficulty in saying simply and clearly where one feels the play's greatness to reside. Because of its obvious impressiveness and mystery, and because it is probably Shakespeare's last play without a collaborator, there is a temptation to read in large significances too easily, as I think we may tend to do with Cymbeline. On the other hand, to say that The Tempest, like Cymbeline, points to more than it contrives to grasp and hold in a unified dramatic structure—that also feels wrong. Perhaps we should start by pondering what everyone would agree to be there, in the play: I mean prominent aspects of the play's dramatic mode, its technique. Not everyone will agree as to the significance to be attached to these, but to consider them may clear the ground for criticism. I. A. Richards [in Internal Colloquies, 1958] has remarked of the interpretation of poetry that "whatever accounts are offered to the reader must leave him—in a very deep sense—free to choose, though they may supply where-withal for exercise of choice." This, he added, "is not … any general license to readers to differ as they please.… For this deep freedom in reading is made possible only by the widest surface conformities"; for "it is through surfaces … that we have to attempt to go deeper."

There are four aspects of "surface" technique that deserve attention. The play observes the unities of time and place; it is related to the contemporary masque; it makes great use of music and song; it employs a very great variety of modes of speech.

Alone among Shakespeare's plays the action of The Tempest keeps well within the limits of a natural day: indeed Prospero is rather insistent on getting the whole business completed in three or four hours. Clearly this means compression, and it is compression of a particular kind. There are plays that keep the unities that obviously have great depth and spaciousness, for example Oedipus, or Phèdre. Here the effect is different—as though important experiences were rendered by a rather spare, and at times almost conventional, notation, that only gets its effect when the reader or spectator is prepared to collaborate fully, to give apparently slight clues full weight. We notice in particular two things. (i)There is a form of symbolism developed out of the earlier plays (notably King Lear), as when Stephano and Trinculo fall for the "trumpery" hung up on the lime (or linden) tree; and the potentially healing and cleansing power of the tempest is indicated by the information about the shipwrecked party—"On their sustaining garments not a blemish, But fresher than before"; and "Though the seas threaten, they are merciful" (which it may not be fanciful to associate with Jung's dictum, "Danger itself fosters the rescuing power"). Or again, love's labours are simply represented by Ferdinand carrying logs, (ii) Psychological states are briefly, even if pungently, represented. We know that Antonio was ambitious ("So dry he was for sway") and that Sebastian is a would-be murderer; but neither state of mind is developed as it might have been in the tragedies. Alonso undergoes a storm in which he learns to listen to his own guilt; but this is reduced to,

     O, it is monstrous, monstrous!
Methought the billows spoke, and told me of it;
The winds did sing it to me; and the thunder,
That deep and dreadful organ-type, pronounc'd
The name of Prosper: it did bass my trespass.
                                 (III, iii, 95-99)

So too with the young lovers: compared with Florizel and Perdita they have very little to say to or about each other, but what they do say is often telling and beautiful; and the harmony in diversity of the sexes is given in a simple tableau—"Here Prospero discovers Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess." It remains to be seen whether we are justified in giving to these brief "notations" the kind of weight that I have implied we should give.

The Tempest is also distinguished from Shakespeare's other late plays in its relation to the contemporary masque. Apart from the formally presented masque of Ceres at the betrothal in Act IV, there are various masque-like tableaux, as when "several strange shapes" bring in a banquet for the shipwrecked party, and then, as they approach it: "Thunder and lightning. Enter Ariel like a Harpy; claps his wings upon the table; and, with a quaint device, the banquet vanishes." This has been often noticed; and indeed Shakespeare had often used what is seen on the stage to emphasize what is said, as in the formal and ceremonious grouping of his characters, their pairing off or drawing apart; but The Tempest puts a special emphasis on modes of formal, masque-like, presentation, and we need to be fully aware of the language of visual suggestion that is developed in the play.

"Suggestion": the critic does well to be careful when he uses the word, but he can hardly avoid it when speaking of a play in which music and song have so important a part. Ariel sings to Ferdinand, to the sleeping Gonzalo, to Prospero as he robes him and anticipates his own freedom; Stephano sings "a scurvy song"; Caliban sings. At key points in the action Ariel plays music to the actors. The banquet is presented to the King's party with "solemn and strange music" and vanishes to the sound of thunder. The masque of Ceres is accompanied by "soft music" and vanishes "to a strange, hollow and confused noise." In short "the isle is full of noises.…" Now not only is music—harmony—the polar opposite of tempest, as Professor Wilson Knight has rightly and so often reminded us, it is the art furthest removed from the discursive mode. In all Shakespeare's plays music and song had been functional to the action, and so they are here; but they make their contribution to the changing moods of the play by unexpected and almost undefinable means, as W. H. Auden has pointed out in his essay, "Music in Shakespeare." Perhaps we may have to allow to the play as a whole a power of controlled suggestion greater than any formulable meaning we can attach to it.

Finally, in this brief glance at "technique"—the surface characteristics which everyone would agree to be there, whatever the interpretation attached to them—we should notice the great range of style and manner: from the delicate allusiveness of Ariel's songs to the decidedly not delicate speech of the "low" characters; from the slightly stylized verse of the masque to the passionate intensity of some of Prospero's speeches. Nor is it only the low characters who command a pithy idiom directly related to everyday speech. It is Antonio who gives us,

               For all the rest,
They'll take suggestion as a cat laps milk;
They'll tell the clock to any business that
We say befits the hour; (II, ii, 287-90)

and it is Ariel himself who describes the effect of his music on the drunken butler and his followers—"they prick'd their ears.… lifted up their noses As they smelt music." In the poetry of the play there is at least as much of the earthy as there is of the ethereal.

With this, of course, we find our attention focusing on far more than "technique." To the range of style there corresponds an equal range of interest and awareness. It is well known that the play makes direct reference to contemporary matters. It is, among many other things, a contribution to the debate on "nature" and "nurture"; and F. R. Leavis [in The Common Pursuit], making the point that The Tempest is "much closer [than The Winter's Tale] to the 'reality' we commonly expect of the novelist," is clearly right in saying that "Caliban … leads the modern commentator, quite appropriately, to discuss Shakespeare's interest in the world of new discovery and in the impact of civilization on the native." Important as this is, it is even more important to see how much of "the real world" comes into the play by way of reference, imagery and allusion. The opening storm proves to be merciful, but, as Gonzalo says,

     Our hint of woe
Is common; every day, some sailor's wife,
The masters of some merchant, and the
Have just our theme of woe. (II, i, 3-6)

Ariel's songs are balanced by the coarse life of Stephano's song. Gonzalo's Utopia, remembered from Montaigne, inevitably calls to mind its opposite—the more familiar world of "sweat, endeavour, treason, felony, Sword, pike, knife, gun.…" The masque of Ceres conjures up images of the English countryside at its most peaceful:

You sunburn's sicklemen, of August weary,
Come hither from the furrow, and be merry:
Make holiday; your rye-straw hats put on, …
                                   (IV, i, 134-6)

but we are also reminded of the wilder, undomesticated, aspects of nature—not only the storm-tossed waves, the "roarers" that "care nothing for the name of King," but "long heath, broom, furze … ", "the green sour ringlets … whereof the ewe not bites," the lightning-cloven oak. The island, for all its magical qualities, is very much a part of the everyday world: even one of the most delicate of Ariel's songs has for burden, "Bow wow" and "Cock a diddle dow … the strain of strutting chanticleer," as though it were dawn in an English village. And at the centre of these specific references is a vision of "the great globe itself," which, with all its towers, palaces and temples, as Prospero reminds us, is as transient as "this insubstantial pageant faded." In other words, the island mirrors, or contains, the world; what we have to do with is not exclusion and simplification but compression and density, vibrant with its own unique imaginative life. The point has been well put by Dr. Anne Barton [in her introduction to The Tempest]:

Spare, intense, concentrated to the point of being riddling, The Tempest provokes imaginative activity on the part of its audience or readers. Its very compression, the fact that it seems to hide as much as it reveals, compels a peculiarly creative response. A need to invent links between words, to expand events and characters in order to understand them, to formulate phrases that can somehow fix the significance of purely visual or musical elements is part of the ordinary experience of reading or watching this play.


With so much, perhaps, all readers would agree. Any attempt to say more, to define the centre of interest to which these different aspects of Shakespeare's technique direct our attention, is unavoidably personal and partial. As so often when a play has made a strong impact on the mind and we know we are still far from understanding, it is useful to face directly the more obvious difficulties. Consider, for example, the abrupt ending of the masque that Prospero had arranged for Ferdinand and Miranda.

Enter certain Reapers, properly habited: they join with the Nymphs in a graceful dance; towards the end whereof Prospero starts suddenly, and speaks; after which, to a strange, hollow, and confused noise, they heavily vanish.

 Pros. [Aside] I had forgot that foul conspiracy
Of the beast Caliban and his confederates
Against my life: the minute of their plot
Is almost come [To the Spirits] Well done!
   Avoid; no more!
   Fer. This is strange: your father's in some
That works him strongly.
 Mir.           Never till this day
Saw I him touch'd with anger, so distemper'd.
                                        (IV, i, 138-45)

It is indeed strange, and [in his introduction to The Tempest] Professor Kermode finds the motivation inadequate, wondering "that Prospero should so excite himself over an easily controlled insurrection." But it is only strange if we forget that Caliban, like Ariel, stands in some kind of special relationship with Prospero. ("We cannot miss [i.e. do without] him," and, near the end of the play, "This thing of darkness I Acknowledge mine.") Caliban, although his mother was a witch, is also a "native" of new-found lands who raises the whole question of man before civilization and of the relation of "natives" to European settlers. It is also Caliban, who knows the island better than anyone else, who speaks some of the most beautiful poetry in the play:

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 sometimes
That, if I then had wak'd after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in
The clouds methought would open, and show
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak'd,
I cried to dream again. (III, ii, 144-52)

But he is also a brute "on whose nature nurture can never stick"; and the play gives us no warrant for supposing that each man has not a Caliban inside himself—even Prospero. In the passage I have referred to we have had an elaborate, slightly artificial masque of Ceres—a vision of nature fertile and controlled. But life isn't as simple as that: Caliban, pure instinct, is still plotting; and it is the sudden memory of this that puts Prospero into a "passion That works him strongly." No one is put into that kind of temper by external danger (especially when the danger, such as it is, is largely represented by a couple of drunks), only by self-insurrection. Perhaps we have here an explanation of Prospero's tensed-up attitude towards Caliban at the beginning of the play and his spiteful and childish punishings of him—"I'll rack thee with old cramps, Fill all thy bones with aches.…" What I am suggesting is that the play is mainly the drama of Prospero, a man who, even by Elizabethan standards, is not old, but one who is looking towards the end of his days, trying to sort out and to come to terms with his experiences. Prospero is not simply above the action, controlling it, he is intimately involved. The play is about what Prospero sees, and, above all, what he is and has it in him to become. "Prospero," says Harold Goddard [in The Meaning of Shakespeare] "when expelled from his dukedom, is a narrow and partial man. Thanks to his child, the island, and Ariel, he gives promise of coming back to it something like a whole one. But an integrated man is only another name for an imaginative man."

I have said that no single, clearly defined interpretation can be extracted from—much less put upon—this play. But when it is seen in some such way as this the action at least falls into an intelligible shape, which still allows the working of other promptings. Consider briefly a few major phases in the action. The play opens with a storm, conjured up by magic, but real enough not to make its nautical technicalities out of place. In some sixty lines Shakespeare—as in all his masterful openings—is doing several things simultaneously. The human characteristics of various people who will play a part in the subsequent action are revealed—from the detachment of Gonzalo to the panicky blustering of Antonio and Sebastian. The storm is also a reminder of fundamental equalities—"What care these roarers for the name of King?" But like all Shakespearean storms it carries overtones: indeed it is explicitly related (I, ii, 207 ff.) to inner storms. The second scene is sometimes regarded as a contrast to the first, and so—in some ways—it is; but it is also a continuation. The storm has prepared us for something in the mind of Prospero, a mental turmoil that is sharply contrasted with the music of Miranda's compassion—"O, I have suffered with those that I saw suffer." The tortured syntax of many of his speeches, with their abrupt dislocations, his interjections to Miranda (more, surely, than a clumsy attempt by the dramatist to hold the attention of the audience throughout a long exposition)—these mark the tumultuous strength of his anger against his brother: "I pray thee, mark me, that a brother should Be so perfidious," "Thy false uncle—Dost thou attend me?" And underneath the anger (which to be sure is natural enough) is an admission of at least partial responsibility.

        I pray thee, mark me.
I, thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated
To closeness and the bettering of my mind
With that which, but by being so retir'd,
O'er-prized all popular rate, in my false brother
Awak'd an evil nature.… (I, ii, 88-93)

The New Arden note on this passage, rightly admitting that "no paraphrase can reproduce its involved urgency," offers as the main sense: "The fact of my retirement, in which I neglected worldly affairs and dedicated myself to secret studies of a kind beyond the understanding and esteem of the people, brought out a bad side of my brother's nature.…" Apart from the fact that a ruler's business is to rule—not at all events to be "all dedicated" to study—the paraphrase misses the point. In the phrase, "in my false brother Awak'd an evil nature," the verb has a subject, and it is not "the fact of my retirement" but the pronoun "I." W. H. Auden is surely right when, in The Sea and the Mirror, he makes Prospero say, "All by myself I tempted Antonio into treason." From at least as early as Richard II Shakespeare had used incoherence dramatically; and Prospero's involutions contain at least some admission of hidden guilt.

The main movement of the play, it has been suggested, is Prospero's movement towards restoration, renewal of the self. He is certainly human enough—not simply the wise controller of other people's fate—to make us interested in his fluctuations of mood. True, as white magician he is in some ways analogous to the artist, and within the conventions of the play his magic can control much of the action. But even within the play magic cannot do what is most essential. It is not magic that determines Gonzalo's decency or the falling in love of Ferdinand and Miranda. Magic can help to demonstrate how evil mistakes the goal or desires what proves to be trash, just as art can set out telling exempla. But magic cannot help Prospero in his most extreme need. When, in the passage already referred to, he breaks off the masque because he has recalled the "foul conspiracy of the beast Caliban and his confederates," his "old brain" is genuinely "troubled," and he needs to walk "a turn or two.… To still my beating mind." The conspiracy, as it turns out, is easily dealt with: the conspirators are very stupid, and Prospero certainly puts too much effort and too much venom into punishing them. To "a noise of hunters heard," Caliban and his associates are hunted by dogs, one of whom is called "Fury" and another "Tyrant." Prospero clearly relishes the hunting:

Go charge my goblins that they grind their joints
With dry convulsions; shorten up their sinews
With aged cramps; and more pinch-spotted make
Than pard or cat o' mountain. (IV, i, 259-62)

It is not the first time that he has appeared like a bad-tempered martinet, so that you want to ask, What is he afraid of? It is immediately after his grim enjoyment at handing out punishment that he announces,

     At this hour
Lies at my mercy all mine enemies.
                                  (IV, i, 263-4)

Any actor playing the part of Prospero would have to ask himself, What is the tone of this? It certainly isn't a calm announcement of a further stage in the magician's demonstration: to my mind it is very close to the lines immediately preceding. The question of what Prospero intends to do with his enemies (which means also, What is he going to do with himself?) is a genuine one, and at this stage we have no right to assume that the answer will be comfortably acceptable.

If we agree that in this play comparatively slight clues do in fact bear a great weight of implication, then the opening of Act V, which immediately follows the hounding of Prospero's minor enemies, is a genuine crisis, and we miss what Shakespeare is doing if we see it as leading smoothly into a pre-ordained "happy ending." Everything now depends on how Prospero handles the situation. When the Act opens he is tugged two ways. Miranda—"a third of mine own life"—loves his enemy's son, and he furthers and approves, though putting mock obstacles in the way. But he has been in a thundering bad temper (which he has tried to overcome); he wants to get his own back—to hunt his enemies with the dog, Fury. The question is whether he can stop dwelling on his own wrongs, real as these are, stop nagging about Caliban, and trust his best self. That, surely, is the significance of the opening exchange with Ariel—his intuitive self. Ariel describes the plight of the King of Naples and his party.

        Your charm so strongly works 'em,
That if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.
 Pros.   Dost thou think so, spirit?
 Ari. Mine would, sir, were I human.
 Pros.            And mine shall.
Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
Passion as they, be kindlier mov'd than thou art?
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to
  th' quick,
Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance: they being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further. Go release them, Ariel:
My charms I'll break, their senses I'll restore,
And they shall be themselves. (V, i, 17-32)

It is after this—and in the acting there should be a marked pause before "And mine shall"—that Prospero can "abjure" "this rough magic," and we hear the "heavenly music" that he has called for. As Goddard points out, not only does Prospero obey Ariel, instead of commanding him—"Music replaces magic."

What follows is of great importance. Once more, music and formal movement add an undefinable suggestion to the spoken word. But the words are clear enough. The royal party shepherded by Ariel, enter to "a solemn music," Alonso "with a frantic gesture," and "all enter the circle which Prospero has made." As they come to themselves the feeling is of a more-than-individual return to consciousness.

     The charm dissolves apace;
And as the morning steals upon the night,
Melting the darkness, so their rising senses
Begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle
Their clearer reason. (V, i, 64-68)

(It is the same image as in George Herbert: "As the sun scatters with his light All the rebellions of the night.")

                 Their understanding
Begins to swell; and the approaching tide
Will shortly fill the reasonable shore,
That now lies foul and muddy. (V, i, 79-82)

Prospero is not simply arranging this: as "one of their kind, that relish all as sharply Passion as they," he is himself involved. As the King's party come to themselves, so he resumes his full human nature, not as magician but as man:

I will disease me, and myself present
As I was sometime Milan. (V, i, 85-6)

The often quoted "the rarer action is In virtue than in vengeance" is of course the key. Prospero has come to terms with his experience, and—so far as their individual natures permit—with his enemies. There is a special emphasis on the rejoicings of the good Gonzalo.

     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
In a poor isle, and all of us ourselves
When no man was his own. (V, i, 206-13)

Prospero "found his dukedom" in a more than literal sense "in a poor isle," and you certainly have to include him among those who "found" themselves "when no man was his own." But Gonzalo is not Shakespeare's chorus to the play. Antonio makes no reply to the "hearty welcome" that Prospero offers all (V,i,l 10-111), and it is his silence that comes between Prospero's first address to him—"Flesh and blood, You, brother mine.… I do forgive thee"—and the second, where "forgive" is used in the barest legal sense:

For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother
Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive
Thy rankest fault,—all of them; and require
My dukedom of thee, which perforce, I know,
Thou must restore. (V, i, 130-34)

It is with some reason that Auden, quoting these lines, finds that the play ends "more sourly" than Pericles, Cymbeline, or The Winter's Tale. I myself don't feel that "sourly" is the word. The harmony that is achieved is valuable—but there is no final all-embracing reconciliation. Prospero may draw his circle of relationship, but some people will choose to stay outside, and Prospero will somewhat tartly respond. The music remains something that Caliban dreams of, and that humans hear from time to time—and can sometimes actualize in their own lives. The play claims no more than that. The end is an acceptance of the common conditions and common duties of life: "Every third thought shall be my grave." Those characters who have proved themselves capable of it have undergone a transforming experience. Now they go back to the workaday world, to confront once more the imperfect, paradoxical and contradictory nature of life.

Paradox runs through the play. Again and again the double and contradictory nature of things is insisted on. To Miranda's question, "What foul play had we, that we came from thence? Or blessed was't that we did?," Prospero answers, "Both, both, my girl." Miranda's "O brave new world, That has such people in't" is counterpointed by Prospero's "Tis new to thee," which is not merely cynical and disillusioned. And the great speech in which Prospero dwells on the transience of all things human … begins,

You do look, my son, in a mov'd sort,
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir …
                                        (IV, i, 146 ff.)

It is in these tensions that man has to live. Gonzalo, we remember, had tried to cheer up his king by painting a picture of the ideal commonwealth:

All things in common Nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but Nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people. (II, i, 159-64)

Life, however, is more stubborn and intractable than that, and part of the greatness of The Tempest is that it forces us to recognize it. It helps us to face with something that is neither wishfulness nor despair—with something that is both resigned and positively affirming—the intractabilities and the limitations of our lives.

Stephen J. Miko (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: "Tempest," in ELH, Vol. 49, No. 1, Spring, 1982, pp. 1-17.

[In the following essay, Miko focuses on the themes of art, nature, illusion, and magic in The Tempest, characterizing the conclusion of the play as "experimental, tentative among its wonderful reconciliations."]

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!
                                         V,i, 183-4

Many ironies sit here. Except for the most obvious one, residing in the gap between Miranda's innocence and our knowledge that some of these beauties are attempted homicides, there is little agreement either about what they are or how far they go. Miranda speaks from a tableau, just revealed by a magician to those who astonish her, and who have just been released by the same magician from a charmed circle. They are astonished too. The language of miracle and wonder is appropriate on both sides; a father is reunited with his son, gains a daughter, reconciles himself with conscience. Yet the magician who managed all this says almost nothing about the "strange maze" which he has led these wanderers through. He calls their miracles "accidents," which he promises to make "seem probable," along with the story of his life. Later, after the play is over. To clear the way for thinking ("every third thought") of his grave. The ironies I speak of multiply as these elements are heightened into contrasts.

To harp on ironies is to harp on (possible) problems. The range of disagreement as to how to take this play is itself astonishing. If Miranda's world is, demonstrably, neither brave nor new, what degree of mockery may be lurking here? To complicate matters further, this last scene, especially by virtue of being a last scene, has given rise to talk about mystery. That has in turn led to talk of symbol, allegory, and mysticism. Something cryptic appears to most critics to be going on, and the usual (but certainly not universal) response has been to fill in Shakespeare's meaning with religious and moral hierarchies. Yet anything thought cryptic may also be an invitation to ask questions about explanations, to wonder, finally, whether explanation itself may be mocked in Prospero's promises to tell all some other time some other place.

What we have just noticed is at least an obvious manipulation of most of the characters into a position where they must be astonished, and, further, must behave themselves. Moral correction is another matter. So is forgiveness. The new world is most obviously new in being rearranged; rearrangement took place in careful isolation, on an island, with the help of a lot of magic and tricks. Yet the trickster is willingly giving up his magic powers to return, without notable enthusiasm, to rule Milan by conventional methods. He takes with him two unredeemed villains, one redeemed villain, a loyal retainer, two humiliated buffoons, and a wholly conventional romantic couple. He leaves behind both his magic emissary and his enslaved monster, probably, after Prospero himself, the two most intriguing characters of the play. There is not much agreement about what these final groupings mean, and very little sense that Prospero has solved anything. Both his future and Caliban's seem open questions—it is not even clear that Caliban will remain. What is clear is that Prospero has succeeded in his manipulations of bodies (if not destinies) and that he is packing up his tricks. Perhaps the playwright is also packing up his tricks, completing his play by completing its island actions, rounding them out but not (because of their very nature) fully resolving them. Once one looks at what finally happens to the various characters and the themes they embody, it is difficult to accept either Prospero's or Shakespeare's manipulations as a series of exalted gestures, part of a symbolic package that points toward (even if it doesn't actually show) a grand, coherent, or transcendent completion of Shakespeare's highest art. Neither is it possible to read the play as "just a play," without meanings of various symbolic kinds, in fact many kinds. I propose, then, to look at the play as if it is, in a stronger sense than is usually conceded, experimental. Shakespeare may be experimenting with the very assumptions that lead us to expect poetic justice, symbolic neatness, and "resolved" endings for plays. I think, in fact, that he is demonstrating the limits of all three sets of expectation.


Does this play have loose ends or not? Those who lean toward heavily symbolic readings tend to think not; those who favor character analysis and even moral analysis tend to think it does. I belong to the second group, though my reasons perhaps differ from those most often given or implied. The neatness of this (and possibly any) work of art largely depends on how strongly one insists on details that seem to violate a defined, usually conventional pattern. For example, isn't Antonio an embarrassment to the dominant moral pattern of the play? Unlike Alonzo he shows no repentance whatever, and some question the sincerity of Prospero's forgiving him. In the same vein, does Caliban's intention to "seek for grace" represent a lurch upward toward moral stature? Both show stubborn resistance to redemption, or even to claims that the tone of the ending is grandly affirmative. Yet one can always insist that exceptions prove the rule: Antonio and Caliban only show us that moral ideals exist in an imperfect world—all the more are just, forgiving, philosopher-magician-kings required. And from a certain comfortable distance this may do; why should we want to find a loose end in what can be seen as a reflection (though inverted) of the need for grace, or help, or even a civilized culture to keep evil (both natural and unnatural) in check? One ready answer is that these reflections just as easily suggest something very different, though not exactly contradictory. In these stubborn characters we may also see limits: to Prospero's power and all that it may represent, including Shakespeare's power in art, or the power of art.

Probably more than any of Shakespeare's other plays, The Tempest leaves "reflection" a live metaphor. It has even been read as a kind of cypher to contemporary biographical, political, or religious events, quite beside the theories of more general symbolic construction alluded to already. I do not propose another attempt to sort these theories out, but to note that this variety must mean something—not, I think, some hinted idea to which the variety can be subordinated, but something about the multiplicity and possibly the deliberate inconclusiveness of Shakespeare's last plays. However we evaluate these many interpretations, we can consistently infer that the play which occasions such riches must itself be rich and strange. Both the richness and strangeness are functions, it seems to me, of Shakespeare's testing, or at least playing with, the limits of his—and maybe anyone's—playmaking, including powerful gestures of affirmation while affirming, in Sidney's sense, nothing. In short, there are loose ends indeed, of the most fundamental sort: the art and magic of playmaking questions both its matter (the themes) and its own power, affirming only in understood, limited ways.

What, then, are these affirmations? Beside the usual "romance" themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, and regeneration I would put a list that has a negative cast, because it derives from ironic perspectives: men and their desires need checking and ordering, a process which makes (limited) fulfillment of desire possible, and may even transform coarse emotion into something higher (or at least more interesting); "natural" is a profoundly ambiguous term, but all good (and, less clearly, most evil) is an art that nature makes; true love requires civilizing (another kind of limiting); plays and the art of making them are special, deliberately artificial distortions of the "real" world, meant less to teach than to present interesting, sometimes heartening, analogies; art is no avenue to higher realms but a modest (yet at best very impressive) image of man's desires reflected back through his intelligence, which shapes and approves selectively; and even spectacular magic art has very little consequence in the world "outside." I think all these points are made by the play—are, in fact, its central affirmations. I don't see how such things could be asserted in a play without, at least in the most conventional senses, loose ends. The failure to carry out fully the pattern of moral correction may be seen, then, as just the most obvious refusal to make this play neat. If my list is accurate, the cast of mind dominating the play is neither tragic, nor, in the celebratory sense, comic; it is skeptical, yet genial.


This is Prospero's play, with no very close parallel in Shakespeare. Whatever symbolic freight we make visible, Prospero is either carrying it or managing the carrying. It is no doubt obvious already that my emphasis will drift from left to right on the scale listed above: although we are surely impressed by Prospero's ability to disintegrate and reassemble ships, quick-dry (and even freshen) costumes, cast spells, put on spirit-masques, and pinch out punishments, there are hints throughout the play that invite us—quite inconclusively—to subordinate this power, this Art, to something approaching hypnosis, the creation of dream states for moral psychotherapy. The magic lore that creeps into the play is capable of causing embarrassment both to those who prefer the notion that they all just dreamt the tempest and the transportations and those who say magic is magic, usually invoking John Dee and insisting that at least it's white. To be very short on this issue, transportations are not likely dreamt if you actually end up in other places, alive when you thought you had drowned, and we can hardly doubt that Ariel and company exist. On the other hand all this power results in only one indisputable conversion (Alonzo), the tempest is also obviously inside most of the characters, the magic shows are dispensable and vanish without trace or consequence, the selves everyone finds when released from trance are much the same as they were earlier, and we can't be sure that Prospero isn't embroidering a little—the Ovidian list including raising the dead (V,i,41-50) embarrasses almost everyone. We seem to be put repeatedly in the position of trying to decide what the magic means before we can say what it is. And that meaning, or those meanings, are all extensions of Prospero.

It may be helpful to descend for a while into the unambiguous. Although I think that Prospero's magic tricks shift in emphasis from magic to tricks, and that this shift is emblematic of much else in the play's movement, some solid "facts" about Prospero are given us, mostly in the usual first act history, and much also follows from them.

Besides an enormously powerful magician—the play begins, of course, with the ship disintegrating in Prospero's tempest—Prospero is an overprotective father and an uneasy, apparently disillusioned idealist. His exile is a consequence both of the natural evil in his brother and his own retreat from ducal responsibility into studies—magic and the liberal arts. He takes blame for his condition, claiming to have brought out the evil in Antonio and to have lived too much in his mind (his dream?). Once the initial hardship of the journey was overcome, his magic books and powers made him a god of his island, displacing Caliban. So for a dozen years Prospero has been running everything, even, it would appear, the local weather. He has not seen fit to tell his daughter her own early history or his, and he has failed only in redeeming—making human, more-or-less—his "devil-whelp." His child at fifteen is the very type of virginal virtue, full of sympathy for fellow creatures she has never seen but has apparently learned of from books and paternal instruction. The preservation of her innocence—of evil, especially sexual evil—has been a central concern, nearly foiled by Caliban's attempted rape. Now that the outside world must again be confronted (Prospero cannot neglect this providential opportunity to master his enemies), Miranda gets her history in careful doses, with considerable solicitousness for the shock to her delicate system and to her credulity.

A few obvious inferences follow easily from this list: first, we can expect no real trouble in any plans Prospero has to control the movements of his enemies; if he can do tempests, he can do most anything. Second, the single but striking failure with Caliban gives basis for a more fundamental sort of anxiety: Prospero's power does not extend to minds or souls, so we may wonder how much external manipulation can touch natural evil, which we soon discover also continues in Antonio and Sebastian. What effect, then, can Prospero's external powers have on internal (moral, spiritual) states? The whole plot seems to hinge on this question, yet it is begged early on. What in fact transpires is a series of scenes illustrating Prospero's control, especially of two kinds: the testing of goodness and the interruption—not the correction or extinction—of evil. In short, a series of magic shows allowing the characters to show themselves. The metaphor of "finding" a self is, I believe, ironic well before the end of the play.

How we take these shows inevitably depends on how much we take them, either in themselves or by various allusive procedures, to have symbolic or allegorical meanings—and, in turn, whether these meanings arrange themselves into consistent pictures, or lessons, or larger "wholes." Even more fundamentally, what we construct as interpretation depends directly on how serious we think Shakespeare was in presenting his shows, or, more narrowly, what sort of seriousness is appropriate to them.

What follows will reveal at least two assumptions about this seriousness: first, that the easiest way to encompass the divergent earnestness of so many critics is to assume that their earnestness led to their divergence; second, the play's failure to achieve an unambiguous resolution, its resistance to any available version of a neat, closed form, suggests that games with closed form may be going on, and the mode of these may be playful (yet not without seriousness). The Tempest is more like a comedy than a tragedy, neat in very abstract ways only (the much-noticed unities at last observed), yet lacking in mysteries that resonate, either ethical, religious, or aesthetic.

By this thinking, then, a central point (or meaning) of Prospero's magic is that it defines moral limits by illustrating (mostly) psychological obduracy, including Prospero's own. If we do read his behavior as stubborn and reluctant to leave his island kingdom, we may also without strain read it as a preference for art (and dream) over "reality." But that cannot in turn be assumed to be Shakespeare's preference. If Prospero's art is a type (in any sense) of Art, the most obvious inference is not that Shakespeare yearns for a dream world, but that Art comes from one, or constitutes one, and that any effects Art has on the world "outside" must include recognizing this. Perhaps drowning the book and breaking the staff enact not the rejection of Art but of ideas that Art can, even in its own realm, control the desires it reflects. Even as model Art rejects Absolutes. Prospero is not, apparently, very happy about this; Shakespeare may or may not have been, but he certainly accepted limits gracefully elsewhere, although he tested them constantly. In this play and also, strikingly, in The Winter's Tale they become part of the subject matter.

In so far as this play is "about" art it requires a broad acceptance of artificiality. The sequence of Prospero's magic shows illustrates an increased willfulness and arbitrariness, moving from the impressive tempest to a nuptial masque introduced as a "vanity" and petulantly interrupted (although essentially over) and then to a tableau imitating an emblem book (the chess game). The villains and their burlesque counterparts, once their homicidal intents are recognized and foiled on stage, receive magical punishments mostly out of sight, all repetitive of the early demonstrations of power over bodies (freeze them and pinch them), descending into mud and horsepiss—although it has been noted that the island reveals no other sign of horses. I doubt that any audience can worry, once Ariel saves Alonzo and Gonzalo, that evil may triumph after all, especially with Ariel's constant reassurances and effortless ubiquity. Yet the point does not seem to be to mock evil or reduce it by parody, but to show us, as many have noticed, that it's always there, fully preventable only in a magical world, where it may become the occasion for jokes. What is most directly mocked is stupidity and narrow egotism, the traditional targets of comedy, yet unlike what happens in most comedy the mockery does not convincingly triumph; the magical garden continues to harbor real snakes.

So Prospero's magic is limited in several ways: it does not touch man's inner nature; its use descends into stage shows and trickery; it must be put aside fully to confront the "real" world (outside island and play). We can read it, then, as emblematic of good intentions, whose goodness is compromised by self-indulgence, but more fundamentally compromised by the necessary element of illusion in equating art with magic—not only Prospero's illusion, but ours. Shakespeare's art both uses and criticizes such equations, as I hope will be made clearer by some closer looks.


I have suggested that Prospero is a manager of shows. He runs versions of a living theatre, both producing and directing—although the latter function is often Ariel's—to test, to punish, and to convert. Those tested, however, don't need it: Ferdinand carries logs absurdly to prove he respects virginity; no real temptation is allowed him. Miranda (we must strain to include her) has her sympathy and new love tested through the same log-carrying; she offers to help, properly anguished over "her" Ferdinand's suffering. Both pass, foregone conclusions. Ferdinand, in fact, is so without passion some critics don't like him; his protestations that his honor won't melt appear comic. All those whose conversions are sought resist but one, and we easily doubt Alonzo's need for all the browbeating and lying he gets, especially the repeated "news," cheerfully delivered by the play's only teacher of sympathy, that his son is dead. Both the tests and conversions, then, degenerate into punishments. So the putative intent of most of Prospero's shows fails to coincide with their results. Prospero is apparently caught in moral justifications that fail to fit his shows because they were not really, or mainly, or purely, moral shows.

What are they then? Obviously enough, they are entertainments. But for whom, and to what point? That is not easy to answer. Or there are several, perhaps not fully consistent, answers.

First, they are for Prospero. A vanity of his art, a demonstration of control, and perhaps a demonstration of longing to stay on the island. Like Leontes in The Winter's Tale Prospero enjoys making the world over to fit his dreams. The log-carrying and the harpied banquet seem obvious instances of a father punishing bad children by whatever dramatic expedient may occur to him. Only in the former the children are not bad at all, so that Prospero has to apologize for these activities, and in the latter the bad children are too bad to be affected. We can understand and even approve, however, Prospero's tours de force: to freeze swords in the air, taunt villains (and credulous Gonzalo) with disappearing acts, and mock the folly of airslicing. The victims are also, of course, an audience, forced to appreciate Prospero's power, only the point, even for this audience, seems to be more showmanship than power. Everyone's dreams have to be subordinate to Prospero's dreams, however arbitrary. Behavior is controlled largely by controlling perception, emphasizing that the world is as it is seen.

For the next audiences, Prospero and then us, the shows flirt, even through their allusions, with the idea that art itself is to some important degree arbitrary. We are also made conscious that, if we are not to take logcarrying with the seriousness of a "real" test, nor dismiss it as a wholly arbitrary entertainment, it may be part of a literary or dramatic game Shakespeare is playing with us, this time with Prospero as the "forced" actor. The curious combination of Prospero's real power and real impotence, both functions of his involvement in his own magical (here read "imaginative") world, seems an excellent—and once one notices this pattern, inevitable—metaphor for the powers and limits of Shakespeare's own imaginative world, and by not too forced an extension, art in general. Art affirms nothing largely in the sense that Prospero's magic "comes to" nothing: As Alonzos we may want, inspired by renewed consciousness of guilt, or reawakened goodness, or any other already resident characteristic, to act, "led" to this action by art. But if this is causation, it is indirect, crucially dependent on our being largely "there" already. Meanwhile, shows go on, and we must learn not to expect too much of them, or, if we do, suffer Prospero's moodiness and unresolved state, or possibly even Alonzo's wish for suicide. In art or in magic shows black may be white, emblems may appear as realities, wishes may become harpies, but they are all spirits that vanish into thin air, and we forget this at the cost (at least) of being bemired in our folly.

Prospero's (and the play's) most famous speech (IV,i,147-158) takes these ideas a step further. As the spirit masque, so the world, meaning our world, or any world known to men. This burst of eloquence, variously noticed as a curious intrusion or a striking change of tone seems, depending on how we read it, to ally this play with tragedy, to provide a metaphysical dimension hardly hinted at before, to undercut all of Prospero's efforts before or after, to change our perspective on The Tempest by enforcing a new degree of detachment. My general argument has been that all these things are already there in the various forms of inconclusiveness we have been noting—although I would play down tragic undertones. This speech is indeed central, but it need not be taken with the sadness and weariness that Prospero apparently feels during its delivery.

It is tempting to read it at a discount. Prospero is obviously in a funk, which is not adequately justified by the reason he gives for introducing the "strange, hollow, and confused noise" that cuts off the show. If the "minute of their plot" is almost come, the drama of their entry is curiously attenuated, leaving room for Ariel to be amusing in his description of the helpless plotters, left dancing up to their chins in a filthy mantled pool. And Prospero's subsequent mutterings about the "born devil" hardly sound a grave note either, less even than Caliban's threat of driving a nail into his head did earlier. Yet Prospero seems genuinely upset, as his daughter notices, and if it is not about threats of evildoing, it is most likely about the content of that eloquent speech. The masque, a creation of Prospero's imagination, is interrupted by another creation of his imagination—in short, by the thought that the whole world is no more stable or meaningful than the imagination which "creates" it.

This is indeed metaphysics, but our consciousness that a troubled brain is here expressing itself warns us not to leap at once into Tragic Apprehension; it is just this reminder that Prospero needs to prepare to detach himself from a world where his dreams are everything, yet "amount" to nothing. And there is a positive side to this gloomy view of the ephemerality of things: if we are such stuff as dreams are made on, we make ourselves by dreaming, and much of "the world" too. Our lovers are an obvious case in point; Ferdinand really would do anything for his Miranda, and he very likely really believes, as he says just before the interruption, that "So rare a wonder'd father and a wise/Makes this place paradise." What the naive Ferdinand doesn't yet know (and let him take his time finding out) is that the wisdom and the paradise are both also dreams, already infected beyond repair.

We, on the other hand, are expected to know these things by now, and to be reminded pointedly, here, by Prospero. If this speech undercuts both the moral gravity and magical powers of the play—and even, I would argue, undercuts itself—it is not a violent change or misplaced comment on what has been going on all along. Both here and in The Winter's Tale Shakespeare has been setting up his audience for reflections of this kind, which include consciousness of deliberate artifice, especially as it reveals the gap, sometimes trivial but always present, between desire and act, dream and the real world.

The last act collects these matters for us. For instance, Prospero's famous lesson in sympathy, noted by the Arden editor [Frank Kermode] as a "gnomic and vital idea":

Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance: they being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further.

This is in response to Ariel's vivid description of the three villains distracted, wept over by Gonzalo. How can we ignore that two of the three are not (even in the slightest degree) penitent? They merely have temporarily boiled brains, a result of Prospero's art. Yet the rarer action is in virtue, even if helped along by a delusion grown out of a wish. As art is. The irony points both back into the play and at us, who are also wishers for powers like Prospero's, and perhaps too ready to give them to Shakespeare.

Or, even more strikingly, this speech a little further on, after the major speech abjuring magic. It has often been read with great solemnity.

                            Most cruelly
Didst thou, Alonzo, use me and my daughter:
Thy brother was a furtherer in the act.
Thou art pinch'd for't now, Sebastian. Flesh and
You, brother mine, that entertain'd ambition,
Expell'd remorse and nature; whom, with
Whose inward pinches therefore are most
Would here have kill'd your king; I do forgive
Unnatural though thou art.

Not, "unnatural hast thou been." The gesture of forgiveness, which we have no reason to think phony, rebounds off Sebastian's consistent (unnatural) malice, although Prospero wants in the same breath to insist that the pinching was "inward"—which must mean, pinching of conscience, the agenbite of inwit. But it wasn't, and Prospero knows it, hence the ambivalence in the speech, shortly followed up by further admission that remorse and nature remain expelled. So we have another show, with some of the actors playing the parts Prospero has "written," others just walking through them, deliberately distracted. They want to write their own parts, and do. Prospero doesn't like to admit this, but surely we should. Nor do we need to deny that there is a serious moral lesson here, only the emphasis of the play seems as much on illfitting yet necessary illusions as on either the fallen world or, especially, on grand regenerations and moral uplift.

We are further reminded that this isle is full of subtleties that distort the taste and encumber belief (perhaps fatally). Gonzalo, with his usual blindness to subtleties of any kind, unwittingly blurts out a few lines that summarize much of what has been going on:

All torment, trouble, wonder and amazement
Inhabits here: some heavenly power guide us
Out of this fearful country!
                                    (V,i, 104-6)

Heavenly power is indeed needed, since the fearful country is, variously, the magical illusions, the imagination, and the mind and soul. Nothing is there that they didn't bring, nor will they leave these things there when they go—except Ariel, and perhaps Caliban. Gonzalos will find wonder and amazement at home too, Antonios will replace them with wisecracks and plots, and Prosperos will retire, along with Alonzos, chastened by overreaching. Prospero, despite his inability not to frown at the recalcitrants, appears to be having a good time, as he promised himself earlier, gloating that they were all at his mercy. If he can't properly be a heavenly power, he can at least run the show his way, even teasing lugubrious Alonzo:

Alonzo: When did you lose your daughter?

Prospero: In this last tempest.
                                         (V,i, 152-3)

Their trances and boiled brains, not very effectual morally, are just the thing to reduce them to an ideal audience for a chess game. And the chess game, suggestive as you please of elegant aristocracy, suggests also isolation, especially the sort necessary to maintain the protestations of romantic love. Miranda's wondering expletives are echoed, as Kermode especially notices, by Caliban, both of them much taken by elegant attire:

O Setebos, these be brave spirits indeed!
How fine my master is!

Prospero's mild retort to his enthusiastic daughter fits as well here.

Tis new to thee.


O ho, O ho! would't had been done!
Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else

This isle with Calibans.

Perhaps Shakespeare has. As many critics emphasize, Caliban is an appealing demi-devil, whose shape, though deformed in some unspecified way, is human. E. E. Stoll has [in PMLA 47 (1932)] with particular relish laid out the psychology of the "brute," who loves his sensual pleasures and is more amoral than immoral, and who may be allowed an imagination—must be allowed one, if we refuse to dismiss his lyrical speech on dream-inducing music (III,ii. 133-40) as out of character. Few besides Stoll are willing to stop here, however, including me.

With many others I think Caliban should be promoted from a natural man, or a brute man, to Natural Man, and maybe even Us. I don't of course mean we all secretly yearn to rape virgins or murder our bosses, but that Caliban's attempts to understand enough to control his own life have obvious similarities to the rest of the cast, to Prospero, to any playmaker, and to us. In short I would play down the contrasts—which are certainly there in the play—to the idealized romantic and moral paradigms which Miranda and Ferdinand keep assuring us they live by, and which Prospero pays rather ambivalent service to, and emphasize instead that our sympathy with and pleasure in this brute qualifies, if not refutes, Prospero's rants about him and makes any strict belief that nurture will never stick false. At least Caliban has learned that gods don't reside in bottles and that his admiration—and even, he says once, love—for his master isn't all inverted into resentment and hatred, nails or no nails. If not redeemed into goodness, Caliban is very likely to know much better what to do when the next batch of civilized creatures visit him. And the gift of language is far from stagnant in him, either for cursing or celebrating.

Like everyone else in the play, Caliban lives, or tries to live, in illusions that the play shows inadequate. In this context he specially emphasizes that illusions, even fond dreams of evildoing, are natural, opening wide the door to a popular paradox (or would-be paradox) of Shakespeare's time as well as to modern philosophizing on the mysteries of "natural" man—in both cases fallen and hoping to rise. Polixenes' argument with Perdita in The Winter's Tale (IV,iv,85-100) is sufficient footnote here to contemporary debate on the natural and the artificial, and applications to notions of the noble savage may be pursued extensively in D. G. James' Dream of Prospero. The basic point, as I take it anyhow, is that good and evil are built into most of us (perhaps all—I'm holding out Miranda), and most of us are capable of being better—especially of being taught to be better. This may finally mean better at moral action or better at imagining—two activities ideally connected, but in practice sometimes opposed, since desire inevitably remains in the picture. Moral art as well as the art of illusion are natural, so the common split in the word's use—unnatural acts being either magical or immoral—are not contradictions but isolations in a hierarchy under the rubric of Polixenes, "the art that nature makes." That brothers can kill each other is unnatural only from the point of view of someone who insists that natural always means moral—an unusually rigid or didactic playwright, for example. Even the innocent Miranda knows better, when she comforts her father over Antonio's evildoing in Act One. And the other use of "unnatural" in this play, the unnatural events that Prospero has brought about, remain unnatural only as we remain ignorant of what's in those magic books, or, if larger mysteries are preferred, what providential forces brought the boat into range of the tempest. Yet it seems odd to call providence unnatural. God must be allowed His own magic tricks, and so must Shakespeare. We have room to choose how earnestly we receive either.

The main point, to which I think Shakespeare consistently returns, is that attempts to match words and things, wishes and realities, inevitably leave disjunctions, especially for those who insist on neatness and univocality. Shakespeare most certainly did not, and Caliban's "puzzling" bursts of poetry point this up. Perhaps his uncertain future does too. In trying to be a junior Prospero he got minor tortures and a large wallow—and a little more common sense. Prospero proper got everyone at his mercy, a son-in-law, and his city back—all three rather qualified victories, and basic, fundamental evil is just untouched.

Neither Caliban nor his master could typecast; nature wouldn't have it. That nature wouldn't is one of the play's main messages, one of its "truths about life," one of its loose ends. Art, like life, orders by acts of wishing and willing and above all imagining; the results are bound to be a little messy. They can be neat only if will dominates all.

I hope this makes it clearer why I think of The Tempest as experimental, tentative among its wonderful reconciliations. It is tempting, but I think too neat, to identify Caliban with some sort of reality principle, evil itself, or perhaps original sin. Auden [in "The Sea and The Mirror"] seems closer to the truth in making Caliban both the interrogating audience and a voice which becomes, finally, Shakespeare's own—after a kind of reverse metamorphosis from Ariel, the soaring spirit collapsed into the undeniable body. If as I believe Shakespeare will not allow either unequivocal idealization or consistent, "realistic" parody, all the characters are mirrors of us, especially as we are all artist-dreamers, and all the mirrors are chipped and cracked.

Robert M. Adams (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: "The Tempest," in Shakespeare: The Four Romances, W. W. Norton & Company, 1989, pp. 123-157.

[In the following essay, Adams provides an account of the sources, structure, themes, and characterization of The Tempest.]

Three facts about … [The Tempest]—all true, all of questionable import—frame any discussion of the drama. It was Shakespeare's last complete play, if not the last work he did for the theater; unusually among the dramas, it occupies restricted space and limited time, that is, observes the "unities"; and though there are some sources and many analogues for particular details of scene, action, or verbal expression, no single source provided the armature for [The Tempest]—as the core of [Pericles] derives from the legend of Apollonius, the main component of [Cymbeline] from Decameron II.9, and most of [The Winter's Tale] from Pandosto. All three of these facts can be made to point toward a single conclusion, that Shakespeare worked on [The Tempest] with particular care—hence that if he cherished an allegorical (but more properly a metaphorical) message to be delivered to the world, he probably delivered it here. The play has been so often approached from this point of view that a commentator writing in the late 20th century might well—if only to make the ulterior meaning work for a living—look around for another approach. And in fact there are some indicators that point in quite the contrary direction. The Tempest makes use of an exotic setting, non-human or quasi-human characters, spectacles, and considerable music, all of which divert the eye and ear without necessarily giving the analytic mind much to linger on. The major plot elements, such as a rightful ruler and a usurping brother, a lost princess discovered by her susceptible prince, were long-familiar ingredients of Shakespeare's narrative practice. Not exactly in opposition to the first view of the play, this second set of qualities implies that the poet may have been more concerned to evoke feelings and moods than to express a direct set of correspondences. Metaphor and allegory depend on a second level of reference that can be reached from the first and related to it. Perhaps the deeper meanings being sought in [The Tempest] are phantoms rising from the practice of demanding more certainties than the poet was ever of a mind to deliver. Though applicable to all the romances, this dilemma has attached itself with particular tenacity over the 19th and 20th centuries to The Tempest.

To start far back with some details of production and publication, the first staging of The Tempest about which we know, though probably not the first that ever took place, occurred on Hallowmass night (November 1) of 1611 at Whitehall. The text cannot well have been written after that; and the date before which it cannot have been written, though not so precise, is also clearly defined. The play incorporates material from William Strachey's account of the wreck of the Sea-Adventure on the islands of Bermuda, in 1609. Strachey's pamphlet did not appear till 1610; Shakespeare's play is thus dated within a period of less than two years. It is not often that we can assign such precise dates to a play of that age; there is accordingly no reason to strain after greater particularity. After its first performance or performances, The Tempest had a second and particularly glamorous production. During the winter of 1612-13, as part of those court ceremonials honoring the betrothal and marriage of Princess Elizabeth—at which The Winter's Tale was presented—Shakespeare's troupe was also called on to produce, amid the clatter and clutter of a royal occasion, The Tempest. It could have been performed for either betrothal or marriage festivities, and the text could have been altered for the occasion, most likely in connection with the masque of Ceres, Juno, and Iris. But this guess leaves several loose ends; without a masque in Act IV, the 1611 version of the play must have been strangely truncated, and if the masque when added did refer to dynastic events, breaking it off with rough horseplay like the hunting down of Caliban and his cronies does not seem like a suave gesture for concluding a royal compliment. Whatever the ways in which the play was adapted to its several occasions and possible venues (and obviously they are hard to know in any detail and with any assurance), the text of the play as it exists for us derives from a single source, the First Folio of 1623, where it takes pride of place. Perhaps because of its prominence, The Tempest was carefully prepared for the printer. The text is divided into acts and scenes, the punctuation is both correct and consistent, a dramatis personae is prefixed. Here, as often elsewhere in Shakespeare, lineation is sometimes a problem; whether Caliban speaks verse, prose, or something in between, may provide questions; but generally the text is clear.

Under the head of borrowing trouble, theories of an earlier version, whether written by Shakespeare in his youth or by someone else, can without rashness be disregarded. Though this sort of thing is always possible, simply because of the difficulty of proving a negative, the chronology of composition largely precludes it here. As for the somewhat more substantial matter of what parts of Shakespeare's reading entered into the play's making, it may be useful to set out the various possibilities in rough order of their likelihood.

  1. Montaigne's essay "On Cannibals," written around 1580 and translated by Florio in 1603, could have been known to Shakespeare in either French or English; it definitely underlies Gonzalo's musings in Act II on the primitive life.
  2. A set of three pamphlets describing a shipwreck on the Bermudas and the founding of an English colony in Virginia appeared in 1610; the most likely of these to have influenced Shakespeare's play is the narrative of William Strachey which describes a fierce storm and shipwreck. Since the days of Columbus and Vespucci travellers to the New World had been accumulating descriptions both of the country and its inhabitants. Occasionally we can find a specific source for a specific detail; "Setebos" is mentioned as a Patagonian god in Robert Eden's History of Travaile (1577), and in a general way it seems likely that Shakespeare had read widely in the literature of exploration.
  3. Italian narrative materials about dynastic feuds and domestic jealousies could have reached Shakespeare through collections of novelle, prose or verse romances, and formal histories. Several play-outlines (scenari) from the commedia dell' arte include narrative units like those in The Tempest; though not fully written out in the manner of a play-script, they could have reached Shakespeare by way of troupes of Italian comedians who visited London and performed there.
  4. Classical lore, as in Ovid, Virgil, Longus, Heliodorus, Apollonius Rhodius, the pastoral poets, and the mythographers, entered into Shakespeare's background either directly or through the work of Italian or English imitators. The English masque (as in the work of Jonson), the English romance (as in the work of Sidney), and the English romanceepic (as in the work of Spenser) cannot but have had an influence on Shakespeare, though it is only here and there that we can lay our finger on a bit of persuasive evidence for a specific influence.
  5. The wide field of international folklore provides many partial parallels for many isolated units of The Tempest's narrative. One can trace across the centuries and continents themes such as the shipwreck, the magician, the wild man, the lost princess, the jealous brother, the puck or will-o'-the-wisp, not to mention such immemorial actions as forgiveness of enemies, pairing off of true lovers, restoring of order, and expulsion of black villainy. These are, so to speak, the plankton and foraminifera of Europe's narrative waters; no bay, no inlet is without them, no imagination can avoid ingesting them.

Most of the evidence that Shakespeare drew on any part of this material for the composition of The Tempest consists of parallel passages, more or less close, extended, and distinctive. A name like "Setebos," which is odd, and occurs in only one possible source, determines Shakespeare's use of that source; storms at sea, of which there are thousands in the literature, generally carry with them an array of similar if not identical properties, half a dozen of which in Shakespeare's play do nothing to establish that he drew on one source rather than another. Even when he took from a useful predecessor, he had no hesitation about adapting and eliminating or adding to suit his purposes. Of the three "Bermuda" pamphlets, it seems clear he relied most heavily on Strachey's True Reportory. The storm and shipwreck provided strong and stirring material, of which Shakespeare took such advantage as his stage-medium would allow; but the island on which the Sea Adventure's people straggled ashore was uninhabited, and Shakespeare populated it with creatures from his reading and his imagination. He quietly half-transferred it from the Atlantic or Caribbean to the Mediterranean without disturbing its exotic tropical foliage or its most primitive inhabitant, a kind of semi-human Indian whose mother may have been a witch from Algiers. In a word, whatever his sources, Shakespeare dealt freely with them, more freely even than he had done with his sources in many earlier plays.

One major architectural feature of The Tempest is the introduction of a miniature court-society, stratified into classes and divided by jealousies and old intrigues, into a new environment where the truth about itself is in various ways revealed. A particularly telling if unobtrusive indicator about the royal party wrecked on Prospero's island concerns the recent wedding of Alonso's daughter Claribel to the king of Tunis. Speaking to the despondent Alonso, Sebastian makes (II.i) the sharp but uncontradicted point that the troubles of the king of Naples are of his own making, since Claribel herself was "loath" to marry the monarch of Tunis, and did so only out of obedience to her father. As we never see Claribel or hear any more about her, the fact that she was pushed into an unwelcome marriage doesn't much strike us (slothful, unimaginative audience that we are); but as a piece of gratuitous invention, it stands out. To say nothing about her feelings would have been easy; we should have assumed that she was a joyful or at least a contented bride. To the plot's motion it would make no difference at all. But dynastic marriages, like conspiratorial rivals conniving after supreme power, were frequent if unlovely marks of "civilized" European society. The collusion of Alonso and Antonio against Prospero, followed by the plot of Antonio and Sebastian against Alonso, and parodied by the conspiracy of Caliban and his cronies against Prospero—these repeated festerings in the body politic give us a sour image of the civilized social order. And meanwhile Claribel cries her eyes out in distant Tunis—not merely in another kingdom but on another continent and with strong implications of an alien culture and an unfamiliar religion. It is interesting, and not uncharacteristic of the romances, that the few sharp, dry words devoted to her fate come from the mouth of Sebastian, her uncle. He is by no means a sentimentalist—something of a villain, rather, though scarcely a strong one. One needn't suppose his words of reproach to Alonso are inspired by any particular tenderness for Claribel. They may, in keeping with his acerb, sardonic character, be a kind of conscious therapy for distracting the king from his grief—serving the same end, though with more energy, that Gonzalo attempts with his platitudes. Or one may read behind them a purpose of the playwright's, to make evident the harshness of social custom and parental authority, among the "civilized."

This contrast between civilization and nature, frequently to the detriment of the former, comes as no surprise, surely; but it's neither one-sided nor oppressive, rather it forms part of the framework-background for the action. And that action involves neither abstractions, attitudes, nor symbols, but characters on a stage. First and foremost of these is Prospero, the supplanted duke of Milan, the wizard who raised the originating storm, the protector and bestower of Miranda, and in short the contriver and controller of the play's action. As a legitimate ruler plotted against by an ambitious usurping brother, Prospero brings into The Tempest a long Shakespearean lineage and a record of unbroken sympathy. A close parallel is with As You Like It, where Duke Senior has been exiled to the Forest of Arden by his brother Frederick—a schemer whose cruel designs are diverted only at the last minute (and most improbably) by an accidental encounter with "an old religious man." The elder Hamlet is another legitimate monarch destroyed by the malicious machinations of an unscrupulous usurper, his brother. The uneasy relation between Don Pedro and Don John of Much Ado provides another parallel; still another, less pressing, could be found in the antithesis between Duncan the legitimate monarch and Macbeth the underhanded pretender. After Bolingbroke's audacious act in unkinging Richard II, the stain of his son's hereditary guilt lingers on even amid all the patriotic clatter of Henry V. Shakespeare consistently assumes a legitimist position in these matters; and so he does in The Tempest. We hear the story of the coup by which Prospero was deposed only from the mouth of the aggrieved victim; the crime is aggravated because brother is betraying brother; and when Antonio discusses the matter with Sebastian, he dismisses mention of his con-science with a villain's callous carelessness:

                            if 'twere a kibe,
'Twould put me to my slipper: but I feel not
This deity in my bosom.
                                           (II.i.270 ff.)

To have Prospero and his daughter exiled on a desert island while a double-eyed blackguard like Antonio rules over Milan and swims in the favor of the king of Naples amounts to a major cosmic unbalance. The prime work of the play will be to correct it. Prospero is not only the main victim of this injustice but the agent whose special powers act to restore the natural and correct state of things.

I labor thus to establish (what the common reader sensibly takes for granted) the centrality of Prospero and his story, because it's also possible to see the adventures of the royal party on the island as a testing and illuminating experience equivalent in some ways to the ancient mysteries. This is an appealing prospect for the interpreter, because it seems to direct the play toward a region of religious awe which presumably heightens (or deepens) its significance. The point is not one to be dismissed out of hand, though Shakespeare has scattered some deliberate difficulties across its path; but, even given all the weight it can possibly support, the story of Alonso/Antonio's illumination must take its place within the larger vault of Prospero's rarer action.

The basis for that action is laid out for the audience, with less art than Shakespeare usually invokes, in the long monologue of Prospero, with brief interruptions by Miranda, that occupies the first part of scene ii, Act I. We need say the less about it because no part of it comes into later question, and most of it is simply assumed as a basis for further action. Between his own scholarly absent-mindedness or loose good nature, and the crass duplicity of his brother, Prospero, it appears, was deprived of his dignity and power. Anxious scanners of the far horizon have sometimes worried whether, after his return from the island and with his magical powers abjured, he will be able to provide Milan with effectual rule. But Shakespeare has guarded against his appearing to be an amiable dotard by giving him an imperious temper and strict control over Ferdinand, Caliban, and the royal party as a whole. In many stories about magicians and wizards, including some of the Italian scenari, the mage displays an uncertain temper and a penchant for playing tricks or imposing tasks on lesser mortals. Perhaps Shakespeare welcomed such a predisposition as a useful trouvaille; perhaps, bearing in mind Prospero's previous experiences, he made him crusty in consequence. Whether he made his wizard too severe in his relations with Ariel and (especially) Caliban is a later question. Certainly he went out of his way to have Prospero emphasize "the love my people bore me" and the indignities inflicted on Milan by Antonio's rule, so we should be confident of his welcome return. And in dealing with the intruders on his island—whether hostile, friendly, or just puzzled—Shakespeare carefully shows Prospero exercising what his age would have called "state-craft." From our perspective, it may appear more natural to call it "stagecraft."

Whatever his capacity, Prospero disposes of his guest/ prisoners briskly and efficiently. Most of the ship's crew, who would be cumbersome by their very numbers, are stowed aboard the vessel under hatches, and put quietly to sleep. (A lot of miscellaneous sleeping takes place in this play: it contributes to the languid, unreal atmosphere of the island, and it may serve—witness the inconvenient crew—as a temporary storage device. Whether it is anything more is arguable. No sleeper except Caliban remembers the content of his dreams, and Caliban's dreams are outside the time-frame of the play.) The other intruders are separated into three groups: Ferdinand, the court-party, and that precious pair Stephano and Trinculo. Consistently kept apart from one another, their stories are intertwined according to a not very elaborate pattern:

I. ii.375 to end of act Ferdinand
II. i. Court party (assas-
sination plot)
ii. to end of act Stephano, Trinculo
III. i Ferdinand
ii Stephano, Trinculo
iii Court party (banquet)
IV. i to 165 Ferdinand (masque)
i. 195 to end of act Stephano, Trinculo
V. Court party +
Ferdinand, Miranda
+ crew + Stephano,

From the moment he lays eyes on Miranda, Ferdinand needs relatively little control, and the penance Prospero imposes on him, explained from the beginning as a kind of mock-testing, is easily performed; the handsome young actor to whom the part falls need not fear getting his jerkin dirty or his hands scratched. The royal party, as a more complex social group, calls for more devious management. They are, when first placed on stage, exhausted by their misadventures at sea, bewildered by the island, and dispirited by the loss of prince Ferdinand. They are also helpless in the absence of experienced sailors and knowledgeable workmen. This point is not made in the text, perhaps because it could be made by costuming. The court costumes of the royal party—unsoiled, unstained, holding their freshness and glosses—can only contribute to a sense of comic inappropriateness in a tropical rain forest. In addition to their practical helplessness, expressed not simply in their doing nothing, but in their having no idea of what to do, the castaways are riven by factional antipathies. At first these take the form of continual sneers directed by Antonio and Sebastian at old Gonzalo; but as soon as a carefully selective charm has laid the rest of the party to sleep, Antonio begins egging Sebastian into a plot to murder Alonso and Gonzalo. Lurking invisibly in the neighborhood, Ariel overhears the plot, and without making his presence known, frustrates it; he also, as we are to understand, reports it to Prospero.

The forces here revealed could easily, if given a little more or a little different emphasis, develop very somber overtones. What Prospero does with his secret knowledge could mean a quick and disagreeable end for both conspirators. (It is not, I think, extraneous to recall what happens to Cambridge, Grey, and Scroop in the second act of Henry V; if Prospero at any time tells Alonso what he knows, the two conspirators will get equally short shrift.) Dramatically as well, the plot against Alonso is strong stuff; it is fratricide added to regicide that the royal party brings to the island; and though their scheme is put off for the moment in II.i, a few lines in III.iii remind the audience, if nobody else, that it is only on hold.

Obviously a comedy cannot contain very much of a conspiracy as dark and bloody as that of Macbeth and his wife against Duncan; and Shakespeare has attenuated it. Prospero leaves his knowledge of the plot in abeyance till Act V, and then he very discreetly only half-solves the problem. In what must be an aside (though V.126 was only so labelled in Johnson's edition of 1765), he lets slip his knowledge to Antonio and Sebastian, leaving a threat to tell all hanging over them. For purposes of the play, this suffices admirably. At the moment when Ferdinand and Miranda are being united in holy matrimony, nobody wants to see the play's villains haled before the bar of justice and decapitated. King Alonso, to be sure, is left with a secret viper in his court; we assume that Prospero will keep a wary eye on Antonio, but Sebastian is still unexposed and presumably dangerous. On the other hand, he is the lesser of the two villains, and the king of Naples probably deserves nothing more from Prospero than he gets. In this rough and ready, but actually rather artful way, Prospero takes command of the most serious political complication of the drama; it doesn't appear that we have to worry about his capacity to rule Milan when he gets there.

Prospero's second major encounter with the royal party is the banquet scene (or, as it really should be called, the denunciation-scene) of III.iii. An illusory banquet, summoned up by spirits, is snatched away by them before anyone can taste it. Apart from providing visual window-dressing, the pattern of this action conforms with a consistent strain in Prospero's handling of the castaways, i.e., it is an act of tantalizing. The special form of the story involving harpies and a banquet dates back to the Argonautica of Apollonius, where the victim is Phineus; but Shakespeare doubtless had in mind the later Virgilian version, where Aeneas and his fellow-adventurers are first enticed with viands, then rebuffed by the savage, squalid birds. In addition, Celaeno, the chief harpy, delivers a dire prophecy to the Trojans, warning them of desperate hardships before they reach their goal. Ariel, when he puts on the semblance of a harpy and delivers a fierce denunciation of Prospero's enemies, assumes not only the prophetic status of Celaeno but an identification with the winds, of which harpies are traditional emblems. One of their frequent functions is to carry off guilty humans direct to the underworld; thus both nature and the diabolically unnatural seem united to drive the men of sin out of their wits and into headlong flight. But in fact the Aeneid- parallel can be stretched only so far. The royal party includes no epic hero on an epic mission; Ariel as mock-harpy makes no prophecy about the future, only discloses a past crime. Though superficial appearances make against it, the stronger parallel is with Hamlet's Mousetrap, as a brief pageant eliciting from specific spectators an open expression of hitherto hidden guilt.

As he will later hunt with dogs Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo, so Prospero herds the royal party into a circle near his cave, and freezes them there, spiritually as well as physically. Though they are, in the wizard's phrase, "all knit up," distinctions are made: the king is inwardly thunderstruck, Antonio and Sebastian sit sullen and still, Gonzalo weeps. The display—executed by Ariel, orchestrated by Prospero—has attained its proper, proportional effects, and the party can be put on hold till the resolutions and explanations of Act V. Whether Gonzalo has actually heard the admonition is moot. He has certainly seen the banquet and the harpy, and it would be hard for an audience to suppose that he did not hear what was loud and clear to them. But the message has no direct effect on him; he knows who the three "men of sin" are, and that he is not one of them. For the moment, he must submit to being marshalled into the magic circle with the rest of the courtiers.

Caliban and his semi-civilized soul-mates Stephano and Trinculo provide Prospero with another set of much easier tests. Whether one considers him a Caribbean cannibal or a bastard son of the devil by an Algerian witch named Sycorax, Caliban clearly can claim the island by direct descent from its first inhabitant: before Sycorax, it was unpeopled. It's with some reason, then, that he complains of Prospero as a usurper and a tyrant who, having coaxed and wheedled him into revealing the secrets of the island, has enslaved him and held him to servile tasks. The impression is as disagreeable as if a rigorous legal official should sentence Falstaff to the workhouse. Caliban is unlovely but fascinating on the stage, not only by virtue of his novelty, but because of his amorphous, unashamed libido. Like Cloten, he is all gut and brag—cowardly yet swaggering, bibulous and timorous, lustful and impulsive, stinking and unashamed. And most wonderfully of all, deep within him, as within Cloten, lurks a streak of poetry.

To a large extent and for a long time, Prospero doesn't have to do anything against Caliban, because he degrades, exposes, and ridicules himself. Amid the mutual abuse and recriminations of I.ii, one thing comes clear, that he tried to rape Miranda, feels no shame over it, and still hopes to do it if he can. That takes him, once and for all, outside our sympathies. His cowering before the thunder is of a piece with his slavish servility before Stephano and Trinculo, whom in an ecstasy of self-abasement he proclaims not just his masters but his gods. His helpless susceptibility to strong drink completes the picture; it may be anthropologically correct, but it destroys whatever original sympathy an audience had with Caliban as a noble native destroyed by predatory colonialists.

By rights, Stephano and Trinculo ought to be sleeping under hatches with the rest of the ship's crew; Shakespeare has let them out, partly for comic effect, partly in compliance with the Bermuda-pamphlets story, to illustrate the dangerous folly of irresponsible mutiny. Like Jack Cade and his men in Henry VI, Part 2, but here in alliance with the primitive Caliban, they want to destroy all order and degree, live without labor, and escape the tyranny of book-learning. In one direction, they provide a parodie counter to Gonzalo's naive musings about the idyllic state of nature; at another level, they provide a degrading commentary on the conspiratorial courtiers, who are equally impatient under the constraints of lawful authority. And here particularly the deepening violence of Caliban's fantasies recalls those of Cloten. After capturing Prospero in his sleep,

         there thou mayst brain him,
Having first seiz'd his books; or with a log
Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake,
Or cut his wezand with thy knife;
                                      (III.ii.86 ff.)

they will then share out Miranda and live like kings on the isle.

Since all this plotting is done in secret, and while the conspirators are increasingly drunk, there is nothing that Prospero and his agents need do, beyond having Ariel keep an eye on them; his teasing of them, from the vantage of his invisibility, is his own private joke, and has no consequences. Indeed, one major implication of their plotting reflects inward; they endanger outward authority less than they reveal the anarchy of their own spirits. Like Cloten again, they indulge a riot of chaotic, incompatible appetites; and in this respect they contrast sharply with the mutineers of Strachey's Bermuda narrative, who were for the most part puritans and men of an uncommonly pious disposition. The change adds emphasis, if emphasis were needed, to a psychological reading of The Tempest's vulgar rebellion.

In fact, Prospero doesn't have to take action against the trio of knaves till the end of Act IV, and then simply by catching them in a trap so elementary that even Caliban can recognize it, a display of gaudy garments: "let it alone, thou fool; it is but trash," he tells his erstwhile "god." The glittering costumes hung out to catch shallow fools could doubtless be moralized into a reproof of those who prize show over substance, etc., but the point needn't be labored. As for the subsequent pursuit by dogs, though foxhunting has become since the 18th century an exclusive pursuit of the gentry, that shouldn't obscure the fact that in Shakespeare's day any sort of vermin could be pursued with a pack. The tumultuous chase, coming directly after the stately, slow-paced masque, has prompted thoughts of the hunt as an anti-masque. But this is a short-sighted and much too literary fancy. The low conspirators have been permitted to cultivate their crude fantasies in relative immunity; they must now be punished and humiliated, as their "betters" have been punished and humiliated before them, if the action is to maintain its balance. In the end, it's worth noting, Caliban gets his freedom on the same terms as Ariel gets his; he will not have to haul any more logs, his birthright will be restored to him; yet it's impressive how little joy the prospect seems to give him. Will he hear music and dream dreams when he is alone on the island? Every reader must answer to his own imaginings, but one is permitted to hope.

It has been easy and natural to talk about Prospero as a political man with only passing reference to his skills as a magician. In fact, his art, as made visually evident in his robe, can be put on and off at pleasure. It gives him command of an impressive range of powers. Ariel can, in his traditional role as familiar spirit, be summoned and dispatched in an instant; he can be made visible or invisible as occasion requires. Apart from Ariel, an indefinite number of other spirits serve at Prospero's beck, watching over Caliban and plaguing him with pinches and agues as requested. The wizard can recognize an approaching ship and identify its passengers at a great distance, can raise storms and allay them, can create apparitions like the banquet and the masque then instantly vaporize them, can immobilize those who oppose him or make them sleep when he chooses. "Thy nerves are in their infancy again," he tells Ferdinand, and immediately they are. Because his supernatural skills are clearly different from those of Sycorax, we are invited to suppose that they are derived from a different source, are theurgic rather than goetic, in other words white rather than black magic. But in fact Shakespeare not only avoids but muddles the question of where they come from. Sycorax, in the long tradition of witches stretching from Theocritus, is associated with the moon (V.269), hence with Hecate, goddess of witchcraft; but there is no contrasting planet or deity for Prospero. His "books" are very important to his powers, but what sort of books they are we have no way of guessing; he is accompanied by familiar spirits (Ariel is one of them), but they are neither demons nor angels—indeterminate creatures, rather, half-body, half-spirit—intelligences, geniuses, attendants. Prospero uses a very minimum of magical apparatus—no learned incantations, occult names, or mysterious charms, such as enliven Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay; at most he draws an occasional circle with his wand, or makes a pass in the air. For his harmless horseplay with Caliban and his friends (III.ii) Ariel is not above borrowing some of Faustus' harmless horseplay in the papal court (also III.ii of Marlowe's play). No doubt in the course of performance the actor playing Prospero improvises gestures, signs, and symbols; but the more mysterious and impressive they are, the more ambiguous is likely to remain the source of their apparent extraordinary power. Ambiguity, it seems to me, is just the effect at which Shakespeare is aiming. Prospero has powers that neither immense natural wisdom nor profound supernatural devotion could give; he shows no great measure of either, least of all of the latter; thus his powers, though used for good, seem to be dangerous in their operation and obscure in their source. And this is one reason why, when the extraordinary perils of the plot have been averted, an audience is just the least bit relieved to find the mage breaking his staff and drowning his books.

Prospero, it will be remarked, has two speeches toward the end of The Tempest in which he bids farewell to his art. After breaking off the dance of nymphs and harvesters in IV. i, he addresses Ferdinand with the "Our revels now are ended" speech; then in V, just before releasing the prisoners from their enchantment, he speaks the "Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves" speech. As poetry, they need no praise, but in terms of the occasion giving rise to them, both have been remarked as a little excessive, or at the least, off-key. The thought of "that foul conspiracy" angers Prospero into breaking off the masque abruptly; both Miranda and Ferdinand remark on his disturbed expression, and as soon as he can he turns to plan with Ariel his counter-measures. Yet in the meantime he answers for Ferdinand, in serene and flowing verse, a set of questions that have never been asked, about the nature of the masque, the masquers, of dramatic illusion itself, and about the permanence of the great globe and the human race. His answers imply questions infinite in both time and space; and the word "globe" as spoken on Shakespeare's stage had an inherent double allusion which could not help turning the audience's thinking back on itself and its present situation. The dissolution that Prospero summons up in this evocation of far-reaching illusionistic recollections extends far beyond anything that Ferdinand and Miranda, as spectators of the masque, have seen or been asked to imagine.

The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples,
                                               (IV.i. 152-3)

the world and all its generations to come, but also "The Tempest" and its audience within their wooden O, enter into the play in the act of fading out of it. In the phrase, "we are such stuff / As dreams are made on," the infinite inclusiveness of "we" is matched by the infinite regress of dreams and dreamers, as if each individual viewer were invited to sink through layer after layer of himself, like Thaisa through the humming water of ocean.

Like the first, Prospero's second valedictory ("Ye elves of hills," etc.: V) puts before the audience a vivid awareness of the wizard's magical powers, even in the process of dismissing them. It is a more solemn and formal invocation, for which Shakespeare did not hesitate to coopt the majestic verses of Ovid's Metamorphoses (VII. 197; Golding's translation, VII.265), in which Medea invokes the unearthly powers of Hecate. That Prospero in the very act of abjuring his magic comes so close to identifying it with that of the arch-witch (and so of Caliban's mother) openly confirms that ambiguity which earlier seemed to be just implied. In fact, the operation that Medea contemplates when she speaks her invocation is beneficent. She is about to restore old Aeson, Jason's father, to his virile youth. But to do so, she gathers such horrific properties, invokes such terrible powers, concocts such grotesque mixtures, that it's almost a relief when she slits the old man's throat and pours her foaming brew into his veins. In translating from Ovid's Latin, Shakespeare softened the details considerably; at the same time, he kept close enough to Golding's popular version so common readers would not have been hard pressed to catch the allusion. This formal abjuration, like the earlier dismissal of illusions, calls on the audience to imagine things it has not seen in the play. Particularly the boast that

                        graves at my command
Have wak'd their sleepers, op'd, and let 'em
By my so potent Art,
                                                     (V.48 ff.)

seems incompatible with Prospero's solitude on the island. But on a narrative level, the permanent abjuration of his art with its limitless powers marks another strong termination of the story.

Stasis is the primary effect sought by the ending of The Tempest and it is achieved several times over, by Prospero's dissolution and abjuration speeches, by the masque itself with its implication that Miranda and Ferdinand are natural as well as political monarchs, by the revelation of the lovers playing chess, and finally by the forming of a human ring wider and warmer than any magician's compulsory circle. Shakespeare, who wrote no formal masques himself but watched the flowering of the form under Jonson's hands, cannot have been unaware of its capacity for bringing action to a motionless point. The idea of staging a private masque on a desert island for a couple of young innocents must have tickled both his sense of humor and his wish to end the play with a spectacle. Juno, Ceres, and Iris (three female deities promising domestic bliss, fecundity, and peace) vouch for the future of the marriage, the past having been brutally disfigured by jealous, competitive males. For the third time within a couple of minutes (cf. IV.i.13 and 50) they reiterate warnings against premature erotic indulgence, then introduce the cool nymphs and sunburnt sicklemen whose dance figures the tempered natural harmonies of happy marriage. Since the common ending of a masque (the performers mingling in dance with the audience) cannot well take place here, the vision breaks off with Prospero turning his attention to Caliban's plot, and the lovers put on hold in his cell.

The game of chess at which the lovers are discovered when they reappear (V.170) serves positive and negative ends. To the extent that Virgil's Aeneid lies latent behind the play, a pair of ardent new lovers hidden in a cave might suggest the fatal error of Dido and Aeneas; even without Virgil, the time passed by Ferdinand and Miranda away from Prospero's vigilant eyes and those of the suspicious audience, has to be accounted for by some innocent activity. Chess was a polite, an upper-class game, supposedly too intellectual for the lower orders; it is also a game of strategy, for training the wits of social leaders. Miranda's adapting to it instantly is evidence of her noble instincts and inherently spiritual nature. As mimic war-fare, chess also suggests a symbolic resolution of those dynastic conflicts (Milan/Naples but by extension the notoriously entangled city-states of Italy) that had troubled the past. And it brings the play to a stop in yet another way by intimating withdrawal from the heat of action, existence on a cool, geometrical, two-dimensional plane.

The scheme sketched above (p. 132) for dividing the action stresses the way in which the last act adds one group of characters after another, including the crew members asleep under hatches, about whom a properly concerned audience will long since have forgotten. Their return brings the play back to its start, completing a stage-cycle just as assembling the entire cast of characters completes the narrative cycle. Prospero now has his dukedom, Miranda her prince (like previous occupants of that role, he is a bit of a tailor's dummy), Caliban his island, and Gonzalo his old tired joke about the boatswain's hanging face. All the plots have been foiled, though nobody has been excessively punished, or will be. The vessel and crew are restored as promised, and the adventure on the island is about to disappear into the past like a dream. It has not actually been a dream, more than any imaginary enclosed stage action resembles a dream; yet the characters repeatedly ask themselves whether they are awake or asleep, and the audience must similarly ask itself whether the coherent yet unreal atmosphere of the play—its mood—isn't, precisely, dreamlike.

Mood rather than action is the keynote to the final scene; it could be described as a strong sense of festive joy rising, perhaps, from a sense of sudden discovery. Miranda, who is herself a wonder, gives expression to it in her famous cry:

                         O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in it!
                                   (V.181 ff.)

She is talking, of course, about the characters on stage, and Prospero knows very well that her fine enthusiasm will soon fade into the dull drab of everyday. "'Tis new to thee," he says, not sourly, but briefly and perhaps more as explanation to the others than as admonition to his daughter. Yet the fact is that her admiration includes not only everyone on stage—Sebastian who has recognized a miracle as well as sullen Antonio, who has not—but spills over onto the audience. Through the entire course of this play, and of almost all other plays, for that matter, the audience has tacitly defined itself as the quotidian, the commonplace deadweight viewer looking in on an exotic, quicksilver world. Here for a magic second the world looks back and finds us to be, not dull or repugnant, but wonderful—sort of, for the moment. It is a unique theatrical effect (to say no more); and though a few last strings remain to be tied, this instant fills the play to overflowing.

Where mood makes so much of the play, background emphases call for particular attention. The storm at sea, pretty surely drawing on Strachey's terrifying account in his True Reportory, makes its impression in the first act; and though no such overwhelming visions of ocean recur in the rest of the play, the sea is never far removed from action of imagery. Ariel's song to Ferdinand,

 Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange
                                      (I.ii.402 ff.)

—though in fact it is only a malicious Puckish misleading, Alonso being dry and well—actually reverberates far beyond the immediate situation. Drowning is only the most radical of many sea-changes, and from beginning to end the play's action can be thought of as a series of such mutations. Old Gonzalo, sensible for once and even touched with the glowing coal of poetry, says as much in one of his last speeches (V.205); and though he attributes everything to those unfailing harbingers, "the gods," nature herself has acted, in the body of the play, as Destiny's agent. In his harpy-speech of denunciation, Ariel says it; "the powers" have

Incens'd the seas and shores, yea, all the
Against your peace,
                                                  (III.iii.74 f.)

and Alonso believes it; he has heard the billows and the thunder (IH.iii.98) pronounce against his guilt. Among other allied capacities, Ariel has served in the play as St. Elmo's fire, a particularly nautical phenomenon; and though Caliban was doubtless costumed on the Globe's stage like a regular "salvage" man—shaggy, with long nails, big teeth, and a rough fur cloak—he is repeatedly described as looking and smelling like a fish. At the play's end, Sebastian proposes to sell him for one. Thus the sea and its denizens repeatedly slide into the texture of the play, as in the metaphor of fishing for a comparison, the sea-shanty sung by Stephano, the sea-marge where Ceres airs herself, Ariel's misdirecting mention of the "still-vex'd Bermoothes," the threat to make a stockfish of Trinculo. These are only a few of The Tempest's ocean allusions; many of them are subliminal, but they make the play more redolent of sea-salt than any other of Shakespeare's. Not that the sea invariably provides a poetic or a profound image. Storms at sea may signify the tribulations of life, but stockfish is stockfish, and it's not only a nice modern nostril that Poor John would cause to wrinkle. Actually, the sea in The Tempest represents less the tribulations of life than an isolating, enclosing element, most forcefully present in the first act and the last, and making of the island a grassy stage for the working out of conflicts that the characters bring from outre-mer. As often in Shakespeare, exterior weather reflects the characters' psychological states; arriving in a whirlwind, the travellers depart with the assurance of calm seas and favoring winds. But this is simply a natural sign of unclouded prospects. Apart from the opening scene, in which the ocean acts mostly as an agent of the wizard, I cannot feel that the sea, for all its pervasive presence in the play, provides much more than atmosphere.

Even more potent in establishing a mood for The Tempest is the recurrent presence of music—more of it than in the other romances, which in turn contain more on average than Shakespeare's earlier plays. (The opera which it eventually became was a natural outcome of qualities in the play from the beginning.) No doubt the influence of the court masque should be noted here. As a relatively static pageant, the masque relied heavily on tableau, dance, and music; and a good deal of the music in The Tempest clusters around the tableau-scenes of the illusory banquet and the masque of the three goddesses. This is specifically mood music, "solemn and strange" for the banquet, and soft as prelude and probably background to the masque. Ariel, a spirit of the air, is given particularly airy songs to sing at the beginning and toward the end of the play; their elusive, mocking quality helps to create that sense of capricious, perhaps heartless, delight that distinguishes Ariel from the more solemn actors of the play—until, in V.17, he betrays for the first time humane solicitude. Ariel also uses song to lead, mislead, and occasionally to mock (after the fashion of Papageno in The Magic Flute) characters less volatile than he. The contrast with Caliban's barbaric chants of triumph at the end of Act II and briefly in Ill.ii is particularly enforced. "A howling monster, a drunken monster," says Trinculo in disgust; and it is true that Caliban does not compose very fine verses, but the impressive thing is that he composes verses at all.

'Ban, 'Ban, Cacaliban,
Has a new master, get a new man.
                                      (II.ii.184 f.)

And in fact, like a truly Shakespearean monster, Caliban's exultant clangor manages to encompass a range of meanings and appended ironies. The "freedom" he celebrates is freedom to have a new master; and "get a new man" may either point at Prospero ("get a new servant") or imply that under a new master, Caliban will get (to be) a new man. It isn't a song to be racked for profundities, and it may be that the more confusion one finds in it, the better it will express Caliban's state of mind. Still, for the first composition of a monster in a high state of excitement, it's very creditable, and it prepares an audience to realize that everyone and everything on the island is in some degree musical, i.e., magic.

Though Shakespeare nowhere invites us to do so, it may be worth deliberately imposing on the play a fleeting connection between Caliban's speech on the musical island (III.ii.131) and Gonzalo's speech summarizing the moral plan behind the play's events (V.205). These two are the play's simpletons—not necessarily in being less intelligent than Stephano and Trinculo, for example, but in being mocked throughout for their naïveté. But Gonzalo, in trying to moralize the play's entire action, winds up as usual with his foot in his mouth, while Caliban, in articulating the sensual things that he alone knows, taps a special vein of poetry. His speech beginning

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt
                                     (III.ii.131 f.)

is especially impressive because nobody else in the play gives any evidence ofjiearing such music as he describes. No more, of course, does the audience. They are at one with the "natural" characters on stage in being excluded by their basic insensitivity from melodies that Caliban—not "mere" Caliban, but Caliban by virtue of his precious, unique faculties—hears all the time. For him the island twangles and hums continually with living music; after his speech a properly imaginative audience will be anticipating it, wondering about it, hoping it will be heard. The music we cannot hear—but might—will play on our imaginations or in them, it will render the island a tingling and continually animate experience.

On the other hand, Gonzalo's speech moralizing the action of the play (V.200 ff.) balances nicely between the old gentleman's moral decency and his mental obtuseness. He asks the gods to drop a blessed crown on the happy couple, unaware that in the masque they have already done so; he numbers among the triumphs of the voyage that Claribel found a husband at Tunis (we have been told she is wretched with him), that Prospero recovered his dukedom (though he had to take it away from brother Antonio); and (being still ignorant of the Antonio-Sebastian murder plot) that during their sojourn on the island,

 all of us (found) ourselves
When no man was his own.

In worldly wisdom he is no less an innocent than he was in II.i, when Antonio and Sebastian made such merciless fun of him; good old simpleton that he is, he does not know, and never in the play does know, how close he and Alonso have come to having their weasands slit, or by whom. But his invincible simplicity has not prevented commentators from finding in this, his last major speech, something like the supreme message of the play. Providence, by turning all the apparent misfortunes of the early acts to a happy conclusion, has vindicated the essential beneficence of the universe, and brought each individual to a recognition of his true self. Seeming trials have proved to be blessings in disguise. O felix culpa!

But this seems to me piling hyperbole on extravagance. All comedies and many other modes of fictional action conclude happily after difficulties overcome; does this routine pattern make them all analogies to the fall and redemption of man? One comes close to obsession in thinking so. Besides, in the play before us, providence, far from showering its gifts freely and equally, has rather severely distinguished sheep from goats. Miranda may have found a new "self" and a new sphere of activity as Ferdinand's bride; just possibly Prospero has learned something new about being an effective duke. But everyone else goes back to his old self and his old round of activities, somewhat disadvantaged. Stephano never will be king of the island; he is going to be a butler for the rest of his days, and one to whom the keys of the wine-cellar will hardly be entrusted. Sebastian never will be king of Naples, can hardly even look for a position of minor trust around court. Antonio comes off worst of all, and indeed he should. The self he has found is that of a branded villain, as his sullen silence proclaims; his chances of legitimately inheriting the dukedom of Milan (even though legally he's still next in line from Prospero) are less than minimal. Whatever self he has found, he clearly doesn't like it. In short, "finding ourselves" may be—as in other contexts I have long suspected it would be—a very questionable experience, depending on the sort of self we find. And those are some of the dramatic reservations that lie behind Gonzalo's glad cry of "O rejoice beyond a common joy!" At the least, if he has gained new insight from his experiences on the island, it seems remarkably close to his old foolishness.

Allegorizing The Tempest, a favorite indoor sport dating from the 19th century, has largely run its course by the end of the 20th, and needs no further repudiation. Caliban as the Working Class (or alternatively the Missing Link), Ariel as the Poetic Imagination, Miranda as the Beatific Vision, and Prospero as Superman have had their day. The gentler formula that the island experience describes a rite of passage to a symbolic vision of an exalted and purified nature still flourishes. Though it applies rather awkwardly to prince Ferdinand and hardly at all to Stephano and Trinculo, its best chances of success lie in application to Alonso king of Naples. But it's to be noted that whatever vision he experiences must occur while he is off-stage, sunk in torpor or frenzy, within Prospero's magic circle in the line-grove. When he is released from this enchantment, he cannot describe what has been revealed to him within it, and does not even try to. Bottom the Weaver is more forthcoming than Alonso in describing his dream, though all he can say is that words are totally inadequate. And in fact it is a very strange sort of enlightenment which leaves Alonso, supposedly the story's central figure, ignorant to the end of his own brother's plot against his life.

That story titled "The Redemption of Alonso King of Naples," which some commentators evidently prefer to the story that Shakespeare presented under the title of "The Tempest," is but one of several grids that can be laid over the text by way of transforming it first and explaining it after. The play is a romance of recovery (like all three of the other romances) only if Prospero is at the center of it and only if the dukedom of Milan is thought to be worth recovering. To make Alonso's redemption from error the center of the drama goes against the apportionment of lines (under a hundred for Alonso, well over 500 for Prospero); goes against the idea of recovery, for Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio are all losers by the return of Prospero; and goes against the dramatic emphasis which makes Alonso's conversion take place off-stage, silently, and without visible consequences except his offhand promissory note to behave better in the future.

Holding if we can to the text, it seems clear that what strikes Alonso to the soul is not a "learning experience," but the accusations of Prospero, spoken by Ariel in the denunciation-scene, and amplified, as it seems to him, by the billows, the winds, and the thunder (III.iii.95). He is not enlightened, he is terrified into confession; an apparently supernatural agency has accused him. Maybe, like the Ancient Mariner, he will leave the island a sadder and a wiser man, though happily Shakespeare does not say so, and in leaving Antonio tight-lipped he seems deliberately to be shading all the Sunday-school lessons latent in the play. As for the "vision of a society permeated by the virtues of tolerance and forgiveness" [Northrop Frye, Introduction to The Tempest (Pelican edition)], I find no more reason to attribute it to Alonso or Prospero than to Trinculo or the Boatswain.

Another reading of the play keeps the focus on Prospero, but makes the crucial choice his internal one between "virtue and vengeance" (V.28); and this is sometimes extended by making the "virtue" in question specifically Christian. But this pattern too fits only loosely over the play. Pagans beyond number and believers other than Christian valued magnanimity as a virtue; and Prospero at the end of the play does nothing and says little that can be remarked as "virtuous" rather than "vengeful." The proles go back to their drudgery; Caliban is left marooned on his island. Antonio, dispossessed and publicly humiliated, faces a lifetime under the thumb of suspicious Prospero; Sebastian can never again be sure how much his brother knows or suspects. Without converting the end of the play to a charnel-house, it's hard to imagine what more Prospero could do by way of vengeance.

Given the standards of 20th century liberal democracy, the new Duke of Milan is not in fact a very gentle or tolerant figure. With the cruel history of chattel slavery behind us, it's easy to exaggerate Prospero into an early instance of "plantation mentality," his contempt for Caliban into the brutal arrogance of the slave driver. But there's more than a grain of rough truth in this perception, for those whose teeth are set on edge by talk of universal toleration and forgiveness. The interpretive point is hardly a central one, but given the storm of moral idealism, blustering around The Tempest anything that cuts down on humbug is for the good.

It is IV.i.188 before Prospero makes, almost in an aside, the play on words from which much interpretive speculation has sprung. Speaking of Caliban, he calls him

A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains,
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost.

The nature/nurture dilemma (which in modern phraseology is the heredity/environment debate) is posed for Caliban as early as the dramatis personae, where he is introduced as a "salvage and deformed slave." Of course when he was really "salvage," he was not a slave at all, as he says vigorously. So at least part of his cankered mind is what Prospero himself has made it; and, given a play where bilateral antitheses lie to hand as thick as pig-nuts, this one may be worth a moment's pursuit. Though it's no more than a metaphor, seeing Prospero and Caliban as super-ego and id or as father and son may suggest varieties of intimate interaction between two irreconcilable elements of an unbreakable unity—interaction that controls much of the play. Prospero and Caliban have been in the past equal explorers of the island, of Mother Nature, so to speak; Caliban then was teacher, Prospero pupil. "Then I lov'd thee," says Caliban, movingly, and with Miranda they might have made a sort of family, had it not been for the monster's lecherous attempt. Sex was the sin that destroyed that potential idyll, and since then Prospero has been the crabby, suspicious master, Caliban the sour, resentful servant. Yet something of the old relation lingers on, and at the end of the play (V.245) Prospero must admit (like Gloucester saying ruefully, "the whoreson must be acknowledged,")

 this thing of darkness I
Acknowledge mine.

Except in his native inclination to fall down and worship strangers, Caliban is not really a slave; he talks (I.ii.345) of being styed in a hard rock, but for all we can see is perfectly free to roam the island. The son of one sorcerer and stepson of another (though he trails about him only scraps and rags of supernatural awareness), he has once been king, and now bitterly resents his toil as the black guard of Prospero's cell. Yet he is not merely useful, he is necessary. "We cannot miss him," Prospero admits (I.ii.311); if he had not given occasion to be degraded, it might have been requisite to degrade him anyhow. Master and servant are among the most vitriolic and vociferous of Shakespeare's haters, yet they are also indispensable allies; without Caliban, Prospero would starve, without Prospero, Caliban might wind up in a Bartholomew Fair sideshow or on a fishmonger's barrow. It is inviting to think of them as very different offshoots of the same tangled root-system.

If this line of speculation, making of Prospero and his servant something more than flat antitheses, seems to soften if not obliterate some of the sharp contrasts between good magician and diabolic witch, I can't but think the better of it. "Ambiguous" is one term used above to describe Shakespeare's attitude toward Prospero's extraordinary powers; another could be "eclectic." Life on the island throbs to a deeper, more persistent rhythm than the back and forth of good and bad. Somewhere far to the rear of the Prospero-Caliban story lies a buried parallel with the myth of the Golden Age or the Garden of Eden—or for that matter the natural society half-described, half-imagined by Montaigne. That paradise lost of natural sympathies was soundly ridiculed in Il.i; but it lingers on, not only in the womb-like languor of the island, but as background to the several reenactments of the Cain-Abel story contemplated in the play's present actions. Perhaps in the pariah-figure of Caliban the "civilized" characters can be thought to encounter, face to face, a sacred and shameful ultimate of their own buried selves. Thus the sense of illumination, beyond anything resulting from political adjustments in Milan, Naples, or wherever, with which the play concludes.

Under the heading of non-problems, one can dismiss geographical literalisms like the effort to define by latitude and longitude the location of the island. Equally pedestrian is the attempt to decide how Prospero and his infant daughter, once smuggled out of Milan, were launched into a boat on the high seas, which are some 75 miles distant. The byplay over "widow Dido" in II.i need not be supposed to indicate a systematic parallel with the Aeneid; it is quite well accounted for as a passage at verbal arms, setting Gonzalo at odds with the sarcastic wits who bait him. Prospero's epilogue, comparing the magician without his magic to the actor without a role, concludes in conventional fashion by throwing the speaker, and his enterprise the play, on the mercy of the audience—mercy to be expressed by applause. That the final lines refer to Shakespeare's prospective return to Stratford or his anticipated reception into Abraham's bosom are wholly unwarranted but otherwise harmless assumptions. If one must have a farewell gesture at the end of Shakespeare's career, better perhaps the simple act of deference traditional to epilogues, which in its mock-submission to the audience comes closest to a benediction.

Not even those who propose a bored and careless Shakespeare as author of the romances in general have had much to say against the poetry of The Tempest. Parts of the story-telling he skimped. Prospero's briefing of Miranda on the family background is a little hard to take, and the young people fall passionately in love at first sight in a way that suggest authorial impatience with the common-place preliminaries. But the texture of [ … The Tempest's] verse in its wonderful variety—from the hoarse impatience of the Boatswain in the storm, to the bell-like lyrics of Ariel, to the vital animism of Caliban, to the mild dignity of the masque, and the quiet, unemphatic speeches of reconciliation in Act V—bespeaks an artist fully possessed of his powers. Proclaiming to the world in all the formality of print that Shakespeare is an excellent writer feels like an empty exercise; but at least once, after experiencing such poetical riches, the most dour and businesslike of critics ought to testify to a sense of gratitude. Perhaps in these last plays Shakespeare relied more on his powers of evocation than on his skill as an architect; that puts particular pressure on his interpreters (meaning thereby all those who bestow on him the first gift of attention) not to respond in ways that are either bored or careless. He will renew us if we let him.

Literary Genre

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A. D. Nuttall (essay date 1967)

SOURCE: "The Tempest," in Two Concepts of Allegory: A Study of Shakespeare's The Tempest and the Logic of Allegorical Expression, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967, pp. 136-60.

[In the following essay, Nuttall provides an analysis of allegorical elements in The Tempest, arguing that the suggestiveness of the play is "metaphysical in tendency," since it conceives of love as a supernatural force.]

One of the reasons why The Tempest is hard to classify lies in its parentage. It has two sets of sources, first a body of romantic, fairy-tale literature and second a collection of travellers' reports. If its mother was a mermaid, its father was a sailor. It must be acknowledged that on the fairy side there is no story which we can point to as a direct influence on Shakespeare, but Iakob Ayrer's Die Schöne Sidea (published posthumously in his Opus Theatricum) and the story of Dardano and Nicephorus in the fourth chapter of Antonio de Eslava's Noches de Invierno show, besides a strong similarity of plot, an occasional correspondence of detail, as in the episode of the log-carrying. The late date at which Ayrer's play was published makes it very unlikely that it was Shakespeare's source, but there is just enough similarity between the two plays to let us postulate a common origin. Some close analogues have been found in the scenari for Italian corn-media dell' arte but Kermode observes [in his Arden edition] that all extant scenari postdate Shakespeare's play. Other analogues are Diego Ortunez de Calahorra's Espejo de Principes y Caballeros, and Fiamella, a pastoral comedy by Bartolomeo Rossi. Here, at all events, are hints of a story available to Shakespeare, and very amenable to the Romantic style of composition he had learned in company with Beaumont and Fletcher.

On the other side of the family correspondences are more striking, and we can speak of direct influences. There is no doubt that the Bermuda pamphlets describing the wreck of the Sea-Adventure on her way to Virginia were known to Shakespeare. Sylvester Jourdain's Discovery of the Barmudas (1610), the Council of Virginia's True Declaration of the State of the Colonie in Virginia, with a confutation of such scandalous reports as have tended to the disgrace of so worthy an enterprise (1610), and William Strachey's True Reportory of the Wrack, first published in Purchas his Pilgrimes, 1625, but accessible to Shakespeare from 1610, have all left traces in The Tempest.

The peculiar wedding of the marvellous and the circumstantial which we find in The Tempest may thus be attributed, in some measure, to the stuff of which it is made. But, nevertheless, we must be careful not to make too much of the contrast between the documentary naval reports and the fabulous tales of princes and sorcerers. Purchas his Pilgrimes, though not so extravagant and romantic as it appeared to the author of The Ancient Mariner centuries later, was nevertheless not entirely innocent of the marvellous. Geography itself was still soaked with imaginative significance, for the Royal Society had not yet done its judicious work of scientific desiccation. Spatial conceptions of Paradise, unacknowledged allegories, and 'tall stories' were all a normal part of the literature of travel. In the sixth century the monk Cosmas had, as Raleigh noted, laid down the object of many a later quest.

If Paradise were really on the surface of the world, is there not a man among those who are so keen to learn and search out everything, that would not let himself be deterred from reaching it? When we see that there are men who will not be deterred from penetrating to the ends of the earth in search of silk, and all for the sake of filthy lucre, how can we believe that they would be deterred from going to get a sight of Paradise? [quoted in W. Raleigh, The English Voyages, 1928]

Columbus (quite seriously) took the mouths of the Orinoco for the threshold of Paradise, and in 1512 the Governor of Puerto Rico landed in Florida while sailing in search of a miraculous Fountain of Youth. It is hard to know whether to call George Chapman's De Guina Carmen Epicum (1596) a Utopian or a Paradisal account of that place. It is well known that Spenser places his fairyland at once in England and in the human heart. But there is another place, the prologue of the second book of the Faerie Queene, where he suggests, more than half seriously, that explorers may at any time discover Fairyland in some other part of the Globe.

The interesting thing is that none of these three suggestions is felt to be incompatible with the other two, just as no conflict was recognized between Paradise as a lost primal state of felicity and Paradise as a place somewhere out in the unknown Atlantic seas. Marlowe seems to see no important distinction between geographical exploration and philosophical inquiry-at least, he speaks of them in one breath in Doctor Faustus:

Shall I make spirits fetch me what I please,
Resolve me of all ambiguities,
Performe what desperate enterprise I will?
He have them flye to India for gold,
Ransacke the Ocean for orient pearle,
And search all corners of the new found world
For pleasant fruites and princely délicates:
Ile have then reade mee straunge philosophie,

An tell the secrets of all forraine kings …
              (11. 107-15, my italics in 11. 112-14)

All the same, the distinction between frank fancy and documentary report remains, and if fabulous elements appear in naval records they merely gain a more startling appearance of factual truth thereby. And there is no doubt that The Tempest owes much of its power to an air of circumstantial actuality. Nothing could be more different than The Tempest from the Gothic ghost stories of the earlier Shakespeare, all graveyards and darkness. The spectres of the Enchanted Isle move in the daylight, and are for that reason twice as frightening. The Jacobeans were after all much more ready to credit the actual existence of the supernatural than are we. There are no sorcerers of repute in England now, but an historical Prospero can easily be found-Dr. John Dee for example. Lytton Strachey's astonishing statement-'to turn from Theseus and Titania and Bottom to the Enchanted Island, is to step out of a country lane into a conservatory'-is almost the flat opposite of the truth.

Yet there is no doubt that The Tempest is a queer play. The strangeness of the island, the sounds in the air, the unnatural languor that intermittently envelops the characters, have the sinister quality of Phaedria's Isle in the Faerie Queene. Though the strange events of the play are in large measure accounted for by the arts of Prospero, certain things remain odd to the end. Playgoers are fairly well accustomed to that sane and purposive magic which saves a drowning man or refreshes him with sleep, but the music in the air, the voice crying in the wave, the 'strange, hollow and confused noise' which accompanies the vanishing of the reapers and nymphs at the end of the masque, the somnolence of Miranda-these gratuitous paranorma are more disturbing. Ariel mocking the drunkards by playing the song back to them on the tabor and pipe does not really worry us; we have seen similar things before in A Midsummer Night's Dream. But these causeless and capricious portents propel the sensibility into an unfamiliar region, and adandon it to uneasy speculation.

At the same time, the miracles and prodigies of the En-chanted Isle are related in a curiously intimate way to our experience. The hearing of strange sounds which are never properly identified, the swift recourse to useless weapons in the moments between sleep and waking-these things are especially alarming because especially near the bone. We have all lain in a twilight of inarticulate apprehension through the moments of waking. We have all known times in our everyday lives when our inattentive faculties have been surprised by confused noises, or the sound as of a name being called. E. R. Dodds in The Greeks and The Irrational observes that dreams are a fertile source of inference to another world in primitive thought. In Shakespeare's hands, these half-glimpsed sights, half-heard sounds, this [a porta] felt by men surprised by the nameless, become once more a means of alerting apprehensive speculation. And in the unpredictable island of The Tempest, we are denied that prosaic awakening which vividly refutes the night. It seems as if the poet is bent on drawing from us a different sort of credence from that ordinarily given to plays-perhaps a more primitive sort. At HI.iii.83 the Shapes (we are given no clearer stage direction) carry out the banquet 'with mops and mows', and we never learn what they are or what their dance is about. At V.i.231 we are told how the sleeping sailors awoke to hear strange and horrific sounds and we are never told what made them. Yet to call these things loose ends would be foolish criticism. They are there to heat our imaginations. One feels that one can hardly call the metaphysically speculative reaction inappropriate.

Shakespeare has another instrument for piercing to the more primitive levels of our consciousness in the un-pleasing shape of Caliban. Caliban, though horribly unchildlike, belongs to a world most of us have known as children. He lives in an intellectual half-light of bites, pinches, nettle-stings, terrors, cupboard-love, glimpses of extraordinary and inexplicable beauty. These things play a negligible part in the society of adults, but most of us remember a society in which they were intensely familiar. It was Caliban who, like a child, 'cried to dream again', was taught how to talk, and shown the Man in the Moon. The character of Caliban shows us objects which are too close to be seen in the ordinary way of things. His world is near-sighted, tactile, downward-looking, lacking in distant prospects.

But, despite the probing imagery of Caliban, the island itself seems very remote. We are given the feeling of immense distances, enforced by many images: 'Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground; long heath, brown furze, anything', 'Canst thou remember A time before we came unto this cell? … 'Tis far off; and rather like a dream than an assurance', 'What seest thou else In the dark backward and abysm of time?' 'She that dwells Ten leagues beyond man's life; she that from Naples Can have no note, unless the sun were post—The man i' th' moon's too slow—till new-born chins Be rough and razorable: she that from whom We all were sea-swallowed …', 'A space whose every cubit Seems to cry out…' 'In this most desolate isle', together with the use of far-away place-names like Arabia, Tunis and Angier.

The combination of a feeling of remoteness with an equally strong feeling of nearness, of intimacy, is an ambiguity characteristic of dreams, and of things half perceived in the instant of awaking. There are several wakings from sleep in the play, all drawn with an emphasis on the equivocal character of perception in such circumstances—Gonzalo and others in ILL, the sailors in v.L, and Caliban's

  … and sometime voices,
That, if I then had wak'd after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again …
                                            III. ii. 144-6

Miranda compares her dim memory image of the ladies who attended her in her infancy to a dream (I.ii.45). To these we may add the wonderful description in the minutest terms of an image glimmering upon the sight—'The fringed curtains of thine eye advance' (I. ii. 405). There is another reference to eyelids at IV.i.177.

The nature poetry of the play (much of it Caliban's) is extremely interesting. It, too, is full of minute observations and gigantic distances, with a strange salt-sweetness hardly to be found elsewhere. We may skim the play, creaming off images which illustrate its special flavour—'the ooze of the salt deep … the veins of the earth when it is baked with frost', 'unwholesome fen … berries… brine-pits', 'yellow sands … the wild waves whist', 'sea-water … fresh brook mussels, withered roots and husks, wherein the acorn cradles', 'bogs, fens, flats', 'a rock by the seaside', 'show thee a jay's nest and instruct thee how To snare the nimble marmoset; I'll bring thee To clust'ring filberts, and sometimes I'll get thee Young scamels from the rock', 'Where crabs grow … pignuts', 'the quick freshes'—and the nature hymn at IV.i.60 ff, bristling with grain and grasses, wet with rain and dew. It is strange that this great nature poem is not better loved. It may be that the focus is too clear for our post-romantic eyes. Perhaps most of us would prefer 'showery April' to Shakespeare's more intimate, tactile 'spongy April'. This truthful clarity in the natural imagery, like the circumstantial elements in the plot, helps to draw from us that special credence, at once lively and in a state of suspense, which is proper to the play. When the picture blurs we look for the emergence of bright, if unfamiliar, realities, not Gothic spectres. While the smoky ghosts of the old Histories seemed to repel our gaze, the supernatural in The Tempest seems to invite our minute attention or even to arise from it.

Once charmed into such an expectant frame of mind, we are quick to speculate, to postulate new 'planes of being' and vague spiritual hierarchies. The play begins with a desperate storm and shipwreck, and then the scene shifts abruptly to Prospero's cell. The crackling oaths of the rough-lunged castaways give place to the tranquil discourse of two angelic beings who might have stepped out of Blake's illustration to his Songs of Innocence. No sound of tempest now, the father and daughter talk together in an elaborately beautiful language, the sense variously drawn out from one line to another, which is very difficult to describe. They talk as no human beings ever talked and yet seem all the closer to our humanity for it. The difference between the diction of the castaways and that of Prospero and Miranda, like the different systems of perspective which Michelangelo gives to his Ignudi and his Biblical personages in the Sistine Chapel, prompt us to assign to them different 'orders of being'.

But we are also informed that Prospero is an Italian, an old acquaintance of the castaways, sometime Duke of Milan. His discontents and ambitions are extremely worldly. He is to be given no dramatic walk-over as a type of Spiritual Virtue. Again we wish to use the prefix 'half-', as often in discussing this play, and say that Prospero and Miranda are half-dipped in another world. This recurrent sense of ambiguity and suspension is extremely potent dramatically.

In the first scene of Act II we have an excellent specimen of this dramatic avoidance of the univocal. In it the 'honest old Counsellor' Gonzalo is baited by the wicked plotters. The dialogue in which this is carried out is not to be understood or enjoyed by a lazy mind. Let us not deceive ourselves, Antonio and Sebastian are truly witty; Gonzalo really does talk like an old fool. But Antonio and Sebastian are themselves both foolish and wicked, while Gonzalo is not really a fool at all. Had Shakespeare made Gonzalo's discourse less ponderous and the witticisms of the rest feebler, instead of allowing merit to prevail by its own sinews, the scene would have had one-tenth of its present power. As it stands, it is taut as a bowstring. As the scene proceeds the laughter of the plotters, and our own laughter also, grows harsher in our ears. Between interruptions, Gonzalo makes several pertinent observations: that they are better off than they had reason to expect, that though the island seems to be uninhabited the necessities of life are all to hand. He also remarks the disturbing state of their garments, dry and unstained by the sea. The others laugh on, and their laughter seems an echo of another laughter, in a Flemish tavern, where other similarly jovial fellows gaily proposed to slay Death—the riotoures of Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale.

In turning to this scene, we passed over the meeting of Ferdinand and Miranda, which is oddly colourless and at the same time entirely glorious. Prospero, a little less than omniscient, directs the course of the encounter. Miranda glimmers upon Ferdinand's sight like something divine (as he says). The haunting image of Adam's dream ('he awoke and found it Truth') seems strangely relevant. Samuel Pepys (who seems to have seen The Tempest at least six times) called it 'the most innocent play that ever I saw'. This is perhaps the first meagre hint of the imagery of Eden which was to gather round the play in the writings of Coleridge, Lamb, Meredith and others. Miranda speaks the forthright language of the late-Shakespearean heroine, without coquetry or irony, yet full of humanity. Ferdinand is, I feel, the lesser creature of the two. He has the air of youthful nobility which allows Miranda to take him for a spirit, yet at the same time he has something in common with other young pup heroes (to whom Shakespeare is strangely indulgent) such as Posthumus, or even Claudio. He is a flawed object, uncertainly idealistic, and lacks the sweet earth-bound candour of his lady.

As the play unfolds the character of Caliban is introduced, and, a little later, the comedians, Trinculo and Stéphane The marvellous animal poetry of Caliban contrasts strangely with the myopic inebriation of Stephano and the folly of the fool. We feel a slight shiver when Caliban deifies the drunken butler. Long ago Schlegel and Hazlitt pointed out the vulgarity of the comedians and the utter absence of it in Caliban, who is without convention. One is reminded of E. M. Forster's distinction [in The Longest Journey, 1907] between coarseness and vulgarity, the first revealing something and the second concealing something. Caliban belongs to one order, the comedians to another, Prospero to another and Miranda perhaps to yet another. The play begins to shimmer and the allegorist critic is 'amazed with matter'.

The beginning of Act III is in symmetrical contrast with the beginning of the previous scene. There we had the brutish Caliban bearing wood for his master. Here we have Ferdinand bearing wood for his lady. Ferdinand, like Caliban, is given a soliloquy. But this is no animal poetry. We hear nothing now of stings or hedgehogs. Instead we have a rounded little philosophical discourse, and breathe the upper air of the polite Renascence intellect. Yet he is not entirely satisfactory. We feel that where the play requires him to be luminous he is merely grey. It seems hard that Caliban should so engross the nature poetry of the play, for if a little were given to Ferdinand (as it is given to Florizel in The Winter's Tale) he might gain in radiance.

The crazy plot of Caliban and the comedians against Prospero is carried forward with great dramatic dexterity. We are never allowed to abandon ourselves to unreserved laughter, largely because of the character of Caliban. On the one hand his sheer nastiness (notice that he merits the conceptually primitive charge of 'nastiness' rather than the fully-fledged moral opprobrium of 'wickedness') as in his plans for Prospero—

    I'll yield him thee asleep,
Where thou tnay'st knock a nail into his head.
                                           III. ii. 65-66

Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake,
Or cut his wezand with thy knife.
                                          III. ii. 95-96

—and, on the other hand, his glimpses of inexplicable beauty leave the scene with an uneasy status. Caliban's description of his hearttearing visions creates a perfect suspension in time, to which the illogical tense-sequence may be allowed to contribute.

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 wak'd after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in
The clouds methought would open and show
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak'd
I cried to dream again.
                                   III. ii. 141-9

The effect is increased a few lines later when Stephano suddenly sees all that they have been doing and plotting for the immediate future in the light of a tale told to him long ago—

That shall be by and by: I remember the story.
                                          III. ii. 153

The bewilderment grows in the next scene, where Alonso, Sebastian and the rest find that they are lost. Gonzalo describes the island as a maze (III. iii. 2-3), an image which is to recur at v. i. 242. As they talk, the sound of music comes to their ears. As before, when each saw the island with different eyes, so now their perceptions diverge in the presence of the supernatural. Gonzalo is at first content with the mere beauty of it—'marvellous sweet music!' (III. iii. 19). Sebastian and Antonio are flippant. Prospero watches, invisible, and approves Gonzalo. He mocks them with the banquet, snatched from them by Harpies. Ariel appears and denounces the villains. They draw, only to be mocked by Ariel, who all but says to them, in the best Oxford manner, 'You have made a category mistake.' Again the feeling of [a poria] … of utter helplessness is conveyed to us. There is nothing remote from our experience in this, despite the elaborate apparatus of sorcery and fairies with which it is presented. There must be few people who have never awoken from a night-mare still grappling with an insubstantial enemy—attempting to bring physical slings and arrows to subdue a 'mental phenomenon'. Less closely connected but not irrelevant is the feeling which accompanies the making of a category mistake, or an attempt to yoke incomparables; as P. G. Wodehouse would say, the mind boggles. The villains boggle.

Ariel vanishes in thunder, the 'Shapes' carry out the table, and Alonso tells how he heard the name 'Prosper' in the withdrawing roar of the waves, and then in the wind and thunder. Again, the empirical character is strong. Experience will supply many such false configurations which have left us momentarily in doubt whether to form a natural or a supernatural interpretation. The play, with its life-size magician and veritable bombardment of miracles, determines us in favour of the supernatural. Sebastian and Antonio, still bemused by their own folly, cry out in hysterical defiance of the spirits that they will 'fight their legions o'er' (III. iii. 103).

Act IV opens with the sweet and orderly betrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda. Prospero, a heavyish father, en-joins the observance of the sacrament of marriage. Ariel is dispatched to invite the rabble to the ceremony, the crown of the play, where all are to be joined. It is the turning point of the plot, where [desis] … gives place to [lusis] …—though with this particular story it is tempting to reverse Aristotle's metaphor, and refer to the end as the [desis] … or binding up of the play. The betrothal is attended by a masque, and therefore, we may suppose, by elaborate music and décor. Juno and Ceres come, heralded by the rainbow messenger Iris—represented by players, it is true, but then the players are spirits—and the play seems to move into yet another dimension. The transformation is almost worth calling a change of medium, and is comparable in its effect to the introduction of human voices in the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Goddesses, nymphs and sunburned reapers (in addition to the other characters) all come to the betrothal. The blessings of plenty are called down upon the future bride and bridegroom.

But the masque ends abruptly in a chaos of discords—'a strange, hollow and confused noise'. Prospero at once attributes this to the conspiracy against his life. We find ourselves being propelled into the mental entertainment of a cosmic harmony, in which an impulse of ill will entails a physical dislocation elsewhere in the system. It is uncertain whether the disturbance we are watching is deemed to have taken place in objective reality or in Prospero's mind alone, of which the masquers are mere figments. Really, at this stage of the game, it seems to matter very little. Prospero sorrowfully meditates that we, too, shall pass like spirits. Here occurs the finest sleep image of a play filled with sleepers,

 We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
                                   IV. i. 156-8

The ground is cut from under our feet and we are left with the intuition of a regress of fictions. The note has already been heard faintly in the play—at II. i. 253-4, where Antonio speaks as though he and his companions were characters in a play, but this has little effect on us.

It has too much Fancy and not enough Imagination about it. Stephano's relegation of his own recent actions to a story heard long before (III. ii. 153) touches us more nearly. The idea is, of course, a Shakespearean common-place, frequently appearing at poetic high-points, anthology pieces, ranging from Jaques's 'AH the world's a stage' through Lear's 'When we are born, we cry that we are come To this great stage of fools', to Macbeth's 'tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing'. The history of this metaphysical idea and its derivation from Plato have been briefly discussed in an earlier chapter. It is perhaps worth adding that something very like this idea can be found in the Greek poets who lived before Plato; for example, Pindar, Pythian, VIII. 137 sq.; Aeschylus, Prometheus Vinctus, 547-50; Sophocles, Ajax, 125-6. I hope it will not be thought perverse if I describe this poetry as metaphysical. Certainly Shakespeare is not affirming that we last for ever, but rather the exact reverse. Yet the nature of the denial is metaphysical in its assumption of pathos. It only makes sense in the context of immortal longings. The man who has never felt, however faintly, the tug of everlastingness will find little to admire in these lines—a pleasing description of cloudy towers, perhaps, but nothing more; the observation that things decay shrinks into triviality; what else should they do? Such a man will have no need, in the face of such thoughts, to take a turn or two 'to still [his] beating mind'.

The fundamentally metaphysical status of Prospero's lines emerges very clearly if we compare them with the epilogue to A Midsummer Night's Dream, spoken by Puck. Indeed, the comparison will be found to have a certain property of reverberation, for each passage is in a way typical of the play in which it appears. It is necessary to give the two speeches in full:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I'm an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call:
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
     A Midsummer Night's Dream, V. ii. 54-69

And now Prospero:

Our revels now are ended. 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-capp'd 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.—Sir, I am vex'd:
Bear with my weakness; my old brain is
Be not disturb'd with my infirmity.
If you be pleas'd, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I'll walk,
To still my beating mind.
                      The Tempest, IV. i. 148-63

Puck's speech is ingenious, delightful and undisturbing. If anything, it is reassuring. Common sense is not unseated by this play with reality and unreality, for the simple reason that the normal scope of the terms has suffered no metaphysical revision. It is the players who are 'shadows', the play which is 'a dream'. The audience is allowed to be utterly real. The speech is designed to end with applause. Plainly, after such a preparation, the sudden clapping from hundreds of hands will sound very human and solid. The epilogue carefully leads the audience back to a consciousness of its own ordinary humanity, before sending it home in happy complacency. The ending is wholly appropriate to the play. A Midsummer Night's Dream is, no doubt, a miracle of expressionist grace and ingenuity, a gossamer construction of fictions within fictions, dreams within a dream. But when we compare it with The Tempest it seems virtually innocent of any metaphysical impact. In it Shakespeare is almost as far removed from Plato as is Pirandello. I say 'almost' because I have no doubt that any Elizabethan regress of fictions will have some smell of Plato about it. But A Midsummer Night's Dream is singularly down to earth in its conceptual structure. There is one place only where the play seems likely, for a moment, to take on another dimension—a brief exchange between Demetrius and Hermia:

DEMETRIUS. These things seem small and
 Like far-off mountains turned into clouds.
 HERMIS. Methinks I see these things with parted
  When everything seems double.
                                                  IV. i. 189-92

Curiously, these are, of all the lines in the play, the most reminiscent of The Tempest. They begin to 'get at' the intimate experience of the audience in a way which is untypical of the play as a whole. But the idea is not developed.

Now turn to Prospero's lines. Where Puck's speech was comfortable, Prospero's is uncomfortable. Where A Mid-summer Night's Dream, at the last, assured us of our reality, The Tempest deprives us of that assurance. Observe how the thing is done: Prospero begins with what appears to be a consoling speech, addressed to Ferdinand, explaining the disruption of the masque. But the audience knows from the start that it is an odd sort of consolation, delivered not from a mood of easy benevolence, but from anger. Before he actually speaks, Ferdinand and Miranda watch him in consternation:

FERDINAND. This is strange: your father's in some
  That works him strongly.
  MIRANDA. Never till this day
  Saw I him touch'd with anger so distemper'd.
                                           IV. i. 143-5

It is something of a surprise to find Prospero addressing Ferdinand at all. The opening of the speech is probably best played abruptly. Further, as the speech unfolds we find that the comfort offered at the beginning is in no way realized. At the end Prospero turns his back on Ferdinand and Miranda, in order, as he says, to settle his disturbed thoughts. It is worth while reminding ourselves of the occasion of the speech as a whole. We suspect that the conspiracy of Caliban and the rest is the cause of the break-up of the masque, but this is rather suspicion than knowledge. Certainly we are quite unable to explain how the behaviour of the conspirators has led to this result. The whole episode is extremely odd, and the oddity is never cleared up. It belongs with all those other examples of the imperfectly explained supernatural which were discussed at the beginning of this chapter. In A Midsummer Night's Dream we may be cheated for a moment by the intricacy of the plot, but we know what form an explanation would take—for example 'You see, he has just used the love-philtre', or something of that sort. But in The Tempest we are led into a wilderness where we have lost even the proper form of explanation. Hence, even before Prospero begins his 'explanation in which nothing is explained', we are, so to speak, disorientated. As we have seen, Prospero's speech does nothing to cure this.

In Puck's speech it was quite easy to see what was supposed to be real, and what unreal; easy, because the un-real things were things which in any case everyone knows to be unreal—a simulated Duke of Athens, a personated Queen of the Amazons, the King and Queen of the Fairies—while the real things were, simply, ourselves. But in Prospero's speech the area of unreality has ceased to be constant and familiar. In a way it has got out of control. He begins by talking about the actor-spirits (themselves a regress of fictions). So far there is nothing absolutely unprecedented. Puck himself was capable of stepping outside the play in order to discuss it. But the circle of darkness, of unreality, continues to widen, passing over the audience itself, beyond the walls of the theatre, to engulf palace and church, and, at last, the whole world. From making the stage shimmer before our eyes Prospero passes on to cast the same spell of doubt on the earth itself. Words alone retain a vivid life, cutting deep at our inmost memories and perceptions.

Act V opens with the entry of Prospero, attired, as the Folio stage-direction tells us, in his Magicke robes. Ariel reports that the King and his followers are thoroughly distracted. Prospero announces that he will break his charms, so that all 'shall be themselves' once more. We have a sensation as of passing from the inner world to the outer. In a great speech the spirits are dispelled and we feel ourselves falling back into Italy, into things civil and political (though, in a way, the play is all about politics). The sleeping sailors are awakened by Ariel. Assorted [anagnorises] … follow. In the interview between Alonso and Prospero we feel the link with the other late plays, with their theme of children lost in tempest and found to the playing of sweet music. We remember Perdita and Marina.

ALONSO. When did you lose your daughter?
PROSPERO. In this last tempest.
                                                       V. i. 152-3

As the play closes the theme of reconciliation and restoration grows stronger still, until at last all set sail for home with the 'calm seas' and 'auspicious gales' that Ariel gives them for his last service.

This play is obviously not an explicit allegory in which both the figure and its significance are clearly expressed in the text, in the manner of the Psychomachia of Prudentius. This can be shortly proved by pointing to the names of the personages in either work. The names Prospero, Miranda, Ariel might be held to be faint hints towards allegorical significance, but they are faint indeed compared with die strident labels which Prudentius has pasted on the brows of all his characters—Patientia, Ira, Sodomita Libido, and so on. The Winter's Tale might be thought more explicit, since scholarship has shown that Hermione was in the seventeenth century identified with Harmonía. Yet both were the names of a person, associated with the Theban Cycle long before Shakespeare appeared. So even here we hardly have a clear case of an abstraction personified.

But if The Tempest is not explicit, formal allegory, cannot it be allegorised? Of course, it can; but anything can. No one has yet written a story which is utterly proof against the efforts of a determined allegorical exegete. If a character exemplifies any quality (and all characters do) he may be said to figure that quality. This is the mere licence of ordinary linguistic usage; the 'semantic areas' of 'exemplify' and 'figure' overlap.

It remains to ask whether The Tempest can be shown to be allegorical; whether the basic logical structure which is explicit in the Psychomachia can be shown to be implicit—that is less obviously present but present all the same—in The Tempest. The various attempts to do this, have been, almost without exception, metaphysical in character. In my second chapter I argued at some length against the crude opposition of allegory and transcendentalism, and suggested that allegory was, in fact, a very frequent medium for the expression of transcendentalist metaphysics. But this habit of viewing the whole world as an allegory, and then expressing the fact allegorically, can lead, as one might expect, to some tricky situations. Where allegory becomes, as it were, the natural habit of the mind, it is often difficult for the more literal-minded person to satisfy himself as to what exactly is being asserted at all. A good example of the anima naturaliter allegorica in modern times is Professor J. R. R. Tolkien. He says (describing the dragon in Beowulf) [in "Beowulf, the Monsters and the Critics", PBA, XXII (1936)]

There are in the poem some vivid touches of the right kind—as pa se wyrm onwoc, wroht wees geniwad; stone after stane … in which this dragon is real worm, with a bestial life and thought of his own, but the conception, none the less, approaches draconitas rather than draco: a personification of malice, greed, destruction (the evil side of heroic life) and of the undiscriminating cruelty of fortune that distinguishes not good or bad (the evil aspect of all life).

It is clear that Tolkien is telling us something about the structure of the universe, as well as about the Beowulfian dragon. The Old Worm, merely by becoming indeterminate, is transformed into draconitas. The metaphysical opinion that malice is something active, operating in the world like an interpenetrating spirit, and that 'dragonishness' is a sort of huge, diffused, dragon, infused like a gas through the universe, denied idiosyncratic shape and thoughts but still having the authentic dragon stench about him—this metaphysical opinion is not so much the concomitant of Professor Tolkien's observations as the very condition of them. And now we may ask the question. Does Professor Tolkien suggest that Beowulf is an allegory? It is almost impossible to answer. If we say yes, we must allow that, for such a sensibility, all undifferentiated, morally simple characters will be allegorical, since they will resemble more closely (while never expressing literally) the great archetypal Exemplars which properly enjoy the name of universals. Otherwise we may say 'No, clearly he doesn't mistake it for a Prudentian formal allegory; it's just his manner of speaking.' But this will blind us to the fact that Tolkien's poem is different in kind from the literal-minded man's poem.

To bring the argument back within the pale of Shakespearian criticism, we may take a passage from the critical writings of Professor Nevill Coghill [in "The Basis of Shakespearian Comedy", E & S, NS III (1930)]:

If I use the word 'allegory' in connection with Shakespeare I do not mean that the characters are abstractions representing this or that vice or virtue (as they do in some allegories, say the Roman de la Rose or The Castle of Perseverance itself). I mean that they contain and adumbrate certain principles, not in a crude or neat form, but mixed with other human qualities; but that these principles, taken as operating in human life, do in fact give shape and direction to the course, and therefore to the meaning of the play.

How, then, is this special sort of allegory, in which principles are contained and adumbrated, to be distinguished from any other play, from which principles can be extracted? Apparently, in virtue of the activity of those principles. They operate 'in human life', and 'give shape and direction to the course … of the play'. I do not understand how a 'principle' is to do this unless it is turned into a spirit, that is, into an active, influential individual. I think we can conclude that Professor Coghill is not so much suggesting that Shakespeare's comedies are allegorical as proposing a metaphysical view of virtues and vices as active (a view authorized by much Christian religious language) and suggesting that this view was shared by Shakespeare and expressed in his plays. And indeed, he may be right.

For the nineteenth-century critics of our first chapter, proving The Tempest an allegory and proving it meta-physical were very nearly the same thing. It might be objected that if only we would revive the much-despised opposition between allegory and metaphysics we might be lifted out of this confusing state of affairs; either a poem is allegorical—that is, a fictitious reification of qualities, etc.—or else it is metaphysical, in which case the reification, since it is ontologically asserted, must be taken as literal; hence a poem must be described as either metaphysical or allegorical, certainly not both. Unfortunately, this lucid distinction proves to be of little use when applied to actual specimens of metaphysical/allegorical poetry, since, when the metaphysician wishes to make an ontological assertion, he is seldom able to make it literally at all. It is evident that almost all those who have wished to call The Tempest allegorical have done so on the ground that it represents metaphysical truths about the world allegorically.

That Shakespeare's poetry betrays a tendency towards metaphysics is, I think, impossible to deny.…

Allegoristic criticism was almost normal in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth, though still vigorous, it has come to be considered eccentric. But one good result of the general retreat from enthusiastic allegorizing is that when a critic does brave disapproval, and allegorize, we can be tolerably sure that he is describing the play, and not just indulging in verbal high flights of his own.

The twentieth-century arguments for describing The Tempest as a metaphysical allegory may be classified under two heads; first those drawn from a comparison of the story-patterns of the late Romances with one other and with the plots and imagery of the earlier Tragedies; second, arguments drawn from the internal character of The Tempest itself, its characterization, treatment of morality, use of the supernatural. The first class may be represented by G. Wilson Knight and E. M. W. Tillyard and the second by Derek Traversi and Patrick Cruttwell.

The former critics point out that the late Romances, Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, are all concerned with restoration and reconciliation of persons thought to be dead. The recurring feature of the storm is associated with their loss, and music with their reconciliation. This pattern may be compared with another pattern, discernible in the tragedies, in which the break-down and death of a man is externally reflected in violent storm, and a hint of reconciliation beyond the grave is held out in the metaphors used by the heroes in their 'moments of fifth act transcendental speculation' [G. W. Knight, The Crown of Life, 1948]. It is thus argued that the Romances in their veritable reconciliation after tempests represent an acting out of those metaphors. It is therefore suggested that they are symbolic of a theological after-life in which all manner of things shall be well. The necessity of supposing that Shakespeare intends a life beyond the grave may well be questioned, particularly since the most explicit metaphysics in The Tempest is to be found in the speech in which Prospero stresses the transitoriness of this life which is rounded with a sleep (IV. i. 146-63). So long as eternal happiness is conceived in terms of extended duration, it will be difficult to find unequivocal Shakespearian support for it.

But the relation of the story-pattern of the Romances to that of the Tragedies could be accounted for with a more modest set of presumptions. For example, one might suggest that Shakespeare thought what a wonderful wish-fulfilment type of play could be written if one gave these tragic heroes their whole desire, in this world; if, after all, the beloved person were shown never to have died at all. The dramatic use of the delightfulness of reconciliation after all hope has been lost does not necessarily imply a theological belief in resurrection. If The Tempest is really to be taken as an account of survival after death, since it certainly is not literal it must undoubtedly be allegorical. However, I should be much happier with the alternative suggestion, hazier and perhaps unpalatable to Christian sensibilities, that the 'story' of life after death and the story of The Tempest both stand as myths of some mysterious state of affairs, closely connected with moral questions, which may elude literal description together.

This approach is extremely unmanageable and vague, and perhaps it is for that very reason that it admits more readily an alliance with the second approach, the approach by way of the nature of characterization and treatment of ethics in the last plays. There are indeed certain features in the Romances which are easily connected with the separation and 'eternizing' of love-value which we found in the Sonnets and elsewhere. D. A. Traversi says [in Shakespeare: the Last Phase, 1954], of Florizel's comparison of Perdita to a wave of the sea in The Winter's Tale (IV. iii. 140 ff.):

This image, like the speech of which it forms a part, is, of course, much more than a beautiful piece of decorative poetry. It is rather the particular expression of a vital theme of the play … the relation between the values of human life which postulate timelessness, and the impersonal, 'devouring' action of time which wears these values ceaselessly away. The wave image conveys perfectly the necessary relation between the mutability of life and the infinite value of human experience which it conditions, but which is finally incommensurate with it.

Traversi is quick, too, to point out the association in The Tempest of supernatural imagery with intuitions of value. Yet the task is less easily performed for The Tempest than it is for The Winter's Tale. What we may call the Affirmation of Paradise has in The Tempest a far less confident tone. Miranda's first perception of the 'noble vessel' has a visionary quality, yet it is belied, as Traversi acknowledges, by the presence of the plotters in the ship. In The Tempest alone of the Romances the divine masque is broken up in confusion. The whole play, as compared with The Winter's Tale, is strangely perverse, like a piece of flawed glass. Bonamy Dobrée, in a brilliant essay ['The Tempest', E & S, NS V (1952)], pointed out the unique flavour of The Tempest, more shimmering, less full-blood-edly confident in its paradisal intuitions that its immediate predecessors; the wooing of Ferdinand, though piercingly ideal, is less warm than the wooing of Florizel; the forgiveness of Prospero has a touch of the priggish Senecan.

It is as if a second wave of scepticism has passed over the poet. It is quite different from the coprologous indignation of Troilus and Cressida. He no longer, for the sake of one transgression, denies the authenticity of love itself. But a reservation as to the truth-value of the assertions love provokes seems to have reappeared. Time, the old grey destroyer of the Sonnets, was not, after all, put down by love. After the enthusiastic reaffirmation of the later Sonnets and the first three Romances, a sadder and more complex reaction has set in, slightly ironical perhaps, but not at all cynical. The world has not been wholly redeemed by love; look at it. The subjective vision of the lover may transcend objective facts, but it does not obliterate them. The lover has one level, the hater another; perhaps there are a thousand more such levels, each as unreal as the rest.

Thus the quasi-mystical ethical intuitions are undermined by a doubt about reality, about the comparative status of different kinds of perception. My summary of the play in the first half of this chapter was, of course, selective. It may be as well to proclaim here the principle of selection involved. I was concerned to show Shakespeare's preoccupation, throughout the play, with the more nearly subliminal aspects of perception. It is as if Shakespeare himself became concerned, as I was in the third and fourth chapters of this book, to retreat into the preconceptual area of the mind. The chapters and the play have, in a sense, very similar subject-matter. Certainly, The Tempest is not related to that psychological theorizing in just the same way as the poetic specimens I cited were related to it. Those poems exemplified the indeterminate, configurative imagination. The Tempest is, for much of its length, about people configurating, imagining without actualizing, and so on. Patrick Cruttwell argues [in The Shakespearean Moment, 1954] that Shakespeare in his last plays began to take seriously the allegorical/transcendental images of his youthful poetry. In The Winter's Tale, indeed, it may be that an ontological force is given to such imagery. But in The Tempest the prominence given to the ambiguous lower reaches of our conceptual and perceptual apparatus infects all ontological dogmatism with un-certainty. Shakespeare repeatedly restricts his characters to the primitive stages of perception in their apprehension of the island and its denizens. In this way he builds up a sense of a shimmering multiplicity of levels, which, together with the gratuitous operations of the supernatural, produce in the audience a state of primitive apprehension similar to that in which the characters find themselves. We are given the impression that the island may, after all, belong wholly to the unassertive world of dreams and ambiguous perceptions. Such material is naturally baffling to the critic who wishes to sort out symbol and statement. The allegorical exegete feels he has been cheated of his proper prey.

But we have also to reckon with the intuitions of value which are expressed in the meeting of Ferdinand and Miranda, and also (possibly) in the masque. That value is in these passages supernaturally conceived according to the logic treated in the earlier chapters of this book, I have little doubt. But it is somewhat puzzling to encounter these intuitions in a context so instinct with the atmosphere of ambiguous imagery. The proper relation of these ethical intuitions to the more elusive intuition that the island is only a dream or figment of the configurative imagination is difficult to determine. Certainly there is no sign of any attempt on Shakespeare's part to postulate a genetic relationship, to suggest that primitive configurations are the psychological parents of intuitions of value. After all, the two elements are presented in a totally different manner, the first involving the use of metaphor, the second dramatically. The imaginary status of the island is hinted by the behaviour of the characters, sometimes baffled, sometimes inconsistent. The value-intuitions are explicitly stated, by certain characters in theological imagery, and also (possibly) in the terms of a mythological spectacle. Yet it is easy to feel that some part of the vague scepticism created by the recurrence of half-subliminal perceptions has attached itself to the lovers and the persons of the masque. The differing visions which the castaways have of the island may be held to throw a pale cast of doubt on the vision of Ferdinand when he falls in love with Miranda. We must allow that Shakespeare's motive in associating perceptual ambiguity with supernatural encounters is quite different from the motives behind chapter III of this book. He is not concerned to provide an instantial correlative for universals. But in our inquiry into perceptual imagery we discovered the peculiar indulgence of that area of the mind to the combining of things incompatible and the admission of things impossible. It is surely this character which it is Shakespeare's object to exploit. That property of the imagination which makes possible the instantial 'universal' is the same property as that which gives The Tempest its peculiar atmosphere of ontological suspension. This Shakespeare effects by giving the imaginative 'limbo of possibles' a dramatic impulse in the direction of reality, that is, by backing up the glimpses enjoyed by his characters with just enough magical apparatus to determine us in favour of a supernatural explanation without losing our sense of the 'internal' flavour of the experience. The truth is that these ambiguities have at least two functions. If they make the reports of the characters dubious, they make the playwright convincing. We cannot trust characters who contradict one another and continually stumble in their encounters with the supernatural. But we must trust the playwright who shows us both their insights and their stumblings.

Shakespeare has, in a perfectly legitimate manner, contrived to have his cake and eat it. He gives us the heart-tearing intuitions of heavenly value, but in a radically empirical and undogmatic way which disarms the cynical critic. He seems to say, 'I have seen this, and this, and this. You receive it as I found it. The interpretation I leave to you.' Certainly, the challenge has been accepted!

Is The Tempest allegorical? If I have done my work properly, the question should have shrunk in importance. The principal object of this book has been to show that allegorical poetry is more curiously and intimately related to life than was allowed by the petrifying formula of C. S. Lewis [in The Allegory of Love, 1936]. One result of this is that the question 'Is this work allegorical?' ceases to have the clear significance it would have for a man to whom allegory, as the most ostentatiously fictitious of all literary forms, is directly opposed to a serious preoccupation with the real universe. Nevertheless, I am willing to give a few arbitrary rulings. The simplified characters of the play are not ipso facto allegorical, but it is no great sin to take them as types. The sense that beauty and goodness and harmony are ontologically prior to their subjects does not become fullbloodedly allegorical until the masque, where the spirits, nymphs, etc., may without straining be taken as a mythological acting out of the mystery of the betrothal. It is hardly worth while to call the island itself allegorical ('the mind of man' and so on). Certainly it shimmers between subjectivity and objectivity, presents itself differently to different eyes, yet it will not keep still long enough for one to affix an allegorical label. For the island, as for most of the elements of the play, I should prefer to coin a rather ugly term -'pre-allegorical'. Ariel and Caliban of all the characters in the play come nearest to being allegories of the psychic processes, but it would certainly be a mistake not to realize that they are very much more besides. If the suggestion of the unique authority of love and value were only a little more explicit, we might allow the word 'allegorical' for the play as a whole, and consider the restoration of the supposedly dead as a myth of this ethic, but, as things are, we cannot.

The minutely perceptive scepticism of The Tempest defeats the stony allegorist and the rigid cynic equally. The mystery is never allowed to harden into an ontological dogma to be reduced to symbols or rejected with contempt. Instead we have an extraordinarily delicate and dramatic play, which, until the Last Day makes all things clear, will never be anything but immensely suggestive.

One important claim can be made. The suggestiveness of The Tempest is metaphysical in tendency.… Love is conceived as a supernatural force, and any number of protestations of metaphor and apologetic inverted commas cannot do away with the fact that a sort of deification, and therefore a fortiori reification has taken place. Whether these concepts should be allowed to be meaningful, or whether they should be permitted only a 'merely aesthetic' force (and that presumably spurious) I do not know. The unassertive candour of Shakespeare's imagination has left the question open. But the nineteenth-century allegorists were at any rate concerning themselves with the right (i.e. the peculiar) sort of concept. Their heresy is less than that of the hard-headed, poetry-has-nothing-to-do-with-ideas school. Their claims to have found the exclusive allegorical interpretation may be left to their foolish internecine strife, but their noses told them truly that the smell of metaphysics was in the air. If we look upon their effusions less as appraisals of the play than as reactions to it, they will be more acceptable. We may think of them as we think of the women who miscarried on seeing the Eumenides of Aeschylus: as critics they may have been injudicious, but as an audience they were magnificent—though perhaps a little too lively.

David Young (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: "Rough Magic: The Tempest," in The Heart's Forest: A Study of Shakespeare's Pastoral Plays, Yale University Press, 1972, pp. 146-91.

[In the following essay, Young examines The Tempest as an example of pastoral literature, focusing in particular on the play's theatricality, its emphasis on magic, its dreamlike atmosphere, and its treatment of the themes of art and nature.]

The story of castaways on a desert island is such a familiar and popular narrative design that we are more apt to think of it in terms of its "modern" manifestations (from Robinson Crusoe to The Admirable Crichton to The Lord of the Flies, not to mention innumerable cartoons, films, and jokes) than to trace its literary ancestry back to the Odyssey or to consider its longstanding relation to the pastoral mode. Yet its pastoral character is undeniable. It embodies the same ambivalence between a desire to escape to a simpler form of existence and a fear of being cut off from society, civilization, indeed all human company. It raises the same questions about man's essential goodness or savagery, nature versus nurture. And despite its emphasis on an alien and alternative setting, it often serves mainly as a mirror of society, tracing the formation of a readjusted social microcosm and testing familiar values and customs.

An island may differ very slightly from the more traditional pastoral landscapes, the Arcadias, Ardens, and Bohemias, but it differs in interesting ways. It is apt to be more alien and strange, harder to reach and harder, of course, to escape from. It has a self-contained, consistent quality that makes it easy to present as a utopia, untouched by outside influences, or as a society in miniature, the model of a commonwealth or kingdom. If it is a "desert" island, that is, deserted or nearly so, then it raises the questions of self-sufficiency and survival: how does the castaway procure enough food, shelter, and protection from animals or savages? Many of these features were of course associated with pastoral settings other than islands, but taken together they suggest why a writer of pastoral might choose such a setting and what he might do with it.

It would have been remarkable indeed if Renaissance pastoral, in an age of discovery and exploration, had not resorted to the island setting as a response to popular interest and to the imaginative horizons that were being opened by the tales of mariners and rescued castaways. The pastoral concern with alternatives to urban society and the courts of monarchs expanded easily to a consideration of the distant and unfamiliar places that explorers were finding and colonizers were venturing toward.

But that is not the whole story of the desert island branch of the pastoral. If it were, The Tempest might well be set in the Caribbean or the Pacific. That it is not, is an indication of the continuing strength of the tradition of classical epic and romance. If Shakespeare draws upon the pamphlets of the voyagers for some of the details of his island and refers us to the "still-vex'd Bermoothes," he nevertheless sets Prospero's island in the Mediterranean, amid the currents of older civilizations and literary traditions. The isle is full of noises, and some of them seem to echo Virgil, Ovid, Homer, and the romance tradition stretching back to Longus and Heliodorus. The old and the new, ancient myth and legend on the one hand, and the True Declarations and True Repertories of the pamphlets on the other, are simultaneously invoked.

The islands of the older tradition were as often as not enchanted, the realm of a Circe or a hermetic sorcerer. Perhaps that is why the Bermuda pamphlets had to contradict the rumors that spirits and devils inhabited the islands. The assumption, given the literary tradition, was not unwarranted, and recalling that the islands of epic and romance were sometimes realms of enchantment gives us another way of stressing the fact that the island setting in pastoral was more self-contained, more marvelous, and, often, more terrifying. If one's pastoral sojourn was spent combatting or submitting to the power of a ruler who was also a necromancer, the results were apt to be more spectacular and less peaceful.

Once again, then, Shakespeare has founded a play on the characteristic pattern of pastoral romance, with its story of exile, sojourn, and reunion, and its emphatic use of setting. This time he has ventured into a notable variation, where the setting is an island, and the accelerated sojourn is dreamlike and amazing because it is entirely the product of an enchanter's art—an enchanter who is himself a long sojourner. The result is a play that differs markedly from any of the other pastorals in structure, texture, and tone, a play at once disarmingly simple and bafflingly complex.

While my remarks have thus far suggested that the combination of an enchanted island, ruled by a magician, with the standard pastoral story of extrusion, sojourn, and return was readily available to Shakespeare, given the romance tradition and the natural coincidence of interests and possibilities such materials shared, it is nevertheless necessary to consider carefully whether the combination already existed in some form which may have influenced the character and construction of The Tempest. The answer, which can be confidently put in terms of existence and more cautiously advanced as regards influence, is somewhat surprising. This time we are not concerned with the pastoral novels by writers like Greene, Lodge, and Sidney that were so strong an influence on English stage pastoral in general and Shakespeare in particular. This time the influence, if that is what may be claimed for such a surprisingly close analogue, or group of them, is dramatic and continental: the Commedia dell'Arte. These plays survive only in their rough outlines, the scenari from which the players improvised their performances, using a stock of tried and tested comic bits called lazzi. What the collections of scenari clearly show is that the Italian comedians, combining literary fashions with their sense of what could be made effective for a diverse audience on the stage, worked up their own special genre of pastoral, a combination of horseplay, music, spectacular magic, love interest, and mistaken identity. The enchanted island was a standard setting for such plays, and the action was often initiated by a shipwreck.

These "shipwreck pastorals" had in common with The Tempest the following more or less standard features: characters cast ashore and dispersed to wander on an enchanted island, the domain of a magician who was generally both mischievous—so he could play tricks on the castaways—and benign—so that he could straighten out misunderstandings, prevent tragedy, and neatly resolve complications at the finish; humor based on fearful recognition by survivors who think each other ghosts of drowned comrades; natives so awed by the visitors that they worship them as gods; spirits who make use of invisibility to echo, mislead, and confuse their victims; such standard pieces of stage magic as charmed swords, disappearing food, and spirits in grotesque and frightening guises; and a generous proportion of singing and dancing. None of these features are found all together in one existing scenario, an Ur-Tempest, but they are common enough to the genre that if, as Lea suggests, a scenario of The Tempest were inserted in one of the existing collections of commedia scenari, the resemblance would be remarkable. However we are to account for it, there seems to be something more than coincidence at work.

The obstacles to declaring the pastoral tragicomedies of the commedia players an important source for The Tempest have, however, proved manifold, and the relationship has yet to win wide acceptance. There is, in the first place, the traditional preference of Shakespearean source hunters for non-dramatic as opposed to dramatic sources, and for textual as opposed to nontextual influences. We have traditionally been willing to assume that if a book was in print or even available in manuscript, then Shakespeare had it to hand and read it; textual parallels have always had a comfortable solidity and certainty. We know far less about stage practices and styles, however, both in England and on the Continent. As a result, source studies have shied away from these areas, and what may be a somewhat lopsided picture of Shakespeare as a working dramatist has inevitably emerged. In the case of the corn-media shipwreck pastorals, textual evidence is of course unavailable. What remains? The fact that Italian players had visited England from the 15 70's onward, and possibly as close to the writing of The Tempest as 1610. The additional fact that Englishmen regularly travelled to Italy and brought back detailed accounts of what they had seen, including theatrical performances. And, finally, what seems to me the common sense view that Shakespeare, as a man of the theater as well as the study, had every reason to inform himself, in as much detail as possible and by whatever means, about the resources available to him through theatrical styles and modes in other countries. Judging by its wide influence and great popularity, both in Italy and elsewhere, the commedia dell'arte is scarcely something Shakespeare could have ignored or overlooked. There is evidence in plays as early as The Comedy of Errors and Love's Labour's Lost to suggest his familiarity with it.

Another obstacle to acceptance of the commedia influence on The Tempest has been the peculiarly sacrosanct status of the play itself. There is a question, apparently, of dignity. A lesser play, The Merry Wives of Windsor, for instance, might readily be admitted to have such roots. But The Tempest has a special status—it is the last play, a final statement, a summary and farewell. Commentators have delighted to conclude that, indebted to no source for its story, it shows Shakespeare at his most inventive and ingenious. And those who have found in the play autobiography, profound religious allegory, Neo-Platonic mysteries, and immense erudition, have scarcely wished to connect it with the debased literary values and low improvised theater of the Italian comedians. It would seem rather like saying that Henry James found his inspiration for The Ambassadors by attending the Folies Bergère. Even Frank Kermode, the play's best modern editor and one of its most astute commentators, succumbs to this attitude. Concluding a discussion of the possibility of the commedia as a source, he suggests that "Shakespeare had other and more suggestive materials for speculation. He did not need a jocose pantomime to teach him how to think about it."

We need only recall Shakespeare's deep and fully demonstrated interest in the rudimentary, popular, and supposedly obsolete materials of his art, especially in the late plays, to find this unfair and misleading. Indeed, Ker-mode himself is on much firmer ground when he remarks, earlier on, that "The presence of primitive elements in the deeply considered structure of The Tempest need not surprise us; they are a normal Shakespearean phenomenon.…" It seems a short step from an interest in crude romances, folk tales, and archetypal characters and situations, to an intensely vigorous and highly stylized popular theater using masks and "jocose pantomime." Given Shakespeare's interest in clumsy old plays and crude forms of popular entertainment (e.g., the Whitsun pastoral), there is little that can be called new in the suggestion of the commedia influence but the Continental flavoring, and even that, as I have suggested, was not finding its way into Shakespeare's dramatic repertoire for the first time.

I have put this stress on the question of source materials for The Tempest because I believe, with E. E Stoll [Shakespeare and Other Masters, 1940], that the play "stands like a tub on its own bottom," and that it is important to recognize that bottom for what it is. Once again Shakespeare is revealing rather than concealing the artifice on which his theater is inevitably based; once again he is inviting the audience to join him in considering the nature of art, fiction, fable, tale, and to be conscious of the way in which he is transforming and sophisticating crude and unlikely materials. Such claims could be made for The Tempest even without the recognition of the commedia influence. The magician, the wild man, perhaps even the shipwrecked clowns and courtiers, were scarcely foreign to the English stage. But once one has begun to consider the play in this light, once the psychological barrier to crude theatrical sources has dropped away, the commedia parallels are simply too strong to ignore or make light of. My suggestion, then—and it must remain that in the absence of firmer evidence than is likely to turn up—is that in The Tempest Shakespeare was deliberately resorting to the organization and manner of the pastoral tragicomedies of the commedia dell'arte. Far from attempting to conceal this fact from his audience, he expected from them some measure of recognition, the kind he had relied on, in varying degrees, concerning the antecedents of Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale. Much of the recognition would have come, of course, in extra-textual areas, in the style of playing and general tone. In addition, we need not exclude the possibility of an earlier English play, fairly well-known and closely based on commedia pastoral tragicomedy. Once again there is evidence, but it is too slender to allow us to speak with certainty.

One benefit of this approach to The Tempest, through the "back door" of dramatic resources, is that it allows us to differentiate sharply between this play and the other late romances in the matter of structure. If the other plays were self-conscious attempts to transfer narrative materials to the stage with a minimum of alteration, The Tempest emphatically is not. That, indeed, is what suggests it is built on a dramatic model rather than on a pastoral novel. If Shakespeare knew of the shipwreck pastorals of the commedia, he would immediately have understood how the players had solved the problem of finding dramatic form for the lyric and narrative elements of pastoral. The enchanted island gave a single, highly flexible setting; the shipwreck provided a fortuitous assembling of characters who were to discover their identities and relationships; and the magician's omnipotence excused wild improbabilities of time scheme and resolution. The resulting plots were highly unlikely, but admitted both tight organization and great variety of incident. The comedians had resolved the problem of achieving the neo-classical unities by simply imposing them from the out-side, without regard to the question of improbability. Shakespeare's pleasure in duplicating this design, with the same double-conciousness provided for the audience that was present in The Winter's Tale's treatment of geme, seems a likely explanation for the unusually tight structure of The Tempest. Adhering to the unities becomes a kind of game, with so many references to the exact timing of the action scattered through the play that the spectator begins to feel he can almost set his watch by it.

This point raises the larger question of theatricality and open artifice in The Tempest, a subject generally neglected by interpreters anxious not to detract from the foundations of what they see as an allegorical structure. For if the play, like the other late romances and like the other pastorals, is concerned to point up the fictive and wishful characters of the ideals it advances and explores, then it is markedly different in tone from the play that is so reverently served up to us in most commentaries and stage productions. This is not to deny the ultimate seriousness of The Tempest or, indeed, its complexity of vision; it is rather to suggest that these are accomplished by the playful double-consciousness about the materials being used, in particular their distance from reality, that we found to be so pervasive in The Winter's Tale.

Consider the opening scene. Without questioning its effectiveness in relation to the play as a whole, we can readily admit that it was impossible to stage such a scene realistically in a Jacobean theater—whether the Globe or the Blackfriars. The Tempest opens, then, by putting a strain on the capacities of its medium. Its audience is unlikely to be transported from the theater; they are rather kept highly conscious of it. Within the scene are strongly realistic elements in the behavior and speech of the characters; but the storm itself, and the shipwreck, must remain, as Coleridge suggested, "poetical, though not in strictness natural."

The appropriateness of the artifice is quickly revealed in the following scene, where we discover that the storm was in fact illusory, the product of a magician's art. We now meet the man who is to be not only the principal actor in the events that follow, but their author, director, and stage manager as well. Sharing Prospero's consciousness will in effect keep us "backstage" throughout, with a special knowledge of events, their appearance and their reality, their origins and consequences. Prospero's control of the action, the dramatizing properties of his magic, and his vision of life itself as a gigantic theater of illusion, all contribute greatly to the theatrical atmosphere of The Tempest.

This second scene takes us through the exposition. The one drawback to observing the neoclassical unities, especially in dealing with the time span involved in a romance story like The Tempest, is the necessity for a detailed exposition early in the play. Character X must tell character Y, at some length, what character Y would probably, under normal circumstances, know already. This cumbersome bit of artifice, then, was the necessary prelude to the supposed verisimilitude that the unities were intended to secure. Is it not possible to suppose that Shakespeare is emphasizing this point, in a spirit of playfulness, rather than concealing it? Miranda says Prospero's tale "would cure deafness," but it is in fact a dangerously tedious device to spring on an audience at this point. It has been suggested that Prospero's interruptions to make sure Miranda is paying attention are a clever method for breaking up his long monologue and giving it dramatic interest; I think rather they call attention, not to his state of mind or to Miranda's behavior, but to the strain on the medium that Shakespeare's choice of subject and structure has entailed. The game of observing the unities, as I have called it, really begins here.

As the play moves forward, the theatricality of the opening scenes is carefully sustained. The fact that Prospero's magicianship is a role he plays is emphasized by the special garment it requires, a costume which he dons and doffs, and by special props, his book and staff. With Ferdinand and Miranda he must play a calculated part, that of the jealous ruler and gruff father, and he keeps the audience informed of the fact that he is acting. We are less sure whether the attitudes he assumes with Ariel and Caliban are spontaneous or calculated; some mixture of the two seems most likely. In the last scene we watch him assume his pre-play identity, the one by which most of the characters, with their limited awareness, must know him:

          Not one of them
That yet looks on me, or would know me: Ariel,
Fetch me the hat and rapier in my cell:
I will disease me, and myself present
As I was sometime Milan.

Then, for the audience, who have been privy to all the details of his "project" (see 2.1.294 and 5.1.1 for his use of that term), he makes one last appearance, adopts one final role: in the Epilogue he speaks to us in his identity as actor, an entertainer revealing the special purpose of his "project … which was to please." Which is the real Prospero? The last of these roles only, or the sum of all of them?

Prospero's "art" consists mainly of shows and spectacles. Their purposes are varied—to entertain, to punish, to enlighten, to instruct—and our sense of their reality fluctuates, even as we learn that they have an illusory content in common. Was there, for example, a storm? Ariel "Perform'd" a tempest, "flam'd amazement," simulated lightning and made a storm "Seem to besiege" the sea. But Miranda, an uninformed witness, is convine'd that she saw "a brave vessel … Dashed all to pieces." Prospero's last show, the tableau of Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess, is quite real, although Alonso is justified in questioning it:

                  If this prove
A vision of the island, one dear son
Shall I lose twice.

Between these events are a number of "performances" which are, we understand, illusory, since we are told that they consist of "spirits" playing "strange Shapes," mythological figures, and "dogs and hounds." Yet at the interruption of one of these shows Prospero tells Ferdinand that the evanescent character of such "revels," performed by spirits to "enact" the "present fancies" of a magician, reflects the very substance of the world and of human life. Our certainty is once more undermined.

It is ironic, in these circumstances, that theatrical metaphors should be associated with the behavior of the villains. Prospero tells Miranda that his brother was not content to be the acting Duke:

To have no screen between this part he play'd
And him he play'd it for, he needs will be
Absolute Milan.

Antonio himself, inciting Sebastian to the murder of his brother, argues that they were cast ashore on the island,

   … by destiny, to perform an act
Whereof what's past is prologue; what to come,
In yours and my discharge.

Even Stephano, parodying these illusory conspiracies, tries to sound like a villain out of an old tragedy, and mistakes costume for the reality it is meant to clothe:

Stephano. Give me thy hand. I do begin to have bloody
Trinculo. O King Stephano! O peer! O worthy
Stephano! Look what a wardrobe here is for thee!

Most of the events of The Tempest acquire a theatrical quality by virtue of the fact that they consist of actors and audience. Miranda witnesses the storm, and she and Prospero discuss the bewildered Ferdinand before he is aware of their presence. Prospero oversees the young couple's courtship as a concealed, appreciative spectator:

                   Fair encounter
Of two most rare affections! Heavens rain grace
On that which breeds between 'em!

He later makes them the audience to a betrothal masque in their honor. Prospero also watches from "on the top" the scene of the disappearing banquet, at which the courtly party first think themselves audience ("A living drollery," exclaims Sebastian), then find themselves actors, so that they become a sort of show within a show. In the last scene, nearly everyone is audience to the revelation of Ferdinand and Miranda, where once again, as Ferdinand steps forth to embrace his father, the line between witnesses and performers dissolves.

We may observe, finally, in the very neatness and wholeness of the design of the play an artificial quality that I do not think we are meant to overlook. Everything occurs on schedule, with a clockwork precision that allows Gonzalo to marvel, in the final moments of the play, at the mechanism that has just been revealed to him:

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
In a poor isle, and all of us ourselves
When no man was his own.

This is very tidy indeed, perhaps a little too tidy. We have had no concern for Claribel finding a husband, and what Gonzalo seems to see as the operation of destiny we have come to recognize as largely the result of Prospero's theatrical magic. We appreciate the conciseness of it all, but we do not believe in it quite the way that Ganzalo appears to believe in it ("Look down, you gods … For it is you that have chalk'd forth the way / Which brought us hither."). Our sense of its total artifice is very much stronger.

The qualities of artifice and theatricality seem to be the best basis for further exploration of the characters, themes, and atmosphere of The Tempest. I referred earlier to the observation of the unities as a kind of game shared by the playwright with his audience. I have been describing another kind of game as well: that of taking slightly shabby and popularized materials, long associated with the stage and especially with the stock plots of the commedia dell'arte, and restoring their serious artistic purpose, creating from them a fresh new fable with a peculiarly self-contained quality and a profundity and mystery all its own. In a sense, this had been Shakespeare's practice throughout his career as a dramatist. But in The Tempest, as with the other pastorals and the late plays in general, the success of the enterprise depends on the openness with which the materials are employed and the degree to which the fable is seen as fable throughout. As we shall see, Shakespeare's handling of the magician and his magic, the dreamlike and unstable world that is built up, and the treatment of the great pastoral themes of art and nature, are all related intimately to the deliberately unrealistic materials from which the play is shaped.

No one would contest, on the evidence of plays as diverse as Henry VI (parts 1 and 2), A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Macbeth, Shakespeare's interest in magic; but it is just as evident that the presence of magic and the centrality of the magician is one of the features that most clearly distinguishes The Tempest from the other late romances. We have only Cerimon's brief appearance in Pericles and the quasi-magical powers of the Queen in Cymbeline and Paulina in The Winter's Tale as points of comparison. Just why Shakespeare centered this play on the figure of the magician and gave it his point of view, then, is a subject of considerable interest, and an investigation of it should help to understand the uniqueness of Prospero as a dramatic character and his relation to the play as a whole.

I have already suggested that there hung about the familiar figure of the stage magician a certain ambivalence. On the one hand his power made him a fearful figure, not least because he tended to be whimsical and irritable, easily moved to practice his art on helpless victims; on the other hand he was inclined to benevolence, fulfilling the desires of others and helping them out of difficulties. These qualities can be seen in Bacon, the famous conjurer of Greene's comedy, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, who alternates between discomfiting those who cross him, and aiding those who seek him out for help. In Anthony Munday's John a Kent and John a Cumber, each of the rival magicians belongs to an opposing faction, to which he remains loyal. But before the contest is fully under way, we see a mischievous urge to complicate things for his own faction overtake John a Kent. He has no sooner succeeded in uniting the lovers, as instructed, than he is thinking of ways to delay and complicate the resolution:

Heers loove and loove: Good Lord! was nere the
But must these joys so quickly be concluded?
Must the first Scene make absolute a Play?
No crosse, no chaunge? What! no varietie?
One brunt is past. Alas! What's that, in loove?
Where firme affection is most truly knit,
The loove is sweetest that moste tryes the wit.
And, by my troth, to sport my selfe awhyle,
The disappoynted brydegroomes, these possest,
The fathers, freendes, and other more besyde,
That may be usde to furnishe up conceite,
He set on woorke in such an amorous warre,
As they shall wunder whence ensues this jarre.

Similar qualities can be found in the tragic figure of Marlowe's Faustus: while a greater proportion of his drama is concerned with the psychology of the magician, personal fulfillment turning to self-gratification, a number of scenes are devoted mainly to his relations with others; once again there is a mixture of punishing and rewarding, most of it in the form of vigorous and farcical horseplay. These scenes have seemed so much at variance with the tragic portions of the play that commentators have questioned both their relevance and authenticity. Yet they do reflect in a crude form the duality of magic, its potential for good and evil, self-realization and self-indulgence, a duality that accounts in part for Faustus' inner struggle. Part of his magicianship is noble: a search for knowledge and truth. Part is ignoble: the desire for superiority and complete power over others. The scenes of practical joking and flashy conjuring dramatize the ignoble side effectively; they are also, whether or not they are Marlowe's, clearly the stuff of rousing popular theater.

If the magician was ambivalent, his art was not less so. Bacon's magic causes inadvertent destruction, and he consequently decides to renounce it, the comic equivalent, roughly, of Faustus' damnation. Prospero is of course a "white" magician, who does not traffic with devils or endanger his soul, but there is a sense in which he can be seen as a kind of cross between Friar Bacon or John a Kent on the one hand, and Doctor Faustus on the other. Like the former he is set in a comic context, where he can practice and ultimately renounce his art with relative impunity. Like the latter he is a serious and complex figure, whose point of view the audience is allowed to share in full. Many of his qualities and characteristics are perfectly familiar in terms of the tradition that Faustus, Bacon, and John a Kent share. His control of his spirits is uneasy (Ariel's restiveness is quite within the tradition). He has a comic, grumbling servant whom he sometimes uses his spirits to torment. He discovers plots against himself and others through an omniscience partly based on his own power of invisibility. He protects himself by charming the swords of potential enemies. And his role disturbs him enough that he is inclined to give it up; Bacon renounces magic and Faustus' last desperate offer is to burn his books, while Prospero promises to drown his book and break his staff. There is much about Prospero, in other words, which Shakespeare's audience would have found recognizable and familiar.

One way of understanding the magician's role is to consider it as an expression of power, and we can accomplish that by comparing Prospero to a king. Shakespeare's audience was well versed in the implications of kingship—its potential for self-indulgence and concomitant need for self-control, its isolating tendencies, and the responsibility for the welfare of others it entailed. A concentration of power in the hands of an individual, they knew, involved unusual psychological stress. And they were often reminded that, in metaphysical terms, the worldly authority of the monarch was an illusion. Pastoral could be used to make such a point, and one of the effects of the storm that opens The Tempest is to assert the relativity and fragility of political power in the face of ungovernable elements:

Boatswain.… What cares these roarers for the name of King? To cabin: silence! Trouble us not.

Gonzalo. Good, yet remember whom thou hast aboard.

Boatswain. None that I love more than myself. 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.


The reader will recall similar expressions in As You Like It and Lear: the difference here, as we discover in the following scene, is that there does exist someone whose name "these roarers" care for, who can command the elements to silence. As the illusion of political power is stripped away, Prospero steps in to fill the vacancy, not only as ruler of the island, or, ultimately, restored Duke of Milan, but as a kind of meta-king whose power, based on knowledge, extends to nature and is, paradoxically, more real because it is grounded in illusion.

Shakespeare's interest in the character of this magician-king is considerable, and Prospero's speeches and actions are rich in psychological implication. It is important to recognize, however, that Prospero is not a character study in the sense that Lear and Macbeth and Othello are. He is the inhabitant of a fable, a dream vision, a tale which is acknowledged to be a kind of giant hypothesis, combining the ideals of pastoral and magic: what if you had an island all your own, where you were not only lord and master, but had an absolute power, even over the elements, that gave you an astonishing harmony with your environment and complete control over others, including your enemies? The Tempest is the complicated answer to that question, and much of its complexity comes from Prospero. Least surprising, perhaps, is the great satisfaction he takes in the successful exercise of his power:

Now does my project gather to a head:
My charms crack not; my spirits obey; and time
Goes upright with his carriage.

That this is an unnatural power over others, with selfish implications, does not go unnoticed:

Go charge my goblins that they grind their joints
With dry convulsions; shorten up their sinews
With aged cramps; and more pinch-spotted make
Than pard or cat o' the mountain.
                                 … At this hour
Lies at my mercy all mine enemies!

Prospero, as many commentators have noted, experiences some struggle between the urge to be merciful, playing the role of Destiny rightly and well, and the urge to carry out his unimpeded revenge:

Though with their high wrongs I am struck to
  th' quick,
Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance: they being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further.

The immediate result of this decision is Prospero's renunciation of his "so potent Art," a renunciation accompanied by a magnificent catalogue of the wonders he has been able to accomplish. To forego his power to revenge himself is, in a sense, to forego his "rough magic" altogether.

It has also been recognized that the play involves Prospero, and us, in the discovery that his magic, absolute as it seems at the outset, has limitations. It cannot, apparently, alter Antonio's evil nature. It achieves Ariel's cooperation only by a combination of threats and promises. And it has been distinctly unsuccessful with Caliban, a fact that seems to affect Prospero deeply:

Prospero. [Aside.] I had forgot that foul
Of the beast Caliban and his confederates
Against my life.…
Ferdinand. This is strange: your father's in some
That works him strongly.
Miranda. Never till this day

Saw I him touch'd with anger, so distemper'd.

Prospero. A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains,
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost;
And as with age his body uglier grows,
So his mind cankers. I will plague them all,
Even to roaring.

While these touches quicken our interest in Prospero and give him a measure of psychological truth, it would be a mistake to overemphasize them. Little suspense, in light of the overriding hypothesis of the play, can attach to them. To think of The Tempest as in the main devoted to Prospero's discovery of the limitations of his magic and the need for mercy and forgiveness, is to seriously distort it and its central character. Prospero's complexity, ultimately, is based on the fact that Shakespeare has concentrated in him a number of possibilities and themes; if he is a man learning about power and forgiveness, he is also a kind of god, a hypothetically extended consciousness. Shakespeare has brought together in his character the old bald thing, the Time of The Winter's Tale who authors the story and can thus offer us the largest perspective (and a degree of choric detachment), the wronged duke of pastoral romance (here, as in Lear, upstaging the lovers of the next generation), and the mage or sorcerer whose power is such that he can guide events to a succesful, if artificial, conclusion.

To these observations about the magician, it is necessary to add some consideration of his magic. What are its characteristics, and how does it operate? We can begin by noting the natural tendency of stage magic to acquire a theatrical character, introducing spectacle, coups de théâtre, and pageantry. Bacon, Faustus, and the two Johns of Kent and Cumber illustrate this nicely. Bacon's magic mirror, the "glass prospective," becomes the means for presenting dramatic vignettes, little plays within the play, while the conjuring contest involving Bungay, Vandermast, and Bacon gives opportunity to present that familiar Elizabethan stage prop, the magic tree with golden apples, accompanied by a fire-breathing dragon. In Doctor Faustus the tendency toward spectacular theatrical display is especially evident in the pageant of the seven deadly sins, the conjuring of Alexander and his paramour, and the raising of Helen to the accompaniment of music. The rivalry between John a Kent and John a Cumber involves their abilities as conjurers and showmen. John a Cumber, posing as John a Kent, introduces a pageant of supposed "Antiques" who are in fact his faction of lovers, using the device to take over the castle. John a Kent's revenge comes in similar terms; he so confuses shadow and substance during a "show" that John a Cumber is trying to present, that the latter becomes the butt of everyone's humor, and is made to wear the fool's costume in a morris dance. The commedia pastorals are full of similar tricks, pageants, conjurings, and spectacles, and their property lists regularly call for the necessary equipment: "Chains, earthquakes, flames, and a hell to open for Pluto"; "Temple of Bacchus to open, fountain, grotto, fiery gulf to open, meat and drink"; "Tree, rock to explode, whale, fountain, temple"; "a tree with fruit which will disappear into the air."

Shakespeare has, if anything, intensified the theatricality of stage magic in The Tempest. Both the unity and diversity of the play depend in great part on this element, since it provides a variety of events which nevertheless have in common their source in Prospero's art. One way of describing the structure of The Tempest is as a series of magic tricks engineered by Prospero. He begins with the storm, involving all of the visitors to the island, with his daughter as audience and himself and Ariel as producer and chief actor. He then divides the shipwrecked characters into three parties (Ferdinand being a party of one) and disperses them around the island. Ariel figures in the separate adventures of each party—leading Ferdinand to Miranda with music, interrupting Antonio's conspiracy, and tricking the clowns, first into the beating of Trinculo, then into the horsepond near Prospero's cell—and in each case these adventures are climaxed with a show, a phantasmagoric pageant performed by Prosperous spirits. The courtly party are treated to the disappearing banquet and Ariel as a harpy; Ferdinand and Miranda are shown the betrothal masque with the descent of Juno, the appearance of Ceres, and the dance of nymphs and reapers; and the clowns are beguiled by the frippery and set upon by the hunt. In the first and last of these cases, the audience becomes unwilling participants in the show, while Ferdinand and Miranda enjoy a security that allows them to become involved in their pageant only as recipients of the goddesses' blessing. These three shows climax their respective plots, and the play ends with a grand reunion and a final piece of theater: the revelation-tableau of Ferdinand and Miranda at chess.

A great part of Prospero's magic, then, seems to be based on visual deception and display, an art that is plainly analogous to the world of the theater in which it all takes place. The difference, of course, lies in the victimization of the magician's audiences, which can seldom pierce the appearance to discover what lies behind, a difference that is underlined by the open artifice of The Tempest. Even when Ferdinand is allowed to speculate on the true nature of what he is seeing, he does not get very far. "May I be bold," he asks Prospero, "To think these spirits?" Prospero admits that they are, and adds that he has called them from their confines, by means of his art, to enact his "present fancies" (5.1.118-22). This will suffice for Ferdinand, but for us, the audience, it is scarcely so simple, as Tillyard's comment suggests:

When we examine the masque, we find that, though its function may be simple, the means by which it is presented are complicated in a manner we associate rather with Pirandello than with the Elizabethan drama. On the actual stage, the masque is executed by players pretending to be spirits, pretending to be real actors, pretending to be supposed goddesses and rustics.

[E.M. Tillyard in Shakespeare's Last Plays, 1938]

The parallels and contrasts between Prospero's magic and the world of dramatic illusion he inhabits, greatly enlarge the interest of the play.

Another important aspect of Prospero's magic seems to lie in its ability to weaken, to cramp, confine, and imprison its subjects. Prospero's own freedom, which is closely linked to Ariel's ability to be everywhere and to continually change shape and character, exists at the expense of similar abilities in others. In this he is contrasted to Sycorax, "who with age and envy / Was grown into a hoop" (1.2.258-59). She "did confine" Ariel in "a cloven pine" that was his prison for a dozen years. She could not undo her act, but Prospero could. Yet Prospero's service is not enough for Ariel; he seeks complete freedom, a freedom Prospero promises at the same time that he threatens to punish Ariel's disobedience:

If thou more murmur'st, I will rend an oak,
And peg thee in his knotty entrails, till
Thou hast howl'd away twelve winters.

Ariel's previous suffering, spirit though he is, is strangely like Caliban's, who, after his attempt on Miranda, was "Deservedly confin'd into this rock, / Who hadst deserv'd more than a prison" (363-64). Prospero's domination over him is asserted by the kind of pain Ariel felt:

For this, be sure, to-night thou shalt have
Side-stitches that shall pen thy breath up; urchins
Shall, for that vast of night that they may work,
All exercise on thee; thou shalt be pinch'd
As thick as honeycomb, each pinch more
Than bees that made 'em.

… I'll rack thee with old cramps,
Fill all thy bones with aches, make thee roar,
That beasts shall tremble at thy din.

Prospero visits exactly this punishment (as Caliban—"he'll fill our skins with pinches"—has predicted) on the clowns, in a speech quoted earlier. And he threatens Ferdinand with servitude ("I'll manacle thy neck and feet together") although Ferdinand, once Prospero's charm has weakened him, becomes a willing prisoner, "Might I but through my prison once a day / Behold this maid" (493-94).

If this pinching, cramping, and imprisoning is a traditional aspect of magic, especially fairy magic, Shakespeare gives it a psychological dimension as well. Ferdinand, whose arms were "in this sad knot" from grief for his father, suffers from near paralysis and physical weakness at the hands of Prospero's enchantment, but can also admit "My spirits, as in a dream, are all bound up." And while the clowns are beaten, sinew-shortened, and pinch-spotted for their conspiracy, their courtly counterparts suffer parallel inward tortures:

All three of them are desperate; their great guilt,
Like poison given to work a great time after,
Now 'gins to bite the spirits.

Thy brother was a furtherer in the act.
Thou art pinch'd for 't now, Sebastian. Flesh
  and blood,
You, brother mine, that entertain'd ambition,
Expell'd remorse and nature; whom, with
Whose inward pinches therefor are most
Would here have kill'd your King.…

Since even good characters like Miranda, Ferdinand, and Gonzalo, are, if not pinched or confined, at least subjected to the weakness, heaviness, and sleepiness that Prospero's magic sometimes visits on others, and since Ariel, that protean spirit, has been imprisoned in a tree and can be again, Prospero seems the one person in the play who is invulnerable to the effects of the magic he eventually renounces. It is the more surprising, then, when he appears in the Epilogue, claiming the same symptoms as his victims:

Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint: now, tis true,
I must be here confin'd by you,
Or sent to Naples.…

Several ideas arise from this passage. One is the reminder that Prospero's renunciation of his magic has made him human and vulnerable; he is not master of illusion now, but its potential victim if his audience is not willing to use its imagination to send him home and applaud his efforts. But we are not listening to Prospero, really, but rather the actor who played him. And he has put us in the place he vacated, where it was necessary to exercise good judgment and mercy if he was not to abuse his power over others or make them suffer unduly. At the same time he has managed to suggest the existence of a curious process whereby confinement, rightly borne, can lead to freedom. We recall that once, while Prospero's brother was allowing his ambition to grow out of all bound, for Prospero "my library / Was dukedom large enough," and that Prospero served a twelve-year confinement on the island. We are reminded that Ferdinand accepted his servitude ("space enough / Have I in such a prison") and thus escaped it, that Ariel too found willing servitude the best means to the absolute freedom he desired. And we compare Caliban, dancing and singing to celebrate an unearned freedom which in fact is taking him into worse bondage. We are in the presence of paradox here, and there is no need to impose allegorical meanings on the play to discover that it suggests, finally, that confinement and freedom, mastery and servitude, are not so much unalterable opposites as they are mutually complementary, aspects of the same thing. The magician who cannot recognize this will be a Faustas, clinging to the illusion of mastery which is in fact his bondage to greater powers; he who can will be a Prospero, setting his servants free and returning to the status of "sometime Milan," whose every third thought, given his age, "shall be my grave." Both Prospero and Faustus embody, in very different ways, a familiar Renaissance insight about men of extraordinary talents and position, an insight expressed in Shakespeare's 94th sonnet:

They that have pow'r to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow;
They rightly do inherit heaven's graces
And husband nature's riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer's flow'r is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die;
But if that flow'r with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
 For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
 Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

I have already described The Tempest as a kind of giant hypothesis, one that gives free reign to the wishes and fancies of its central character while it subjects the subsidiary characters, through a set of fantastic experiences, to his will. The fictive and abnormal state of affairs is, as I have suggested, reflected in the self-conscious theatricality of The Tempest and in the dominance of Prospero's magic. But it is also greatly reinforced by Shakespeare's handling of the setting. An Arcadia may be a fairly rational daydream; but Prospero's island is an Arcadia incantata, a realm more purely composed of imagination and nightmare, of nature at its most unstable and inscrutable. So dense and pervasive is the dreamlike atmosphere of the play that it scarcely needs pointing out. Key words—"dream," "wonder," "strange," "amazement"—recur constantly. At the very outset, a delirium descends on Prospero's victims:

                Not a soul
But felt a fever of the mad, and play'd
Some tricks of desperation.

And it persists to the end of the play:

All torment, trouble, wonder and amazement
Inhabits here: some heavenly power guide us
Out of this fearful country!

These are not natural events; they strengthen
From strange to stranger.

One image of the play is that of the maze, a bewildering artifice imposed on nature:

My old bones ache: here's a maze trod, indeed,
Through forth-rights and meanders!

This is as strange a maze as e'er men trod;
And there is in this business more than nature
Was ever conduct of.

An exploration of the setting of The Tempest in terms of its effects on the characters and on the audience should help to clarify our sense of the play and lead us toward some of its major insights.

One characteristic of the island—and it reflects a familiar aspect of dreams—is its tendency to dissolve the normal barriers between the physical and the mental, exterior and interior events. We have already noted that Prospero's magic has psychological equivalents, "inward pinches," to the torment he visits on the clowns. This is but part of a pattern whereby mental experience takes on physical characteristics, and vice versa. Ferdinand's spirits are all "bound up," as the entire court party "are all knit up / In their distractions," their brains "Now useless, boil'd within thy skull!", guilt biting their spirits. Gonzalo's prattle, earlier, has a palpable effect on Alonso:

You cram these words into mine ears against
The stomach of my sense.

Caliban will not take "any print of goodness," because nurture "can never stick" on his devilish nature. The cry of those in the shipwreck, says Miranda, "did knock / Against my very heart!" One of the characteristic verbs in the play is "beat." It is used in familiar physical senses—Ferdinand beats the surges, the clowns beat each other, Ariel beats his tabor—but it is also attached to inward experience, not the physical activity of the heart, but the obsessive tendencies of the mind:

                        And now, I pray you, sir,
For still 'tis beating in my mind, your reason
For raising this sea-storm?

              #x2026; a turn or two I'll walk,
To still my beating mind.

              Sir, my liege,
Do not infest your mind with beating on
The strangeness of this business.

The effect of these transfers of physical activity to mental experience is to give such experience an especially vivid character. There is likewise a tendency in the language of the play to give external experience a dreamlike and illusory quality. One form this takes is a confusion between dreaming and waking. People in The Tempest sleep and wake with alacrity and frequency, and they tend to lose track of which is which. The world of dream invades everywhere. For Miranda, her images of the past are "rather like a dream than an assurance," although they are in fact correct, while Ferdinand's subjection to Prospero calls forth the same comparison:

Prospero.… Thy nerves are in their infancy
And have no vigour in them.
Ferdinand. So they are:
My spirits, as in a dream, are all bound up.

Antonio and Sebastian, with unconscious irony, discuss their conspiracy in the same terms:

Antonio.… My strong imagination sees a
Dropping upon they head.
Sebastian.    What, art thou waking?
Antonio. Do you not hear me speak?
Sebastian.            I do; and surely
It is a sleepy language, and thou speak'st
Out of thy sleep. What is it thou didst say?
This is a strange repose, to be asleep
With eyes wide open; standing, speaking,
And yet so fast asleep.
Antonio.             Noble Sebastian,
Thou let'st thy fortune sleep—die, rather;
Whiles thou art waking.
Sebastian.      Thou dost snore distinctly;
There's meaning in thy snores.

Antonio's "sleepy language" is a language of desire and gratification, of the self feeding upon illusions, and Caliban knows it well:

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes
That, if I then had wak'd after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in
The clouds methought would open, and show
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak'd,
I cried to dream again.

If Prospero, the most wakeful of the characters, escapes such confusion, then the mariners are his opposite. They sleep out the play under the hatches of their ship, and the Boatswain, whisked to Prospero's cell by Ariel in the last scene, is understandably baffled:

Alonso.… Say, how came you hither?
Boatswain. If I did think, sir, I were well awake,
I'ld strive to tell you. We were dead of sleep,
And—how we know not—all clapp'd under

We were awak'd …
                           … on a trice, so please you,
Even in a dream, were we divided from them,
And were brought moping hither.
                                 [5. 1. 228-40]

These moments recall Shakespeare's playful confusing of dreaming and waking in an earlier magic play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and they point toward their culminating expression in Prospero's famous speech, his contention that "We are such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep." To say that there is a "stuff" of which dreams are made is to give them a certain palpability and substance; to say that all of life is no more than the same substance and character is to radically alter basic notions of shadow and substance, illusion and reality. I shall return to this speech and its astonishing claim in a moment.

As the enchanted island blurs the boundaries of the physical and the mental and confuses the waking and sleeping states, it also besets its visitors with problems of identity and belief. Identity in this case involves both the recognition of others and knowledge of oneself. Miranda first thinks Ferdinand a spirit and "a thing divine"; he in turn takes her for a goddess. Trinculo does not know whether Caliban is a man or a fish, dead or alive:

I do now let loose my opinion, hold it no longer: this is no fish, but an islander, that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt.


Stephano, in turn, runs through a number of possibilities for Caliban-Trinculo—devils, salvages, men of Ind, and "some monster of the isle with four legs"—while Caliban first takes Trinculo for one of Prospero's spirits, then considers Stephano "a brave god" and is easily convinced that he was the man in the moon. When Ariel plays his music to this crew, he is "the picture of No-body" and a man or a devil. Gonzalo is sure that Prospero's spirits are "people of the island," while Sebastian, after Ariel's speech, takes them to be fiends. The same kind of confusion about natural and supernatural, substantial and insubstantial, persists in the last scene, as all the characters are gradually reassembled. It is of course closely allied to the problems of self-knowledge that originally afflicted Antonio ("he did believe / He was indeed the duke"), that are visited upon the innocent Ferdinand ("myself am Naples"), that lead to the two conspiracies, and that are indeed widespread enough that Gonzalo can conclude his summary of resolutions by reference to them:

… Ferdinand … found a wife
Where he himself was lost, Prospero his
In a poor isle, and all of us ourselves
When no man was his own.

Belief poses similar problems for the characters. Its extremes are illustrated in Antonio and Sebastian, who at first, aside from their conviction that Ferdinand is drowned, pride themselves on their skepticism, scoffing at Gonzalo's wondering appraisal of the island. The appearance of the strange shapes and the banquet reverse this dramatically; they begin to vie with each other for the greatest credulity:

Sebastian.      Now I will believe
That there are unicorns; that in Arabia
There is one tree, the phoenix' throne; one
At this hour reigning there.
Antonio.       I'll believe both;
And what does else want credit, come to me,
And I'll be sworn 'tis true: travellers ne'er did
Thou fools at home condemn 'em.

Gonzalo joins them—"When we were boys, / Who would believe that there were mountaineers / Dew-lapp'd like bulls, whose throats had hanging at 'em / Wallets of flesh?"—but he also joins Alonso in the last scene in being unable to persuade himself that he is facing Prospero:

Alonso.  Whether thou be'st he or no,
Or some enchanted trifle to abuse me,
As late I have been, I not know.…
                   … this must crave—
An if this be at all—a most strange story.
               … But how should Prospero
Be living and be here?
Prospero.    First, noble friend,
Let me embrace thine age, whose honour cannot
Be measur'd or confin'd.
Gonzalo.             Whether this be
Or be not, I'll not swear.
Prospero.                   You do yet taste
Some subtleties o' the isle, that will not let you
Believe things certain.

Caliban is more certain, by the end, that he has misdirected his belief:

What a thrice-double ass
Was I, to take this drunkard for a god,
And worship this dull fool!

The ending contains affirmations of belief as well as doubts. Ferdinand's "Though the seas threaten, they are merciful" when he sees his father, has a calm assurance that is juxtaposed to the greater excitement of Sebastian—"A most high miracle!"—and Gonzalo's "Look down, you gods, / And on this couple drop a blessed crown! / For it is you that have chalk'd forth the way / Which brought us hither." Since our perspective here is that of Prospero, it must be more skeptical about such claims, and it finds expression after Miranda's exclamation—"O brave new world, / That has such people in 't!"—in the curt reply, "Tis new to thee." Our special knowledge and our sense of the artifice of the entire enterprise places us above the fluctuations of belief and disbelief that swirl around the characters. We know there was an auspicious star and a lot of hard work on the part of Prospero and Ariel; and we know it is mostly "rough magic" and an "insubstantial pageant" based on a special knowledge of the insubstantial character of the world.

The problems of identity and belief that the atmosphere of the island seems to produce are closely linked with problems of reality, of "Whether thou be'st he or no," of "Whether this be or be not," of "If this prove a vision of the island, one dear son / Shall I lose twice." "Who am I," "Who are You?", and "What do I believe," easily become "What, if anything, is real here?" But to make it a question of discriminating between the real and the unreal is to simplify too greatly; it is rather a matter of having continually to try to determine levels and kinds of reality. One method Shakespeare uses is to juxtapose two states in order to undermine an accepted notion about the greater reality of one over the other. Thus the play begins with a storm which we subsequently discover was a "spectacle" created by Prospero and Ariel. We have been pulled away from the "reality" of weather and the elements to the "illusory" realms of magic and theater, realms which thereby assert their own greater reality. The storm likewise, as we have noted, subverts the reality of worldly power and authority, the "name of king," and thus sets up Prospero's subsequent account of how he and his brother elected different realities—knowledge, "neglecting worldly ends," versus "th' outward face of royalty" and the chance to be "Absolute Milan." Within that account is the ironic recognition that Antonio's apparent achievement, "so dry he was for sway," was illusory from the start. To achieve the worldly power he coveted, he had to "subject his coronet" to the King of Naples, "and bend / The duke-dom, yet unbow'd … To most ignoble stooping," an irony neatly reflected in Caliban's illusion that he has freed himself by adopting a new form of bondage.

Thus is established a pattern whereby realities are not merely juxtaposed, but tend to give way to one another, creating a world in which we are pulled further and further into an overwhelming sense of the basically illusory character of experience and of firm categories, a reality so shifting and impermanent that only a man who has penetrated and accepted its protean nature, a man like Prospero, can have any mastery of it. This sense of things is greatly supported and intensified by the images of water—fluid states, ebb and flow, melting, dissolving, sea-change, shifting elements, drift of purpose, clouds and mist—which are so ubiquitous and so familiar an aspect of the play. They give a marvelous particularity to what would otherwise remain rather theoretical.

We are now in a position to understand how effectively Prospero's climactic speech unites and summarizes the various qualities that make up the world and atmosphere of The Tempest. The beautiful and highly mannered reality of the masque has had suddenly to give way to the reality of time, as Prospero remembers the clown-conspirators and realizes that "the minute of their plot / Is almost come." His loss of self-control is apparent to Ferdinand and Miranda, and sensing their distress he offers an explanation, one that begins by acknowledging how one thing must give way to another and then, imperceptibly, soars up and out to become a panorama of the experience and language of the play, touching on dreams and fantasies, on the world of theatrical illusion, on inner and outer distinctions, on problems of belief, identity, and reality, on an existence that is fluid, metamorphic, insubstantial:

You do look, my son, in a mov'd sort,
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. 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-capp'd 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. Sir, I am vex'd;
Bear with my weakness; my old brain is
Be not disturb'd with my infirmity:
If you be pleas'd, retire into my cell,
And there repose: a turn or two I'll walk
To still my beating mind.

In its very movement—from Ferdinand's dismay and Prospero's revels, out to a sweeping vision of the entire play and to statements that characterize the nature of all existence, back down to Prospero's troubled brain, an old man taking a stroll to calm himself—and in its fluid, continually revelatory language and imagery, the speech acts out its vision of existence. It is the central vision of the play, akin to Time's speech in The Winter's Tale, and its claim that existence is unstable and life illusory is remarkable and moving. Prospero hurries on from the insight, as if it were too much to ask Ferdinand and Miranda to ponder it. But we have been prepared for it by the whole world of the play, and if we begin to assent to it, then we are apt to realize with a start that the dream-like atmosphere and events of The Tempest give a more realistic image of life than the pungent, faithfully detailed comedies of Ben Jonson. Within this speech, this microcosm of the world of The Tempest, lies the justification for the play's style, tone, and structure, the answer to Jonson's charge that Shakespeare was making nature afraid "with tales, tempests, and such like drolleries." It is perhaps the most spacious and visionary moment in all of Shakespeare.

There is scarcely anything in The Tempest that is unrelated to the characteristics and concerns of the pastoral. The open theatricality of the play keeps in view the fictive and theoretical nature of pastoral. Its exploration of the magician and his art presents the pastoral ideal of harmony between man and nature in an extreme and spectacular form. And its dreamlike atmosphere and events provide the familiar pastoral romance experience of dislocation and juxtaposed opposites—emotional states, ideas, environments—again in an especially emphatic fashion. But it is in its treatment of the perennial topics of art and nature that the play reveals most clearly its membership in the literature of pastoral, and it is thus appropriate that we close our consideration of The Tempest by examining its treatment of these twin themes.

We can begin by using The Winter's Tale as a point of comparison. We noted that in the course of that play there grows on the reader or spectator a complex sense of the essential unity, even identity, of nature and art. We noted too that this was not accomplished by mingling the two through such devices as dramatic verisimilitude, but rather by sharply differentiating them, so that we begin with a strong sense of their immediate opposition and end with a stronger sense of their ultimate congruity. No such process is to be traced in The Tempest. The union of art and nature, no less complex and subtle, is present from the beginning, and their similarities and differences hold constant until the end, when the partnership is dissolved, as if to suggest that such ideal conjunction is temporary at best.

The basis for the harmony of art and nature in The Tempest lies of course in the fact of Prospero's magic. It is, we are reminded again and again, an art. To the other characters, its workings can scarcely seem natural:

These are not natural events; they strengthen
From strange to stranger.…
… there is in this business more than nature
Was ever conduct of.…
                                 [5.1.227-28, 243-44]

But to Prospero and to us, his privileged spectators, the magic is not contrary to nature but very much a part of it: a penetration of natural mysteries, an unusual harmony between a human will and natural processes and forces. The storm that opens the play is not a supernatural event, but an all-too-familiar state of nature; Ariel and his cohorts are neither demons nor angels, but spirits of wind, water, earth and fire. They continually express their kinship with the natural world; even when they perform as goddesses in the masque, it is to celebrate the fertility and regularity of cyclic nature.

In more than one sense, then, the maze is an excellent figure for The Tempest: bewildering to those who must pass through; artful and coherent from the point of view of its designer; and completely natural in its substance, a playful trope for the world from which it is formed and of which it forms a part. When Alonso succumbs to terror and despair, the image, as Kermode points out, "is of the whole harmony of nature enforcing upon Alonso the consciousness of his guilt":

Methought the billows spoke, and told me of it;
The winds did sing it to me; and the thunder,
That deep and dreadful organ-pipe, pronounc'd
The name of Prosper: it did bass my trespass.
Therefor my son i' th' ooze is bedded; and
I'll seek him deeper than e'er plummet sounded,
And with him there lie bedded.

This is nature sounding like a consort of musicians, and for us it is juxtaposed to Prospero's backstage congratulations, the director complimenting his actor:

Bravely the figure of the Harpy hast thou
Perform'd, my Ariel; a grace it had devouring:
Of my instruction hast thou nothing bated
In what thou hadst to say: so, with good life
And observation strange, my meaner ministers
Their several kinds have done. My high charms

That so much art was the basis of Alonso's experience does not subvert it as nature; Ariel and the meaner ministers are indeed the billows, winds, and thunder that Alonso recognized. The authority and strength of the "high charms" reside in their natural basis; they seem to be "an art that nature makes." We note that their proper working is intimately associated with natural processes:

          The charm dissolves apace;
And as the morning steals upon the night,
Melting the darkness, so their rising senses
Begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle
Their clearer reason.

Two of the verbs in this passage—"dissolve" and "melting"—are used in Prospero's "Our revels now are ended" speech. They emphasize the intimacy between the natural world of The Tempest—fluid, mysterious, metamorphic—and Prospero's magic, an intimacy that finds full and frequent expression, and that is surveyed and summarized in his final invocation:

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly him
When he comes back; you demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites; and you whose
Is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid—
Weak masters though ye be—I have bedimm'd
The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous
And 'twixt the green sea and the azur'd vault
Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-bas'd promontory
Have I made shake, and by the spurs pluck'd up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have wak'd their sleepers, op'd, and let 'em
By my so potent Art.

The speech has two sections: the invocation of spirits, listing them, and the recital of the accomplishments they have made possible. In each case the list moves from the familiar to the mysterious, from hills, brooks, and lakes to midnight mushrooms and solemn curfew, and from the sun and winds to the raising of the dead. This last achievement might seem to be the one really "unnatural" act of Prospero's magic; but it is surely meant to sound like a rehearsal of the Day of Judgment, an event that for Shakespeare's audience was to be the last chapter in the story of the natural world as they knew it. Prospero concludes by promising to return the instruments of his magic to the infinite and mysterious nature from which they derive their power:

            … I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fadoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.

Drowning and burial are two kinds of death (cf. Alonso's "I'll seek him deeper than e'er plummet sounded, / And with him there lie bedded."), images of the human return to nature. When he has retired to Milan, Prospero says, "Every third thought shall be my grave." His partnership with nature is to take a different form, his life to be "rounded with a sleep."

This, then, is the framework for nature and art in The Tempest: a temporary, spectacular, successful, and fictive conjunction of opposites. Within this framework we are aware of each as separate entities and of their astonishing variety. Nature has many forms and many versions. The island itself is multi-faceted, a place of deep nooks and odd angles, forthrights and meanders. It can seem fertile and hospitable, with berries, fresh springs, crabs, pig nuts, clustering filberts and young scamels from the rocks, or it can appear barren and hostile, with brine pits, toothed briers, sharp furzes, pricking gorse, thorns, withered roots and husks for diet, and a filthy-mantled pool that smells of horse-piss. It is set, moreover, in a vast universe of sea, thunder, lightning, curled clouds, frost-baked veins of the earth, auspicious stars, the ooze of the salt deep, the dark backward and abysm of time, a universe containing the still-vexed Bermoothes, Arabia with a phoenix throne, unicorns, mountaineers dew-lapped like bulls and men whose heads stand in their breasts. We are continually made aware of a nature that has vast distances and infinite possibilities.

Nature is also various because it is seen from many view-points. Early in the second act we begin to realize that the barrenness or fertility of the island is in the eye of the beholder:

Adrian. The air breathes upon us here most sweetly.
Sebastian. As if it had lungs, and rotten ones.
Antonio. Or as 'twere perfum'd by a fen.
Gonzalo. Here is everything advantageous to life.
Antonio. True; save means to live.
Sebastian. Of that there's none, or little.
Gonzalo. How lush and lusty the grass looks! how
Antonio. The ground, indeed, is tawny.

Nature here is the same multiple mirror wé have seen in As You Like It, King Lear, and The Winter's Tale. Many of the characters consider it beneficent. Gonzalo founds his imaginary commonwealth on its apparent fecundity:

All things in common Nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but Nature should bring forth,
Of it own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people.

A similarly ideal view is expressed in the masque:

Earth's increase, foison plenty,
Barns and garners never empty;
Vines with clust'ring bunches growing;
Plants with goodly burthen bowing;
Spring come to you at the farthest
In the very end of harvest!
Scarcity and want shall shun you;
Ceres' blessing so is on you.

We feel no need to choose between such idealized versions of nature and the more cynical responses of Antonio and Sebastian, who see it as a source of disease and discomfort and a neutral backdrop to their evildoing. Nature, we feel from watching the play, is all these things. It is both Ariel—delicate, quicksilver, sympathetic and leaning from the amoral toward the good—and Caliban—heavy, clumsy, grotesque and deformed, given to bestiality and evil. And it is the contradictions in these characters as well: Ariel's restive servitude, Caliban's poetry and occasional good sense.

As nature is shown to be multi-faceted and changeable, we are less and less likely to accept any one view of it. What may seem to one of the characters the whole truth about nature, we are more apt to accept as one-sided and partial. We note that The Tempest is full of versions of nature that seem too confident in their self-projection and wish fulfillment. Caliban is the most obvious example of this tendency. His curses call on nature ("As wicked dew as e'er my mother brush'd / With raven's feather from unwholesome fen," "All the infections that the sun sucks up / From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall") to act out his desires, just as he would have the world made all in his image:

O ho, O ho! would 't had been done!
Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans.

Other characters—Gonzalo, Ferdinand, Antonio, Stephano—project their wishes as images of nature in similar but subtler ways. Even Prospero, in the masque, expresses his hope that nature's abundance will consistently serve his daughter and her husband. The difference is that he seems more conscious that it is all his "present fancies" rather than the whole image of nature; the mythic and mannered style of the masque underlines this attitude. Earlier, Prospero spoke to Miranda of the winds "whose pity, sighing back again, / Did us but loving wrong," but he likewise recognizes exactly how intractable to goodness Caliban is, how much the brother whom he describes as "unnatural" is indeed an aspect of the whole truth about nature. Nor does his view of nature as infinite, various, and in flux allow him to assign it universal characteristics with the confidence of others. He is like Lear in knowing what he would like nature to be and do, unlike him, even though he commands the elements, in thinking that his expectations will be automatically fulfilled.

Prospero's overview of the world and action of the play also faces him, as it does us, with the nature-nurture question. It is anything but simple. If we ask where evil resides, then the answer must be: several places. In Caliban, first of all, the "salvage and deformed slave," the wild man who in this play replaces the more characteristic natural men of the pastoral mode, the shepherds, hermits, and savages. Caliban's education has failed. He is "a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick." Is evil a natural thing, then, lower on the scale of being, characteristic of savages and beasts? We might like to think so. But we are confronted with Antonio and Sebastian, handsome and highly civilized Italian aristocrats, who easily match Caliban in evil tendencies. As their mockery of Gonzalo's Utopian talk makes clear, they regard their civilization as perfect and themselves as perfect expressions of it. There are two sides to the coin of evil: what in Caliban is physical, natural, and open deformity recurs as spiritual, acquired, and hidden deformity in Antonio and Sebastian.

Goodness has the same kind of duality in The Tempest. It can reside in Miranda, innocent, natural, unworldly, and in Ariel, presumably a manifestation of the best qualities of the natural world; but it is also present in Ferdinand and Gonzalo, who have lived in the court and tasted civilization without experiencing corruption. Such a precise balancing and distribution of good and evil seems to take us a long way from King Lear. But the distance would scarcely be so great if the island lacked the protection of Prospero's magic, that is, if a more natural state of affairs were allowed to prevail. At any rate, the nature-nurture question, like the "nature of nature" question, has no one answer in The Tempest, but rather a rich complexity that leaves us pondering contradictory but coexisting possibilities.

The nature-nurture question involves art as much as nature. Caliban's and Miranda's tutoring, Antonio's sophistication, Ferdinand's princeliness—these are, or appear to be, human attempts to alter, order, and improve nature. This is but one instance of what must by now be apparent—so closely are nature and art intertwined in The Tempest that to speak of one is to speak of the other. All that has so far been said about nature holds equally true for art. Like nature, art is many-faceted; it is variously linked to music, order, illusion, entertainment, personal wisdom, dreams, and wish fulfillment. Like nature it varies according to viewpoint and situation. And like nature it is again and again a means of self-projection and idealization.

This last point especially deserves attention. Gonzalo idealizes nature in the course of imagining his Utopian commonwealth, but the imagining makes him a kind of artist, designing the "plantation" of the island. Earlier he is teased about his imaginative powers when he tells Adrian that Tunis was Carthage:

Antonio. His word is more than the miraculous harp.

Sebastian. He hath rais'd the wall, and houses too.

Antonio. What impossible matter will he make easy next?.

Sebastian. I think he will carry this island home in his pocket, and give it his son for an apple.

Antonio. And, sowing the kernels of it in the sea, bring forth more islands.


But such certainty about the real world and the realm of imagination is dangerous on an island brimming with enchantments; the conspiracy of Antonio and Sebastian will prove no less fanciful under the circumstances. And if all such attempts to manipulate the world by imposing imaginary orders upon it are to be exposed as illusory, then we will prefer the idealistic to the selfish, Gonzalo's commonwealth and Prospero's masque to the plotting of Antonio or Caliban. Moreover, we shall gain some faith in the powers of imagination and art by seeing one such attempt, Prospero's project, successfully sustained through the course of the play and brought to a graceful resolution. The efficacy and variety of art are most of all demonstrated in Prospero's magic, in its music—"Allaying both their fury and my passion / With its sweet air"; in its imposition of order where chaos threatens to reign; in its spectacular devices and shows, both as learning and as sheer entertainment; in the wisdom with which it is exercised, the recognition that it is partially dream and wish fulfillment, easily abused, and that like all things in this world of illusion and flux, it must change. It is through Prospero that we learn the most about the function and value, as well as the limitations, of art.

Any drama can be described as a set of experiences in two distinct ways. On the one hand it is an account of the experience undergone by a group of fictitious characters and held in common by them. In addition, however, as played before an audience, it is also an experience under-gone by a group of real characters, as witnesses, and held in common by them. Often these two senses of dramatic experience are carefully separated; in Shakespeare they are again and again confounded, so that their relationships become astonishingly rich and complex. We recall how Prospero's shows tend to blur the line between actor and spectator. So in fact do his creator's. It is possible to see The Tempest as a sort of huge mirror held up to the audience, a giant metaphor for the value of art constructed by an artist who understood very thoroughly both the strengths and limitations of his craft. The metaphor is worth exploring: all the characters who are washed ashore at Prospero's bidding undergo an experience of self-knowledge, which may or may not change them. Any given audience is in a sense washed ashore too, to accompany the cast on their adventures. In both cases the experience will be illusory—the result of art, shadowy, an insubstantial pageant—but that will not make it any less valuable. On the contrary, it will make possible events and recognitions not otherwise attainable. Some of the people in both groups will be there just for a good time, like Trinculo. Others may find lasting happiness, like Ferdinand. Some will come to new knowledge and self-recognition. Evil will not be changed or dismissed—that is beyond art's power—but it will be located and described for a clearer understanding, and momentarily subdued that the good and the beautiful may shine more clearly. Listen to Prospero:

Here in this island we arriv'd; and here
Have I, thy schoolmaster, made thee more profit
Than other princess' can, that have more time
For vainer hours, and tutors not so careful.

Or listen to Gonzalo:

Was Milan thrust from Milan, that his issue
Should become Kings of Naples: Oh, 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
In a poor isle, and all of us ourselves
Where no man was his own.

Not quite accurate, but then what account of a play ever is? If gold on lasting pillars is not Shakespeare's medium, he understands Gonzalo's impulse perfectly and views it with compassion. Listen finally to Prospero's alter ego, the actor who appears before us in the epilogue:

         Now I want
Spirits to enforce, Art to enchant;
And my ending is despair
Unless I be reliev'd by prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assaults

Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
 As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
 Let your indulgence set me free.

Glynne Wickham (essay date 1975)

SOURCE: "Masque and Anti-masque in 'The Tempest'," in Essays and Studies, Vol. 28, 1975, pp. 1-14.

[In the following essay, Wickham examines the cultural and political background to the use of the masque and anti-masque genres in The Tempest.]

Many critics, sensing instinctively that some connection exists between Jacobean Court Masques and Shakespeare's later plays, have drawn attention to it; but few of them have chosen to pursue this intuitive recognition to the point of regarding that connection as likely to reside in anything more substantial than Court spectacle grounded in painting, carpentry, machines, and the exquisite costume designs of Inigo Jones. They have therefore been content, in general, to confine comment to the spectacular quality of the later plays—notably the tragi-comedies—and to leave it at that.

In recent years, however, several critics (Muriel Brad-brook, Inga-Stina Ewbank, Emrys Jones, Roy Strong and Stephen Orgel among them) have taken the matter much further and have given Ben Jonson the credit for knowing what he was saying when describing masques as 'spectacles of state' and 'Court hieroglyphics'; and, in choosing to regard masques as riddles that audiences were expected to solve by intelligent interpretation of the visual and verbal iconography, they have followed the track pioneered some thirty years ago by Donald Gordon in his monographs on The Hue and Cry After Cupid (1608) and Hymenaei (1606). As a result a much clearer understanding is now emerging of the relationship between masque and anti-masque; of masques as ornaments to state occasions that sought to contrast sense with understanding, order with disorder, a stable society subject to a God-like monarch with an anarchic world of bestiality and folly; of the direct analogies and indirect associations between the persons and behaviour of characters and performers in masques on the one hand, and the individuals in Jacobean Court society on the other hand who commissioned the masques, paid for them, and either acted in them or struggled for precedence in obtaining seats to watch them. A no less important service has been accomplished for the musical and choreographic elements of masque by Andrew Sabol which helps to reinforce this clearer understanding of the nature and purpose of these costly spectacles.

At last, therefore, it is becoming possible to replace vague, critical generalizations about the connections between masque as a dramatic genre and stage-plays of the Jaco-bean and Caroline era—with a more precise commentary on the specific links between some masques and particular stage-plays. Those now accepted between Hymenaei and The Maid's Tragedy, between Macbeth and The Masque of Queens, and between The Masque of Oberon and The Winter's Tale may serve here as examples. Beyond them I have myself, in two recent articles, ventured to draw more extensive parallels between the political and philosophical implications of certain masques devised by Samuel Daniel and Ben Jonson and Shakespearean tragi-comedy.

Of all such links, however, the most obvious and yet the most neglected in terms of serious critical analysis is that 'variety of his art' which Prospero tells Ariel he must 'bestow upon the eyes' of Ferdinand and Miranda in The Tempest (IV. i. 40).

In directing this play for the National Theatre recently Peter Hall abruptly reversed all that, and seized upon this aspect of the play as the element that was to determine the whole spirit and style of his production. The 'masque' was indeed spectacular, with a singing Iris in baroque attire descending on a brilliantly illuminated rainbow to summon a no less voluptuously dressed Ceres (a counter-tenor at that) for the entertainment of a Juno throned in peacock feathers floating on a cloud machine and disguised, as it appeared, to resemble Queen Elizabeth I, complete with farthingale, lace collar and red hair.

In one respect at least this treatment proved unquestionably correct, since it restored to this 'masque' its due pre-eminence as the theatrical climax of the whole play. And yet, in another and more important respect it was no less self-evidently wrong since it soon became apparent that the iconography chosen by the designer, John Berry, was both haphazardly applied and largely incorrect. Thus this expensively prepared climax, by failing to reveal—or unmask—the moral meaning of the fable bodied forth in the play as a whole, was robbed of its dramatic validity. It was, indeed, 'a vanity'.

Nevertheless, despite this, we must be grateful to all the artists concerned in this controversial interpretation of the play for revealing in a manner not achieved before how deliberately and successfully Shakespeare had incorporated the fully developed Jonsonian masque, complete with anti-masque, into the fabric of The Tempest, and for thus alerting those who saw the production to the likely dramatic purpose of both the phantom banquet of Act HI and the heavenly vision of Act IV. Instead of being left to consider each of these visual diversions singly and in isolation, we were invited to view them in conjunction, one as the sequel of the other; and simply to have to do this is to have acquired a new critical dimension in which to approach the dramatic possibilities of the play, since it forces us to ask whether Shakespeare contented himself with the successful technical achievement of weaving a masque and anti-masque into the text of his play, or whether the purpose of setting himself this task at all was to provide himself with the means to spell out in the fashionable court hieroglyphics of the day the political, philosophical and theological undertones of this enchanting theatrical romance. The answer, as I believe, is self-evident and is to be found in the stage-directions and the iconography of the masque and anti-masque taken in conjunction as I shall now attempt to show.

The sole controlling agent of both anti-masque and masque in The Tempest is, quite properly, Prospero; he provides the former in the harpies' banquet for the discomfiture of the usurper Antonio, the treacherous Alonso and the murderously-intentioned Sebastian: by contrast he offers the masque as entertainment and reward to Ferdinand and Miranda as they emerge freshly tried and tested in the innocence and purity of their love and mutual esteem. Contrary to the conventions of Jonson's masques, some ninety lines of dialogue divorce anti-masque from masque in The Tempest; but as it is a stage-play, this is a necessary deviation to permit one set of characters to react to the first vision and then quit the stage in order to make way for those other characters who are to witness the second of Prospero's 'high charms' and who must first be prepared by him to receive it. In other words Shakespeare has to change his audience as well as his setting and his characters.

For the reader this separation appears the more marked because of the obtrusive (and probably fortuitous) break between Acts III and IV which occurs at this point in the Folio text. This serves to distract us today from noticing the far more remarkable fact that Shakespeare should have chosen to borrow this double-device within a year and a half of the invention of anti-masque. Jonson first used it in The Masque of Queens (February 2nd, 1609) and took the trouble, in the printed descriptive preface, to define both how he came to include this 'foil, or false masque' at Queen Anne's personal request, and his own intention in interpreting this foil or contrast as 'a spectacle of strangeness, producing multiplicity of gesture, and not unaptly sorting with the current, and whole fall of the device.'

The Tempest was acted at Court on November 1st, 1611, and it is clear from the references in the stage-directions in III.3. to 'strange music' and 'strange shapes', and to the 'gentle actions of salutation' and 'mocks and mows' that Shakespeare was fully conversant with Jonson's views on the nature and purpose of an anti-masque—so well informed (as close comparison of these quotations reveals) as to make one suspect that he had a copy of The Masque of Queens near to hand when he penned this scene. Moreover, the phantom banquet which, like a mirage, appears only to disappear, mirrors the unnatural and disorderly spiritual state of the 'three men of sin' for whom it is displayed—royal persons whose crimes and hypocrisy make them unfit to govern—and is, indeed, 'not unaptly sorting with the current, and whole fall of the device' when directly contrasted with the proven virtue of Ferdinand and his betrothed for whom the masque proper is reserved:

   All thy vexations
Were but my trials of thy love, and thou
Hast strangely stood the test:
                                      (iv. i. 5-7)

The masque of Goddesses which is their reward, like the anti-masque of harpies, fulfils all the essential requirements of the genre—choreographic compliment ornamented with appropriate songs, dialogue and spectacle directly addressed to the principal witnesses, and congruent in its iconography to them, both as individuals and as political figure-heads.

As I have already observed, the key that unlocks the meaning of a masque is its iconography: so let us next examine this in detail.

Shakespeare employs three solo artists, two as presenters and one as principal, supported by a chorus: Iris and Ceres present Juno who is escorted by water-nymphs and harvesters. The whole stage-picture is pleasing to the eye, mythological, classical, arcadian. Was it ever intended to be more than that? The linking of masque to anti-masque suggests that it was, and the choice of Juno as the central figure presented by Iris strongly reinforces this belief.

Juno, in Peter Hall's production, was unfortunately dressed to resemble Elizabeth I; for in Jacobean iconography Juno was recognized as the Goddess of Union and patroness of marriage, and was thus the last of all the Olympian deities whom any artist of the period would have employed in order to allude to the Virgin Queen. Shakespeare knew better than that. Within the emblematic imagery of his time his credentials for using Iris as his Presenter and Juno to preside over the betrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda are impeccable: for behind both ideas lies Jonson's Masque of Hymen of 1606, the opening stage-direction of which describes,

an altar; upon which was described in letters of
                    Ioni Oimae Mimae

To this Jonson added a footnote:

Mystically implying that both it, the place,
and all the succeeding ceremonies were sacred to
marriage or Union: over which Juno was
 president …

This message is further spelt out in the stage-direction accompanying Juno's entrance and in the following dialogue.

Here the upper part of the scene, which was all of clouds … began to open; and the air clearing, in the top thereof was discovered Juno, sitting in a throne supported by two beautiful peacocks, her attire rich, and like a queen.…

Reason, remarking this spectacular apparition, then declares,

And see where Juno, whose great name
Is Unio, in the anagram,
Displays her glittering state and chair.

As she enlightened all the air.

She is escorted by Iris on her rainbow.

Here then is precedent indeed for the characters of Juno and Iris in The Tempest, not only in their function, but also in the visual trappings with which they are adorned and presented to public view: in Iris, moreover, if not in Juno, Shakespeare had precedent for a direct allusion to Queen Elizabeth I, for it is in this role that she is figured by the anonymous painter of the famous 'Rainbow' portrait at Hatfield House.… The Latin superscription 'Iris: non sine sole ' provides the reason for assigning Elizabeth this role.

In Prospero's masque Iris's role is that of Presenter, the prime figure in a tableau of Annunciation: riding 'the watery arch' of the rainbow, itself the time-honoured symbol of peace, harmony and concord, her task is to summon Ceres whose cornucopia was the no less commonly accepted emblem of harvest, prosperity and plenty. These emblems serve in themselves to alert the spectator to the particular nature of the Advent thus ceremoniously heralded: for by 1611 few Jacobean Londoners would have failed to recognize this figurative coupling of 'peace' and 'plenty' as the personal insignia of Beatus Paciflcus, the lion out of Scotland, who had become the English Jupiter as James the sixth and first. This image he had planted in his subjects' minds himself.

I know not by what fortune the diction of Paciflcus was added to my title at my coming to England, that of lion, expressing true fortitude, having been my diction before. But I am not ashamed of this addition. For King Solomon was a figure of Christ in that he was a King of peace. The greatest gift that our Saviour gave his apostles immediately before His ascension was that he left His Peace with them.

Iris and Ceres therefore, as presented in conjunction in The Tempest, figure the peace and prosperity that for the British people is the product of the Union of the Scottish and the English Crowns; and in a masque of ladies this must be figured by Juno, Goddess of Union and thus of marriage in her own right, who now appears in both capacities at once at Prospero's bidding accurately depicted for the audience as 'the Queen o' th' Sky' whose 'peacocks fly amain', just as Jonson's Juno had done in Hymenaei with Inigo Jones's assistance and before a similar audience some five years earlier. All is thus prepared when Ceres proclaims

Highest Queen of State
   Great Juno comes

for the Court audience to recognize the face behind the symbolic mask of the goddess, as that of Anne, Queen, consort and mother. Lest any remain in doubt, Shakespeare provides her with an escort of 'nymphs, called Naiads, of the winding brooks With your … sedged crowns and ever-harmless looks', an emblem he took over from Samuel Daniel's masque of the preceding year (June, 1610) Tethys' Festival in which Queen Anne had herself appeared as Tethys, and the Princess Elizabeth as the River Thames, attended by other rivers. Such was the impact of that vision on contemporary society that Arthur Wilson in his Life of James I could write of Anne:

She was not without some Grandees to attend her for outward glory: the Court being a continued Maskardo, where she and her Ladies, like so many Sea-Nymphs, or Nereides, appeared often in various dresses to the ravishment of the beholders.

The pressure therefore on audiences of the time to recognize within the figure of Juno that of Queen Anne was overwhelming. And if one of the children whom she has come to bless on stage is Prospero's daughter, that same child, in the figurative manner of masque, is also her own—the next Elizabeth, Princess Royal, and godchild of Elizabeth I, and the most eligible bride in Europe described by Sir Henry Wotton as 'th' eclipse and glory of her kind' and by Shakespeare as Miranda. Just as appropriate if only slightly more oblique are the allusions to King James in the pun on 'prosperity' in Prospero, and in the equation of Prospero's 'high charms' with those of the author of Daemonologie.

If then, at this extraordinary moment of the play's climax, the two Elizabeths (dead monarch and marriageable Princess), Queen Anne and James I are all to be seen on the stage together as flickering images in the mirror of the masque's received conventions, who then is the other mortal whom Juno has come to bless at Prospero's request?

In November, 1611, this must have been the most tantalizing component of the whole device. By then three candidates for this role could be eliminated; the King of Sweden, the Duke of Brunswick and the Prince of Nassau. All had been suitors but had been dismissed.

Two other candidates, however, were both pressing their claims, the Protestant Elector Palatine supported by James, and the Catholic Prince of Piedmont, heir to the Duke of Savoy, backed by Queen Anne: dark rumours were also circulating in Court circles of a third suitor eclipsing both in power and prestige—the recently widowed Philip III, King of Spain.

James had made peace with Spain in 1604. With this achieved and with Parliament, after five years of wrangling, having finally agreed to the Union of the Scottish with the English Crown in 1608, James was free to pursue his self-appointed role of peace-maker by endeavouring to reunite a divided Christendom through dynastic marriages which, as the father of a daughter and two sons, he was well placed to attempt as every embassy in Europe knew well.

Come they (i.e. other nations) not hither (i.e. to London) as to the fountain from whence peace springs? Here sits Solomon and hither come the tribes for judgement. O happy moderator, blessed Father, not Father of thy country alone, but Father of all thy neighbour countries about thee.

If 'Father' strikes us as an extravagant image, we must recall that 'Father-in-Law' could easily become the literal truth.

All three candidates who were being canvassed for the role of prospective fiancé in the winter of 1611 are interesting: Frederick, Count Palatine because he was destined to become the bridegroom eighteen months later and because Queen Anne was strongly opposed to disposing of her only daughter to a mere Count: Philip of Spain because the glamour of the prospective dowry was matched by deep seated fear and mistrust of the Pope's most fanatical champion in the minds of Lord Treasurer Salisbury and most of his closest associates: the Prince of Pied-mont, not only because of the exotic gifts including a leopard and two white bears presented by his father, the Duke of Savoy, to James I and placed in the care of Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn in 1610, but because of an especially fascinating item of gossip associated with his prospects. This is documented in the Calendar of State Papers (Domestic) among a group of opinions on 'suitable alliances for the Prince of Wales and the Princess Elizabeth'. It reads as follows:

The Prince of Piedmont an unequal match for the Princess, unless the King of Spain will give him the Duchy of Milan on his marriage which is not likely as that King is said to want her for himself.

What then are we to conclude about the figure of Ferdinand in The Tempest and the living face behind the stage-mask? I am myself loathe to believe that Shakespeare had only one of the three principal candidates in mind and no other: rather is it likely that he chose to be ambiguous and to give his audience the fun of trying to identify their favourite candidate and to leave each faction to argue its own case with their rivals after this insubstantial pageant had faded from view. When the play was revived at Court on February 14th, 1613, for the festivities marking the wedding of the Princess, then of course Ferdinand could only have been equated with the Elector Palatine; but that was at another time and is another story. What must be taken into account, in November 1611, is the clearly documented possibility that Shakespeare elected to batten upon the masque and the newly minted anti-masque, and to couple them together as a single dramatic device in The Tempest, in order to give himself the chance to comment in the manner fashionable at the time on the most topical and controversial issue of contemporary foreign and domestic policy. What then emerges is a vivid allegorical charade in the conventional style of the old dumb-shows, but brilliantly updated and dressed out in the novel and spectacular court-hieroglyphics of the Jonsonian masque.

Although strictly confined to the limits of the two choreo-graphic tableaux, the allusions to the royal patron, his family, his achievements and intentions spill obliquely into other aspects of the play. If, in Prospero's faith and magic powers deployed in substituting forgiveness, peace and reconcilement for revenge and the consequent tragedies for mankind of recurrent deaths and everlasting war, a correspondence may be seen to the diplomatic skills and aspirations of the Kingly peacemaker and author of the Daemonologie, so can a reference be glimpsed in Caliban's plot on his life to the Gunpowder treason; Prospero's isle, moreover, may itself be regarded as the Great Britain of James's making on whose shores the naval forces of its Catholic enemies were wrecked by storms, but within whose bounds, by the process of dynastic alliances in the marriage of children, reconcilement of former differences is to be achieved and a prosperous future ensured for all. In 1611 these achievements—reconcilement of Protestants with Catholics and of Britain with the continent of Europe—were still dreams awaiting fulfilment: but as prospects that could follow upon the more modest diplomatic successes of the peace with Spain and the Union of the Scottish with the English Crown they pointed the way to a more optimistic future than had been thinkable for generations: as such they merited acknowledgement, if not in the extravagant terms of the apotheosis later accorded to James in the ceiling of the Banquet Hall in Whitehall (paid for by Charles I and painted by Rubens) then at least in terms of the state spectacle that had by then become the normal function of a Court Masque.

Thus the closing scene and Epilogue serve simultaneously both to conduct the audience gently away from the enchanted, make-believe world of masque and play towards the harsher environment of real life, and as an apotheosis of the sovereign before the eyes of the assem-bled Court. That James has brought peace to Britain no one can deny: that he may yet bring it to the rest of Europe through the flower of modern chivalry, Henry, Prince of Wales, and a paragon of feminine beauty, grace and wit, the Princess Elizabeth, is still an undeniable possibility if men will only follow James's example in abjuring revenge and placing their faith in the 'brave new world' of the younger generation: wage peace, not war. Yet spectators are also asked to recall that the sovereign, despite his diplomatic successes, his literary achievements and Divine Right, is mortal man, a compound of pure and impure elements, body and soul, and thus as much a victim of circumstance in the harsh world of reality.

Prospero is thus slowly stripped of all the artificial supernatural aids on which, within the magic world of play, his successes had depended: the reappearance of the Boatswain and his crew serve to recall the grim realism of the storm in the opening scene and thus the actual worlds of Naples, Milan and political responsibilities in which Ferdinand and Miranda will live their married lives. Masque and anti-masque have served, like mists parting to reveal a mountain only to roll back again and shroud it from sight, to provide a mystical transfiguration that the departing audience must ponder for themselves. The Tempest thus emerges at all levels—from simple, theatrical romance, via allusive political commentary to metaphysical discourse—as a single unified work of art firmly held together by the successful incorporation of a masque and anti-masque within the dramatic structure of a stage-play. It does so in the Baroque manner, richly encrusted with fanciful ornament in narrative, spectacle and tragi-comic form; a manner intended simultaneously to delight and instruct in equal measure and as nearly in keeping with Sir Philip Sidney's requirements of dramatic poetry as may be imagined.

John Gillies (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: "Shakespeare's Virginian Masque," in ELH, Vol. 53, No. 4, Winter, 1986, pp. 673-707.

[In the essay below, Gillies argues that in the fourth act of The Tempest Shakespeare remoulded contemporary material regarding the Virginia Colony in North America into an Ovidian inspired masque]

It is probably no more than coincidence that Shakespeare's spectacular and exotic play The Tempest was performed at court with Chapman's similarly exotic Memorable Masque for the marriage, in February 1613, of the princess Elizabeth to the Elector Palatine. But coincidence is sometimes hospitable to design, and we can imagine how interestingly these particular entertainments might have complemented each other. In the first place, each must have seemed to mirror what Jonson would have called their "present occasion," and also, conceivably, its political implications. This would have gratified Chapman, who is careful to assert that "all these courtly and honouring inventions … should expressively arise out of the places and persons for and by whom they are presented." Curiously, much the same assertion is regularly made on behalf of Shakespeare, who is sometimes supposed to have inserted the betrothal masque as his own "courtly and honouring invention" into act 4 of The Tempest. It is easier, however, to imagine the two entertainments having excited notice for the sheer novelty of their Virginian imagery. This might have had the interesting consequence of heightening the audience's response to the Virginian dimension of The Tempest, because what is understated and seemingly peripheral in Shakespeare is bolder and more substantial in Chapman.

The Memorable Masque is self-consciously Virginian. A company of "Virginian knights … altogether estrangeful and Indian-like" (36), arrive at Britain on a floating island under the conduct of Plutus, the god of riches. At first glance, Plutus seems a little out of place in the company of Indians, but as George Sandys (translator of Ovid and resident treasurer of the Virginia Company) was to explain: "Those Westerne climats abounded with gold and silver, wrapt in the secret bowels of the earth." Hence the Western Indies could be as fitting a home for Plutus as the Indies of Donne's "eastern riches." Looked at another way, the domain of Plutus might be either east or west: "both the indias, of spice and mine." Mines, of course, are subterranean. Hence Chapman's Plutus is also an "earthy deity"—but one who wishes to cast off his earthy Virginian ways and become reconciled with "the celestial goddess Honour" (81), who resides in Britain.

The action of the masque proper follows from a satirical anti-masque on the misuse of riches. A company of sun-worshiping "Virginian priests … therefore called the Phoebades" (13-14), command "an artificial rock" to open, at which "the upper part of the rock was suddenly turned to a cloud, discovering a riche and refulgent mine of gold" (150-52), and the company of Virginian "princes" seated inside. The Phoebades then sing praises to the sun (which is shown setting behind the cloud), when their voices are answered by "other music and other voices, directing their observance to the King" (543-44), the British Phoebus who is forever rising. Eventually this potentially inharmonious contest is resolved by "Eunomia" or Law, who orders the Virginians to renounce their "superstitious worship of these suns subject to cloudy darkenings and descents" (595-96), and worship instead the rising sun of Britain.

In this context The Tempest must have seemed almost parodie. Where Chapman's masque is about law, Shakespeare's play is about power. Where Chapman's Britain is visited by a suitably opulent delegation of Virginian priests and knights, Shakespeare's only Virginian intourist is Trinculo's "dead indian." Where Chapman's native knights obligingly hand over their gold-mine, Shakespeare's intractably "salvage and deformed slave" curses his disinheritors with the gift of language. Even when benevolently inclined, Caliban is able to offer nothing more marketable than "young scamels from the rock" or, perhaps, himself, "a plain fish, and no doubt marketable (5.1.264-66). Riches may conjoin briefly with honour in the blessing of Shakespeare's Juno, but more usually in The Tempest they inspire evil courtiers to murder and drunken servants to rebel. Shakespeare even seems to parody Chapman's cloudy gold mine with its El Doradoesque mythology of Indian riches, in Caliban's dream that

The clouds methought would open, and show
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak'd,
I cried to dream again.

Finally, the storm imagery of The Tempest contrasts starkly with the placidity of the Memorable Masque. If the play was staged with scenic machinery at court, Shakespeare's shipwreck scene must have been spectacularly realistic compared with the dreamy fantasy of Chapman's floating island. In short, beside Chapman's Utopian masque, the dystopian mood of Shakespeare's play must have seemed especially pointed.

Shakespeare's idea of Virginia should also have seemed far more contemporary than Chapman's. D. J. Gordon has argued [in The Renaissance Imagination, 1975] that Chapman's celebration of Virginia reflects Raleigh's promotion of Guiana in 1596 more than it reflects the Virginia Council's promotion of Virginia in 1613. The theme of conversion may be common to both but the gold mine and the notion of Indian opulence are certainly Guianan, as is the theme of reconciling honour with riches. Moreover, as Gordon suggests, the sun worship is probably more Peruvian than Virginian. It does seem then, that the Memorable Masque is essentially an adaptation of Chapman's earlier celebration of the Guianan venture in De Guiana (1595), which is also inspired by the idea of reconciling English honour with Indian riches. For all its Virginian imagery, it is a little anachronistic for 1613—more Elizabethan than Jacobean.

The Tempest is not only more topical, but more truly engaged with its historical moment. The shipwreck scene, the accompanying scenarios of providential deliverance, and indeed the very title of the play, clearly allude to the wreck of the Sea Adventure in 1609. And, as this event was of more than just topical interest, so the interest of the allusions is more than simply topical. The wreck marked a nadir in the affairs of the Virginia Company and, in the following year, became a focus for debate about the wisdom of the Plantation. It brought to a head "the tide of vulgar opinion" which had been gathering against Virginia. Even before the wreck, events had not been going well. The colonists were starving, disease was rampant, order was disintegrating and the natives were unaccommodating. Now it appeared that the much heralded direct transatlantic route (north of the devil-ridden Bermudas rather than south of them, via the Caribbean) was demonstrably suicidal. Most serious of all, it was becoming clear that "riches," either in the form of gold mines or a quick return on investments, were not to be had from Virginia. The starving and demoralised colonists would need more than Elizabethan "honour" to survive, they would need an iron will, or failing that, the iron discipline embodied in the Company's second charter and its draconian "Lawes divine, morali, and martiall."

With its emphasis on self-discipline, its apparent endorsement of absolute power as a necessary means to general prosperity, and its no-nonsense attitude towards savagery, The Tempest can be seen to reflect not only the events of 1609, but the mood which gave them significance. Initially, therefore, the play may well have been perceived primarily in terms of the polemical milieu of the wreck, rather than the other way around. By 1610, when news of the deliverance of the ship's company had reached England, the Virginia Counsel sought to portray the wreck as providential. Hence, the wreck generated its own canon of texts, and indeed, became a text itself because the Company had ensured that (and how) it would be read: "If any man shall accuse these reports of partiall falsehood … let him now reade with judgement, but let him not judge before he hath read" (255). We can easily imagine, therefore, that the Virginian subtext of The Tempest was legible to contemporary audiences even without the special context of the Memorable Masque.

But to later readers unattuned to contemporary events, and later audiences denied what I have imagined as ideal opportunities to experience the Virginian dimension of The Tempest, that dimension has been all but invisible. It would not even be suspected until 1808, when Edmund Malone discovered the Bermuda documents and proposed them as sources. Even today, the exact nature and significance of the Virginian influence remains an open question. What I will explore here is the possibility that The Tempest is both more profoundly, and more specifically Virginian than is commonly allowed—more so indeed than Chapman's anachronistic celebration of Indian riches. In particular, I want to suggest two things. First, that two important Shakespearean motifs, the ideas of temperance and fruitfulness, are identifiably Virginian. This is to say that the play translates into poetic and dramatic terms a pair of rhetorical topoi that are crucial in forming the official portrait of Virginia. Second, I want to show that these Virginian motifs, culminating in the masque of Ceres, take on a distinctly Ovidian form. Here, I will argue that though Ovid may seem to lead us away from Virginia, he really leads us back to the informing principle of her discursive being—the principle of the moralised landscape.

In the first place, then, I am suggesting that the Shakespearean motifs of temperance and fruitfulness derive from standard topoi in the discourse of Virginia. That discourse began in 1594, when Raleigh successfully petitioned Elizabeth to allow him to rename as "Virginia" an indetermi-nate area of North America then known as "Wingandacoa." The christening was more than a courtly gesture—more even than a shrewd promotion—for it created a potent figure, and therewith a way of imaginatively possessing an area that was virtually unknown but for its Indian name and its compass coordinates. The figure allowed a savage geography to be read as a moral geography (much as the nymph "Irena" in book 5 of The Faerie Queene allows the reader to imagine Ireland as a willing candidate for the civilizing attentions of Allegali and Talus). "Virginia" was a "beautifull daughter of the creation … whose virgin-soile was never yet polluted by any Spaniards lust." [(George Donne, in his Virginia Reviewed, 1638).] She conjured up visions of a land of pristine newness and incredible fertility. She was a tabula rasa awaiting inscription by the bearers of the true word; a savage, yet nubile nymph who longed for the English embrace. In 1609, the Reverend William Crashaw, who "was serving as a sort of director of publicity for the company," imagined "Virginea" as a young woman being schooled by an older and male "England" in the course of a scriptural dialogue appended to the published version of an important sermon to the Counsel. In 1632, Thomas Morton likened Virginia to "a faire virgin, longing to be sped, / And meete her lover in a Nuptiall bed." In 1625, the Reverend Samuel Purchas exhorted his readership of "Christian suters" to

looke upon Virginia; view her lovely lookes (howsoever like a modest Virgin she is now vailed with wild Coverts and shadie Woods, expecting rather ravishment then marriage from her Native Savages) survay her … so goodly and well proportioned limmes and members; her Virgin portion nothing empaired, … and in all these you shall see, that she is worth the wooing and loves of the best Husband.

Such nuptial, not to say prurient, imagery is typical of Virginian apologists from Raleigh to Purchas. The nomen bespoke a kind of coy allure which the propagandists were not slow to exploit. Of course, Virginia's hospitality to wordplay could also be abused (as, for example in the satirical Eastward Ho! of 1605, where the rapacious Captain Seagull rallies his band of adventurers with the cry: "Come boys, Virginia longs til we share the rest of her maidenhead" [3.3.14-15]), but generally it seems to have worked in her favour. Raleigh's choice of name was an inspired act of myth-making, suggesting an attractive combination of innocence, docility and quasi-erotic availability.

But whatever sub- or semi-conscious signals were implicit in her name, Virginia also suggested a more conscious and acknowledged symbolic stratum. The whole elaborate edifice of Elizabeth's mythology of state had rested on the attribute that Virginia celebrated. The American nymph was a fresh sprig of old and familiar stock, which may be why she bears more than a passing resemblance to Elizabeth's favorite mythological identity. This was Astraea, the virgin goddess of justice and patroness of the Golden Age, who on her departure from earth became identified with the heavenly sign, Virgo. During her golden reign, Astraea had reconciled virginity with fruitrulness, spring (the golden season) with August (the month of Virgo), and heaven with earth. On her departure, these contraries split apart and would not be reconciled again until her return, either in the guise of another golden reign (such as Elizabeth's) or of a golden country such as Virginia. (It is worth noting here that the masque of act 4 reconciles spring with August). Conceivably, it may be this figure who is the root of Virginia's virginal character, the messianic hopes she inspired and her golden attributes of temperance and fruitfulness.

Whether Astraean or not, however, temperance and fruitfulness appear as important features of Virginia very early in her history. But they are not coeval. The earliest and most influential of the Virginia voyage narratives, by Arthur Barlowe, stresses fruitfulness rather than temperance. Printed in Hakluyt's Principal Navigations of 1589, it describes the formal possession of "the countrey Wingandacoa, (and nowe by her Majestie, Virginia)," under Raleigh's new patent in 1584. With the probable help of Raleigh and Hakluyt, Barlowe tells of a paradise in which: "the earth bringeth foorth all things in abundance, as in the first creation, without toile or labour" (8). The soil effortlessly yielded three crops in five months, miraculous draughts of fish were there for the taking. A wide range of useful (if not precious) commodities were to be had in plenty. The inhabitants were "most gentle, loving, and faithfull, void of all guile, and treason, and such as lived after the manner of the golden age" (8). Similarly, the narratives of Thomas Harriot, Ralph Lane and John White, also printed in Hakluyt (and also showing signs of editorial guidance) consistently give the impression of a virgin paradise.

Temperance first appears as a Virginian feature in Thomas Harriot's A brief e and true report of the new found land of Virginia. Harriott praised "the excellent temperature of the aire … at all seasons," and "the holsomenesse thereof" (75), which preserved the colonists of 1588 in good health—in spite of a shortage of clothing and lack of shelter during the winter. He then links the two features in what tends to become a rhetorical formula in later accounts: "Seeing therefore the ayre there is so temperate and holsome, the soile so fertile … I hope there remains no cause whereby the action should be misliked" (75-76). The action, however, was "misliked" even as Harriot wrote. His Virginian apologia is intended, at least in part, as a rebuttal of "slaunderous and shamefull speaches bruited abroad by many that returned from thence" (47). Tales of hardship, mismanagement, hostile natives and a dawning awareness that Virginia was no El Dorado were so effective in dispelling the myth of Virginia as to deprive Raleigh of funds for a major venture in 1587 (xiii). The same threat hung over the heads of the Jacobean patentees, the Virginia Company of London; and their propagaganda (like Raleigh's) was obliged to disable the counter-mythology. What was needed was a rhetorical strategy that would confirm the original myth of Virginia while instilling a new and more realistic mood of forbearance in inevitable hardship—along with a (less realistic) willingness to postpone profits indefinitely. Temperance was one answer to this promotional problem because (unlike fruitfulness) it could avail itself of a moral, as well as a geographical, dimension.

Nowhere is the use of temperance as a polemical strategy so evident as in the True Declaration (1610), the most authoritative printed justification of the wreck of the Sea Adventure. The author of this document faced formidable difficulties. To begin with, the problem of disease at Jamestown threatened to disable the myth of a temperate climate, while the experience of "the starving time" in 1609 posed a challenge to the myth of fruitfulness. In a passage thought to be echoed in The Tempest, the issues are put as a rhetorical question: "How is it possible, that such a virgin and tempérât aire, should work such rie effects," and again, how can "plentie and famine, a temperate climate, and distempered bodies, felicities and miseries … be reconciled together" (255)? The answers are as rhetorically ingenious as they are logically absurd. While admitting that "our fort … is most part invironed with an ebbing and flowing salt water, the owze of which sendeth forth an unwholsome and contagious vapour," the writer prefers to blame the disease on the "intemperate idlenes" of the afflicted rather than on the site of Jamestown. This is proved by u "Sir Thomas Gates his experiment: he professeth that in a fortnights space he recovered the health of most of them by moderat labour, whose sickness was bred in them by intemperate idlenes" (255). We are left with the impression that infection from the fens is somehow optional, depending on one's moral fibre and work-rate. In view of the mortality rate and the chronic labour problem at Jamestown, the idea is (to put it mildly) wishful thinking. Nevertheless it is typical of a strategy which found rhetorical solutions for real difficulties; there is no suggestion that Jamestown be resited or the "owze" drained.

As with the problem of disease, the embarrassing topics of shipwreck and starvation are parlayed into the more manageable topos of intemperance. Figuratively speaking, the intemperance of the colonists at Jamestown represents a "tempest of dissension" more dire than the storm that wrecked the Sea Adventure:

The broken remainder of those supplies made a greater shipwrack on the continent of Virginia, by the tempest of dissension: every man overvaluing his own worth, would be a Commander … when therefore licence, sedition, and furie, are the fruits of a headie, daring, and unruly multitude, it is no wonder that so many in our colony perished: it is a wonder that all were not devoured. Omnis inordinatus animus sibi ipsi fit poena, every inordinate soul becomes his owne punishment.


As well as the idea of intemperance, we might notice the figurative use of the word "fruits" to convey the outcome of intemperance. In spite of the starving time, Virginia had not ceased to be fruitful: the colonists had simply become too lazy to avail themselves of the abundance that surrounded them. The writer relates: "An incredible example of their idlenes … that … some of them eat their fish raw, rather than they would go a stones cast to fetch wood and dresse it" (255).

As this last anecdote implies, Barlowe's idea of Virginia as an earthly paradise could be potentially subversive in its suggestion that "the earth bringeth forth all things … without toile or labour." Hence, if the myth of the earthly paradise was to remain viable for the Jamestown colony, it would require modification, which it duly received: "God sels us all things for our labour, when Adam himselfe might not live in paradice without dressing the garden" (255). In this more market-oriented version of the myth, fruitfulness is linked to temperance by the necessity for labour. The formula took, and from this point onward becomes a fully assimilated and necessary element of the colonial idea of Virginia.

Planting and cultivation would bring forth good fruits while dissent, "dreames of mountaines of gold, and happy robberies" (256), would bring forth evil fruits. There is an intriguing hint that gold-hunger led to the formation of factions, and even mutiny. A "viperous generation" seems to have broken away from the main colony in Raleigh-esque hopes of finding "mountaines of gold," or of thriving by piracy. It is interesting to note that the Guianan incentive ("Golde is our Fate," De Guiana) is now perceived as deviant and that the Guianan imagery of riches becomes a foil to the more agriculturally oriented imagery of Virginia. Both the True Declaration and its companion pamphlet, A True and Sincere Declaration of the purpose and ends of the Plantation begun in Virginia (1610), suggest that by neglecting "the opportunity of seed-time" there is a danger of "everything returning from civili Propryety to Naturali, and Primary Community" (11). Gold-diggers would not only go hungry but would go native as well, and the civilisation they stand for will crumble into the wilderness. If left unsown, the garden ("Virginia's Verger") would not feed the colonists; if left unweeded, the metaphoric garden of "civili Propryety" would grow to seed. Fruitfulness would become rankness: "the fruits of a headie, daring, and unruly multitude."

In all four of the Bermuda documents that Shakespeare is supposed to have drawn on, the influence of these topoi is profound. A True and Sincere Declaration explains that the "distemper" of Virginia proceeds from "such as are the weeds and rancknesse" (25) of England, the original garden from which they have been transplanted. However, it also urges "the fruitfulness and wholesomenesse of this Land, and … the recompense it shall in time bring" (21). The topoi are also to be found in the two documents by, respectively, Sylvester Jourdan and William Strachey, which concentrate on the Bermuda adventure rather than the state of the colony at Jamestown, and do not appear to have been under the direct control of the company. Jourdan's A Discovery of the Barmudas (1610) describes those islands in terms of the Virginian topoi: "yet did we find there the ayre so temperate and the Country so aboundantly fruitful of all fit necessaries, for the sustentation and preservation of man's life" (9). Strachey's A True Reportory Of The Wracke And Redemption Of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight (1610), though by far the most reliable account of the Bermuda sojourn, relies entirely on the True Declaration for its account of Virginia, and as a consequence duplicates its rhetorical strategy. The colonists are "men of such distempered bodies and infected mindes" (294), that their gardens lie unsown while they themselves grow rank with "neglect and sensuali surfer" (293).

For contemporary London audiences who would have known Virginia primarily in terms of her moral geography, the following passage must have been richly ironic:

Adr.   Though this island seem to be desert,

     Uninhabitable, and almost inaccessible,—
Seb.   Yet,—
Adr.   Yet,—
Ant.   He could not miss't.
Adr.   It must needs be of subtle, tender and delicate
Ant.  Temperance was a delicate wench.
Seb.  Ay, and a subtle; as he most learnedly deliver'd.
Adr.  The air breathes upon us here most sweetly.
Seb.  As if it had lungs, and rotten ones.
Ant.  Or as 'twere perfum'd by a fen.
Gon.  Here is everything advantageous to life.
Ant.  True; save means to live.
Seb.  Of that there's none, or little.
Gon.  How lush and lusty the grass looks! how green!
Ant.  The ground, indeed, is tawny.
Seb.  With an eye of green in't.
Ant.  He misses not much.
Seb.  No; he doth but mistake the truth totally.

Characteristically Virginian paradoxes—"plentie and famine," the lush paradise which is also a desert, the temperate land of pestilential fens, the inaccessible place which is just around the corner—are wonderfully parodied. So is the credibility gap: "he doth but mistake the truth totally." The "fen" parody is the wittier for also being a theatrical joke at the expense of the audience who "breathe" upon the stage castaways with their collectively "rotten lungs." I am suggesting that what we have here is more than a happily random series of Virginian echoes, but a conscious parody of the discursive portrait f Virginia. This would imply, in turn, that a Virginian subtext was legible as parody to a degree of depth and precision that we have not been used to contemplate. But the importance of Virginia in The Tempest goes far beyond parody. Temperance and fruitfulness provide the play with fundamental structural and thematic motifs—the bedrock of its own moral landscape.

Temperance describes the trajectory of the play's "rarer action," its symbolic axis. The Shakespearean "tempest of dissension" initiates (and is the effect of) a "range" which is first tempered and then chastised in a pair of masque-like displays. To begin with, Ferdinand's intemperate grief is allayed by the song of Ariel as a sea-nymph (1.2.377-406), with its masque-like invitations to curtseying and dancing. Then, the greed and rapacity of the courtier group, the "men of sin," is confronted with its own image in the harpy snatching away the "banquet" offered by the "living drollery." These two devices are complemented by a third, the betrothal masque of act 4 that celebrates the temperate love of Ferdinand and Miranda and stands at the apex of the symbolic trajectory. It celebrates where the previous devices temper or chastise; its "harmonious vision" counters the disharmony of the storm and the varieties of intemperance it generated.

If the logic of The Tempest were as straightforward as that of the Memorable Masque, we might expect the masque of Ceres to conclude (as well as complete) the symbolic design, but it does not. When it dissolves to "a strange hollow and confused noise," the sea comes back. Prospero is "touch'd" by its rage; his mind "beating" with "anger, so distemper'd" (4.1.138-45). The dialectic of temperance and intemperance continues. As a punishment for their intrusion, Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano are soused

I' th' filthy-mantled pool beyond your cell,
There dancing up to th' chins, that the foul lake
O'erstunk their feet.

They are then hunted by hounds. (In the Ovidian story of Actaeon, hounds typify intemperate desires.) Finally, it is clear that stormy weather and rotten vapours will be just as much the portion of the "brave new world" as they were of the sad old one. Nevertheless, the masque of Ceres stands as the principal symbol of what the play affirms—that renewal can come out of destruction if the infected mind is tempered and the fruitful soil of virtue is cultivated.

We may notice in the "foul lake" an echo of the "fen" imagery mentioned earlier. This cannot be accidental, for fen imagery appears throughout the play and might be thought of as a motif—a ubiquitous mirror of intemperance. The "filthy-mantled pool" mirrors the intemperate language of Caliban, who curses Prospero with "All the infections that the sun sucks up / From bogs, fens, flats" (2.2.60-61). Indeed, fens seems curiously inspirational to Caliban:

As wicked dew as e'er my mother brush'd
With raven's feather from unwholesome fen
Drop on you both.

They would also appear to have been of some importance in Sycorax's magic. In a strictly metaphoric sense, they feature in the spells of Prospero, who imagines the dispelling of the brain-boiled courtiers both as a new dawn of awareness in which "the ignorant fumes that mantle / Then-clearer reason" (5.1.67-68) are dispersed, and as a returning tide of understanding that "Will shortly fill the reasonable shore, / That now lies foul and muddy" (5.1.81-82). Thus, fens are present not only as imagined places but also as metaphors, in which form they contribute to a general idiom of disease and distemper. In Prospero's advice to the newly healthy Alonso, "Do not infest your mind with beating on / The strangeness of this business" (5.1.246-47), the fen imagery of disease is linked to the "beating" of "sea-sorrow," thereby combining in one image the two most important symbolic loci of intemperance in the play—fens and sea.

If temperance is the principal means of regeneration, fruitfulness, or "foison," is its symbolic image. The play offers several versions of fruitfulness corresponding to the moral and imaginative capacities of its characters. The degenerate courtiers, Antonio and Sebastian, see only barrenness. They find the island's air foul and its ground "tawny." The island is a mirror, reflecting their sterility; in the ghostly banquet and the ravenous harpy it also reflects their greed. By the same token, the well-tempered courtiers find the desert fruitful. For Adrian and Gonzalo, the air is temperate and the grass astonishingly "lusty" and "green." Just as Arthur Barlowe had imagined Virginia, so Gonzalo imagines the island as an earthly paradise where:

        Nature should bring forth,
Of it own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people.

But Gonzalo's temperance does not save him from naivety. Nor does the sterility of Antonio and Sebastian keep them from commenting shrewdly on his Utopian "plantation." With some justice, they see his earthly paradise as fruitfulness gone to seed:

Gon.   Had I plantation of this isle, my lord,—
Ant.        He'd sow't with nettle-seed.
Seb.        Or docks, or mallows.

As we shall see, the idea of rank growth—fruitfulness in malo—becomes a motif defining disordered desires, and thereby coincides with the fen motif. Indeed, in Prospero's forgiveness of Antonio, both motifs are audible in the one word:

For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother
Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive
Thy rankest fault.

The use of "rankest" in conjunction with "infect" conveys not only an image of the unweeded garden but a whiff of the diseased fen.

The dialectic is not exhausted yet. All these versions of classical "foison"—natural, "rank" and cultivated—are offset against a fourth kind of "foison," represented by Caliban's non-classical wilderness with its "clustering filberts," "pig nuts," "scamels" and "the nimble marmoset." The contrasts here are ambiguous rather than clearcut. Caliban's delight in the fruits of his wild nature is one of several ways in which Shakespeare prefers his vitality over the weary cynicism of Antonio and Sebastian—even, perhaps, over the weary virtue of Prospero. Meanwhile, his association with "bogs" and "fens" allies him with the rankness that characterises the intemperate cynics.

Like temperance, then, fruitfulness is a quality that varies according to the character imagining it. Each kind of image is dialectically constituted as an important symbolic motif and is related to the other in a way that recalls their formation in the Virginia discourses of 1609. In both the play and the propaganda alike, temperance and fruitfulness provide the rhetorical basis of a "poetic geography" comprising the sea, the weather, and kinds of landscape (the earthly paradise, fens, rank wilderness, tawny deserts). The topographical parallels between The Tempest and Virginia are more than simply random. The play is surprisingly insistent on certain specific features of landscape (such as fens) that transcend the commonplace and, especially when the moral significance is taken into account, suggest a unique parallel with Virginia. The difference is that whereas the Virginia discourses employ the topoi (and their derivative settings) as persuasive tropes in a colonial promotion, Shakespeare uses them to construct a dialectic of civilisation and savagery, of art and nature, and so explores the deeper issues implied by the Virginia colony.

We are now in a position to explore the iconography of the masque of Ceres, the symbolic entertainment in which the Virginian motifs of temperance and fruitfulness, along with various kinds of imagined weather and landscape, reach their culmination. The masque works on two levels. At the more literal, it is a celebration of the betrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda. But Juno, the marriage goddess, also presides over a metaphoric betrothal of the elements. Earth is reconciled with heaven, land with sea, hot with cold, wet with dry, spring with harvest. At both levels, literal and metaphoric, the reconciliations are achieved through temperance and result in fruitfulness. The harvest goddess who presides over a fertile and cultivated landscape represents both fruitfulness and the temperance necessary for the work of cultivation. The rainbow goddess is not only Juno's messenger, but a mythological personification of temperate weather. She also recapitulates and justifies the mythology of the earlier "masques of Ariel" that comprise the structural axis of the motif of temperance. We may begin, then, by sketching the mythological identity of Iris, Shakespeare's personification of temperance.

Iris is an iconographie mirror of the entire symbolscape of temperance in The Tempest. As a winged figure who combines the elements of air and water in her rainbow, she epitomises the ambience of sea and weather imagery. She is weather in bono where the storm is weather in malo. Shakespeare cannot have been unaware of the pun on the Latin word for weather (tempestas) that lurks in the very title of his play, nor the fact that Iris is mythologically related to the Tempestates (the Winds) through her marriage to Zephyrus, the gentle wind of Spring. If Iris is thereby juxtaposed with the storm, she also suggests temperance where the shipwreck suggests intemperance. She invites "temperate nymphs" to the masque's "graceful dance" as if in answer to the shipwreck's rage—the conventional significance of which Shakespeare heightens by a suggestion of drunkenness on board: "We are merely cheated of our lives by drunkards" (1.1.55). Iris also has specifically mythological points of contact with earlier "masques of Ariel." As the daughter of Thaumas (son of Pontus, the sea) and Electra (daughter of Oceanus), she is the sister of the harpies, who are also creatures of the sea and the weather. In Hesiod, the harpies are given "speaking names" that identify them as violent winds. In Homer, they are indentified with "the spirits of the storm." Shakespeare clearly underlines these ideas by introducing his harpy with storm effects: "Thunder and lightning" (3.352-53), and by imagining the harpy's judgment on Alonso as a masque-like storm scene:

O, it is monstrous, monstrous!
Methought the billows spoke, and told me of it;
The winds did sing it to me; and the thunder,
That deep and dreadful organ-pipe, pronoune'd
The name of Prosper: it did bass my trespass.

If Iris is the calm sister of the raging Harpy, she is also temperamentally and functionally allied with the "nymph o'th'sea" who appears briefly (and in terms of plot motivation, inexplicably) when Prospero commands Ariel:

Go make thyself like a nymph o'th'sea: Be
  subject to
No sight but thine and mine; invisible
To every eyeball else.

Ariel's invisible appearance and almost immediate exit has always been something of a mystery. Apart from underlining Caliban's first entry, it seems curiously functionless and messy. A plot motivation is both flaunted and withheld:

(Enter ARIEL like a water-nymph)
Prosp.    Fine apparition! my quaint Ariel,
                 Hark in thine ear.
Ari.      My lord, it shall be done. (Exit)

It is only when we think of the nymph in terms of the iconography linking Iris to the harpy that her function becomes clear. Ariel's entry as an "invisible" water-nymph prepares the audience for his next, and notionally invisible, entry with Ferdinand for the song "Come unto these yellow sands" (1.2.377-406). The stage direction for that entry "Re-enter ARIEL, invisible, playing and singing," 1.2.376-77), has led the Arden editor to suppose that Ariel must be dressed in a property gown "to go invisible" (29, 34). But if he enters as a sea-nymph he will still be "invisible" because the purpose of the earlier entry can only have been to signal the audience that sea-nymphs are invisible in this play and don't need conventional gowns "to go invisible." This should lead us to conclude that Shakespeare went to the trouble of the earlier and apparently unmotivated entry in order to prepare the ground for an appropriate mythological tableau in the sea-change song. Ariel would still be dressed as a nymph, thereby enhancing the imagery of nymphs in the song. The role of the nymph in tempering the rage of "sea-sorrow," will, in turn, underline the later appearance of the harpy who incites the billows, the wind and the thunder to madden Alonso. Both figures anticipate and are balanced by the rainbow goddess—pediments in an iconographie monument to temperance, of which Iris is the crown.

The "daugher of Thaumantes faire," as Spenser refers to her (The Faerie Queene, 5.3.25), also has a special affinity with Miranda in as much as both names signify "wonder." The mythographer Richard Lynche [in The fountaine of ancient fiction, 1599] found that Iris means "wonder" both because "she was the daughter of Thaumante which signifieth admiration," and because of her rainbow, "the strange varietie of the colours [w]hereof possesseth the beholders minds, with a continuing wonder and admiring continuation." Thus, Iris is not only Miranda's mythological double but stands in the same relation to her father (Thaumas) as Miranda stands in relation to hers—the thaumaturge, or wonderworker.

No sooner is Iris onstage than she summons Ceres with an elaborate evocation of her domain:

Ceres, most bounteous lady, thy rich leas
Of wheat, rye, barley, vetches, oats, and pease;
Thy turfy mountains, where live nibbling sheep,
And flat meads thatch'd with stover, them to
Thy banks with pioned and twilled brims,
Which spongy April at thy hest betrims,
To make cold nymphs chaste crowns; and thy
Whose shadow the dismissed bachelor loves,
Being lass-lorn, thy poll-clipt vineyard;
And thy sea-marge, sterile and rocky-hard,
Where thou thyself dost air.

The function of this verbal landscape is more than merely decorative. As with the play's other symbolic landscapes that it echoes and inverts, the landscape of Ceres is precisely sited and articulated. To begin with, it is comprehensively opposed to Gonzalo's idea of an earthly paradise. Where Gonzalo dreams of a native "foison" exclusive of both agriculture and civilization:

                     For no kind of traffic
Would I admit, no name of magistrate.
Letters should not be known. Riches, poverty,
And use of service, none, contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none.

Ceres (who in Golding's Ovid, "first made lawes") boasts just those varieties of industrial foison that Gonzalo for-swears. Her "barns and garners," her "vines with clust'ring bunches growing," her "rich leas / Of wheat, rye, barley, vetches, oats and pease," all affirm agriculture, husbandry, and stewardship (if not direct ownership) of the land. Where Gonzalo's paradisal "plantation" is seen by un-charitable yet shrewd eyes, as choked by weeds, ("nettle-seed. / Or docks, or mallows," 2.1.140), Ceres's "vineyard" is "poll-clipt," her "turfy mountains" are trimmed by "nibbling sheep." The husbandry of Ceres thus contrasts favorably with the incipient "rankness" of Gonzalo's ideal "plantation" in the same way that the True Declaration qualifies Barlowe's myth of a Virginian paradise with a plea for the necessity of labour: "God sels us all things for our labour, when Adam himselfe might not live in paradice without dressing the garden."

The fruitful landscape of Ceres is also in striking contrast to Caliban's wilderness and his non-classical idea of foison, consisting (as it does) of "clustering filberts," "pig nuts," and "scamels." Again, the implied opposition is sharpened by Shakespeare's sense of evocative detail. If Caliban's "young scamels from the rock" are impenetrably American, then Ceres's "banks with pioned and twilled brims" are just as impenetrably English.

Thy banks with pioned and twilled brims,
Which spongy April at thy hest betrims,
To make cold nymphs chaste crowns,

The most likely reading construes them as embankments for drainage, strengthened by a lattice-work of branches. This would mean that "spongy April" does not soak the land, turning it into a "sponge," but that it merely "bet-rims" the drainage banks with flowers that furnish "chaste crowns" for the "cold nymphs" of the newly channeled water. On this reading, the whole passage is an inverted echo of the unreclaimed "fens" that inspire Caliban with images of disease, and therefore of the fens that, in the True Declaration, are a source of malaise in Jamestown.

Finally, in the mysterious image of Ceres's "sea-marge, sterile and rocky-hard," the landscape of the masque evokes and counterpoints the potent symbolism of the sea in The Tempest. Here, however, the point of both the image and the juxtaposition is obscure. Unlike the other features of Ceres's domain, the "sterile" sea-shore is the antithesis of all that the fertile goddess represents. So why should Ceres be imagined as "airing" herself there? Why should she take a proprietary delight in "her" seamarge, why enjoy her own antithesis? A clue is suggested by a passage from Hamlet where Shakespeare seems to be thinking along the same lines. The image of the "sterile promontory" to which Hamlet gloomily opposes that of "this goodly frame, the earth" poses the same sort of antithesis that the "sterile" sea-shore does to the other-wise fertile domain of Ceres. The difference is that Hamlet gloomily identifies the two images. Hence, the "goodly" earth is "no more" than a "sterile promontory." For Iris, however, the sea-shore is merely part of the domain of Ceres, presumably its boundary. Here, I think, is the key. As a boundary, the sea-shore is properly both "sterile" and "rocky-hard" to ensure the continued separation of fertile land and chaotic sea. The sterility (of "these yellow sands") would symbolise the undesirability of a conjunction between Ceres and Neptune, while the hardness of rock plausibly suggests steadfastness, as opposed to the perpetual motion of the sea.

Ultimately, this kind of opposition derives from Ovid's account of the creation. In Golding's translation for example, "stedfast ground" is opposed to "waving water":

              Againe, the waving water
Did chalenge for his place the utmost coast and
Of all the compassé of the earth, to close the
  stedfast ground.

It is appropriate, then, that Ceres should enjoy her out-work because, as the steward of the fertile earth and its lawgiver, she should assert her opposition to the ocean that, in the first scene of The Tempest, is shown dissolving the lawful covenants of what Shakespeare had once imagined as "the kingdom of the shore" (Sonnet 64). The shipwreck itself can be read as an Ovidian symbol of primal chaos, one of several Shakespearean versions of Ovid's opposition of sea and land. Hence, the function of the "sea-marge" passage (like the function of the "pioned … brims") would be to insist upon the proper separation of earth and water, a distinction which Ovid represents as being essential to the creation.

The cultivated landscape of Ceres, then, is an echo in bono of the unregenerate landscapes of the play: the tempestuous sea, the unweeded garden and the unreclaimed wilderness with its wild fruits and pestilential fens. It is also, in its temperate conjunction of earth with sky, a trope of marriage. Weather and landscape marry in Ceres's description of a diffusion of "refreshing showers" from the "wings" of Iris. Even though Iris is described as "many-colour'd," her "wings" are described as "saffron"—the colour of Hymen, the marriage god. Hence, the invocation of Iris may be construed as a figure of marriage.

Hail, many-colour'd messenger …
Who, with thy saffron wings, upon my flowers
Diffusest honey-drops, refreshing showers.

The hymeneal effect is heightened by the accompanying imagery of investiture. Iris "crowns" the "acres" of Ceres with her "blue bow" and dresses the "proud earth" in a "rich scarf" (4.1.80-82). Meanwhile, if we are to take seriously the stage direction "JUNO descends" (4.1.72-73), the marriage goddess herself must appear in the act of physically descending from the stage "heavens" to the stage earth—or "this very place," probably a green carpet as suggested by the image of "this grass-plot." The verbal image, then, of fertilising rain falling on the earth is not only a symbol of marriage but a figure of the transcen-dental union of heaven and earth effected by Juno's descent. Such a reading would correspond with the meaning of rain imagery in Jonson's Masque of Blacknesse (1605), in which two nymphs named "Glycyte" (sweetness or pleasantness) and "Malacia" (soft, gentle, mild) carry a picture of "a clowd full of raine dropping." Here too the suggestion is that of a fertilising union of heaven and earth.…

Only in this context of richly symbolic and resonant "weathers" and "landscapes," where the theme of fertility is figuratively identified with that of marriage, are we invited to contemplate the literal business of the masque:

A contract of true love to celebrate;
And some donation freely to estate
On the blest lovers.

But just at this penultimate moment, an apparently pointless suggestion of conflict emerges when Ceres insists on excluding Venus and Cupid from the proceedings because of their alleged complicity in the rape of Proserpine. Suddenly the logic of the masque seems to cloud. In view of the fact that we have had no idea of the presence of Venus and Cupid anyway, and in view of Iris's immediate assurance of their departure in disgrace, the whole episode lacks dramatic motivation. Why is it there? Its point becomes less rather than more clear if we note the obvious connection with Prospero's embarrassing insistence on chastity just before the masque. One of the more puzzling aspects of Prospero's behaviour at this moment is the way he so gratuitously insists (twice: 4.1.15-23; 51-54) that Ferdinand refrain from unchastity after having sorely tried him already, and after admitting that he has "strangely stood the test" (4.1.7). Moreover, there seems nothing in Ferdinand's character to have justified such a worry in the first place. His "prime request" on first meeting Miranda had been to determine whether she "be maid or no" (1.2.428-30), and he makes it quite clear that his plans for Miranda depend on her being a virgin:

O, if a virgin,

And your affection not gone forth, I'll make you
The Queen of Naples.

It might be argued that Prospero's distrust of Ferdinand makes retrospective sense when the plot of Venus and Cupid against the lovers becomes known:

Here thought they to have done
Some wanton charm upon this man and maid,
Whose vows are, that no bed-right shall be paid
Till Hymen's torch be lighted.

But this isn't good enough. A cardinal rule of dramaturgy has been broken. The dramatist must motivate conflicts in advance; he can't afford to justify them retrospectively. So how do we explain the Venus and Cupid episode? Is the whole business simply insignificant, a diversionary tactic to allow Juno time to complete her descent? Does the suggestion of a plot imply a corresponding action in the play, now lost? Perhaps, but I would suggest another answer. The play is complete as it stands but dramatic logic has been sacrificed in the interests of iconography. The real purpose of the Venus and Cupid episode is not just theatrical, nor can it retrospectively justify Prospero's emphasis on chastity. Instead, the reverse is true. The purpose of Prospero's warnings to Ferdinand is to prepare for the Venus episode in the masque, to serve as its induction. As in a court masque, the dramatic induction prepares the ground for a symbolic action. The Venus episode is essentially symbolic, but its symbolism, like an iceberg, is only partly visible on the surface. The rest of its iconography lies submerged in Shakespeare's source—Ovid.

We can be quite certain that Shakespeare's Ceres is based on Ovid both because the idea that Venus and Cupid "plot" the rape of Proserpine is uniquely Ovidian (Metamorphoses 5.459-80), and because Shakespeare's use of the homely word "stover" (4.1.63) can be traced to Arthur Golding's description of Ceres (5.435). The significance of Shakespeare's debt to Golding's Ovid is profound. Only in Ovid (and his Renaissance moralisers) is it conceivable that Ceres would blame Venus and Cupid for the rape of Proserpine. And only in Ovid and his moralisers are the blessings of fertility and agriculture so closely linked to chastity and temperance—while sterility is linked to un-chastity and intemperance. Hence, Proserpine's eating of the pomegranate in the garden of Dis is commonly moralized as improper sex, and hence the union of Proserpine and Dis is sterile and cursed by Ceres. I am suggesting that the logic of Shakespeare's emphasis on chastity will only be fully apparent when seen in the context of the Ovidian link between unchastity and sterility and the Ovidian enmity of Ceres and Venus.

In Ovid the opposition of Venus and Ceres is systematic rather than accidental. If Ceres represents natural energy controlled by temperance, Venus represents a primal energy that knows no bounds and is potentially disruptive—contradictory rather than reconciliatory. This is why Ovid puts Ceres in the position of restraining the very forces that Venus would unleash. Her isle of Sicily, for example, is presented as imprisoning the rebellious giant Typhon within the earth. When Typhon's struggles threaten to crack the necessary division between the upper world and the underworld, Dis emerges into the light of day (5.439-56). This gives Venus the opportunity to try her power over the king of the underworld and effect the union of Proserpine (or fertility) and Dis (or death)—a union that is contradictory and absurd, chaotic rather than creative. Recognising this, Ceres effectively curses the union with sterility by turning her own favoured land of Sicily into its sterile antithesis (5.594-604). In Metamorphoses 10, Ceres is explicitly identified with chastity (and implicitly contrasted to Venus) in "the yeerely feast / Of gentle Ceres." At this time "the wyves bothe moste and least" are "appareld all in whyght," and chastely abstain from "the use of any man" for "the space of thryce three nyghts" (10.493-98). Again, fertility is linked to chastity and sterility to unchastity.

Shakespeare's opposition of Venus and Ceres is profoundly indebted to Ovid. Iris's description of Venus as "Mars's hot minion" identifies Venus with an excess of heat, re-calling the fundamental Ovidian opposition of hot and cold. The debt to Ovid is also evident in the way that Venus extends her influence from the masque into the play. Ferdinand, for example, appears to be actively resisting venereal heat in assuring Prospero that, "The white cold virgin snow upon my heart / Abates the ardour of my liver" (4.1.54-56). If the "ardour" suggests Ovid's Venus, then the "white cold virgin snow" is consistent with the imagery of chastity in Ovid's feast of Ceres, the celebrants of which were clad in "whyght" and, like Ferdinand and Miranda, had to observe a period of sexual abstinence to ensure their fertility. Again, the Ovidian opposition of "white cold virgin snow" and venereal heat is present in Ferdinand's resolve that "the strong'st suggestion / Our worser genius can, shall never melt / Mine honour into lust" (4.1.26-28).

If Shakespeare's juxtaposition of Venus and Ceres is indebted to Ovid, so too is his systematic posing of weathers and landscapes in bono and in malo. Ovid is quite systematic about such juxtapositions. When Ceres curses her own fertile land of Sicily with sterility, she completely inverts it:

 with cruell hand the earing ploughes she brake,
And man and beast that tilde the ground to death
 in anger strake.
She marrde the seede, and eke forbade the
 fieldes to yeelde their frute.

            the corne was killed in the blade:
Now too much drought, now too much wet did
  make it for to fade.
The starres and blasting windes did hurt, the
  hungry foules did eate
The come in ground: the Tines and Briars did
  overgrow the Wheate,
And other wicked weedes the corne continually

Which neyther tylth nor toyle of man was able
 to destroy.

Ovid's idea of sterility, then, is a systematic antithesis of everything Ceres represents. The "fruités" of the land are blasted, the "ploughes" broken and the cultivators ("man and beast") struck down. Drought alternates with "too much wet," and "wicked weedes" choke the ground. All is the result of a failure of temperance, specifically of chastity. Clearly, the Shakespearean strategy of topographical juxtaposition is also Ovidian, especially to the degree that elemental balance and natural fertility are generally seen to depend on human temperance.

But in a more specific sense, Ovid is also behind Shakespeare's idea of chastity. Thus, when Prospero spells out to Ferdinand the sterile consequences of a failure of chastity, his imagery is the antithesis of the fertility celebrated in the masque:

If thou dost break her virgin-knot before
All sanctimonious ceremonies may
With full and holy rite be minister'd,
No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall
To make this contract grow; but barren hate,
Sour-ey'd disdain and discord shall bestrew
The union of your bed with weeds so loathly
That you shall hate it both: therefore take heed,
As Hymen's lamps shall light you.

Here, in the image of a "sweet aspersion" (literally a "sprinkling") of rain, Prospero anticipates the masque's vision of a fertile union of heaven and earth—the "refreshing showers" of the saffron-winged Iris falling upon the "flowers" of Ceres. Even the hymeneal allusion is subtly anticipated. Prospero's "sweet aspersion" suggests not only showers of rain but the marriage "shower," a fertility-gesture which was (and remains) conventionally associated with marriage. However, he also imagines a parody of this gesture—an "aspersion" of "weeds" rather than "flowers." Prospero's threat, then, like the curse of Ovid's Ceres, systematically inverts the symbolism of fertility.

The same is true of Caliban's curses which also parody the gesture of "besprinkling." Thus, like an Iris in malo Caliban "casts aspersions" upon Prospero and Miranda in the form of "infections" drawn by the sun "from bogs, fens, flats" (2.2.1-2), and again, in the form of the "wicked dew" which Sycorax "brush'd / With raven's feather from unwholesome fen" (1.2.323-25). He not only parodies the imagined gesture of Iris but perverts the idea of her "refreshing showers." There is something here of the idea of the antimasque. Prospero's threats and Caliban's curses are mirror opposites of the masque that succeeds them, sterile shadows dispelled by the performance of the betrothal ritual.

Shakespeare's masque of Ceres ends with a typically Ovidian blessing for fertility and a "graceful dance" symbolising a chaste yet fertile meeting of the sexes. In the marriage blessing sung by Juno and Ceres (4.1.106-17) "honour" and "riches" consist not in gold mines but in "earth's increase, foison plenty." Ceres's idea of "increase" complements Juno's blessing of "long continuance and increasing." The fruits of the earth complement the fruits of the body, and in an image such as "plants with goodly burthen bowing" can even mimic the human body's "bur-then" of "increase." The fertility envisaged by Ceres is virtually transcendental, to the degree that winter—or "the season's difference," (which, in the ironically this-worldly pastoral of As You Like It, Duke Senior calls "the penalty of Adam" [2.1.5-6])—is not part of the picture:

Spring come to you at the farthest
In the very end of harvest!
Scarcity and want shall shun you
Ceres blessing so is on you.

The wording is ambiguous. It may mean that winter is excluded because spring will come again at "the very end of harvest," or it may mean that spring and harvest will resist winter for as long as possible. Either way, the masque strives to be free of "the season's difference" or the penalty of Proserpine, which Shakespeare (like any Renaissance mythographer) saw as equivalent to the Christian idea of the fall, or "the penalty of Adam." It is worth adding that by excluding winter Ceres is also excluding the legacy of sterility that winter symbolises for Ovid, as well as the "winds and tempests" that for mythographers such as Cesare Ripa were identified with winter. Likewise, the almost personified "scarcity" and "want" are ruled out. Again, it is worth noting that these figures are presupposed by Ovid's juxtaposition of Ceres with a personified "famine."

If the blessing amounts to a systematic affirmation of Ceres, so too does the "graceful dance" of "temperate nymphs" and sunburn'd" reapers (4.1.128-39). These nymphs of "crisp'd channels" bear a marked resemblance to the earlier "cold nymphs" of the "banks with pioned and twilled brims." This means mat their month is "spongy April" and that their dance with the "sunburn'd sicklemen of August weary" represents the conjunction of Spring with harvest that is promised in Ceres's blessing. In keeping with the chaste character of Ceres and with Virgo's monm of August, the dance is described as "graceful." It cannot, in other words, represent anything like the primal sexuality of the dance of "saltiers" in the fourth act of The Winter's Tale. It symbolises the decorous containment of sexual energy, not its release. Balance is the keynote. Wet is decorously reconciled to dry, the heat of the reapers is harmoniously complemented by the cold of the nymphs. There is no suggestion of one element pre-dominating, no suggestion of venereal melting or diluvian drowning.

This is why the dissolution of the masque "to a strange, hollow, and confused noise" is such a shock. Harmony gives way to confusion, the "graceful" movements of the dancers become grotesque—as suggested by the direction, "they heavily vanish." The celebration of temperance is followed by an explosion of temper (4.1.139-45; 158-63). Miranda has never seen Prospero "touch'd with anger so distemper'd." Ferdinand is "mov'd" and "dismay'd." The chaotic passion symbolised by the tempest, the land-hungry sea, the harpy and the winter has come back. We feel its presence in the image of Prospero's "beating mind"—and remember how earlier the tempest had made Miranda's mind "beat" with questions (1.2.176).

But if the sudden truncation of the masque is a shock, it is hardly illogical. It is not (as the Arden editor assumes) a by-product of Italian neo-classical dramatic structure (Ixxiv-Ixxvi). In a purely dramatic sense, the moment of dissolution should be unconsciously anticipated by our tendency to expect an equal and opposite reaction for every action. But it is also anticipated in a symbolic sense by the Ovidian iconography of the masque of Ceres that, because it must continually exclude its antitheses, must also continually evoke them in the very act of exclusion. Finally those antitheses, the diluvian imagery of distemper and the wilderness imagery of Caliban's "nature," reassert themselves.

Hence it is no accident that Shakespeare should be at pains to have Caliban instigate the discord with which the masque ends. Caliban may hardly strike us as Ovidian, but he is circumscribed by imagery which echoes the Ovidian iconography of the masque and (to a degree) he can be thought of* as Shakespeare's version of the unre-claimed natural forces that resist the power of Ovid's Ceres. He is unchaste, lawless, a drunkard, an idolator, and a "salvage" incapable of any civilised institution but slavery. He is also a hunter-gatherer of wild fruits rather than a planter of agricultural "foison," and yet—though unbeholden to any of Ceres's gifts—he is constantly identified with the earth. Not unlike Ovid's Typhon he is imprisoned ("stied") within the earth. He is also addressed by Prospero as "earth." He is earth to Ariel's "air," just as Ceres is earth to Iris's air. He represents a primitive nature upon which the nurture of Ceres "can never stick." As well as associating Caliban with an exotic or American idea of wilderness, Shakespeare also associates him with a more Ovidian idea of it. Ariel tells us how just before "presenting Ceres," he had led Caliban and the clowns on an intemperate progress through

Tooth'd briers, sharp furzes, pricking goss, and
Which enter'd their frail shins.

The detail of this suggests an Ovidian picture of primitive (pre-cereal) nature which we can also find in Boccaccio, for example, who explains how Ceres rid the land of "brears and brembles … foule to loke apon." This is because, in keeping with Ovidian tradition, Boccaccio cannot conceive of wilderness in its own terms. Hence, wild land is simply an antitype of cultivated land, "feeldys" that have been taken over by weeds and thorns.

Where does this leave us? I have argued that Shakespeare's masque of Ceres is the culmination of a dialectic between the Virginian motifs of temperance and fruitfulness. I have also argued that the masque is ultimately beholden to Ovid for the iconography of its moral landscape—both for the topographical detail and for the kind of morality that informs it. Can we go one step further and say that Ovid (who, after all, is the original of the Renaissance idea of the paysage moralisé) is also behind the moral topography of Virginia? Just possibly, though we could never be sure that the debt was conscious. But then Shakespeare's masque may not be consciously Ovidian either. The point is that once a landscape is imagined as temperate, fruitful and virginal, once its fruitfulness is supposed to depend somehow on temperance and virginity, then the logic can only be Ovidian. Both The Tempest and Virginia are inevitably Ovidian. Without Ovid's iconography of Ceres it is almost impossible to explain the peculiar emphasis on temperance and chastity in The Tempest. Without the machinery of the moralised landscape, Samuel Purchas could never have imagined [in his 1625 description in Virginias verger] the Virginian massacre of 1622 as the rape of a temperate virgin.

Temperance and Justice had before kissed each other, and seemed to blesse the cohabitations of English and Indians in Virginia. But when Virginia was violently ravished by her owne ruder Natives, yea her virgin cheekes dyed with the bloud of three Colonies … by so manifold losses adding to the price of Virginias purchase: Temperance could not temper her selfe, yea the stupid Earth seemes distempered with such bloudy potions and cries that shee is ready to spue out her Inhabitants.

Acknowledged or not, Ovid certainly was useful to the Virginia Company. As in the True Declaration, this use of the temperance topos heralds a radical shift in colonial policy. The intemperate Indians ("unnaturall Naturalls") had forfeited their birthright to the temperate land, and were about to be given a dose of their own distemper.

But if the Virginian apologists had an interest in representing their landscape in terms of chastity, what is Shakespeare's motive in The Tempest? We have seen that the theme of chastity has no basis in the dramatic (as distinct from iconographie) logic of the play: there is nothing whatever in the characters of Ferdinand and Miranda to justify Prospero's prudishness, nor to motivate the idea of a threat to their chastity in the masque. Nor, of course, is Shakespeare habitually straitlaced. Indeed no other Shakespeare play makes a point of being moral in quite this way. Why then should Shakespeare gratuitously exalt an uncongenial notion of chastity in the context of an Ovidian poetic geography? The answer must be connected with the theme of temperance, but, as we have also seen, the structural link between chastity and temperance is clumsy and tenuous. In fact, it is invisible unless we are thinking of Ovid. We are left to conclude that what inspired the combination of temperance and chastity in The Tempest was external rather than internal to the play's essential nature—an external context in which temperance, chastity and landscape are necessarily combined. This suggests, uniquely, the Ovidian construct of Virginia, the temperate and virginal land whose chastity is threatened by her own "ruder Natives."

If The Tempest and Virginia are cut from the same Ovidian cloth, we might try matching individual threads. We might think, for example, of how each employs a single Ovidian topos: the paradoxical figure of starvation in the midst of plenty. Ovid works the topos into his mythology of Ceres for the Erisichthon episode in Metamorphoses 8, where (as in book 5) the curse of the harvest goddess results in her own antithesis. In this episode Ceres summons the grisly spectre of famine from the stony wastes of Scythia (antithesis of the fertile Sicily) to possess Erisichthon with a never dying hunger in the midst of his plenty.

Shakespeare's version of this is the phantom banquet which is first presented to the greedy and impious courtiers by the masque of shapes, then snatched away by the harpy, a classical personification of greed. The contrast of surfeit with hunger is worked up into a paradox. The harpy describes the sea as "never surfeited" (like Ovid's "famine"), but it surfeits nonetheless, by "belching up" the courtiers on the island. This essentially Ovidian paradox of famine and plenty also emerges in the contrasting ideas of the island held by the good and the evil courtiers. To the good courtiers the island's grass is lush and green, anticipating the "short grassed green" of Ceres in act 4; but the evil courtiers see the same grass as "tawny" and conclude that the island is a "desert" affording no "means to live." Hence a type of the sterile landscape is set against a type of the fertile landscape—just as Ovid's barren Scythia (the domain of "famine") is superimposed on his fertile Sicily.

Ovid's paradox would also appear to have influenced the True Declaration's explanation of famine in Jamestown. In the very passage parodied by Shakespeare, the author asks: "How is it possible that … plentie and famine, a temperate climate, and distempered bodies, felicities and miseries … [can] be reconciled together?" The rhetorical question finds an Ovidian answer: as "famine" is the result of "distempered bodies," it can be eliminated simply by ensuring that the temperance of the colonial "bodies" equals that of the climate. If the colonists are temperate, hard-working, and deserving of food and fertility, they will not be cursed with starvation in the midst of Virginia's natural "plentie." It may be worth noting here that in later years the emblem of Virginia became a woman bearing sheaves of wheat—Ceres rediviva!

Like most of the Virginia Company's propagandist, the author of the True Declaration may have been a clergyman; in any case, he was a professional discourser trained in the art of rhetoric. He was probably not speaking from first hand experience. But even if he had been, the rhetorical and humanist habit of mind must have substantially controlled what he had to say. Strachey, through an eye-witness, is nonetheless guided by rhetorical, polemical and literary considerations. Polemical motives aside, it would have been difficult for a protestant and humanist mind to conceive of "the land vaguely realising westward" [(Robert Frost in The Gift Outright)] in other than classical and moral terms. Belief in England's messianic colonial destiny coupled with knowledge of the rhetorical possibilities of fruitfulness and temperance would thus result in the hard fortune of the Jamestown settlers being interpreted as moral failure, and the hard facts of the enterprise being read as sings of divine providence. Consciously or unconsciously therefore, Virginia would be written as a moral landscape, though the classical debt is obscured beneath the apparent realism of the style and the historicity of the subject.

But Shakespeare understood that the "new world" was essentially a "landscape of the mind." There is little sense of realistic landscape in The Tempest, and that landscape varies according to the mind that perceives it. Finally, The Tempest shows us two landscapes: the moral landscape in its various phases and a physical landscape of unimaginable strangeness and mystery—the landscape of Caliban. This latter landscape is unassimilable: neither moral nor new. The only mind, the only poetry, capable of imagining it is Caliban's. It resists the attempt of the European mind to mythologise and control. Poetically speaking, it is Caliban, not Prospero, not Miranda (and certainly not Ceres) who possesses the island. His is the imagination that we respond to. Though Miranda imagines a "brave new world," she is really inspired by a fresh vision of the tawdry old one. The island itself draws no poetry from her, nor from Prospero, whose most consciously inspired effort, the masque of Ceres, is remarkable for the degree to which it ignores its wild surroundings. It is no accident that Prospero's greatest poetic moment (4.1.146-63) is also schizophrenic, inspired not by the masque but by his failure to assimilate the nature of Caliban into his European idea of a moralised nature.

Classical Influences

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John Pitcher (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: "A Theatre of the Future: The Aeneid and The Tempest, " in Essays in Criticism, Vol. XXXIV, No. 3, July, 1984, pp. 193-215.

[In the following essay, Pitcher examines Shakespeare's reconstitution of episodes from Vergil's Aeneid in The Tempest, maintaining that in this drama the playwright displays the fruits of his encounter with both the vital and negative aspects of Roman culture.]

Twenty five years ago, when H. A. Mason [in Humanism and Poetry in the Early Tudor Period, 1959] sought to characterise the achievement of Ben Jonson—in his estimate, the first Englishman to make living contact with the classical past—he wrote that Jonson's 'feelings for the countryside of England were the place where above all the classical and modern meet'. In the soil, and pools and fish and fruit in and around the great houses owned by Jacobean aristocrats and gentry, Jonson could reimagine the culture, growing and made, of the Roman poets and their patrons. In the convivium especially, in the small gathering of friends for a meal, the essential facts of civilised Roman life could be made to vivify the Renaissance celebration of the rural feast. Away from the court, and its cloying arts and sophistication, the alfresco meal, attended by courtier and clown, poet and politician, could free the men of the Renaissance into simplicity and mutual trust. How much more alive would the bucolic ideal be, then, if the language, wit, and taste of Augustan Rome could be infused into it, making its values resonate with the past. This, so Mason argues, is where 'Jonson is happiest in recreating from the Classics' and where 'he most resembles Shakespeare, who uses the Classics in exactly the same spirit'. By concentrating on the actualities of English country life—the hunt, the summer feast, and the cold waters of the spring—both Shakespeare and Jonson are able to assimilate the reality of the ancient world into that of the modern.

As far as it goes, this is a humane and credible account of how the classical inheritance can move out of old books and dead languages and into men's heads and hearts. What is missing from it is a wider range of human experience, and specifically the antitypes, or antipathies to civilisation itself. For instance, Mason shows us how the ceremony of the meal, frugal but satisfying, can put men on their best behaviour, whether in a Roman villa, or in a Jacobean great house. But what is equally true, and no less a continuity between ancient and modern, is that starvation, and the torments of hunger, can break up the fraternity of man, and even bring him to the horror of cannibalism. Against the images, in Horace and Martial, of a decorous supper, and chaste entertainment, must be set a passage like this from the heart of The Aeneid [translated by Allan Mandlebaum, 1981]:

                    And there are those
who sit before high banquet couches, gleaming
upon supports of gold; before their eyes
a feast is spread in royal luxury,
but near at hand reclines the fiercest Fury:
they cannot touch the tables lest she leap
with lifted torch and thundering outcries.

Deep in the caverns of this classical hell, one of the more exquisite punishments is to invite the guilty to a feast, seat them around tables loaded with food, and then threaten to burn them alive if they try to eat it. Their torment is a parody of civilised behaviour, but it suits their crime. They have offended the gods at the table itself, and must be brought to account there (one of the victims, for example, is the mythic king Pirithous who allowed his relatives the Centaurs to brawl at his wedding feast). Appropriately this grotesque banquet is followed directly in the text by those who have done wrong against the family: the adulterers, the misers who left nothing to their kin, and

              those who in their lives had hated
their brothers or had struck their father or
deceived a client.

Virgil links this feast of madness and guilt, where the guests grow hungrier, to the disrupters of familial life, those who destroy the heart of civilisation. So although Mason is right to tell us that civilised life for the Romans (and Jacobeans) was centred in the generosity, fidelity and good measure of men eating together, what is excluded from his explanation, and perhaps also from Jonson's poems in The Forest, is the vulnerability of the feast, and the precariousness of that civilised life. For a Renaissance poet to make real contact with the ancients, he had to encounter more than what was positive, healthy, growing, vital and sylvan in their culture. He had also to encounter their despair, their guilt, and the spectres of death and disorder which had threatened them. Such is the achievement, in part, of Shakespeare in The Tempest.

One of the details from the banquet scene in that play brings us at once to a connection between The Aeneid and the The Tempest. The description of the Fury who presides over the Virgilian punishment tells us that she is Furiarum maxima (VI. 605), literally 'the eldest of the furies'. It is exactly these words that the Harpy Celaeno, in Book III of The Aeneid, uses to reveal and name herself to Aeneas. Storm-tossed by the goddess Juno, Aeneas wanders from island to island until he arrives, unwittingly, in the land of the Harpies. He and his men prepare a meal from the cattle and goats they have found and slaughtered on the island, and they build couches on the beach from which they may dine. They begin their meal, but suddenly,

shaking out their wings with a great clanging,
the Harpies, horrible, swoop from the hilltops;
and plundering our banquet with the filthy
touch of their talons, they foul everything.
Their terrifying scream leaps from that stench.

The Trojans drive away these defecating bird women, and try to resume their feast. Once more the Harpies descend on the tables, and once more they are driven off. The next time they come, Aeneas and his men hack at them with swords, but no 'blow can wound their wings or scar their backs'. They flee, but their leader Celaeno, Furiarum maxima (252), stays to accuse Aeneas of trying to steal their land, and she announces prophetically:

  … you will not wall in your promised city
until an awful hunger and your wrong
in slaughtering my sisters has compelled
your jaws to gnaw as food your very tables.

The Harpy episode reaches into Act III of The Tempest, as we know from Kermode's Arden edition, but its conjunction with that hellish banquet in Book VI allows us to glimpse something more sombre behind Ariel's words of mockery and judgement against Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio. In The Tempest, the feast that is snatched from their mouths, leaving them maddened and famished, is one of the quaint devices with which Prospero intimidates his enemies. It is of a piece with Ariel's claim to be a minister of Fate, which is a lie, and the bogus, but terrifying judgement itself. You three supplanted Prospero, Ariel declares, and exposed him and his innocent child to the sea—

                 for which foul deed
The powers, delaying, not forgetting, have
Incens'd the seas and shores, yea, all the
Against your peace. Thee of thy son, Alonso,
They have bereft; and do pronounce by me
Ling' ring perdition.

This is spectacular, and spectacularly untrue. The King's son is not dead, and it is Prospero's scheme, not the scheme of things, which brings them to trial. It manipulates them, it drives them out of their wits, but one doubts whether it is for real. Down comes Ariel, like a Harpy, wings aflap, quoting bits from Celaeno's speech (about invulnerable feathers), but all this is still only a Halloween trick or treat to pummel them into submission. Or so it can seem until we restore to it that vision in Book VI of a punishment at a banquet which is eternal, where the guests are never forgiven, and where the Furiarum maxima mocks their famine. Celaeno's prophecy, in Book III, that Aeneas would gnaw his tables in hunger before he built a city, turned out to be a riddle and a joke: the Harpy was a trickster, but no real danger to him. But her namesake in hell was quite another creature, a furious judge from whom there was no escape. In The Tempest, behind the stageyness of Ariel's speech, there is not only that absurd, deceiving Harpy, who promises revenge but who can take none, but also that fury of the underworld who inflicts a lingering perdition, and one that matters, on the guilty.

The Virgilian presence in The Tempest is often of this spectral kind, a half-seen image of death, or damnation, or despair at the back of an episode, a line, or even a single word. This can be the case even where we can identify a more immediate source. In Act V, for example, in the speech in which Prospero surrenders his 'rough magic', the lines are adapted from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book VII (the Medea speech), with a few borrowings from Golding's translation. Almost all of Prospero's magical powers are thus derived from Ovid, but Shakespeare makes at least one significant addition, in the lines.

    to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire, and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt.
                                              (V.i. 44-6)

Once more, in Tartarus, in the place of torments, only twenty lines earlier than that painful banquet, we find a Virgilian shade which haunts The Tempest. I saw Salmoneus there, so the ancient Sibyl tells Aeneas,

how brutal were the penalties he paid
for counterfeiting Jove's own fires
and the thunders of Olympus.

This was the 'madman who would mime the tempests and/inimitable thunder', qui nimbos et non imitabile fulmen … simularet (VI. 590-91), and who, for his presumption, was thrust down into hell. Prospero, who also fakes tempests and who usurps the lightning of the gods, is at the summit of his authority in Act V, but the fate of the overreaching Salmoneus, damnation for an imposter, hovers spectrally behind him. The lines from The Aeneid are not a source, in the usual sense of the word, but they allow us to glimpse that shadow of hell and personal danger which Prospero's magic exposes him to. A similar suggestiveness accompanies the words 'ooze' and 'oozy' in the play, the words used by Alonso when he thinks of his son Ferdinand, drowned in die storm, a corpse sunk beneath the waves. In Act III, when reminded of his crime against Prospero, he says:

               my son i'th'ooze is bedded; and
I'll seek him deeper than e'er plummet sounded,
And with him there lie mudded.
                                              (III. iii. 100-102)

In the final Act, in almost identical words, his despair returns at the thought of the body at the bottom of the sea:

                           I wish
Myself were mudded in that oozy bed
Where my son lies.
                                 (V. i. 150-52)

Mud and ooze, the liquid sands of the seabed, Ferdinand's lifeless body—a mournful enough prospect, even when we know it to be untrue. Virgil again is present here, because Alonso's grief is not just sorrow at the loss of a son and heir, but also that special grief for the unburied body, the corpse that lies naked and washed on some beach after a storm, or which sinks full fathom five into the waters (Alonso's own fate, so Ferdinand believes). In the Virgilian underworld, Aeneas meets the soul of his helmsman, Palinurus, who died in the sea, and whose body, battered and cut about, has still not been buried. The shade longs to cross over the waters of the Styx (the river of the dead), but Charon will give him, and his like, no passage until the corpse is covered with earth. The unburied dead crowd around the river bank, held back by waters thick with sludge, and ooze, belching their mud (eructat harenam, VI. 297) into the river Cocytus. In The Tempest, the Virgilian vocabulary, and despair, can scarcely be avoided. Gonzalo 'would fain die a dry death', on any kind of land; Ariel tells the 'men of sin' that the 'never-surfeited sea' has belched them up; and Alonso imagines his son's body sinking into a sludge of death, unhonoured and unburied. It was an experience, and a language, reading Virgil's lines as they came through Shakespeare, which Milton evidently found irresistible. In Lycidas, there is a soul which the river of death can no longer hold back, because of Christ, even though the body, lost at sea, floats upon 'a watery bier', weltering 'to the parching wind'. In Milton's tempest, the Virgilian ghost is raised once more, and so too is Shakespeare's word, ooze, now cleansed of its mud, and deep oblivion. Lycidas is 'sunk low, but mounted high' to where, significantly, with 'nectar pure his oozy locks he laves'.

When we summarise what Shakespeare is supposed to have borrowed from The Aeneid, borrowings sanctioned by the scholars, the list for The Tempest is far shorter than what we might reasonably expect: the storm itself, Alonso's journey, Ferdinand's first words to Miranda, the Harpy spectacle, bits of the wedding masque, the coastline of the island, the preservation of the mariners, and of course that old critical chestnut, the inexplicable jokes and pedantry about widow Dido in Act II. J. M. Nosworthy gave us this list [in Review of English Studies, 24 (1948)] and a few other traces, over thirty years ago, and the total has not increased much since then. Among critics, the feeling seems to be that, on a Mediterranean sea route between Africa and Italy, it would be difficult not to bump into the story of how the Trojans came home to build their new city, and stopped off at nearly every island on the way. Certainly, The Aeneid was not considered to be a sufficiently important source to be enshrined in Bullough's Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, a decision which in the short term will probably ensure that it remains peripheral to a reading of the play. But perhaps instead of tracing Shakespeare's debts, it might be more useful to look for the invitations he could hardly have declined. One of these in particular, in Book I of The Aeneid, has a significance which Shakespeare could not have found more appropriate even if he had risked the sortes vergilianae, the book of Virgil sprung open at random to reveal the future. The lines in question begin with Aeneas walking, invisible, among the towers, walls and citadels of the half-built city of Carthage, the city destined to oppose and be crushed by Rome. This is the city Dido, the Phoenician queen, who brought her people to the African shore, and began these works. Here some of them are digging harbours, others roll blocks of stone into position, still more draw up rules for the senate, and laws for the citizen. Naturally, Aeneas is impressed, and envious of the energetic start the Tyrians have made. He notices that they have even begun another structure

                        hie alta theatris
fundamenta locant alii, immanisque columnas
rupibus excidunt, scaenis decora apta futuris—

or as Mandelbaum translates it

                         others lay
the deep foundations for a theater,
hewing tremendous pillars from the rocks,
high decorations for the stage to come.

It would be perverse to think that phrases like alta theatris fundamenta and scaenis … futuris, deep foundations for a theatre, and a stage of the future, would have meant nothing to Shakespeare. He was a dramatist intensely conscious of his own art, its origins, and the materials with which he worked, and the notion of a theatre, begun and destroyed on the coast of North Africa, a theatre built even before Rome was, would surely have attracted his attention. But more important than this actual theatre—which must have vanished into the sands over a century before Virgil began to write—was the stage-to-be, the structure left uncompleted in an epic poem, a prophecy almost, that a dramatic form, set between pillars, waited to emerge into the future from an epic past. Nothing could have conformed more to the critical axiom of Shakespeare's day that the epic or heroic poem was the primary literary form, from which all others, ancient and modern, had descended. As Scaliger wrote, the epic

is the one, perfect kind of poem, the original for all the other kinds … It contains within it the universal and controlling rules for the composition of each kind, according at each point to the nature of the ideas present and the style appropriate to each subject.

This stage-to-be at Carthage is literally within Virgil's epic, but it is also a literary kind emerging, unfinished, from the perfect poem, the parent of all forms. It is this genealogy which must have mattered to Shakespeare: the indebtedness of The Tempest to The Aeneid is the debt of origin. That theatre of the future is Shakespeare's own, as he surely realised. Furthermore, an obligation like this, of child to parent, drama to the epic, could never remain unexpressed, and there are many signs in The Tempest of a return to origins, of a longing to start again, to go back to the days before innocence was lost. One of these attempts, in the allusions centred on Dido, shows how the theme of spoilt but recoverable beginnings, even as far back as hell, is measured as a regeneration of form.

Editors of The Tempest have been consistently puzzled by the references to Dido at the beginning of Act II. In the Arden edition, Kermode says that the lines cannot be taken at face value, that is, as 'a series of apparently trivial allusions to the theme of Dido and Aeneas', because 'nowhere in Shakespeare, not even in his less intensive work, is there anything resembling the apparent irrelevance' of these lines. He concludes that 'our frame of reference' may be 'badly adjusted, or incomplete, and that an understanding of this passage' might 'modify our image of the whole play'. However, the lines already tell us everything we need to know, and there is no reason to think, as Anne Barton does in her Penguin edition, that 'the whole passage may well have held a meaning for Shakespeare's contemporaries that is lost to us.' The allusions to Dido begin at line 66, with Gonzalo's remark:

Gon. 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.
Seb. 'Twas a sweet marriage, and we prosper
  well in our return.
Adr. Tunis was never grae'd before with such a
  paragon to their Queen.
Gon. Not since widow Dido's time.
Ant. Widow! a pox o' that! How came that
  widow in? widow Dido!
Seb. What if he had said 'widower Aeneas' too?
  Good Lord, how you take it!
Adr. 'Widow Dido' said you? you make me
  study of that: she was of Carthage, not of

Gon. This Tunis, sir, was Carthage.
Adr. Carthage?
Gon. I assure you, Carthage.
Ant. His word is more than the miraculous harp.
Seb. He hath rais'd the wall, and houses too.

Gonzalo's touch of scholarship, queried by Adrian, and jeered at by the others, has not gone unchallenged, or undefended, by the moderns. Wilson Knight observes [in The Crown of Life, 1965] that, according to Virgil, 'Dido was widowed before Aeneas' arrival at Carthage and Gonzalo here, as in his identification of Tunis and Carthage, is correct. The cynic's sneer is based on lack of information'. Yet Kermode, watching Antonio's reaction, says that the phrase 'widow Dido' is 'apparently a solecism', and 'the emphatic statement about the identity of Tunis and Carthage is a mistake at once pointed out'. In the lines,

His word is more than the miraculous harp.
He hath rais'd the wall, and houses too,

Sebastian and Antonio are mocking the old man. 'Only the walls of Thebes rose to the music of Amphion's harp', so Kermode writes, 'but Gonzalo, by identifying Carthage with Tunis, fabricates a whole city'. The usually exemplary Arden is unhelpful here. What Kermode is saying, following earlier editors, is that Gonzalo has made an amalgam of two cities, the Tunis the royal party has just left, and another city on the African shore, called Carthage. On this account, a hybrid and non-existent city has come into being in Gonzalo's confused old mind, and this is what Sebastian and Antonio are laughing at. Wilson Knight and Kermode are both right and wrong about Tunis and Carthage. By the end of the sixteenth century, nothing was left of old Carthage except a site, several miles from Tunis, a city which was in the hands of the Turks. Old Carthage, Dido's city, had been razed to the ground by the Romans at the end of the Punic wars (146 B.C.), although another city, Roman Carthage, had been built on its foundations (and lost to Islam in the seventh century). In 1573, as his army was approaching and about to capture Tunis, Don John of Austria was out hunting lions and wild bulls on the very site of Carthage. In The Tempest, Gonzalo is saying no more than that beneath new Tunis is Dido's old city of Carthage. Strictly speaking, the places were always distinct, although it is debateable whether Shakespeare would have known or cared about the few miles that separated them. What matters in this passage is history, not geography, and by the standards of The Tempest it is no more inexact to locate Carthage beneath Tunis than to discover an unknown new world on an island in the old and familiar Mediterranean. Either through ignorance or perversity, Sebastian and Antonio refuse to make the connections which have begun to occur to Gonzalo. They will not accept, or do not know, that in The Aeneid Dido herself emphasises how important her widowhood is to her—but Gonzalo knows it, and he begins to see (but darkly) how her tragedy has some-thing to do with the present. Both Dido and Carthage were utterly destroyed by Rome, and yet there was still some continuity, centuries later, which reached into the lives of Claribel and her African prince in their city of Tunis.

It is hardly surprising that Sebastian and Antonio should jeer at Gonzalo when he tries to make this connection. They are usurpers, would-be fratricides who intrude into rightful inheritance (or try to) and break up the continuities linking the past with the present. Shakespeare, no less than Gonzalo, is making a way back through Claribel, queen of Tunis, to Dido, the first sovereign of Carthage, who killed herself because she forgot her own past when she fell in love with Aeneas. When the Trojan prince told her his stories, she became infatuated with him, and broke her vow of fidelity to her dead husband, Sychaeus. Inflamed by Cupid, she grew desperate for the stranger, and up in the hills, in a storm, she gave herself to him, and left behind her widowhood:

                      Primal earth
and Juno, queen of marriages, together
now give the signal: lightning fires flash,
the upper air is witness to their mating,
and from the highest hilltops shout the nymphs.
That day was her first day of death and ruin.
For neither how things seem nor how they are
moves Dido now, and she no longer thinks
of furtive love. For Dido calls it marriage,
and with this name she covers up her fault.

When she stayed faithful to her late husband's memory, and when she devoted herself to building Carthage, Dido was a paragon of a queen (in Roman terms). But to be whoring in a cave with an effeminate Phrygian, and then to neglect her city, was a crime only made worse when she declared that her lawless unsanctified lust was a married love. Eventually Aeneas left her, and widow Dido, in passion for him, and recalling who she was, stabbed herself with his sword. The story was not quite finished, though, for in the underworld the lovers met again, some-where in the great fields of mourning. Dido's wound was still bleeding, and her anger was undiminished. She would not speak to Aeneas, for all his entreaties, and at last

              she tore herself away; she fled—
and still his enemy—into the forest
of shadows, where Sychaeus, once her husband,
answers her sorrows, gives her love for love.

She is widow Dido once more, although now a spent and bitter shadow, almost as effaced as her city will be when defeated by Rome.

The Dido passage in The Tempest ceases to be a distraction from more obvious themes in the play when we take it beyond Claribel and Tunis, and on to Miranda and Ferdinand, and to the masque celebrating their future wedding. It is here that this invocation of Dido (for this is what it is) assumes significance. The connection between the Dido allusions and what happens in the Ceres masque has been overlooked, but everything in the masque indicates that it is a rewriting of Dido's tragical history. The old story of violation by a stranger, and of sexual union without blessing, and of being tricked by the gods—Dido's story—is repatterned and turned into, or, more properly, towards Miranda's future. In the masque, Juno has sent her messenger Iris to summon Ceres, goddess of harvests. She is invited to celebrate a 'contract of true love', but first (since she has forsworn their company) she asks if Venus and Cupid are with Juno. Iris assures her that the goddess of love and her son, although they intended some 'wanton charm upon this man and maid', have departed, because of the vows between the young lovers—

          that no bed-right shall be paid
Till Hymen's torch be lighted.

                                   (IV. i. 96-7)

Juno and Ceres sing their blessings on the couple, promising fruition. River nymphs, temperate and chaste, are then joined by reapers in a rural dance. In every respect this recodes the fate of Dido and Aeneas. In The Aeneid, as the outcome of discord between two goddesses, Juno and Venus, it is arranged that Dido shall be tricked into an illicit love for Aeneas by a charm from Cupid (pretending to be Ascanius). And later in the poem these same goddesses agree that the first sexual encounter between Dido and her prince will be in a cave, as they shelter from a thunderstorm. In The Tempest there are once again two goddesses making an agreement about two lovers, but this time it is Juno and Ceres, the goddess of fruition, not Venus the deity of unbridled desire—and this time the lovers are about to celebrate a lawful union in wedlock. Instead of nymphs screaming and cavorting on the mountains as Dido couples with Aeneas, there are in the masque decorous naiads who dance with grace; instead of the lavishly-dressed hunting party which accompanied the Carthaginian queen out into the hills, there are humble reapers, 'properly habited'; and where Dido could bear no child to Aeneas (to remember him by, as she says) Miranda will be blessed with children. Even Iris has a place in this. When Dido had committed suicide, it was Iris's duty to set free the poor struggling soul 'from her entwining limbs'. In contrast, in The Tempest, Iris's office is a joyful one. No longer the disposer of wretched lovers, she now brings together the royal couple and their patron goddesses.

In the theatre of the future, predicted by Virgil, Dido's history is returned, made active again, but now benign and beautiful. The beauty is in what the Renaissance called enargeia, where a form burst the limits of narration and became inexpressibly vivid. What had to be narrated in the epic, could find new space and colour and movement in drama and the masque. Moreover, it could be displayed (on Quintilian's authority) in 'living truth to the eyes of the mind'. Dido's story was not simply refigured in terms of plot and theme, but as the activity of a whole new form, a form which transcended what the epic could do. Whether, in the genealogy of forms, picture-making and figuring the movements of the body had superseded poetry was at the heart of the quarrel between Jonson and Inigo Jones about the masque. It is quite possible that something of this debate surfaces in Prospero's speech, immediately after his startling interruption of the wedding masque. Not wanting to give Caliban the chance to put a nail in his head, Prospero breaks up the entertainment in a passion. Ferdinand is dismayed at the outburst, but he is told:

                    be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. 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-capp'd 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.
                                   (IV. i. 147-56)

Prospero begins in anger, but by the end of his speech, he is melancholic, vexed, troubled in brain and infirm. He walks aside, a turn or two, to still his beating mind. Whatever influence the Jacobean masque has in this, it can hardly by itself account for Prospero's agitation and sudden weakness. Nor is Caliban's conspiracy alone enough to have brought on this sadness and perplexity. In fact, there is here once more a return to Virgil, and to the building of the city of Carthage. Some twenty lines after he has seen the work on the theatre, Aeneas, still veiled from sight, comes through the city to a grove, to a place of worship. It is a shrine devoted to Juno, and within it he finds, depicted on the walls, the story of Troy besieged by the Greeks. He sees the battles, the sons of Atreus, his father Priam, and his enemy Achilles. He halts and begins to weep:

        As he wept, he cried: 'Achates,
where on this earth is there a land, a place
that does not know our sorrows? Look! There is
Here, too, the honorable finds its due
and there are tears for passing things; here, too,
things mortal touch the mind. Forget your fears;
this fame will bring you some deliverance.'
He speaks. With many tears and sighs he feeds
his soul on what is nothing but a picture.

In Virgil that final phrase 'nothing but a picture' is 'pictura … inani', or an 'insubstantial picture'. Gazing at the story of Troy, and its towers, palaces and solemn temples, Aeneas weeps for what is lost, and what is passing, and what is unreal. What he does not realise is how susceptible he has become to the images before him. He finds himself in Juno's temple, the shrine of the goddess who has sworn to destroy him, and there is nothing on the walls but the story of his own origins. Here Hector is dragged in the dust, and Priam stretches out weaponless hands, and he even recognises himself in action against the Greeks. The story almost surrounds him, but the temple is not yet finished, and not everything is known of him—how, for instance, he has escaped from the ruins of Troy and made his way to this very city. He does not understand the danger yet, but he is almost the victim of his own story. Here in the spiritual heart of Carthage, the place of its first foundation, a trap is sprung for him, for if the pictures are completed in that temple, he will never leave Africa. The walls battered down at Troy, and his journey across the seas, will be recounted and depicted, and become history, and he will stay with Dido. The Trojans will mingle with her people, and be extinguished, and Juno's plan will be fulfilled. There will be no Rome, for Aeneas's story will have ended in Carthage, and Troy will have become a memory hung up in a shrine to praise the queen of the gods. All this very nearly happens, and it is only because Aeneas breaks from Dido, even as he is working to build Carthage, that his story begins again as a quest for Italy. At that point, of course, another story comes to an end, and it is widow Dido's.

Aeneas's mistake, in a moment of exhaustion and grief, is to think that the fall of Troy, and all the treachery and butchering, could be turned into something new and consoling without further sacrifice and risk. For Prospero, whose story is also one of near-defeat because of villainy, there is a comparable temptation. By the time he presents the masque, he has achieved total control over his enemies (with some allowance for Caliban) and over the destiny of his child. Bare survival on a leaking boat has been made to lead through his art to the union of Naples and Milan. The masque is his great image of authority, and it nearly goes too far. To choose the tragedy of Dido, as earlier he had chosen the episode of the Harpies, so as to make a Virgilian story of anguish and resentment contribute to present joy, is audacious, and nearly overreaching. He has begun to identify himself fully with his power over the passing of time, and to believe that his version of events, his story, is identical with providence. He has only to recall Caliban, even though he can master him, to remember how untrue this is. Halfway into the masque, he wakes abruptly from his reverie, aghast at the insubstantial vanity of his art: 'PROSPERO starts suddenly, and speaks; after which, to a strange, hollow, and confused noise … [the figures] heavily vanish" (after IV. i. 138). The groans are the noise and pain of freedom. The mariners on board ship hear the same thing the instant they are set free:

           with strange and several noises
Of roaring, shrieking, howling, jingling chains,
And mo diversity of sounds, all horrible,
We were awak'd; straightway, at liberty.
                                          (V. i. 232-5)

Aeneas in Juno's temple at Carthage, and Prospero breaking up his daughter's wedding masque: the links, from original to descendant, are in the grief, and in the weariness at how much they have achieved, and in the insubstantial images before them. Yet there are differences here, between Virgil and Shakespeare. Aeneas feeds on weak images, so much less real than the real Troy, which may enslave him because of his weakness. Prospero rejoices in the Virgilian images he has made strong by his will, with nothing to fear but the enargeia he has made his own. He is the last in a line of Shakespeare's characters, including Hamlet and Othello, who are victims or near-victims of a story they tell themselves. The player at Elsinore narrates the fall of Troy at Hamlet's request, because the prince chiefly loves Aeneas's tale to Dido and 'especially when he speaks of Priam's slaughter'. So completely does the player surrender to the story, even though it is but 'a fiction' and 'a dream of passion', that there are tears

          in his eyes, distraction in his aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit.

The strong Virgilian presence here is the figure of Aeneas weeping over a tale of blood, longing to be relieved of his destiny, fearful of what is to come and what has been lost. As for Othello, another stranger whose stories won over a woman, he too is a man of ancient tales and histories (the handkerchief and the big wars). Yet in the end, it is the story he tells himself of his own faithful heroism which contains him: the episode of a lifetime, stabbing the Turk, is finally the only version he has of himself.

In the last days of 1598, Shakespeare's company, the Chamberlain's men, dismantled their playhouse the Theatre, and took the timber across the Thames to Bankside. There they erected a new house which they called the Globe. An old theatre had crossed the water to become a new world, which was also a new theatre; and it was all from the same wood. Sometimes with Shakespeare it seems that even his commercial ventures were parabolic. This Globe was another actual theatre, however, and, strangely enough, like the one at Carthage, it was burnt to the ground (in 1613). In The Tempest, Virgilian episodes are as likely as the Theatre to reconstitute themselves under another name. One of these, also concerned with water and a transformation of timber, is in Book IX of The Aeneid. In this, while Aeneas is away seeking allies, the camp of the Trojans is attacked by Turnus and the Latin army. The Trojan defences are impenetrable, so Turnus decides to lure the enemy out by setting fire to their ships, which are drawn up close to the camp. What follows is an extraordinary account of how the ships are saved. When Aeneas had first built them, the timbers had come from a forest sacred to the mother of the gods. She had given the trees willingly, but had been anxious that they should never be destroyed. She appealed to Jove who promised that when the ships reached Italy he would strip the mortal form from them, and

       command those galleys to take on
the shapes of goddesses of the great waters.

When Turnus was about to burn them, and the torches were close to the ships, the metamorphosis finally took place. The goddess announces:

       ' … it is far easier for Turnus
to burn the seas that touch my sacred pines.
Go free, my ships: go, you sea goddesses;
the mother of the gods now gives this order.'
And on the instant all the ships have ripped

their cables off the banks and with their beaks,
like dolphins, dived to seek the deep; and then
as many virgin shapes—amazing omen—
rise up to ride the sea as, just before,
were brazen prows lined up along the shore.

This is one of the most startling moments in The Aeneid, and more like an Ovidian transformation than something in Virgil. Its elements undoubtedly attracted Shakespeare: ships, pine trees, fire, sea water, shaped timbers, virginity, a goddess, a fleet arrived on the Italian shore, the female body, and sea nymphs. It provides the very language of The Tempest. In the storm, Ariel, who appears before us in at least three female guises, flames amazement on the ship's topmast, yards and boresprit—a line of fire, without burning, along sodden timbers. Gonzalo compares the leaking ship to an unstanched wench, and Ariel is imprisoned in a cloven pine, venting groans as 'fast as mill-wheels strike', that is, to the rhythm of timbers beating water. The sea nymphs, Ariel among them, sing to Ferdinand, who is made to carry driftwood and drink sea water. When he stacks up the wood before Miranda, she says

           I would the lightning had
Burnt up those logs that you are enjoin'd to
Pray, set it down, and rest you: when this burns,
'Twill weep for having wearied you.
                                   (III. i. 16-19)

A pretty conceit from a virgin child, whom Italian princes take to be a goddess, and who will one day sail back to Italy. The natural and unnatural elements in Virgil, sea goddesses come from the forests of Ida, transmute and combine into new shapes in the play, yet one thing remains constant. When the trees that were timbers are freed into flesh, the miracle of change (in water) is that no matter, no substance, can enslave the pure forever. In The Tempest, where wood and water have become trials to the flesh, the miracle of freedom, for the pure and impure, is no less sought after and commemorated. 'Set it down/ With gold on lasting pillars', says Gonzalo of a story of sea voyages and trials and old identities become new. He is speaking, no doubt, of writing on columns, of inscribing the story, but such an image is not found by chance. The lasting pillars, in the logic of Shakespeare's returns to Virgil, are hewn out of The Aeneid, 'immanisque columnas … scaenis decora apta futuris', monumental columns, fitting adornments for the stage to come.

Robert Wiltenburg (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: "The Aeneid in The Tempest," in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study and Production, Vol. 39, 1987, pp. 159-68.

[In the following essay, Wiltenburg argues that in The Tempest "Shakespeare has imitated, with important differences, the main pattern of Virgil's poem in its beginning, middle, and end; that is, in its situation, development, and resolution."

Even those sympathetic to source studies may well feel that enough has been said about the sources of The Tempest. More than most of the plays, it seems to be a rich confluence of elements drawn from Shakespeare's diverse reading, conversation, and theatrical experience. So many things float to the surface here: contemporary excitement over the exploration and colonization of the New World; bits of Italian and Spanish history and fiction involving usurpations, flights, islands, and returns; scenes and techniques from the ongoing human comedy of commedia dell'arte improvisations; some of Montaigne's reflections on nature and society, anger and restraint; and a fascination with magic, man's power to influence, and perhaps control, nature outside and inside himself and others, by the power of his 'art'. Yet no one of these predominates, or presents a sufficiently strong matrix of incident and character to constitute a primary source. Kenneth Muir [in The Sources of Shakespeare's Plays, 1977] spoke for many readers, I suspect, when he concluded that, whatever the variety of his materials, 'it seems … likely that for once he [Shakespeare] invented the plot'.

Others, however, have felt that something is still missing in our account of the play and its sources; among them, Muir himself, who twenty years earlier had voiced the opposite opinion that, although 'there were … a number of minor sources … it is highly probable that there was a main source as yet unidentified'. Indeed, Shakespeare characteristically writes in response to a story. He does sometimes take inert lumps of chronicle history or philosophic speculation and transform them into things rich and strange, but his most frequent way with sources is to take an old story, badly or somehow inadequately or incompletely told, and tell it again. I believe the Aeneid is the main source of the play in this sense, not the source of the plot (though it does provide many incidental and verbal details and parallels), but the work to which Shakespeare is primarily responding, the story he is retelling.

The claims for the Aeneid in this respect have not been much considered, in part perhaps because they were so obvious. Source hunters instinctively prefer the secret, the subtle, and the arcane, but even groundlings have heard of Dido and Aeneas, and one needs not to be much of a classical scholar to spot the allusion to Virgil in Ariel's harpy-like entrance in act 3. Critics have not made much of this material: Muir speaks of the 'curious echoes' from the Aeneid; Frank Kermode feels 'that Shakespeare has Virgil in mind'; Geoffrey Bullough, in his authoritative account of the narrative and dramatic sources, does not even bother to mention the Aeneid. Some critics may have felt, with Chesterton, that 'a debt to Virgil is like a debt to Nature'. Others seem to have contented themselves with the reflection that since the Aeneid, at least in its first four to six books, was a chief text of contemporary education, it could be regarded as a common quarry of ideas and effects, requiring no special attention.

The true significance of the Aeneid for the play may also have been obscured for a time by the misguided enthusiasm of Colin Still's The Timeless Theme. Colin Still, a theosophical crank, was interested in The Tempest only insofar as it could be interpreted as an allegorical illustration of the 'timeless theme' he perceived as underlying all religions and all great literature, including (but not limited to) the Bible, Homer, Virgil, Dante, the mystical texts of the Zohar, Shakespeare, and Milton. Yet, for all the crude forcing of the evidence to very narrow preconceptions, Still made some valuable connections between the poem and the play. He noticed the exchange between Adrian and Gonzalo (2.1.79-84) concerning the identity of Carthage with Tunis (Gonzalo is wrong of course, Tunis is only near what had been Carthage), he remarked the general similarity of the interrupted voyage from Tunis to Naples to that of Aeneas voyage from Carthage (near Tunis) to Cumae (near Naples), and he suggested that the experiences of Alonso's party in the enchanted island are comparable in several respects to those of Aeneas in the underworld.

Much useful work was done by J. M. Nosworthy, who identified several structural and verbal parallels, and demonstrated that Shakespeare has drawn directly upon the description of the storm and landing in Aeneid 1, both for general inspiration and for many specifics. He noted [ … in Review of English Studies 24, 1948] that both poem and play open with a storm and shipwreck in the present, then introduce the antecedent action, or 'causal plot' as he calls it, through Aeneas' narrative to Dido, and Prospero's to Miranda, before beginning the present action or 'effectual plot'. He further demonstrated in detail that 'Shakespeare's tempest and Virgil's storm are analogous in origin and outcome. Both are provoked by supernatural means to ensure that a certain character shall arrive at a certain requisite locality and there be brought into relation with other characters.' He cited parallels between furious Juno and angry Prospero as authors of the storms, between Aeolus and Ariel as their agents (one of whom, we may note, will be rewarded with a wife, the other with his freedom); between the isolation of Ferdinand to effect his meeting with Miranda, and the relative isolation of Aeneas (he never loses his fidus Achates) to effect his meeting with Dido; and finally, between the supernatural preservation of mariners and ships in both. Beyond the storm and its consequences he cited verbal borrowings from Aeneid 1 and 4, the most significant of which go to form part of Ceres' speech to Iris in the masque of act 4, and Ferdinand's first encounter with Miranda, palpably based upon Aeneas' recognition of his mother Venus ('0 dea certe') in Aeneid 1. My intention here is not to multiply specific parallels, useful as that might be (though I will suggest one later), but to assess what Nosworthy calls the 'pervasive influence' of the poem on the play. In what follows, I will argue that Shakespeare has imitated, with important differences, the main pattern of Virgil's poem in its beginning, middle, and end; that is, in its situation, development, and resolution.

Shakespeare takes as his 'given' for the play what we may call the Virgilian situation, a situation characterized by tempests, defiled banquets, and 'widowhood'. First in both poem and play is the tempest itself. In the play, it reflects the state of moral disorder occasioned by the usurpation, now dramatized as a physical disorder to effect Prospero's present purpose. But in the poem the tempest expresses a continuing relation between man and the gods, Juno in particular, whose hostility makes man's voyaging, man's history, a continual series of tempests—physical, personal, and social—the end of which remains, in the poem, promised but not achieved. The effect of these tempests, whether within man or outside him, is not so much ruin as separation. As Shakespeare's mariners cry out in the first scene when the ship appears to be lost:

       Mercy on us!—
We split, we split!—Farewell, my wife and
Farewell, brother!—We split, we split, we

This is also Aeneas' situation in the first half of the Aeneid. His narrative of his voyage is punctuated with painful, helpless splittings and farewells. First of all to Troy itself; as Panthus says to him while they are still within the burning city:

venit summa dies et ineluctabile tempus
Dardaniae. fuimus Troes, fuit Ilium et ingens
gloria Teucrorum; ferus omnia Iuppiter argos

This is the hour which no effort of ours can alter. We Trojans are no more; no more is Ilium; no more the splendour of Teucrian glory. All now belongs to Argos; it is Jupiter's remorseless will.

Then there is Aeneas' farewell to his wife Creusa, inadvertently left behind in the escape from the city. Aeneas returned to search for her and reports:

ausus quin etiam voces i act are per umbram
impievi clamore vias, maestusque Creusam
nequiquam ingeminans iterumque iterumque

I even risked shouting through the darkness. Again and again I filled the streets with my cries in useless repetition, as in my grief I called out Creusa's name.

He refuses to be consoled when her spirit argues the divinely ordained necessity of their separation: 'lacrimantem et multa volentem / dicere deseruit, tenuisque recessit in auras' (2.790-1) ('though I wept and longed to say so much, she forsook me and vanished into thin air'). Similar are the losses or leavetakings from many companions and friends, culminating in the loss, just when destiny seemed within reach, of his father Anchises:

hinc Drepani me portus et inlaetabilis ora
accipit. hie pelagi tot tempestatibus actus
heu! genitorem, omnis curae casusque

amitto Anchisen … hie labor extremus

At last I found a harbour at Drepanum, but there was no joy for me on that shore. For here, after all the persecution of the ocean-storms, O bitterness! I lost my father, lost Anchises my solace in every adventure and care … This blow was my last anguish.

Throughout his journeys, Aeneas searches for a home, a place to rest. He prays at Delos, 'da propriam, Thymbraee, domum, da moenia fessis / et genus et mansuram urbem' (3.85-6) ('Apollo, grant us a home of our own. We are weary. Give us a walled city which shall endure, and a lineage of our blood') Yet without the gods' permission, and without full knowledge of their intentions, he finds only a series of false havens. Immediately after the departure from Troy he attempts to build the city of Aeneadae, only to be driven from the place by the shocking discovery of the bleeding bush, his old comrade Polydorus. His settlement on Crete also begins well, until 'subito cum tábida membris, / corrupto caeli tractu, miserandaque venit / arboribusque satisque lues et letifer annus' (3.137-9) ('falling from some poisoned part of the sky, a heart-breaking pestilence attacked and rotted trees, crops, and men, and the only yield of that season was death'). Aeneas' experience in the Strophades, the Turning Islands inhabited by the Harpies, follows the same pattern. He and his men make no attempt to settle there, but raid herds of cattle and goats, invite the gods to 'share their plunder', and '[build] seats of turf along the curving shore and [start] on a rich feast'. Suddenly the Harpies are upon them, defiling the food with their filth, and cursing Aeneas and his men as usurpers of their possessions and place. Their leader cries:

bellum etiam pro caede bourn stratisque
Laomedontiadae, bellumne inferre paratis
et patrio Harpyias insontis pellere regno?
accipite ergo animis atque haec mea figite

You would fight for these slaughtered bullocks? And drive us innocent Harpies from our rightful realm? Attend then to my words.

—whereupon she prophesies a hunger so great that they will some day 'eat their tables'.

Shakespeare imitates this episode in 3.3 to make a similar point about pleasant delusions and false security to the 'three men of sin', Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian. Ariel presents, and then harpy-like removes, a spectral banquet, emblematic of the delusive pleasures their forgotten crime against Prospero, their usurpation of his possessions and his place, has apparently secured. As the Harpies rebuke Aeneas for his misperception of what is pleasing to the gods, so Ariel reminds the three of their crime and of the superintending powers, which may delay, but do not forget.

Both ideas, that of the tempest, of man buffeted and isolated by forces he does not control, and that of the defiled banquet, of finding his desires and perceptions delusive, come to their most poignant focus in the idea of 'widow-hood'. The passage in the play in which this idea appears has long been a puzzle:

Adrian. Tunis was never grae'd before with such
  a paragon to their Queen.
Gonzalo. Not since widow Dido's time.
Antonio. Widow! a pox o' that! How came that
  widow in? widow Dido!
Sebastian. What if he had said 'widower Aeneas'
  too? Good Lord, how you take it!
Adrian. 'Widow Dido' said you? you make me
  study of that: she was of Carthage, not of

Kermode would defend this passage against those who find in it only 'dreary puns' indicative of Shakespeare's 'fatigue', but concedes that the 'apparently trivial allusions to the theme of Dido and Aeneas [have] never been properly explained', and holds out the hope that 'our frame of reference is badly adjusted, or incomplete, and that an understanding of this passage will modify our image of the whole play'. The immediate effect of the exchange is clear enough. We are given yet another example of the contrasting perspectives of the pompous and conventional Adrian and Gonzalo, and the cynical and ironic Antonio and Sebastian. Gonzalo's phrase is pedantically correct (Dido was, in fact, the widow of Sychaeus), but also attempts to cast a mantle of respectability over this most notorious example of indignus amor. Antonio and Sebastian take the brutal view, widows being proverbially lustful, and (as Kermode suggests) they may even be indulging in familiar puns hinging on Dido—die, do; and Aeneas—any ass.

Yet I believe Shakespeare intends a further point for the reader of Virgil who is neither a fool nor a cynic. Rightly understood, the phrases 'widow Dido' and 'widower Aeneas' touch Virgil's presentation of the human situation at a vital point. In the view that dominates the first half of the poem (and still continues in the second), all are widows, all are widowers. All are necessarily bereft of, or separated from, what they most want, need, or love, whether in the form of a lost friend, brother, father, wife, husband, or city; or of a destiny promised but nowhere apparent. As Aeneas pitifully complains to Venus in Book 1:

quid natum totiens, crudelis tu quoque, falsis
ludis imaginibus? cur dextrae iungere dextram
non datur ac veras audire et reddere voces?

Ah, you are too cruel! Why again and again deceive your own son with mocking disguises? Why may I not join hand to hand, hear you in frankness, and speak to you in return?

In this situation, all desires, whether for knowledge, rest, intimacy, or consolation, must go unsatisfied or (what is often worse) incompletely satisfied, leaving men 'split' or 'widowed' from their own good. Virgil stresses the pathetic quality of this condition, and the tragic paradox whereby man's desperate attempts to find satisfaction merely drive him further from his best self and from his destiny. Both the pathos and the paradox are most fully explored in the story of Dido. She has fled to Africa and founded Carthage in the wake of her brother's brutal murder of her husband, Sychaeus. When Aeneas arrives, she has already proven herself as a builder and lawgiver, a shrewd and beneficent queen. An important condition, perhaps even source, of her purposefulness and self-sufficiency is that she has, as she says, 'Been irrevocably resolved never again to desire a union in wedlock with any man, since the time when death's treachery cheated me of my first love … For he who first united me with him took all love out of my life' ('si mihi non animo fixum immotumque sederei, / ne cui me vinclo vellem sodare iugali, / postquam primus amor deceptam morte fefellit … ille meos, primus qui me sibi iunxit, amores / abstulit', 4.15-17 … 28-9). Yet now, Venus and Cupid have 'poisoned' her and Aeneas has 'stirred [her] heart to wavering' for the first time. She resists as best she can, but finally her own intemperate desires and the inflammatory counsels of her sister, 'set Dido's heart, already kindled, ablaze with new access of love, gave new hope to tempt her wavering intention, and broke down her scruples' ('his dictis incensum animum inflammavit amore / spemque dedit dubiae menti solvitque pudorem', 4.54-5). Virgil touchingly portrays her hesitations and indirections in revealing this love to Aeneas. But finally, with the connivance of Venus and Juno, they are driven together and make love in the cave. Virgil comments:

ille dies primus leti primusque malorum
causa fuit, neque enim specie famave movetur
nee iam furtivum Dido meditatur amorem;
coniugium vocat; hoc praetexit nomine

On that day were sown the seeds of suffering and death. Henceforth Dido cared no more for appearances or her good name, and ceased to take any thought for secrecy in her love. She called it a marriage; she used this word to screen her sin.

Through this sad self-deception and Aeneas' subsequent desertion, Dido becomes a 'widow' twice over, and the chief example of the broken relations throughout the poem. Worst of all, in losing Aeneas she loses not only her love but also herself, for she can no longer hide from herself that, in her dream of a satisfying love and 'marriage', she has violated the sense of 'honour and its laws' that had sustained her. Only suicide, one final 'widowhood', remains. This sense of 'widowhood', of continual bereavement, underlies the famed Virgilian sadness. It leads to the 'pity for a world's distress, and a sympathy for short-lived humanity' ('sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt', 1.462) that Aeneas is so moved to find when he first sees Troy's story, the recurring story of men and civilizations, depicted in the temple at Carthage.

That Shakespeare was sensitive to this aspect of the Aeneid is clear from his extended treatment of the Dido and Aeneas story, or rather of the originals for the story, in Antony and Cleopatra. There, too, the Virgilian conflict between love and destiny, subjective desires and objective necessities, is at the centre of the play, though it is resolved in a quite un-Virgilian fashion. There, too, the principals are described as 'widow' and 'widower', and the question is even raised whether Antony's relation with Cleopatra does or does not amount to a 'marriage' (2.2.119-23). In The Tempest, most of the characters are also 'widowed'. Sebastian reproaches Alonso for 'making widows' in Milan and Naples by his ill-advised African marriage and voyage. All are separated from country or friends, fathers from sons, each from the others, and, as Gonzalo retrospectively remarks at the end, 'no man was his own', each is in some way separated from himself and his own good. Most obviously 'widowed' is Prospero himself, who, like Aeneas, is in fact a widower (though nothing is made of it), but more significantly, is separated from his place, his rights, his proper self. As he says to Miranda in act 1:

Prospero. Thy father was the Duke of Milan,
   and a prince of power.
Miranda. Sir, are you not my father?

Only at the very end will he be able to say:

Prospero.      know for certain
That I am Prospero, and that very duke
Which was thrust forth of Milan …

Yet in the play it is clear that while these separations may be common, they are neither normal nor inevitable; the powers may delay, but do not forget, and will assist in reuniting the 'widowed'.

Granted, then, that the initial situations in play and poem are overwhelmingly similar, what can men, particularly the heroes Aeneas and Prospero, do in these circumstances? What enables them to act at all? What do they attempt and achieve? What price do they pay for their achievement?

At the centre of the Aeneid is Aeneas' visit to the under-world. Book 6 begins with Aeneas weeping for the loss of his friend and steersman Palinurus; it ends with his determination to pursue a glorious vision of the future Roman civilization. This change is effected by a vision of the continuity of human life and effort that compensates for the inevitable pain of 'widowhood'. In the underworld, the sense of bereavement is even more intense than in ordinary life, for here Aeneas must relive all at once the loss of his Trojan comrades, see for himself the pain he has inflicted on Dido, and feel her unrelenting hatred. Most painful of all is the encounter with his father, Anchises; in his joy at finding him, Aeneas cannot restrain himself and pleads:

              da iungere dextram,
da, genitor, teque amplexu ne subtrahe nostro.

Father, oh let me, let me, clasp your hand! Do not slip from my embrace!

Virgil comments:

sic memorans largo fletu simul ora rigabat.
ter conatus ibi collo dare bracchia circum,
ter frustra comprensa manus efrugit imago,
par levibus ventis volucrique simillima

As he spoke his face grew wet with the stream of tears. Three times he tried to cast his arms about his father's neck, but three times the clasp was vain and the wraith escaped his hands, like airy winds or the melting of a dream.

Balancing this confrontation with the past, with all that has been suffered and lost (or never possessed) is the vision of his children, of Rome, of a new civilization greater than Troy, great enough to make his sufferings worthwhile. Anchises, his father and guide, having reviewed many figures from the coming 'glory', and having contrasted the genius of other cultures with that of Rome, concludes:

tu regere imperio populos, Romane,
(hae tibi erunt artes) pacique imponere
parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.

But you, Roman, must remember that you have to guide the nations by your authority, for this is to be your skill, to graft tradition onto peace, to show mercy to the conquered, and to wage war until the haughty are brought low.

Here he finds, in the idea of that civilization and world order, a conception of his destiny worth sacrificing himself for, worth sacrificing others for. He emerges, purged of his grief, prepared for the struggles that follow.

The Tempest possesses no fully comparable 'centre', though as Still and, more recently, Jan Kott [in Mosaic 10, 3 (1977)] have suggested, the enchanted island itself is like the underworld: both are places set apart, divorced from the mainland or the upper world, providing a magical ground where past and future are brought together, to heal and to begin anew. Moreover, several characters in The Tempest have central experiences similar in various respects to those of Aeneas. Alonso, 'bereft' of his son, experiences a sharp grief and later guilt strong enough to reawaken in him a sense of 'kindness', a sense of his connection with other men analogous to Aeneas' discovery of a sense of connection in time. His son Ferdinand, who is 'something stain'd with grief… [and] … hath lost his fellows, and strays about to find 'em' (1.2.417-19), is, like Aeneas, prepared by grief and isolation for the vision of a better world in the person of Miranda.

Most important is, of course, Prospero himself, whose superiority depends, like that of Aeneas, upon his greater awareness of the continuities of the moral life. What sets him apart from the other characters and makes him their proper governor—though every major character, except Miranda, either wishes, imagines, plots, or claims to be a 'king'—are his greater capacities for memory and conscience, the moral bases of his art. Even the best of the others are, in comparison, a trifle obtuse: Miranda is unaware of her noble birth, and has only the faintest memories of her life before her exile; Ariel and Caliban both attempt rebellion and must be reminded of who they are, who they have been, and their consequent obligations to Prospero. Self-forgetfulness is also the problem of Alonso and his party, and the quality of their crime against Prospero. Their usurpation involved a forgetting and violation of the better part of their nature, the familial and social bonds of 'kindness'. Antonio forgot his brother, Alonso his brother prince. 'Kindness', meaning not only benevolence but an awareness of man's social nature, of his connectedness with other men, and the fulfilment of his natural obligations to them, cannot be created or imposed, but like the alchemist's gold 'within' the lead must be drawn out, realized, recovered. The recovery of 'kindness' in turn makes possible the transmutation of past experience. This is Prospero's method in reclaiming Alonso. He first separates father and son in order to expose Alonso's 'kindness', his overwhelming affection for Ferdinand. He then presents the accusatory harpy-like vision of 3.3 in which the 'three men of sin' are called upon to 'remember' their crime; and Alonso is specifically directed to interpret the loss of his son as retribution. His contemplation of that past action, now understood through a revived conscience, a revived and vivifying 'kindness', transmutes the crime to the penitence which Prospero defines as the condition of personal reunion and political restoration. Thus Prospero confronts, and enables others to confront, both the past and the future, and intertwines them in a living knot, devoted as he is to the causes of both justice and love.

While similarities predominate in the delineation of the human predicament, the differences come to the fore here, in the response to it. Aeneas begins the founding of the new city with his proposed marriage with the daughter of King Latinus, much as Prospero constructs his hopes for renewal on the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda. But in the Aeneid, the marriage abrogates the previous under-standing with Turnus, and provokes the disruptive intervention of Juno. Both possible marriages—Aeneas and Lavinia, Lavinia and Turnus—reflect the same painful division seen in the 'marriage' and separation of Aeneas and Dido, and elsewhere in the poem. The one is a marriage of state, the cold requirement of destiny, the other a marriage of passion, supported by the furious, possessive subjectivity of Turnus, and of Lavinia's mother, Queen Amata. Between these fatal extremes there is no middle ground. The result is the long warfare that occupies the rest of the poem and kills so many of Aeneas' friends, allies, and noble enemies.

The marriage Prospero promotes between Ferdinand and Miranda serves many of the same purposes as Aeneas' proposed marriage. It too is a marriage of state, uniting the rival powers of Naples and Milan, re-establishing order and providing for continued order and vitality. But this is also a marriage based in nature, in what Prospero calls the 'Fair encounter / Of two most rare affections'. And Prospero, like a wise gardener, takes great pains to manage this natural attraction, not denying their passion, but restraining it with the masque, with the 'sanctimonious ceremony' that prevents the 'weeds' of 'barren hate / Sourey'd disdain and discord'. His aims are modest. He hopes for no new world (only the naive Miranda and the perpetually naive Gonzalo could imagine that), but only for a fresh start. His project wins the favour of that same Juno who had implacably opposed Aeneas; as she sings in the masque:

Honour, riches, marriage-blessing,
Long continuance and increasing,
Hourly joys be still upon you!
Juno sings her blessings on you.

For both Aeneas and Prospero, the resolution of the action depends finally upon the sacrifice or renunciation of something in themselves. Yet the nature and effects of their respective sacrifices could hardly be more different. Again and again, events in the poem reinforce the sense that human aspiration is irremediably tragic, that the city of law and reason must be built on blood, that, as Jupiter had decreed in Book 1, only in the distant future will the 'terrible Gates of War' be shut and the 'ghastly Lust of Blood' chained up (1.293-6); until then, the establishment of civilization requires the sacrifice not only of man's weakness, but also part of his tenderness, his humanity. Aeneas must accept a guilty world and a guilty destiny, in which his public purpose requires the sacrifice of his private affections: to lead and to overcome, he must deny himself. But that sacrifice, the sacrifice of what one loves, exacts a terrible psychological price in Dido, in Turnus, in Aeneas, for it causes fury, the loss of reason, the loss of oneself, in which all the accumulated sadness and bitterness are destructively vented. The Aeneid ends not in triumph (though we know the cause of Rome has triumphed), but in fury and dismay:

                       stetit acer in armis
Aeneas, volvens oculos, dextramque
et iam iamque magis cunctantem flectere
coeperat, infelix umero cum apparuit alto
balteus et notis fulserunt cingula bullis
Pallantis pueri, victum quern volnere Turnus
straverat atque umeris inimicum insigne
ille, oculis postquam saevi monumenta
exuviasque hausit, furiis accensus et ira
terribilis: 'tune hinc spoliis indute meorum
eripiare mini? Pallas te hoc volnere, Pallas
immolat et poenam scelerato ex sanguine
hoc dicens ferrum adverso sub pectore condit
fervidus. ast illi solvuntur frigore membra
vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub

Aeneas stood motionless, a fierce figure in his armour; but his eyes were restless, and he checked the fall of his right arm. And now at any moment the plea of Turnus, already working in his mind, might have prevailed on his hesitation, when suddenly, there before him, he saw slung over his shoulder the accursed baldric of Pallas and his belt, inset with the glittering rivets, which he had known of old when they had belonged to his young friend whom Turnus had brought low with a wound, and overcome. This baldric Turnus was wearing now over his own shoulder, and the trophy was fatal to him. Aeneas' eyes drank in the sight of the spoils which revived the memory of his own vengeful bitterness. His fury kindled and, terrible in his rage, he said: 'Are you to be stolen hence out of my grasp, you who wear spoils taken from one whom I loved? It is Pallas, only Pallas, who by this wound which I now deal makes sacrifice of you; he exacts this retribution, you criminal, from your blood.' Saying this and boiling with rage he buried his blade full in Turnus' breast. His limbs relaxed and chilled; and the life fled, moaning, resentful, to the Shades.

Prospero too must perform a renunciation, a sacrifice of some part of himself (two of them, in fact), yet his renunciations produce not bitterness and fury, but peace within himself and reconciliation with others. First is the renunciation (which Aeneas could only imagine) of his fury, in this case, his justifiable anger at those who had imposed the long separation upon him. Throughout the play he has sought justice: restoration for his wronged self and suffering for the guilty. But now the prosecution of justice becomes for Prospero, as earlier for Alonso, not an end in itself, but the necessary preparation for the recovery of kindness. As he says to Ariel:

Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
Passion as they, be kindlier mov'd than thou
Though with their high wrongs I am struck
  to th' quick,
Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance: they being

The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further. Go release them, Ariel:
My charms I'll break, their senses I'll restore,
And they shall be themselves.

Even more telling than the renunciation of his anger, is the renunciation of his art, the 'rough magic', the power to constrain others to share his 'fancies'. Although it has not, so far as I know, been remarked before, this second renunciation closely resembles an episode in Aeneid 5 involving two boxers, Dares and Entellus (5.362-484). Dares, the younger man, defies all comers (there are none) until Entellus, the old champion, is finally persuaded to oppose him. Entellus embarrasses himself by missing a punch and falling down, then in furious shame and rage overcomes and humiliates Dares, threatens to kill him, and does in the end celebrate his victory by smashing in the skull of the prize steer. He concludes: 'Here victorious I lay down the gauntlet and my art' ('hie victor caestus artemque repono', 5.484). This story presents several similarities to the conflict between Prospero and his younger brother Antonio—the younger man boldly supplanting the elder, his aggressive boasting and over-confidence; the elder's delayed response, initial irresolution and need for external encouragement; and finally, the complete victory of the aroused elder, and the restoration of his claims. But what is most striking is the contrast between the two final renunciations of one's 'art' or strength, one's mastery over others. For Entellus, it is an equivocal victory: he has won once more, but he is defeated by age. His youth and strength are gone, and his farewell to his 'art' is also a farewell to his younger and better self, a farewell to his place among men. Prospero, however, bids farewell to his worse self, the desire for control, for a mastery of his fellows that stands in the way of his own recovery of 'kindness', and his renunciation is not a farewell, but a readmission to humanity.

It is often observed that there is something 'fundamental' about The Tempest, and that the editors of the Folio may have arranged things better than they knew when they placed it first. I think that this analysis of its relation to the Aeneid helps us understand why this should be so. Both works address the most fundamental questions raised by the enterprise of civilization: what is required to establish and to renew our life in common? Both agree that the answer is 'sacrifice', yet differ essentially on the nature of that sacrifice (is it to be a part of what is best in us, or a part of what is worst?) and on the consequences of that sacrifice for the individual (will it be fury or 'kindness'?).

That Shakespeare should, in addressing these questions in his last major play, have turned to a reconsideration and reworking of the Virgilian pattern seems peculiarly appropriate, for the Aeneid was not only the chief document of the Latin civilization the Renaissance inherited, but also, in its incorporation and transcendence of the Homeric patterns, the most frequently recommended model for imitation, the best way of using and responding to the past. Jan Kott has suggested [in Arion 5, NS 3 (1976)] that in The Tempest 'The Virgilian myths are invoked, challenged, and finally rejected'. I think it is more accurate to say that Shakespeare treats Virgil much as Virgil had treated Homer. What were ends for the first writer have become means for the second. Just as Virgil subsumed the Homeric stories of men who fight primarily for themselves to the story of a man who fights primarily for his culture, his concept of civilization, so Shakespeare has subsumed the search for law, for justice, the story told so well by Virgil, into his own larger story of the search for 'kindness', a richer concept of civilization, in which, in Yeats's words:

    all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last …
 … that its own sweet will is Heaven's will.

The New World And Colonialism

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Jan Kott (essay date 1976-77)

SOURCE: "The Tempest, or Repetition," in Mosaic: A Journal for the Comparative Study of Literature and Ideas, Vol. X, No. 3, Spring, 1976-1977, pp. 9-21.

[In the following excerpt, originally the first part of a two-part essay, Kott argues that Shakespeare's reworking of classical mythology and Renaissance concepts of the New World, Utopia, and the Golden Age serves as a bitter commentary on "the lost hopes of the Renaissance."]

Not only did explorers and colonizers give old world names to the lands they discovered and to their newly established colonies—New England, New Amsterdam, Jamestown, Virginia—but they also saw their very travels to the West, to uncharted territories with unknown flora, fauna and native inhabitants in terms of the myths of the Argonauts, sunken Atlantis and the Golden Age, the journeys of Odysseus and Aeneas. In the first engravings and paintings representing the new world, in, for instance, Mostaert's West Indian Scene, the pastoral landscape begins to resemble the rolling hills and forests of Umbria—rabbits scamper on the green slopes amidst grazing sheep and cows, and the naked natives of the land are endowed with the athletic, harmonious and beautiful physiques of ancient Greek and Roman warriors.

The Classical myths shaped the language of chroniclers as well as the imagination of the painters. In the descriptions of new territories since Columbus' voyage and Peter Martyr's fabulations, in the diaries, reports and pamphlets from Virginia, and Pilgrim's letters from New England, we find a striking mixture of images and paraphrases from Virgil, Horace and Ovid with the new language of mariners and colonizers.

The myths of Greece and Rome were transmitted through the ages as emblems, icons, names and stories of gods, heroes and monsters, and carried with them the Mediterranean topography. In the mythic geography of the Renaissance the Atlantic Ocean became a new Mediterranean; the West Indies replaced Crete, Lemnos and Sicily; the mysterious America, inhabited by monsters and full of unlimited riches was substituted for the frightening and marvelous Africa.

Prospero's "uninhabited island" has two geographical locations. It lies on the sea route between Carthage-Tunis and Cumae-Naples from Aeneas' travels and at the same time near the Bermudas. It is the providential island of metamorphosis and penitence, and a plantation on the coast of America. "It is not down on any map: true places never are," wrote Melville of another island. But Melville is only partly right—all our mythical islands, "true places," can be found on the map of the Mediterranean.

Ariel dispersed Alonso's fleet upon Prospero's command just as, in the Aeneid, Aeolus defeated Aeneas' ships at Juno's order. Ferdinand emerges from the sea like naked Odysseus and Miranda, like Homer's Naussica, believes him to be a young god: "I might call him/ A thing divine" (I.ii.420-21). Ariel's music beckons Ferdinand as the Sirens' song: "Where should this music be?/1' th' air or the 'arth? … I have follow'd it,/ Or it hath drawn me rather" (I.ii.390, 396-97). The mythical sirens are evoked again when Ferdinand compares their deceptive voices with the pure charm of Miranda: "and many a time/ Th' harmony of their tongues hath into bondage/ Brought my too diligent ear" (III.i.40-42).

Prospero acquired the most terrible of all his spells from Medea of Ovid's Metamorphoses. The balance of Medea's terrifying charms Shakespeare bestowed upon Sycorax. "This blue-ey'd hag" also resembles Circe. Permutations of myths are limited. In Neoplatonic and Hermetic texts Medea and Circe, appearing together or separately, personify magic.

J. M. Nosworthy [in Review of English Studies 24 (1948)] first noticed the similarity of the imaginary scenery of Prospero's island to the descriptions of the islet off the shores of Carthage on which Aeneas and his companions landed after the sinking of their ships: (turn siluis scaena coruscis/ desuper …Aen.l, 164) "Beyond the water a curtain of trees with quivering leaves reaches downwards, and behind them is an overhanging forest-clad mountain-side, mysterious and dark. There is a cave directly in front of the cliffs. Inside it are stalactites and fresh water, and there are seats there, cut in the living rock, for nymphs have their home in the cave."

Shakespeare's stage directions are short: "The Island. Before Prospero's cell" (I.ii.S.D.). Prospero's island has two imaginary connotations, which we could call the "Mediterranean connection" and the "Bermudas connection." On the emblematic stage of the Globe, with the "Heavens" adorned with the signs of the Zodiac, the "poor isle" was at the same time mythical and real. But even the real "Islands of the Bermudas, as every man knoweth that hath heard or read of them, were never inhabited by any Christian or heathen people, but ever esteemed and reputed a most prodigious and enchanted place." [(in A Discovery of the Bermudas, Silvester Jourdain, 1610)]

On one of the earliest maps of the new world drawn by Alberto Cantino in 1502 there is a line dividing the Spanish from the Portuguese colonies. Marking what now is Brazil are three red parrots; Newfoundland was represented as a green island with carefully drawn tall trees which appear to be pines. In such a tall pine tree Ariel was imprisoned by Sycorax.

Prospero subjected Ferdinand to a test of hunger and thirst. He commanded him to drink "sea-water" (I.ii.465) and eat the "fresh-brook mussels" and "wither'd roots" (466). A very refined torture. As additional nourishment he prescribed "husks/ Wherein the acorn cradled" (466-67). In the Golden Age men were able to survive on the "acorns dropt on ground, from Jove's brode tree in fielde" (Ovid, Metamorphoses, I). From Ovid and Virgil to Petrarch, Spencer and Sydney the acorns fallen from the oaks consecrated to Jove were eaten in all Arcadias. But husks of acorns were inedible even in Arcadia. Prospero imposes upon Ferdinand the inedibles of the Arcadian diet and the meager means of sustenance of travelers wandering the new world.

In the "green world" of Shakespeare's comedies shepherds from pastoral Arcadia mix with Elizabethan courtiers; the "forest" is at the same time near Athens and near Stratford. Perhaps this is why all Illyrias are so bitter—the real world is ever-present and inescapable. In The Tempest the opposition between myths and experience appears as a tension between two different linguistic codes and two separate sets of linguistic and theatrical signs.

Caliban owes his name to Montaigne's essay Of Cannibals and to the "Carib" of the New Land. The natural man is subjected to philosophical education as he is enslaved in the new colonies of America. In Names of Actors Caliban is called "a savage and deformed slave." The "noble savage" of the "Philosophes" became at the same time a monster and a slave. Shakespeare presents Caliban through two linguistic codes: one associated with his being a monster of the old world and the other with being a slave of the new world.

Even before we see Caliban on stage Prospero speaks of him: "not honour'd with/ A human shape" (I.ii.283-84). In the last scene he calls him "this mis-shapen knave" (V.i.268), and finally: "He is as disproportion'd in his manners/ As in his shape" (290-91). Caliban appears to Alonso as "a strange thing as e'er I look'd on" (V.i.289).

A monster, a deformed creature, is always a hybrid. The mythic monsters were the fruit of relations between man and animals or gods, in the Middle Ages between the witches and the devil. Caliban, "this thing of darkness" (V.i.275), is the offspring of such "unnatural" relations: "a freckled whelp hag-born" (I.ii.283); "got by the devil himself/ Upon thy wicked dam" (I.ii.321-22). This medieval devil who fathers Caliban has in turn been transformed into the god Setebos of Patagonia, mentioned by Pigafetta who accompanied Magellan on his voyages.

Only the names of the hybrid creature changed in the mythic code. The Shakespearean monster spawned of the powers of darkness and imprisoned in a cave for his boundless lust also traces its lineage back to the Aeneid: "hie crudelis amor tauri suppostaque furto/ Pasiphae mixtumque genus prolesque biformis/ Minotaurus inest" (VI.24-26). It is difficult to believe that Shakespeare did not know Douglas' translation:

The lute abhominabill of queyn Pasyphe,
Quhou pryvely with the bul forlane was sche:
The blandit kynd, and birth of formys twane,
The monstruus Mynotawr, doith thar remane,
Ane horribill takin of schrewit Venus wark.
               (The Saxt Buke, cap. 1,21-6)

In the mythic code of The Tempest Caliban's hybrid character is essential: "In every myth system," writes Edmund Leach, "we will find a persistent series of binary discriminations as between human/ superhuman, mortal/ immortal, male/ female, legitimate/ illegitimate, good/ bad … followed by a mediation of paired categories thus distinguished. Mediation (in this sense) is always achieved by introducing a third category which is abnormal or anomalous in terms of ordinary rational categories. Thus myths are full of fabulous monsters" [quoted in Genesis as Myth and Other Essays, 1969].

Caliban is both mythic "monster" and "savage" of the new world; Ariel both imprisoned "spirit" (Mercury, divine mystagogue, psychopompos) and the presenter of cruel spectacles; Prospero both the Magus and the last of Shakespeare's rulers in the dual role of exile and usurper. Caliban is "heavy" and crawls as a turtle ("Come, thou tortoise!"—I.ii.318); Ariel is "light" and floats in the air. In these elemental mythic oppositions Caliban is of earth and water, Ariel of earth and fire. "Thou earth"—Prospero addresses the monster imprisoned in the rock. Caliban, as the first man of the Book of Genesis is formed of the "dust of the ground;" Ariel is the spirit, the "breath of life."

Myths operate on binary oppositions. In The Tempest binary oppositions are significant, but ambiguous enough to be translated into various mythological systems, including the Neoplatonic reading. The "anomalous" dual character of the three principal personae of the drama makes the mythic mediation of history through its rebirth and repetition both possible and impossible at the same time.

The action of The Tempest is not, however, confined to the mythic islands of the Mediterranean. Man "in the state of nature" is a savage, but a "noble savage" is a "cannibal." The education of this "natural man" takes place on one of the islands of the new world. Primeval, savage and from the beginning corrupted Nature is contrasted with Nurture and Art. Two quotations demonstrating these Renaissance oppositions are particularly characteristic: "I must obey: his Art is of such pow'r" (I.ii.374) says Caliban of Prospero; "on whose nature/ Nurture can never stick" (IV.i. 188-89)—says Prospero of Caliban after his last rebellion. Art can tame Nature, but Nature does not submit to Education. In the Bermudas as well as in Milan. The oppositions of Nature and Culture, savagery and community, are always more realistic and their confrontation more dramatic in Shakespeare than in the Renaissance moral philosophy.

The Tempest has often been interpreted as the education of a savage. In this chapter of cultural anthropology Prospero teaches Caliban, as Prometheus taught his "insect-men," to distinguish day from night: "how/ To name the bigger light, and how the less,/ That burn by day and night" (I.ii.336-38). Once again the echo of Genesis returns.

Prospero has also taught Caliban to speak. ("You taught me language"—I.ii.365). Was Caliban a creature of "nature," not blessed with a gift of language, or did he speak his own tongue before Prospero taught him his own language? "The red plague be with you/ For learning me your language!" (I.ii.366-67). The drunken sailors were also extremely astonished: "Where the devil should he learn our language?" (II.ii.67-8; my italics). The "natural man" learned the curses from his masters.

Stephano calls him a "monster." But this creature, smelling like fish, under whose cloak hides another pretender to the title of viceroy, now has four legs as in the lazzi of commedia dell' arte, and has ceased to be a mythical hybrid. The mythical monster is transformed into an antic one: "this is no fish, but an islander" (II.ii.36). This comical creature, whose short and soaked "gaberdine" exposes his bare legs, is an Indian. Trinculo, a man who has traveled the world, sees in Caliban a possibly lucrative side-show attraction. He knows that in England "when they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian" (II.ii.31-4).

According to Malone's account, Caliban's costume, "which doubtless was prescribed by the poet himself and has been continued … since his time, is a large bear skin, or the skin of some other animal; and he is usually represented with long shaggy hair." From the operatic adaptation of The Tempest during the Restoration until the end of the nineteenth century Caliban was invariably represented on stage as "primitive man," "half a fish and half a monster" (III.ii.28). The illustrations by David Chodowiecki from the later half of the eighteenth century show Caliban as an aquatic monster with a head of a giant toad. The only exception to this scénographie and iconographie tradition known to me is the frontispiece appearing in both the 1773 and 1774 editions of The Tempest by Bell. Stephano and Trinculo have handed Caliban a canteen. This Caliban, with distinctly Negroid features, kneels on one knee drinking greedily. He is naked but for a feathered loincloth about his waist. But even this artist's dark-skinned savage has devil's claws on his feet and hands.

"We'll visit Caliban my slave" (I.ii.310) says Prospero to Miranda. "Slave," the third of Caliban's descriptions in Names of the Actors, appears with relatively high frequency in The Tempest—it is used nine times. Even more characteristic are the designations accompanying the word "slave": "poisonous," "most lying," "abhorred." Even sweet Miranda calls Caliban "a thing most brutish" (I.ii.359), of a "vile race" (360). The first American "savages" brought to Bristol in 1501 were "clothid in beastys skinnys," "ete Rawe Flesh," and behaved as "bruyt beastis," according to a contemporary chronicler. Alberto Cantino who saw them a year earlier in Lisbon, wrote that they had "the most bestial manners and habits, like wild men." Prospero speaks similarly of Caliban. The True Declaration (1610) describes the natives of Virginia as "human beasts," and for John Smith they were "perfidious, inhuman, all savage." This is already a new, colonial English idiom. Prospero and Miranda are speaking the language of Captain Smith when they call Caliban from his cave which they designated as his quarters:

Prospero We'll visit Caliban my slave, who
        Yields us kind answer.
Miranda                'Tis a villain, sir,
          I do not love to look on.
Prospero           But, as 'tis.
           We can not miss him: he does make
           our fire,
           Fetch in our wood, and serves in
           That profit us.

The "uninhabited island" is a place of magic, penance and purification. But Shakespeare transforms the mythic island, inhabited by Nymphs, monsters and witches, into the plantation of the new world.

Had I plantation of this isle, my lord,
I would with such perfection govern, sir,
T' excel the Golden Age.

"Plantation" appears only once in Shakespeare. The word was new, introduced into English half a century before The Tempest was written (O.E.D.). In Gonzalo's musings about a Utopian community on the desert island, "plantation" is separated by only 24 lines from "Golden Age." Once again, there is a significant and characteristic confrontation here between two linguistic codes—of historical experience and of the Virgilean myth.

Earth's increase, foison plenty,
Barns and garners never empty …

Spring come to you at the farthest
In the very end of harvest!
Scarcity, and want shall shun you;
Ceres' blessing so is on you.
                            (IV.i.l 10-11, 114-17)

Five years earlier Michael Drayton depicted in his ode, Earth's onely Paradise (1606), an Arcadia rediscovered on a plantation of Virginia:

Where Nature hath in store
Fowle, Venison and Fish,
And the Fruitfull'st Soyle,
Without your Toyle.
Three Harvest more
All greater than you wish.

Drayton's ode was dedicated to "the Virginian voyage." In this "Earth's onely Paradise" history returns again to its beginning: "the golden age/ Still natures lawes doth give." Almost the same images are repeated by Ceres at the feast of harvest conjured up by Prospero on the uninhabited island. The new world is the Biblical garden from which Adam and Eve were expelled, the regained Paradise, the new Golden Age. Utopia is the mythical past projected into the future. Islands of the new world were chosen as sites of Utopias. "Utopia" means a place which does not exist. But in 1506 Thomas More imagined his Utopia on an island close to the West Indies archipelago discovered a few years before by Vespucci. The inhabitants of this first Renaissance Utopia did not know of ownership of property and did not practice violence against each other—they were all happy.

"Had 1 plantation of this isle, my lord …"

           no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty;
                                 (Il.i. 144-52)

The influence of the new translation of Montaigne by Florio on Gonzalo's "ideal plantation" has often been pointed out. But the well-read counselor was also familiar with Virgil and Ovid, and was doubtless an avid reader of Renaissance adventure stories, popular in England since the early voyages to the new world. The stylistics and semantics of Gonzalo's discourse utilize a well known classical rhetorical device of consecutive negations. The Golden Age and Utopian colonies are conceived through a series of simple negations of unhappy civilizations corrupted by excess and power.

Before his voyage to Tunis Gonzalo might have read De Orbe Novo Decades already translated into English by 1555, in which Peter Martyr describes the innocent life of West Indies' islanders: "A few things content them, having no delight in such superfluities for which in other places menne take infinite paynes, and commit manie unlawfull actes.… But among these simple soules, a fewe clothes serve the naked: weightes and measures are not needful to such as cannot skill of craft and deceite, and have not the use of pestiferous money, … they seeme to live in that golden worlde of the whiche olde writers speake so much, wherein menne lived simply and innocently without enforcements of lawes, without quarreling, judges, and libelles, content only to satisfie nature.…"

Martyr, whose task it was to translate into Latin the notes and letters of Columbus and Vespucci for the Pope and prominent scholars, apparently relied more on Ovid than on the accounts of navigators who actually traversed thousands of miles in fragile ships to reach the islands of natural happiness. In his account of inhabitants of Hispañola, today's Haiti, he employed the same stylistic device of successive negation of "civilized" institutions which Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, employed to describe the Golden Age. Shakespeare probably read the following passage as a schoolboy in the original Latin, although Golding's translation of Ovid was also well known:

There was no fear of punishment, there was no
  threatning lawe,
In brazen tables nayled up, to keepe folke in
There was no man would crouch or creepe to
  Judge with cap in hand,
They lived safe without a Judge, in everie
  Realme and lande …
No horne nor trumpet was in use, no sword nor
  helmet worne,
The worlde was such, that soldiers helpe might
  easily be forborne.
The fertile earth as yet was free …
                 (The First Booke, 105-8, 113-15)

But there is also an anti-Utopian element in Renaissance literature and in the accounts of voyagers to the New World which has its roots in another classical tradition as well. Odysseus, the tireless traveler, was the first one to visit the unhospitable mountainous Arcadia inhabited by barbaric and rude shepherds. "And we came to the land of the Cyclopes, a fierce, uncivilized people who never lift a hand to plant or plough.… The Cyclopes have no assemblies for the making of laws, nor any settled customs, but live in hollow caverns in the mountain heights, where each man is lawgiver to his children and his wives, and nobody cares a jot for his neighbors" (Odyssey, IX, 105 ff.)

Led by his unbridled curiosity, not unlike today's anthropologists (who should claim Odysseus as their patron saint), he decided to find out firsthand by what rules this unusual community of monsters actually governed itself. "I want you to stay here, while I go in my own ship with my own crew to find out what kind of men are over there and whether they are brutal and lawless savages or hospitable and god-fearing people" (IX, 173 ff).

Odysseus' experience proved invaluable. He now had no more illusions. After escaping the Cyclops' island, he was certain that a community contemptuous of law and ignorant of agriculture and industry did not resemble at all any Golden Age but consisted rather of cannibals devouring visitors to their homes. The savage and pastoral arcadias are both created outside of history and civilization. They are represented by the same sign, and differ only through its value.

"Had I plantation of this isle, my Lord… ." As soon as Gonzalo, amidst the jibes of the royal retinue, finished recounting his vision of a new community of innocence without laws, work or institutions, and lay down to sleep on the soft ground ("How lush and lusty the grass looks! how green!"—II.i.51), a tragedy was to take place on the very same sweet-scented grass. In this Virgilean Arcadia would be enacted a cruel scene from an Elizabethan tragedy: regicide and fratricide interrupted only by Ariel's charms.

"No sovereignty," "all things in common"—Gonzalo enchanted by his own loquaciousness repeats his Classics lesson. On Prospero's island there were both master and slave. "These natives enjoy a golden age, for they know neither meum nor teum," remarked Peter Martyr of the "good savages" of Cuba. On his "uninhabited island," Prospero introduced the division between "mine" and "thine": "My slave," "our fire," "offices that profit us."

In the "majestic vision" of the Golden Age which Prospero unfolded before the young couple, Ariel and the spirits played the roles of three goddesses. When the masque is suddenly interrupted, they dissolve into thin air. But they return again in new shapes. In the last metamorphosis of this new Ovid Prospero and Ariel unleash these very spirits transformed into hunting dogs upon two rebel sailors and an Indian slave.

Prospero Fury, Fury! there, Tyrant, there! hark,
       Go charge my goblins that they grind
       their joints
       With dry convulsions; shorten up their
       With aged cramps; and more pinch-
       spotted make them
       Than pard or cat o' mountain.
Ariel                   Hark, they roar!
Prospero Let them be hunted soundly.
                                        (IV.i. 257-62)

Caliban twice calls Prospero a tyrant: "A plague upon the tyrant that I serve!" (II.ii.162) and once again, in Act III: "I am subject to a tyrant" (ii.40). One of the hunting dogs is called "Tyrant." The tyrant-lord of the plantation is now himself transformed into a hound. On the plantation between Bermuda and Virginia everyone suddenly assumes animal form under the spell of Ariel's horrifying music. He beats his drum for the three sinners: "At which, like unback'd colts, they prick'd their ears, / Advanc'd their eyelids, lifted up their noses/ As they smelt music" (IV.i. 176-78). Now they will have to wait for mercy left standing in dungwater: "There dancing up to th' chins, that the foul lake/ O'erstunk their feet" (183-84). New usurpers met Mediterranean monsters and were subjected to the tortures of thirst and hunger.

In this brutal and violent dramaturgy arguments are action and opposition. The evocation of the innocent Utopian community is ended by a murderous attack on the sleepers—the vision of the Golden Age and of harvest without human toil is suddenly transformed into a man-hunt. At the end of the fourth act Prospero's plantation has become Circe's island on which Odysseus' companions were changed into hogs. But Circe's island reappeared in the late Renaissance when the "brave new world" showed itself to be merely a repetition of all the crimes and madness of the old one.

The oldest of all engravings representing the discovery of America, Columbus Landing in the Indies, dates from 1493. In the foreground, seated on a throne at the edge of the ocean is a king, probably Spain's Ferdinand, crowned and holding the royal orb, gazing at a distant galley as it reaches the shores of a new land upon which one sees one tall beautiful palm tree and naked savages dancing about. On this engraving the Ocean separating the old and the new world is represented as a narrow channel. The dramatic novelty of The Tempest is the placing of an old feudal drama on an island of the new world. To the shores of this "desolate isle" have come not only the old world's exiled rulers but also its great myths of the Golden Age and Utopia.

Within the mythic perspective the story of Prospero, Shakespeare's last ruler, is the universal history. Prospero established a plantation on the new land like Aeneas, and returned to his dukedom like Odysseus. The mythic story of the world repeats itself as man's history. These returns are bitter.

The Renaissance expressed its hopes of renewal through the myths of Utopia and the Golden Age. Utopia proved just as impossible on the mythical islands of the new world as it was on the old land. In a Court wedding masque of the age of the Stuarts the goddesses descend from mount Olympus and bless the young couple while the courtiers attired as Arcadian shepherds celebrate the arrival of the Golden Age. But in The Tempest the wedding masque is interrupted as suddenly as the wedding of Dido and Aeneas in the Aeneid. The Renaissance interpreted the fourth book of the Aeneid as the love tragedy of "widow Dido." Shakespeare read it as the tragedy of "widower Aeneas" and of history in general.

Macbeth and Hamlet are more cruel than The Tempest. King Lear is truly a tragedy without hope: the world has fallen apart, and it will never come together again. But The Tempest is the most bitter of Shakespeare's plays. Its sad bitterness is the lost hopes of the Renaissance.

Prospero, the last of Shakespearean rulers, took along on his new-world exile not only the insignia of his dukedom, a hat, and a rapier packed away at the bottom of his iron-clad trunk, but also a magical caduceus and the most precious books from his hermetic library. Perhaps there was among these a leather-bound medieval manuscript of

Sortes Vergilianae with its illumination of Mercury's descent through the clouds with a divine message for Aeneas. During the Middle Ages Sortes Vergilianae were opened at random as if they were the Bible to find a prophecy of the future. If Prospero took this book into the exile, he would have thrown it into the sea. He no longer needed Sortes Vergilianae. He already knew that the future was to bring merely another repetition. Like Aeneas he had seen lacrimae rerum and had survived the "wreckage of the world."

Aeneas was called pius by Virgil. If piety is obedience to destiny, to the end and beyond the loss of illusions, then the "widower" Prospero was pious like Aeneas.

And my ending is despair,
Unless I be reliev'd by prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
                                         (Epil., 15-18)

As in Virgil and Dante, both human souls and human history go through purgatory.

Charles Frey (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: 'TAe Tempest and the New World," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 1, Winter, 1979, pp. 29-41.

[In the following excerpt, Frey provides a survey of the travel literature on the New World that informs the back-ground to The Tempest, arguing that this serves to enhance an understanding of the play's fusion of history and romance.]

When works of art are asked to generate their own meanings, they and culture generally suffer. For language is never autonomous. Considered in its most elemental form, as the paper and ink of a text, The Tempest has no content at all. It is only when we assign to the print information in our minds that it takes on meaning. The issue is always: What information shall we assign? What are the best standards of relevant information?

For centuries, men and women have read or heard Caliban promise Stephano:

I prithee, let me bring thee where crabs grow;
 And I with my long nails will dig thee pig-nuts;
Show thee a jay's nest, and instruct thee how
To snare the nimble marmoset; I'll bring thee
To clustering filberts, and sometimes I'll get thee
Young scamels from the rock.
                                   (II. ii. 167-72)

Any reader or hearer's imagination may supply a general context, no matter how vague, for pig-nuts and the nimble marmoset. But "scamels" is another matter. What happens in the brain when that word is first perceived? One may be totally at a loss. Or one may assume that a variety of bird or shellfish or other edible, unknown to one because of limited experience, is referred to. A reader who consults notes or reference works will find that "scamel" appears, without much authority, in a dialect dictionary as the name for a kind of bird. But the majority of editors favor emending "scamel" in The Tempest to "sea-mell," another variety of bird. My point is that we must go "outside" the play to apprehend and create meanings for words and passages within it.

Useful evidence for many such meanings in The Tempest is provided by outside reading in travel literature of the New World. There is good reason to believe that Shakespeare had read or heard of Magellan's encounter with the Patagonians who worshiped Setebos. French and Italian accounts of Magellan's or, more properly, El Cano's circumnavigation of 1519-22 were widely circulated and discussed in Shakespeare's day; they relate that the men, off Patagonia, ate small fish described as "fort scameux" and "squame." The possibility that Shakespeare, in refering to "scamels," is adapting a foreign word like "squamelle" (that is, furnished with little scales) would seem worth investigating. But, whether or not a new source and image for "scamels" became thus established, the larger question would remain: not so much what Shakespeare's actual sources were, but what linguistic and narrative force-field we should bring to the play to disclose its meanings.

Shakespeareans interested in accounts of the New World voyagers have tended to restrict their focus to those accounts which Shakespeare is traditionally assumed to have read, as if only his reading could make the accounts inform The Tempest and, further, as if his reading necessarily would make a given account inform the play. I believe that we should question whether such source study is in fact the most productive and rewarding approach to a play such as The Tempest. Whether or not Shakespeare had read Eden's narrative of Magellan's voyage, such accounts can inform or illuminate The Tempest because they provide models of Renaissance experience in the New World.

The French and Italian accounts cited above were well-known in Shakespeare's time, and they mention that two of the mutineers against Magellan were named Antonio and Sebastian. With the help of one Gonzalo Gomez de Espinosa, Magellan put the mutiny down. We are told, in addition, that one of the ships in Magellan's fleet was wrecked but that "all the men were saved by a miracle, for they were not even wetted." One recalls the assertion by Shakespeare's Gonzalo that "almost beyond credit" the garments of the court party hold their freshness and are "rather new-dyed than stained with salt water" (II. i. 61-62). It would begin to appear that a New World venture in addition to the Jamestown one provides a model for the play. Whether or not Shakespeare read this or any other account of Magellan's voyage, these were the sorts of terms, names, and incidents that were being bruited about. Magellan's voyage was discussed as polar or lunar expeditions have been in modern times. We need to read the voyage literature, therefore, not necessarily to find out what Shakespeare read, but to ascertain what Shakespeare and his audience together would have been likely to know—what they would have gathered from a variety of sources. We need to determine what information and what special responsiveness we as readers and spectators of The Tempest should bring to the play.

To gain a command of notions about the New World that an Elizabethan would have found embodied in The Tempest, modern students of the play's backgrounds must read not only Eden's sketch but also the other accounts of Magellan and, beyond those, the various accounts of other voyages and voyagers. To do so is to find that there are telling patterns of entry into the New World.


To some extent, the voyagers carried their perceptions with them readymade. It is a truism that from Columbus onward, Old World names for flora and fauna, Old World beliefs about golden age primitives, and so on were imposed upon the life of the New World. But, in journeys of thousands of miles and thousands of days, the old order was left behind, too. Voyagers attempting circumnavigation from Europe around the tip of South America usually sailed down the west coast of Africa, arced across to Brazil, and then worked their way south into the colder and stormier latitudes of Argentina's coast. It was at about this point, on entering the vicinity of Port San Julian (somewhat north of Tierra del Fuego) and on encountering the strange, big, naked Patagonian natives, that voyagers began to lose their confidence and their imported "understanding." Here we find repeated accounts of mutiny and miracle.

When Drake circumnavigated the globe in 1577-80, he partially followed Magellan's route. His party knew in some detail of Magellan's experiences. And Drake, like Magellan, suffered a mutiny at Port San Julian, a mutiny which he, too, suppressed. At about the same time, his men were encountering the Patagonian natives and hearing, once more, of their god—this time heard pronounced as "Settaboth." Drake's chaplain, one Francis Fletcher, kept ajournai in which he recorded details of the encounters with the Patagonians. Again, some of the resemblances to happenings in The Tempest are striking. It will be re-called that when Alonso and his party come upon the banquet presented by the "several strange Shapes" Prospero and Ariel have summoned, the response of Gonzalo is one of amazement and gratitude:

                       If in Naples
I should report this now, would they believe me?
If I should say, I saw such islanders,—
For, certes, these are people of the island,—
Who, though they are of monstrous shape, yet,
Their manners are more gentle, kind, than of
Our human generation you shall find
Many, nay, almost any.
                                (III. iii. 27-34)

Compare Francis Fletcher's account of the first meeting between Drake's men and the Patagonians. Fletcher speaks of "making a stay to look for the coming of the ships which were not yet come after a most deadly tempest":

Herewith the General with some of his company went on shore where the Giant men and women with their children repaired to them showing themselves not only harmless, but also most ready to do us any good and pleasure. Yea they showed us more kindness than many Christians would have done, nay more than I have for my own part found among many of my Brethren of the Ministry in the church of God.

Fletcher goes on to say that the natives brought them such food "as their country yielded in most kind and familiar sort." A little later, the party lands upon a small island. Thinking to gather eggs there, they are overwhelmed with birds, in Fletcher's words, "more and more overcharged with feathered enemies whose cries were terrible, and their powder and shot poisoned us unto even death if the sooner we had not retired." In The Tempest, of course, Ariel, in guise of a Harpy (reminiscent of the one encountered in the Aeneid), claps his wings upon the banquet table and drives back the court party who, like Fletcher's party, have drawn their swords.

The next incident Fletcher describes is that of seeing the natives "in divers companies upon several hills not far from us with leaping, dancing, and great noise and cries with voices like the bulls of Basan." One recalls Gonzalo's mention at the banquet scene of "mountaineers / Dewlapp'd like bulls" (III. iii. 44-45).

Fletcher also tells of a native being introduced to wine:

Another of the Giants standing with our men taking their morning's draughts showed himself so familiar with us that he also would do as they did who taking the glass in his hand (being strong with canary wine) it came not to his lips when it tooke him by the nose and so suddenly entered into his head that he was so drunk or at the least so overcome with the spirit of the wine that he fell flat.

Fletcher says that the giant then sat up and tasted the wine and conceived an insistent liking for it—all reminiscent of Caliban's inebriating encounter with Stephano and Trinculo.

Finally, Fletcher recounts an incident that could well stand behind Caliban's famous speech to his companions upon hearing Ariel's tabor and pipe. Caliban says:

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 wak'd after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in
The clouds methought would open, and show
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak'd,
I cried to dream again.
                               (III. ii. 133-41)

Fletcher writes of the Patagonians:

They begin to dance and the more they stir their stumps the greater noise or sound they give and the more their spirits are ravished with melody in so much that they dance like madmen and cannot stay themselves unto death if some friend pluck not away the baubles, which being taken away they stand as not knowing what is become of themselves for a long time. In the great storms whereof we have spoken before, myself having some loss of good things spoiled in my trunk … , among other things glass vials, bottles, went to wreck among the which, some being covered with wicker rods, the broken glass remained within the cases, whereof one being in my hand and making noise, one of the Giants supposing it to be an instrument of music must of necessity have it, which, when he had received, he and his companies were so overcome with the sweetness of the music that, he shaking the glass and dancing, they all followed and danced after his pipe over mountains and valleys, hills and dales, day and night, till all the strings were consumed. For, the glass being continually laboured, did become small powder and wasted by little and little quite away, and the music ended. The next day they came again but all a morte that their sweet instrument had lost its sound and made great means to have another.

In The Tempest, Caliban leads his companions after Ariel's music, and Ariel later says that he "charm'd their ears," led them long ways, and left them "dancing." And, somewhat in the fashion of Fletcher's natives, they, too, lament the loss of their bottles.

We thus find combined in Fletcher's narrative the tempest; the mutiny; the natives with their god Settaboth; their natives' kindness, thought to exceed that of many Christians (with the telling repetition of Fletcher's "more kindness than many … nay more than I have … found among many" in Shakespeare's "more … kind, than … you shall find / Many, nay, almost any"); the incident of swords drawn against birds who prevent food-getting; the description of a giant becoming drunk; and the incident of the giants ravished with sweet music and dancing after it. Fletcher may have made part or all of it up, or put together an amalgam of travelers' tales. But the similarities between his narrative and Shakespeare's play help us define what Elizabethans wanted to crystallize out of a strange and brave new world. Reading contemporary accounts of the voyagers illuminates The Tempest, in part, by widening our notions of New World concerns beyond colonial politics and race relations to the very stuff of romance. Shakespeare shared with Fletcher, the Bermuda pamphleteers, and others an interest in tempests, shipwrecks, and mutinies, an interest in exotic fish and fowl, an interest in natives and their offerings, in native manners and native music—in short, an interest in the same matters that absorbed all the travelers of his day. We will never settle how much of this material was indigenous to the Western Hemisphere and how much was imported in the minds of men who came from Europe. But that Magellan, Drake, Cavendish, and, no doubt, others should have met with tempests, mutinies, and cross-kind natives all in a particular part of the New World seems less important than the way their overlapping experience helped define what a new world might be. By reading the voyagers, in other words, we can read Shakespeare with a keener appreciation of how aspirations and events having to do with the New World become universalized in The Tempest.


Just as reading about the southern voyages can help to enlarge and vivify our perception of New World concerns, so reconsideration of connections between The Tempest and Jamestown can help to refocus the issues, particularly with relation to the balance of interest between history and romance.

Among the Virginia backgrounds, for example, is a pamphlet of 1610 by one of the Bermuda survivors, Richard Rich. Though Rich's Newesfrom Virginia has been noted by Luce and others for its spelling "Bermoothawes" (closer to Shakespeare's than the spellings elsewhere), the full suggestiveness of the pamphlet has never been brought out. Writing in eight-line tetrameter stanzas, Rich describes the miraculous survival of the group shipwrecked in the Bermudas in 1609. He then goes on to proselytize on behalf of Jamestown. He mentions that two members of the company were lost. And though a son and daughter were born during the Bermuda stay (as if in compensation), the colonists were, in Rich's words,

     … opprest with grief
  and discontent in mind.
They seem'd distracted and forlorn,
  for these two worthies' loss,
Yet at their home return they joyed,
  among'st them some were cross.

Into the midst of these Alonsos, Gonzalos, and Antonios—the distracted, the joyful, and the cross—comes the "noble Delaware" who, in Prospero's manner, "comforts them and cheers their hearts." Rich mentions a worthy knight named Ferdinando among the men who assist Delaware and, like Shakespeare's log-bearing Ferdinand, "unto their labor fall, / as men that mean to thrive." As for the Virginia commonwealth, Rich speaks of "this plantation" and says: "we hope to plant a nation, / where none before hath stood." Gonzalo in The Tempest, imagining the "plantation" of the isle, insists that there "all things in common nature should produce." Rich, too, writes of nature's plenty—fish, fowl, grapes, strawberries—and of a land like Gonzalo's "commonwealth" where "There is indeed no want at all," where "every man shall have his share," "every man shall have a part." And in an address to the reader, Rich concludes, à la Prospero, with an Epilogue:

As I came hither to see my native land,
To waft me back lend me thy gentle hand.

My point is not that Shakespeare must have read Rich, though it seems likely he did. My point is that we tend not to appreciate the extent to which some themes, situations, incidents, and even phrases in The Tempest were part of the common coin of Shakespeare's day. To examine this coin, to read such accounts of the voyagers and adventurers, is to enrich one's understanding of the play. Shakespeare shows how what happened and what was hoped for tended to mingle in the minds of far travelers who said they found what they sought, their woes all changed to wonder, and their losses yielding to greater gain.

A final example must suffice. At the heart of The Tempest lies the scene in which Ferdinand labors for love. He asks Miranda: "What is your name?" She replies:

                Miranda.— O my father,
I have broke your hest to say so!
Fer.                Admir'd Miranda!
  Indeed the top of admiration! worth
  What's dearest to the world!
                                 (III. i. 36-39)

One has but to turn to the title page of Thomas Harriot's Brief and True Report on Virginia (in de Bry's widely circulated Latin translation of 1590) to find the striking head-phrase describing what is to follow in the Report: ADMIRANDA NARRATIO, it says.


We now come to the dynamic crossing of history and romance. What Harriot, the sober scientist and historian, would describe as a brief and true report, de Bry, the publisher, sees as a narration to be admired. What grime and agony Richard Rich experienced in the Bermudas and at Jamestown become transmuted into the glitter of the balladeer. What tempests and shipwreck, mutinies and discontent, were suffered by travelers often become, in the eventual success of the journey, metamorphosed into fortunate falls. In melding history and romance, therefore, Shakespeare merely dramatized what his contemporaries enacted. Richard Rich promises that each of his fellows who comes to Virginia will have a house and a "garden plot." In Prospero's masque for Miranda and Ferdinand, Ceres is summoned from the "sea-marge, sterile and rocky-hard," to "this grass plot," "this short-grass'd green." And Ferdinand finds that this "most majestic vision" makes him want to "live here ever" with Miranda and the "wonder'd" Prospero who "makes this place Paradise" (IV. i). As Shakespeare saw, our imaginations project in every world, old and new, the same surpassing story of a will to make a garden in a wilderness, to find the human fellowship that lies beyond all storm.

Shakespeare's Tempest ends with a grand gathering. Prospero in his ducal attire confronts his one-time enemy Alonso, forgives him, embraces the good counselor Gonzalo, and offers forgiveness to Antonio, whom many have found not only unworthy of such forgiveness but unwilling to respond in kind. Then Miranda and Ferdinand are discovered. The Sailors return, amazed at their own survival. And, lastly, Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban enter to stand in wonder before the gathering. Says Caliban, all breathless: "O Setebos, these be brave spirits indeed!" (V. i. 261). We are invited, for a moment, to look at representatives of the Old World through New World eyes. As it turns out, Setebos could not ward off, was no match for, such Europeans. To read about the New World voyagers is to see why. In their combination of apparent magic and mastery over the elements, in their greed and missionary zeal, in their hopes for gain and for grace, the voyagers, like the visitors to Prospero's isle (or is it Caliban's?), earned for themselves that peculiar mix of mockery and admiration that an audience finds in Caliban's term "brave spirits."

The question, finally, of what The Tempest has to do with the New World becomes wonderfully rich and strange. I should not wish to impel the play totally out of history into an autonomous imaginative construct, nor would I impel it too far in the other direction, reducing it to an historical document. With many new worlds, including ours, The Tempest does, in truth, have much to do. And as I have tried to suggest, in order to explore the meanings implicit in the play's peculiar merger of history and romance, interpreters must travel and labor still onward.

Prospero And Magic

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David Sundelson (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "So Rare a Wonder'd Father: Prospero's Tempest," in Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, edited by Murray M. Schwartz and Coppélia Kahn, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980, pp. 33-53.

[In the following essay, Sundelson provides a psychoanalytic reading of the relationships between fathers and children in The Tempest, focusing in particular on what he terms Prospero 's "paternal narcissism: the prevailing sense that there is no worthiness like a father's, no accomplishment or power, and that Prospero is the father par excellence."]

Dramatic conflict is strikingly absent from The Tempest. Brothers try to kill brothers, servants stalk their masters, and the union of attractive young lovers is delayed by an old man's whim, but none of these things creates suspense. Once we have seen Prospero calm the raging waters with a wave of his arm, danger and difficulty cease to be more than prelude to an inevitable harmony. The movement of the plot toward fulfillment is the most serene and secure in Shakespeare.

This tranquility requires the sacrifice of some characteristic Shakespearean complexity. One can be either master or servant in The Tempest, either parent or child; middle ground scarcely exists. Antonio supplanted Prospero because "my brother's servants/Were then my fellows; now they are my men" (II.i.268-69). Antonio's new mastery is a delusion, however; his plot against Prospero only puts him in debt to the King of Naples, just as Caliban's later plot makes him Stephano's slave. Ferdinand and Miranda are wiser: they outdo each other in their eagerness to serve. Ferdinand is a "patient log-man" (III.i.67) for Miranda and will be "thus humble ever" (III.i.87), while the princess who once had "four or five women" (I.ii.47) to attend her insists:

           to be your fellow
You may deny me; but I'll be your servant,
Whether you will or no.

Real fellowship, so common in Shakespeare, is elusive in The Tempest, and certainly less important than finding a good master. Without one, as the opening scene shows, all is chaos. Prospero's storm mocks and destroys the hierarchy on Alonso's ship: "What cares these roarers for the name of King?" (I.i.16-17). Great lords become snarling children who distract the sailors from their desperate work, and King, Captain, and Boatswain are equals in their utter vulnerability. The central, repeated cry in the scene is "Where's the master?" (11.9.12)—the absent authority who might bring safety to all.

"Where's the master?" is the question that echoes across the battlefield of Shrewsbury in Henry IV, Part I, where many men are dressed like the King but true authority is absent. Hamlet never finds an answer, and Angelo must wait for one until the final moments of Measure for Measure. The Tempest answers the question almost as soon as it is posed, however, for the first scene's brevity matches the ferocity of its threats. The movement from this scene to the next is from nightmare to waking relief, from a plunge toward death to the comfort of a father's reassurance: "No more amazement: tell your piterous heart / There's no harm done" (I.ii.14-15). Long before Prospero calls himself "master" (I.ii.20) or Ariel addresses him as "great master" (I.ii.189), it is clear that he is the ordering power whose absence released such terrors in the preceding scene and whose very presence restores the world to harmony. The tempest is the only one of Prospero's shows that the audience experiences at first as "real," so the opening sequence prompts in us sentiments expressed later by the Boatswain and eventually shared by nearly all the dramatis personae: "The best news is, that we have safely found/Our King" (V.i.221-22). In The Tempest, every man is Prospero's fortunate subject.

Indeed, the play belongs to Prospero in a way that seems downright un-Shakespearean. Duke Vincentio must contend with Lucio and Pompey, Rosalind with the melancholy Jaques, Henry V with the stubborn soldier, Williams—even the sonnets are marked by dialectic. In The Tempest, however, there are no discordant voices with enough wit or dignity to command attention. Dissent is confined to the discredited, to Caliban, to Antonio and Sebastian, and even they bow at last to "a most high miracle" (V.i.177). A number of critics have commented on Prospero's undisputed preeminence in the play and the unusual thinness of the other characters. G. Wilson Knight, for example, concludes [in his The Crown of Life, 1947] that "except for Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban, the people scarcely exist in their own right." Rather than treating this disparity as a given, I want to ask what makes it necessary. Why does Shakespeare endow Prospero with such extraordinary dominion? Over what anxieties does it triumph, and what conflicts does it resolve?

The calm and homage that surround Prospero on his island have little place in the story he tells Miranda. Like Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure, Prospero yielded to a strong ambivalence about power and withdrew from active rule, ceding real authority to his brother Antonio:

             he whom next thyself
Of all the world I lov'd, and to him put
The manage of my state; as at that time
Through all the signories it was the first,
And Prospero the prime duke, being so reputed
In dignity, and for the liberal Arts
Without a parallel; those being all my study,
The government I cast upon my brother,
And to my state grew stranger, being transported
And rapt in secret studies.

The broken sentences may reflect excitement, as Frank Kermode suggests, or conflict, since Prospero asserts both the prominence of his state and his indifference to such public considerations. He wants to be "prime duke" without any responsibilities, and the narrative goes on to reveal similar contradictions. Prospero poses to Miranda as an injured ascetic who wanted very little and was denied even that: "Me, poor man, my library / Was dukedom large enough" (I.ii.109-10). Only fifteen lines later he complains about the loss of "all the honours" and "fair Milan." In "casting the government" upon his brother, Prospero behaves like a child abdicating responsibility to an adult. Nonetheless, he accuses Antonio of usurping a father's prerogative when he "new created / The creatures that were mine" (I.ii.81-82). Like Lear, Prospero wants both the status of a father and the security and ease of a child.

The language hints at sexual uncertainties that underlie the conflict about power, at a fantasy that Duke Prospero was both mother and father, but doubly vulnerable rather than doubly strong. Antonio was "the ivy which had hid my princely trunk / And suck'd my verdure out on't" (I.ii.86-87). The metaphor makes Prospero androgynous: the second clause suggests a mother drained by an insatiable child, while the hidden "princely trunk" is an image of male strength defeated or replaced. This is not the only hint of impotence. Prospero complains that Antonio thought him "incapable" of "temporal royalties" (I.ii.l 10-11) and projects this anxiety onto his state. The new Duke had to:

The dukedom, yet unbow'd,—alas, poor
To most ignoble stooping.
                                                      (I.ii.l 14-16)

Even fatherhood, the keystone of Prospero's island identity, seems to have been doubtful in Milan:

Miranda.     Sir, are not you my father?
Prospero. Thy mother was a piece of virtue, and
    She said thou wast my daughter; and thy
    Was Duke of Milan; and his only heir
    And princess, no worse issued.

The question itself is surprising, and the answer is oddly evasive and ambiguous; the shift from first to third person and the disjunctive syntax separate Prospero from both daughter and dukedom. Just as his own anxiety about impotence is projected onto a personified Milan, these half-suppressed doubts of his wife's chastity are related to the imagery of his expulsion from the city. His "fair Milan" rejects him violently; he was, he says later, "thrust forth of Milan" (V.i.160), and Gonzalo echoes the phrase: "was Milan thrust from Milan" (V.i.205). Milan is like a rejecting woman, and the "thrusting" suggests a traumatic birth that Prospero shared with Miranda:

                              one midnight
Fated to th' purpose, did Antonio open
The gates of Milan; and, i' th' dead of darkness,
The ministers for th' purpose hurried thence
Me and thy crying self.
                                             (I.ii. 128-32)

The departure from Milan is an escape from shame and weakness as much as an expulsion. The Duke flees from the fearful demands of office; the father and daughter flee together from a rejecting wife and mother.

For Prospero, the defeat is a happy one. In The Tempest, it is the absence of a daughter, not a wife or mother, that leaves a man truly vulnerable. Thus when Antonio tries to enlist Sebastian in a plot to murder Alonso, his main argument is that Alonso's daughter Claribel "dwells / Ten leagues beyond man's life" (III.i.241-42). Prospero is in no such danger. Though only an infant, on their voyage Miranda provided a substitute for the lost maternal protection: "a cherubin/Thou wast that did preserve me" (I.ii. 152-53). In one sense their exile is an ordeal to be endured, but in more important ways it is a delicious idyll on an island which, to borrow Lear's description, unites them "like birds i' th' cage."

Prospero is anxious because Miranda knows him only as "master of a full poor cell,/And thy no greater father" (I.ii. 19-20)—the last phrase hesitates between shame and vanity—but she can imagine no greater eminence: "More to know/Did never meddle with my thoughts" (I.ii.21-22). Throughout his long narration, Miranda is the ideal listener; she has no critical faculty of her own, and her responses are invariably just what her father wants. She weeps when appropriate, and when Prospero reflects smugly on his success as her "schoolmaster," she promptly cries: "Heavens thank you for it" (I.ii.175). This heroine has neither Perdita's liveliness nor Imogen's dignity. Coleridge remarks that "the moral feeling called forth by the sweet words of Miranda, 'Alack, what trouble/Was I then to you!,' in which she considered only the sufferings and sorrows of her father, puts the reader in a frame of mind to exert his imagination in favor of an object so innocent and interesting. Perhaps—but Miranda's "sweet words" also cater to Prospero's need for admiration, indeed for reverence, and they mold the audience's sense that other relationships ought to do the same. Consider the undercurrent as Prospero recounts their history:

Prospero. Obey, and be attentive.

Prospero. Dost thou attend me?
Miranda.                      Sir, most needfully.

Prospero. Thou attend'st not?
Miranda. O, good sir, I do.
Prospero.               I pray thee, mark me.

Prospero. Dost thou hear?
Miranda.                    Your tale, sir, would cure

Shakespeare shows us a pattern of doubt and reassurance, of a father's obsessive need for attention and a daughter who fulfills it, and also of a man preparing to relinquish something precious by clutching it more passionately than ever.

For the question remains: a mothering daughter of perfect, unceasing devotion and an omnipotent father who basks in her affection—why does Prospero accept her approaching marriage so willingly?

So glad of this as they I cannot be,
Who are surpris'd with all, but my rejoicing
At nothing can be more.

Understatement makes the first line poignant, balancing the surprising claim that follows—surprising because the play as a whole equates a daughter's marriage with her death. "Would I had never married my daughter there," Alonso cries:

                 for, coming thence,
My son is lost, and, in my rate, she too,
Who is so far from Italy removed
I ne'er again shall see her.

Prospero himself, when Alonso grieves over Ferdinand's supposed death, replies that he has suffered "the like loss" (V.i.142) and is less able to console himself. What is such a major defeat doing at the very center of a play that otherwise tends to grant Prospero's every wish? How does Shakespeare reconcile the loss with his hero's ongoing mastery?

Miranda makes a major contribution to what I want to call Prospero's—and the play's—paternal narcissism: the prevailing sense that there is no worthiness like a father's, no accomplishment or power, and that Prospero is the father par excellence. Praise of Miranda—even a lover's—has a way of rebounding to her father:

    for several virtues
Have I lik'd several women; never any
With so full soul, but some defect in her
Did quarrel with the noblest grace she ow'd,
And put it to the foil: but you, O you,
So perfect and so peerless, are created
Of every creature's best!

"Created" and "creature" (an echo of "new created/The creatures that were mine") draw our attention to Prospero's marvelous powers of nurture—of design, one might say. Ordinary, imperfect women are merely born; only his art can produce a paragon.

Much in the play that might pass for dissent only adds to Prospero's stature—the brief quarrel with Ariel, for example. "What is't thou canst demand?" (I.ii.245), Prospero asks; the master fails to imagine that serving him could leave anyone other than perfectly contented. In general, Shakespeare seems to share his point of view: Ariel begs pardon for his momentary rebellion. Even the cynicism of Sebastian and Antonio promotes our reverence for Prospero. Another man's grief is merely the grindstone for their wit, and they turn the encounters between Alonso and Gonzalo into music hall entertainment:

Antonio. (Aside to Seb.) The visitor will not
  give him o'er so.
Sebastian. (Aside to Ant.) Look, he's winding
   up the watch of his wit; by and by it will
Gonzalo. Sir,—
Sebastian. (Aside to Ant.) One: tell.
Gonzalo. When every grief is entertain'd that's
  Comes to th' entertainer—
Sebastian. A dollar.
Gonzalo. Dolour comes to him, indeed: you have
  spoken truer than you purpos'd.
Sebastian. You have taken it wiselier than I
  meant you should.

Why should an audience not prefer this flippancy to Gonzalo's ponderous earnestness and sense of wonder? We know, after all, that the tempest is part of Prospero's plan, that Ferdinand is alive and safe, that the island holds no real dangers; we might well identify with the spectator -like detachment of the two "wits." But Shakespeare makes them so callous and sneering that we are forced to adopt a contrasting attitude, to acknowledge the seriousness of the events we witness. Their smug posturing, a caricature of self-regard, makes us susceptible to a romance perspective and to the grander, sanctioned narcissism of Prospero.

This reverence for father Prospero does not extend to mothers. Whatever ambivalence toward them is hidden in Prospero's tale of his expulsion, the one mother in the play is unmistakably demonic: Sycorax. She is a "foul witch" (I.ii.257), a "damned witch" (I.ii.263), banished for "mischiefs manifold, and sorceries terrible/To enter human hearing" (I.ii.264-65). Unlike Prospero's, her commands were so "earthy and abhorr'd" (I.ii.273) that the delicate Ariel refused to obey them. Sycorax imprisoned Ariel in a cloven pine for twelve years:

    it was a torment
To lay upon the damn'd, which Sycorax
Could not again undo; it was mine Art,
When I arriv'd and heard thee, that made gape
The pine, and let thee out.

This demon mother's rage is "unmitigable" (I.ii.276); only a father could end the torture. The passage (with its over-tones of castration) lets us imagine a mother whose ulti-mate punishment is permanent imprisonment in a constricting womb.

By contrast, Prospero becomes a midwife whose art enables him to implement Ariel's rebirth. Rebirth is a staple of romance, including Shakespeare's, but The Tempest gives Prospero the power to direct processes that elsewhere defy even understanding, not to speak of control. Thus he arranges a rebirth for Ferdinand and Alonso after each has believed the other dead, and also for the Captain and crew of Alonso's ship. During the play, Ariel keeps "the mariners all under hatches stow'd" (I.ii.230); the ship is like a body holding many children, whose birth takes place in Act V with appropriate accompanying sounds. Vulnerable in Milan, on his island Prospero is both strong father and mother, or a father whose life-giving power defeats the vindictive mother, Sycorax.

The conflict between Prospero and Caliban, who claims the island "by Sycorax my mother" (I.ii.334), extends the struggle between maternal and paternal forces. Caliban invokes his mother's power repeatedly:

As wicked dew as e'er my mother brush'd
With raven's feather from unwholesome fen
Drop on you both!

                    All the charms
Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you.

Such prayers always fail, because command of maternal responses in the play has been given to Prospero. In good humor he calls for heavenly nurture: "Heavens rain grace/ On that which breeds between 'em" (III.i.75-76); in a graver mood he threatens to withhold it: "No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall/To make this contract grow" (IV.i.18-19). These might seem like empty gestures were it not for his manifest power over food, a more effective means of control than any pinches and cramps. "I must eat my dinner" (I.ii.333), Caliban admits. His cruelly interrupted dream of riches about to drop on him—"when I wak'd,/I cried to dream again" (III.ii. 139-41)—is dramatized in the humiliation of Alonso and his company at the magic banquet that vanishes when they go to eat. Prospero himself was thrust from Milan and its nourishment; here he subjects his enemies to symbolic versions of his own ordeal.

Fortune sends Caliban a new master who can strut more boldly than Prospero and provides an unlimited supply of food. Stephano's bottle is a mother accessible to all, a parody of Prospero's maternal powers, and he is fully aware of its advantages: "He shall taste of my bottle; if he have never drunk wine afore, it will go near to remove his fit. If I can recover him, and keep him tame, I will not take too much for him …" (II.ii.76-79). Those who have starved leap at the chance to deprive someone else. Caliban would like to punish Trinculo as Prospero has punished him—"I do beseech thy greatness, give him blows,/ And take his bottle from him" (III.ii.63-64)—but Stephano's dominion is brief:

Trinculo. Ay, but to lose our bottles in the
Stephano. There is not only disgrace and
  dishonour in that, monster, but an infinite loss.

Prospero's punishment demonstrates once again the utter vulnerability of those who are children rather than fathers.

Throughout the play, Prospero's references to Caliban stress his own failure to transform the "mis-shapen knave" (V.i.268) and Caliban's resistance to "any print of goodness" (I.ii.354). The monster is an affront to his pride as a shaper of character, a pride that unites the artist and the father:

A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost;
And as with age his body uglier grows,
So his mind cankers.
                                   (IV.i. 188-92)

The tone here combines self-pity and self-congratulation, and the speech ends with an assertion that projects onto the totally demonized Caliban the anxieties about age and weakness that are Prospero's own. Caliban is Prospero's servant and carries wood for him, but the real reason why "as 'tis,/We cannot miss him" (I.ii.312) is that he carries the greater burden of Prospero's projected anxieties and wishes: "This thing of darkness I/Acknowledge mine" (V.i.275-76).

Caliban's complex symbolic value is most apparent when he meets Trinculo, mistaking him at first for one of his master's agents. He has learned how to propitiate Prospero by minimizing his ominous erectness: "I'll fall flat;/Perchance he will not mind me" (II.ii.16-17). Expecting another tempest and believing Caliban to be dead, Trinculo crawls under his "gaberdine." When Stephano comes upon the pair, it looks to him like some version of Iago's "beast with two backs," an incarnation of the monstrous in lovemaking: "I have not scap'd drowning, to be afeard now of your four legs" (II.ii.60-61). "Afeard" or not, Stephano betrays a certain nervousness about female demands and his own ability to satisfy them: "Doth thy other mouth call me? Mercy, mercy! … I have no long spoon" (II.ii.98-100). The monstrous form suddenly divides: Caliban "vents" Trinculo, and for a moment, the scene becomes a parody of childbirth. "Vent" also suggests defecation, however, as if this two acts were conflated in Shakespeare's imagination. This second fantasy becomes explicit when Stephano calls Trinculo "the siege of this moon-calf" (II.ii.107)—Kermode glosses "siege" as "excrement"—an identity later confirmed by his immersion in the "filthy-mantled pool" (IV.i.182) and its "horse-piss" (IV.i.199). With its dreamlike fusion of the surreal and the antic, the sequence is what psycho-analysis calls highly overdetermined. Much of what Shakespeare finds disquieting or repulsive about women and sexuality—indeed, about nature, as compared to Prospero's cleaner art—is filtered through the bizarre humor and given unexpected shape.

Caliban himself also takes a plunge in the cesspool, a fitting punishment for his greatest crime:

           I have us'd thee,
Filth as thou art, with human care; and lodg'd
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child.

The final euphemism in this speech is a defense against contemplating the rape that Caliban attempted, and his reply confirms Prospero's fears:

O ho, O ho! would't had been done!
Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans.

Paternity for Caliban is an infinite multiplication of himself. By comparison, Prospero's pride in his fathering seems reasonable and attractive.

Prospero tries to fend off all that Caliban represents, but his attempts to polarize his world are posed against a fear that opposites may be only too similar. Caliban, after all, can master the courtly language that belongs to his betters: "I thank my noble lord. Wilt thou be pleas'd to hearken once again to the suit I made to thee?" (II.ii.36-37). His "I never saw a woman,/But only Sycorax my dam and she" (III.ii.98-99) sounds startlingly like Miranda's confession:

            nor have I seen
More that I may call men than you, good friend,
And my dear father.

Nature and nurture do not always diverge, and at times the island resembles England as Trinculo describes it: "Were I in England now … there would this monster make a man" (II.ii.28-31). We may laugh when Caliban asserts that, without his books, Prospero is "but a sot, as I am, nor hath not/One spirit to command" (III.ii.91-92), but the parallel is less outrageous than it seems. The proximity of man and monster is a subversive motif in The Tempest, but it remains subordinate to the overriding concern for security and order.

Caliban serves because he must; Ariel does so willingly, even lovingly: "All hail, great master! grave sir, hail! I come/To answer thy best pleasure" (I.ii. 189-90). Caliban embodies impulses that Prospero must avoid or master; Ariel gratifies Prospero's sense of his own importance and fulfills his wish for superhuman powers:

I boarded the king's ship; now on the beak,
Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
I flam'd amazement: sometime I'd divide,
And burn in many places; on the topmast,
The yards and boresprit, would I flame
Then meet and join.

Prospero is a guardian, not a lover; he gives Miranda to Ferdinand and warns them both against "th' fire in th' blood" (IV.i.53). As a ruler, he would rather forgive than punish. Ariel allows him to burn by proxy, to burn like an avenger and like a lover too, for the language ("boarded," "now in the waist") confirms Prospero's own association of fire and sexuality. Caliban is grotesquely united with Trinculo in the four-legged monster; Ariel can "meet and join" delightfully without any partner at all. Separated from Caliban's explicit sadism—"thou mayst knock a nail into his head" (II.ii.60), the slave tells Stephano—Prospero is not just master but "potent master" (IV.i.34) with Ariel at his command.

Whatever sexuality Ariel represents is completely stripped of physical grossness, leaving only his delicacy and airiness:

Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.

This song suggests the perfect child, perfect not only in grace and charm but in independence. This is a child who needs nourishment but not a mother, since he can suck "where the bee sucks," who needs protection but not a father, since he can hide in a flower from the predators of the night. Ariel is a child who recognizes the absoluteness of Prospero's paternal authority, who both embodies the father's power and makes no demands whatsoever on his attention and care. It is no wonder that Prospero seems more relaxed with him than with Miranda, more in his element. Ariel brings him satisfactions that a real child cannot, even one as compliant as his daughter. The sprite's very longing for freedom is, by comparison, gratifying to Prospero; Ariel has no interest in a younger, more virile rival, but wants freedom simply for its own sake.

The only one of Ariel's talents that Prospero has as well is invisibility. Unlike the lovers, who have "chang'd eyes" (I.ii.444) at their first meeting, Prospero likes to see without being seen, to supervise instead of gazing candidly. His voyeurism seems to be a substitute for other, more direct modes of gratification, and he has a complementary urge to exhibit himself. "I will disease me, and myself present/As I was sometime Milan" (V.i.85-86). It is a measure of his dominion that he both reserves certain choice spectacles for himself (the courtship of Miranda and Ferdinand) and controls the seeing done by others—sometimes in an oddly literal way. "The fringed curtains of thine eye advance/And say what thou seest yond" (I.ii.411-12), he tells Miranda, directing her initial sight of Ferdinand. Shakespeare gives Prospero an air of mastery here over the very process that is sure to wound him, the one that most comedy treats as inevitable, just as he lets Alonso believe that Claribel married only to please her father. The curtain metaphor connects this moment with Prospero's more explicitly artful shows: the masque, the false banquet, the final revelation of the lovers playing chess. Such displays master his audiences, reducing them to a wondering passivity. "No tongue! All eyes!" (IV.i.59), he commands Miranda and Ferdinand as the masque begins.

When Prospero does not direct it, the act of seeing can become the "open-ey'd conspiracy" (II.i.296) of Antonio and Sebastian, but it seems curious when he puts Ferdinand in the same class: "thou … hast put thyself/Upon the island as a spy" (I.ii.456-58). The irony may be at Prospero's expense, since he accuses Ferdinand of what is in fact his own kind of watching, but his anger is easy to understand: Ferdinand's arrival threatens the rule of fathers:

Ferdinand.           My language! heavens!
   I am the best of them that speak this speech,
   Were I but where 'tis spoken.
Prospero.           How? the best?
    What wert thou, if the King of Naples heard

His identification with the King makes Prospero take offense at Ferdinand's readiness to succeed him. "Best of them" slights the dignity of fathers, and Prospero is quick to elicit a show of filial grief:

                     myself am Naples,
Who with mine eyes, never since at ebb, beheld
The King my father wrack'd.

The piety mollifies Prospero, as does the unwitting confession of faulty seeing, but only for a moment: Ferdinand is "a traitor" (I.ii.464), he insists.

In addition to Prospero's anger, the threat to paternal dominance provokes a counterwish, expressed by Alonso's belief that Ferdinand is drowned. This belief waxes and wanes in accordance with Alonso's hostility or guilt. Just after Francisco's impressive description of Ferdinand swimming to safety, Alonso asserts doggedly, "No, no, he's gone" (II.i.118). But his vindictive thought leads to an abrupt change of heart: "Let's make further search for my poor son" (II.i.318-19). The arduous search soon seems a sufficient show of love, however, and Alonso gives it up rather easily:

Even here I will put off my hope, and keep it
No longer for my flatterer: he is drown'd
Whom thus we stray to find; and the sea mocks
Our frustrate search on land. Well, let him go.

In The Tempest, the word "hope" can connect apparently altruistic thoughts to selfish ones. Here the murderous impulse emerges not in Alonso's own voice but in Antonio's: "I am right glad that he's so out of hope" (Il.iii.l 1). This echoes Antonio's attempt to engage Sebastian in his plot:

Sebastian.            I have no hope
    That he's undrown'd.
Antonio.           O, out of that "no hope"
    What great hope have you!

In Antonio and Sebastian, the sorts of wishes that are more unconscious in Alonso lie on or near the surface, and even in Alonso they surface persistently. When at last he sees his son playing chess with Miranda, the King exclaims:

                 If this prove
A vision of the island, one dear son
Shall I twice lose.
                                    (V.i. 175-77)

One might argue that such caution is only reasonable in Prospero's confusing realm, but Ferdinand has had similar lessons and says nothing of the kind.

Ferdinand must be cleansed of whatever hostility he has toward fathers, since Prospero is eventually to accept him as his "son" (IV.i. 146), and Ariel's song does the crucial work:

Full fadom five thy father lies;
     Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
     Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell: …

Here magical transformation makes the father's death acceptable. The song denies that death brings decay or oblivion; instead, it offers an escape from mutability, a watery Byzantium. A father's bones—and, more important, his eyes—become beautiful, permanent, and precious; even after death he receives the homage of attractive sea nymphs, as if in tribute to his gorgeously preserved authority. The song allows Ferdinand to accept Alonso's death without undue grief of guilt, and its cool grace reflects the fact that the dead father is not Prospero.

Ferdinand's most serious threat to paternal dominance is his love for Miranda, however. The Prince has gentler manners than Caliban, of course, but is less likely to make a permanent servant; Francisco portrays him as one of nature's rulers:

I saw him beat the surges under him,
And ride upon their backs; he trod the water,
Whose enmity he flung aside, and breasted
The surge most swoln that met him; his bold
'Bove the contentious waves he kept, and oared
Himself with his good arms in lusty stroke
To th' shore …
                                    (II.i.l 10-16)

Ariel and his coworkers enable Prospero to humble even "the most mighty Neptune" (I.ii.204), but this young man, whose entire body seems vigorously phallic, needs no magic to master the waves. At first Prospero presents him as "a goodly person" (I.ii.419), but the hostility beneath his colorless phrase soon emerges. "To th' most of men this is a Caliban" (I.ii.483), he warns, and Ariel's first song addresses this very fear.

Come unto yellow sands,
   And then take hands:
Courtsied when you have and kiss'd
   The wild waves whist:
Foot it featly here and there,
   And sweet sprites bear
The burthen, Hark, hark.

Here sexuality is subordinated to decorum and courtesy in the formal ordering of a dance. The song provides an alternative to Caliban's threat of rape, for the lovers content themselves with taking hands and kissing. Only "footing" is ambiguous, and "the wild waves whist" (a long-standing textual problem) suggests the containment of passion. The animal-noise refrain, however, reveals the cruder sexuality that the song barely suppresses: "I hear/ The strain of strutting chanticleer" (I.ii.387-88). The rooster's assertive maleness underlines Prospero's warning.

Prospero responds to the approaching marriage with a threefold defense. Ferdinand's awe of Miranda must harness his desire, first of all, and the father must have a symbolic victory over the younger man's confident sexuality. Even though Ferdinand, unlike Miranda, has been in the world and knows what women look like, he reacts just as Prospero wants him to: he addresses her as a goddess and asks humbly for "some good instruction" (I.ii.427). Such reverence is not enough to pacify Prospero, however:

I'll manacle thy neck and feet together:
Sea-water shalt thou drink; thy food shall be
The fresh-brook mussels, wither'd roots, and
Wherein the acorn cradled. Follow.

The striking image of neck and feet manacled together echoes the description of Sycorax "grown into a hoop" (I.ii.259). Becoming circular seems to be a form of castration, an imposed impotence—in any case, the opposite of Ferdinand the thrusting swimmer. The food Prospero mentions confirms such a reading: "wither'd roots" recall the withering Prospero himself expects and fears; "husks/ Wherein the acorn cradled" suggest what Prospero will be after he has lost the child he cradles now. Prospero is forcing on Ferdinand the food of impotence and loneliness that will soon enough be his own.

Ferdinand draws his sword, determined to resist such enslavement until his "enemy has more power" (I.ii.469), but while The Tempest continues Prospero has all the power he needs:

                   Put thy sword up, traitor;
Who Mak'st a show, but dar'st not strike, thy
Is so possess'd with guilt: come from thy ward;
For I can here disarm thee with this stick
And make thy weapon drop.

Similar victories of stick over sword occur elsewhere. When Antonio and Sebastian prepare to stab Alonso and Gonzalo, Ariel thwarts their plan, and when they draw following the false banquet, the sprite derides their sudden, nightmarish impotence: "Your swords are now too massy for your strengths,/And will not be uplifted" (III.iii.67-68). Ariel merely repeats Prospero's mockery of Ferdinand: "Thy nerves are in their infancy again,/And have no vigour in them" (I.ii.487-88). For a brief time, the sexual rival is reduced to the impotence of a child and the political heir to the ignominy of a servant.

If the play ended with this triumph, we would have another version of Measure for Measure, in which the older man reserves the maiden for himself. But Ferdinand's ordeal is only temporary, a ritualistic endurance of the father's hostility. He is eventually to marry Miranda, and it is not sufficient, nor is it necessary, to conclude that many trivial gratifications compensate for one major loss. The explanation is rather that Prospero transforms a loss into a gratification, a piece of magic at least as pretty as raising a tempest. Again Measure for Measure provides a helpful parallel. When the disguised Duke asks Escalus to describe his character, the old counselor gives a reply that is more astute than he knows: "Rather rejoicing to see another merry, than merry at anything which professed to make him rejoice" (III.ii.238-40). Anna Freud has analyzed just this psychological pattern: "This normal and less conspicuous form of projection might be described as 'altruistic surrender' of our own instinctual impulses in favour of other people." [(in The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense, 1946)] Measure for Measure is an unsatisfying play precisely because the altruistic surrender does not really function: the Duke cannot give up Isabella as Prospero does Miranda. But like Anna Freud's patient, who "gratified her instincts by sharing in the gratification of others," Prospero identifies with Ferdinand and surrenders to him the pleasure of possessing Miranda. The success of this surrender accounts in part for the deep harmony that distinguishes The Tempest.

Even after this resolution, Prospero elicits a vow of premarital chastity from Ferdinand, although not from Miranda; her sexuality is not consciously acknowledged. Heart-felt as it is, the young man's promise leaves room for concern:

                             As I hope
For quiet days, fair issue and long life,
With such love as 'tis now, the murkiest den,
The most opportune place, the strong'st
Our worser genius can, shall never melt
Mine honour into lust, to take away
The edge of that day's celebration
When I shall think, or Phoebus' steeds are
Or Night kept chain'd below.

Ferdinand protests too much: his words suggest fantasies of rape and reveal a disturbing contradiction. He feels no lust now—"The white cold virgin snow upon my heart / Abates the ardour of my liver" (IV.i.55-56)—but he will, once the vows are spoken. When Miranda has been possessed, however, she will no longer be desirable; Ferdinand will lose the "edge" of his interest, and she may be abandoned like the "widow Dido" (II.i.75) who turns up so mysteriously in the chatter of Antonio and Sebastian.

Ferdinand's oaths cannot resolve the play's anxieties about sex any more than his temporary incapacity. The somber undercurrent persists, but the "potent Art" (V.i.50) of Prospero's masque succeeds, however briefly, in containing both threats to women and the dangers of their malice. Ceres recalls how, with the help of Venus, "dusky Dis my daughter got" (IV.i.89)—an echo of Caliban's attempted rape and Alonso's lamented decision to "loose" his daughter "to an African" (II.i.121)—but now, although she and Cupid had planned "some wanton charm" (IV.i.95) against the lovers, Venus is defeated:

Mars's hot minion is return'd again;
Her waspish-headed son has broke his arrows,
Swears he will shoot no more, but play with
And be a boy right out.

This retreat from menacing potency to the reassuring innocence of boyhood reenacts in myth Ferdinand's passage from threat to dependent infant in Act I and Caliban's comparable transformation in Act II.

Instead of Venus and her threats of sexual corruption, the masque gives us Iris, with the "refreshing showers" (IV.i.79) that fulfill the new couple's hope of sweet aspersion from the heavens, and Ceres, the nurturing mother so painfully absent throughout the play. She is "a most bounteous lady" (IV.i.60) who brings to the lovers "Earth's increase, foison plenty,/Barns and garners never empty" (IV.i. 110-11)—the abundant food denied Alonso and his men when Prospero's banquet vanished. The landscape that Ceres leaves is a setting for "cold nymphs" (IV.i.66) and "the dismissed bachelor" (IV.i.67), but the masque moves away from this sterility. Iris summons two sets of dancers: "naiads" and "sunburn'd sicklemen." The former have "ever-harmless looks" (IV.i.129)—no Sycorax here—and the men are robust, attractive, and well-protected by their sickles. The final lines echo Ariel's earlier command to "foot it featly here and there": "And these fresh nymphs encounter every one/In country footing" (IV.i. 137-38). The playwright who has Hamlet ask sarcastically about "country matters" is surely aware of the sexual puns contained in "encounter" and "country." Both sexuality and the nurturing mother are restored to the play by Prospero's magic and are subject to his reassuring control.

Caught up earlier in the glory of his own lesser vision, Gonzalo asserts that he "would with such perfection govern, sir,/T'excel the Golden Age" (II.i. 163-64). Sebastian and Antonio meet this claim with their customary derision.

Sebastian. No marrying among his subjects?
Antonio. None, man; all idle; whores and knaves.
Sebastian.                     'Save his majesty!
Antonio. Long live Gonzalo!

In the "real" world, nymphs and sicklemen may still become whores and knaves. But since Gonzalo's vision precedes Prospero's, it absorbs the hostile mockery that might otherwise undermine the masque and frees the audience to share Ferdinand's absolute reverence:

     Let me live here ever;
So rare a wonder'd father and a wise
Makes this place Paradise.
                                           (IV.i. 122-24)

Paradise is made, the line emphasizes, not found. This supreme validation of the father's creating power is the central wish fulfillment of the play.

Outside of the masque, brute aggression persists: the "foul conspiracy/Of the beast Caliban and his confederates" (IV.i. 139-40). Just as he reduces Ferdinand's powers to their infancy, Prospero meets the more primitive sexual and political threat by turning his foes into foolish children who follow the malicious "mother" Ariel: "calf-like, they my lowing follow'd, through/Tooth'd briars, sharp furzes, pricking goss, and thorns" (IV.i. 179-80). Caliban now sees the folly of worshipping anyone other than the supreme father: "I'll be wise hereafter,/And seek for grace" (V.i.294-95).

Caliban can hope for pardon, but Prospero's treatment of Antonio is more equivocal:

For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother
Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive
Thy rankest fault,—-all of them.

This is forgiveness in name only. Prospero still insists on separating his own goodness from the evil of his enemies, like Isabella in Measure for Measure, with her distinction between her own "chaste body" and her tormentor's "concupiscible intemperate lust" (V.i.97-98). But while Isabella learns that at times the chaste must plead for the concupiscible, very little in The Tempest modifies Prospero's belief in radical opposites. Because Antonio has "expelled remorse and nature" (V.i.76), Prospero suspends a threat of punishment over him and Sebastian:

But you, my brace of lords, were I so minded,
I here could pluck his highness' frown upon
And justify you traitors: at this time
I will tell no tales.
                                            (V.i. 126-29)

Earlier, Ariel condemns Alonso to "ling'ring perdition" (IH.iii.77) but withdraws the sentence if the criminal will promise "heart-sorrow/And a clear life ensuing" (III.iii.81-82), and the pattern is repeated: Prospero brandishes the rod but enjoys his own magnanimity.

Only Ariel obtains complete freedom at the end of the play, and Prospero calls attention to his own generosity in granting it: "Why that's my dainty Ariel! I shall miss thee;/But yet you shall have freedom" (V.i.95-96). Freedom is Ariel's right, of course, just as it is Miranda's, Ferdinand's, or Caliban's. But the play manipulates us into feeling that if Ariel were truly wise he would remain with Prospero—where else could he find such a perfect master? His final song about the life he will lead, "Merrily, merrily shall I live now/Under the blossom that hangs on the bough" (V.i.93-94), only adds to our sympathy for his master, who anticipates no merriment, only a lonely life in which "every third thought shall be my grave" (V.i.311).

Freedom, finally, is unimaginable in The Tempest—Ariel will enjoy it only after the play is over—and even dominion is an illusion. "The great globe itself,/Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve" (IV.i. 153-54). The word "inherit" reminds us that the speech is directed at Ferdinand, the "heir/Of Naples and of Milan" (ILL 107-08). Prospero gives him an old man's warning: only fools like Stephano think that "the King and all our company else being drown'd, we will inherit here" (II.ii. 174-75). The most one can do is choose one's heirs, and this Prospero has done quite successfully. Prospero completes his altruistic surrender; he can contemplate his own death calmly because Ferdinand has "received a second life" (V.i. 195) from him.

So he breaks his staff, after using "every possible resource to enforce the potency of his powers" in a farewell to the elves and spirits who have served him. As his other charms dissolve, Prospero retains the skills of an actor and playwright—his final entrance before the assembled company is especially well timed—and a kind of sublimated potency through story telling. Alonso would wear himself out trying to pierce the maze, while for Prospero it is no maze at all:

Do not infest your mind with beating on
The strangeness of this business; at pick'd

Which shall be shortly single, I'll resolve you …

The magician becomes a poet whose only magic is to make the night "go quick away" (V.i.305). One can hardly help but conclude that the celebration of Prospero's paternal power is Shakespeare's celebration of himself, qualified by irony but never seriously undermined. When Alonso asks for his son's forgiveness, Prospero stops him abruptly; no one else is to dispense pardons, and fathers are not to humble themselves before children.

The epilogue draws the audience into the psychological structure of the play by making it feel the power of a father and the vulnerability of a child. Prospero now has only his own strength, which he admits is "most faint" (1. 3), but we have for the moment gained his special powers. With them goes the choice either to imprison or to liberate. Just as in the final act Prospero releases Miranda, Ferdinand, Alonso, and finally Ariel, now we must do the same for him: "But release me from my bands/With the help of your good hands" (11. 9-10). He promised Alonso a good wind for the voyage back to Italy; now "Gentle breath of yours my sails/Must fill, or else my project fails" (11. 11-12). And what was Prospero's project? In a word: "to please." Denied the real gratification that Ferdinand will enjoy, Prospero must share in the pleasure of others. As his last piece of magic, he forestalls any criticism by proving to us that we too find pleasure and security in liberating rather than possessing. The play's final couplet reminds us that, although Prospero is returning to Milan, the Heavenly Father with whom he identifies can never be evaded: "As you from crimes would pardon'd be/Let your indulgence set me free."

R. D. Gooder (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: "Prospero," in The Cambridge Quarterly, Vol. XII, No. 1, 1983, pp. 1-25.

[In the essay below, Gooder argues against an optimistic reading of the character of Prospero, maintaining that while the protagonist of The Tempest does indeed represent the zenith of human achievement, he nevertheless is not portrayed as having arrived at wisdom.]

Students of The Tempest will know that there are two main lines of argument among critics who have written about the play. One is that The Tempest is 'Shakespeare's farewell to his art', and that in it he took a long backward glance over the characters, themes and subjects which he had dealt with in earlier plays, collected the most significantly recurrent of these—stripped of all impurities—and offered them to his audience as a kind of artistic confection containing all his essential meaning. The other is that The Tempest is a romance, a symbolic drama dealing in abstractions and archetypes concerning profound and universal meanings of life, and that it is not therefore susceptible to any crass, naturalistic demands we might make of it. There are many permutations of these arguments, and as often as not they are joined together, as for example, like this:

If Shakespeare thought of The Tempest as the last play he would write he may have said to himself … that he could afford to let action in it come to a kind of rest; that its task was not so much to tell a story as to fix a vision; that the symbols he hitherto had defined his art by concealing must now confess themselves, even obtrude themselves in measured dance and significant song …

Views of this kind are not easily denied, not least because The Tempest abounds in evidence that this is just the way that Shakespeare would like us to read the play. But I should like for a moment to put on one side these questions of significance and meaning and ask something entirely different. Does The Tempest give us, either as a whole or from scene to scene, really all that much to think about? For example, one of the best scenes in the play is that in Act II in which Antonio, playing upon certain susceptibilities in Sebastian, brings Sebastian round to the view that it would be wise and worthwhile for him to murder his brother, Alonso. Now this does, surely, refer to a familiar Shakespearean theme: that power of suggestion which is one of the resources of an evil nature. We think of course of Iago's influence upon Othello, or Lady Macbeth's upon her husband, so that this scene in The Tempest draws strength from our memory of previous plays. But, how much strength does it draw? Is it, perhaps, too much? Certainly Shakespeare, with great art and economy, has reminded us of that theme, but what has he left out? Is Antonio the summary of an idea, or an abstraction of it? To continue: at the end of the scene Sebastian, on the point of being convinced, asks Antonio:

But for your conscience.

To which Antonio replies:

Ay, sir; where lies that? if 'twere a kibe,
'Twould put me to my slipper …

and so on, and indeed the speech of Antonio's that follows is terrifying in its implications, for it is, as another critic said, the voice of naked power thinking. But there is also something missing in Antonio, a lack apparent at die beginning of this speech and made up nowhere else in the play. Antonio has no conscience, and not for any reason that is made clear in the play or in his character, but as it were by decree, or definition. He is like some character out of Webster, or Middleton, or Ford, any one of whom could have invented him. Compared with Lady Macbeth, Antonio has no inner life at all. Nor is he, if we think of Iago, even very subtle.

It is at this point in a discussion of The Tempest that the question of symbolism comes in. The point is, someone will say, that Antonio isn't supposed to have an inner life; he is a symbolic figure, a figure of romance, a romantic villain, as it were, whom it would be inappropriate to criticise on naturalistic grounds. That is no doubt just, but it brings us to another critical question: are we getting as much from romantic Shakespeare as we do from naturalistic Shakespeare? One of the ways we might answer is to return to the question of themes. The play of Othello does not show us, in Iago, the theme of evil influence, it shows us evil influence, the thing in itself. The play grips us because of the presence of the fact, not because of its significance. The Tempest is the one Shakespeare play where we commonly seek the significance before we have the fact. Thus, this excellently efficient little scene between Antonio and Sebastian is there to tell us something about a theme, whereas the theme tells us nothing about them, save that they are representatives of it. This is quite the reverse of Shakespeare's ordinary way of working. It is not, however, accidental. Not only is The Tempest a play in which there is very little action and a great deal of talking, but almost every event, from the opening storm onwards, is directly commented on so that we know how to take it. Moreover, we are told what to think of almost every major figure in the play. In The Tempest the hand of Shakespeare is scarcely ever out of the balance. In no other play does Shakespeare so blatantly seek our collaboration. I do not think, I might add, mat our failure to arrive at a commonly accepted interpretation of The Tempest is a contradiction of this view about the way Shakespeare was working. One critic wrote that 'The Tempest is whatever we would take it to be. Any set of symbols, moved close to this play, lights up as in an electric field.' Just so, but it does not necessarily follow that the meaning of The Tempest 'is precisely as rich as the human mind'. On the contrary, it may be that the meaning of The Tempest is comparatively thin, as we might discover if we make a point of coming to it empty handed, without any 'set of symbols'.

Let us begin by asking a simple, logical question: can A be true, if B, which is an important attribute of A, is not true? For example, can we say that Prospero is a triumph of humanity if, throughout the play, he appears to be extremely bad-tempered? And let, us, for the purposes of the exercise, stick to the play as we have it, and not seek excuses for why the play does not support our interpretation, rather than demonstrate that it does. Here is an example of what we might try to avoid. Professor Frank Kermode, in the learned introduction to his Arden edition of The Tempest, writes of the sources and analogues of the play and tells us that

Ultimately the source of The Tempest is an ancient motif, of almost universal occurrence, in saga, ballad, fairy tale and folk tale. The existence of this story accounts for the many analogues to The Tempest. That both Prospero and the father of Ayrer's Sidea are irascrible is, in the last analysis, explained by the fact that they descend from a bad-tempered giant-magician.

(Arden edition, 1954)

Now Kermode has said, not very long before, that Prospero 'exercises the supernatural powers of the holy adept. His Art,' he continues,

is here the disciplined exercise of virtuous knowledge, a 'translation of merit into power', the achievement of 'an intellect pure and conjoined with the powers of the gods …'

(Prof. Kermode is quoting R. H. West, The Invisible World, and Cornelius Agrippa, Occult Philosophy.)

For Kermode as for many other critics Prospero is at the very pinnacle of human consciousness and human possibility. It is obviously very awkward, therefore, that any groundling will notice that Prospero is bad-tempered, mean-spirited, highly vindictive, and perhaps more than a little neurotic. This 'irascibility' (to use his word) Ker-mode attributes to a 'bad-tempered giant-magician' in Shakespeare's sources, implying thereby that Shakespeare has but a feeble grasp on his material—an implication that Kermode didn't intend, but which might be worth keeping in mind.

Analysis of The Tempest has frequently proceeded on the assumption that the play generates a good deal of spiritual power, and the definition of Prospero as a 'magus' or a 'holy adept' is perfectly congruent with that assumption. But the main action of the play is less so: it issues from the mind of the 'magus' Prospero, it is divided into two parts, and both parts are very worldly. The first is Prospero's ambition to marry his daughter to the right sort of person; the second is his desire to be revenged upon his enemies. These things, which scarcely distinguish Prospero from the great mass of men, come to issue in Acts IV and V of the play, where we feel most uncomfortably the difference between what is happening in the play, and what Shakespeare wishes us to believe is happening. You will remember that in Act III we had Ferdinand engaged in a kind of symbolic abasement of himself, shifting logs. I say symbolic because I cannot see any practical end to Ferdinand's labours; Prospero appears to have no need of such a supply of fuel and has in any case a perfectly good labourer in Caliban. In any case, by Act IV, all of this is behind Ferdinand. He appears at the beginning of the scene, along with Prospero and Miranda, the arrangements for the betrothal having obviously been settled. Prospero warns the lovers against giving dalliance too much the rein, and so on, then calls up Ariel and demands a masque for the entertainment of the happy pair. This Prospero breaks up before it is finished, for he has suddenly remembered the conspiracy of Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo against his life. With the hurried explanation (which has become the most famous passage in the play) that he is vexed and troubled, Prospero descants upon life's insubstantialities—'we are such stuff as dreams are made on'—and sends the lovers off in order that he may speak privately to Ariel. Ariel explains that he has led the three buffoons, red-hot with drinking, through a gorse patch and into a stinking bog. Prospero expresses delight at these arrangements, packs Ariel off on another errand, mutters one or two execrations on the subject of Caliban ('a born devil on whose nature nurture can never stick') before turning invisible, the more conveniently to watch the carefully plotted discomfiture of Caliban and his companions. This is followed by the business in the line-grove in which Stephano and Trinculo, so enamoured of the stuffs that Ariel has hung out to tempt them, entirely forget their purpose, much to Caliban's dismay, and are driven off by spirits in the shape of hunting hounds. Prospero urges the spirits on, and concludes the act with the satisfied remark that 'At this hour/ Lies at my mercy all mine enemies …' We may say that in this Act the two main actions of the play, the bringing together of Ferdinand and Miranda, and the disabling of all Prospero's enemies, are completed.

A good deal of Act IV is taken up with the Masque, which I do not myself find very engaging—it is certainly inferior to good Jonsonian masque. But there are two scholarly problems connected with it. The more general and more important is the question of the kind of pleasure which we may assume a Jacobean audience took in a masque, and whether it isn't something which we can never hope to share. I mention this because there are critics who believe that we should think of the whole of The Tempest as a kind of dramatized masque. If so, it seems to me that our chance of getting as much pleasure from it as its original audience is limited from the outset. I don't mean we have lost the taste for spectacle which Inigo Jones's stage-sets and machinery encouraged in his seventeenth century contemporaries. But a stage play is a stage play, and Inigo himself could not have matched for spectacle what any man nowadays may seek from his television or the nearest wide-screen cinema. If Shakespeare's design was to amuse his audience with a play that had all the elements and atmosphere of a masque, much of its original interest must remain for us more or less academic. It has been suggested, moreover, that the masque in The Tempest is an interpolation, introduced by Shakespeare (or someone else) to make the play more suitable for some specific occasion. I am bound to say that this seems to me likely enough. The introduction of the masque is very clumsy, the reason given for its inclusion almost irrelevant:

    … for I must
Bestow upon the eyes of this young couple
Some vanity of mine Art: it is my promise,
And they expect it from me. (IV, 1, 40)

It hardly seems credible that Shakespeare would have exposed Prospero to the charge of being a low sideshow conjuror, on however grand a scale. Halfway through the masque are introduced a few lines which, though they have no point themselves, serve to underline the pointlessness of the whole spectacle. If they are not an interpolation by another hand, I think they are strong candidates for the worst lines in Shakespeare. Ferdinand says:

This is a most majestic vision, and
Harmonious charmingly: may I be bold
To think these spirits?

To which Prospero replies:

Spirits, which by mine art
I have from their confines call'd to enact
My present fancies. (IV, 1, 118)

Whereupon I think we must ask whether Prospero is exercising, in Prof. Kermode's phrase, the supernatural powers of the holy adept, whether the masque is the disciplined exercise of virtuous knowledge, or whether it isn't more in the nature of a tea-time cabaret? At any rate Ferdinand is impressed:

Let me live here ever;
So rare a wonder'd father, and a wise
Makes this place Paradise.

On the evidence of these lines I should have said that Miranda was in the presence of as ripe a pair of humbugs as Shakespeare could have imagined. Caliban at least had the merit of being true to his honest feelings.

We should not, probably, attach too much importance to the masque, for it is not indubitably Shakespeare's, and it certainly is a serious drag on our interest, which at this point in the play ought to be entirely committed. At the same time I wouldn't want to leave you with the impression that I was being flippant when I said a moment ago that I thought Miranda might well reconsider, in the light of what she hears in this act, the merits of Caliban. I am not forgetting that Caliban had tried to rape Miranda, and that is a grave mark against him; but I'd like to leave that aside for a moment, and ask what kind of thoughts Miranda might reasonably be having during the conversation between her fiancé and her father that she hears in Act IV? Certainly I think that anyone who finds Prospero a consistently impressive figure ought to explain what he thinks is going on during all that part of the act which precedes the masque. You will remember that it begins with Prospero's speech in which he accepts Ferdinand's suit for his daughter's hand.

If I have too austerely punish'd you,
Your compensation makes amends …
           All thy vexations
Were but trials of thy love, and thou
Hast strangely stood the test: here, afore Heaven,
I ratify this my rich gift. O Ferdinand,
Do not smile at me that I boast her off,
For thou shalt find she will outstrip all praise,
And make it halt behind her. (IV, 1, 1)

Now that is certainly as handsome a testimonial as any girl could hope to get from her father, and Miranda has good reason to be satisfied with the way things are going. Yet we might wonder, even if Miranda doesn't, just exactly what were the punishments, the trials and the vexations of which Prospero speaks. True, we have seen Ferdinand carrying numbers of logs about the stage, but it is hard to see that as a very dire punishment. During the entire length of that scene Ferdinand has had Miranda on hand to chat with; he doesn't give any outward signs of suffering, though we take the point that this young prince is being symbolically abased to the level of Caliban, and it is indeed his principal complaint that he was destined for better things. Yet inconvenience, or chagrin, are not the same as suffering, and Shakespeare seems to be telling us in Prospero's speech how to take the log-carrying scene, telling us, that is, what he has not adequately shown.

I don't know that I have an argument with which to oppose those who will say that our imaginations will and should connive with Shakespeare's purposes. So I can only ask (as though you were coming to the play for the first time) whether you can see anything here that looks like suffering, or whether as a reader of the play you can find anything in the language of Ferdinand at this point that seems to issue from anguish or misery. I put an emphasis on suffering because it seems to me that if we can't believe that Ferdinand is really in despair at the progress of events, then we cannot believe that he has undergone a trial. It wouldn't be hard to show that Shakespeare can show us many varieties of mental anguish, and I ask you to consider whether there isn't more evidence of a lover's torment in A Midsummer Night's Dream? But if you think that on this question I have confined my imagination into a cloven pine, you will be especially exasperated with my next quibble. 'All the vexations were but my trials of thy love,' Prospero says to Ferdinand. But I would like to be so prosaic as to ask in what way—even assuming that we are convinced that Ferdinand has really suffered a trial—carrying logs is a trial of love, or what kind of love it is a trial of? 'You must be wise, you must be good, And help your wife to chop the wood', is the last couplet of a nursery rhyme children sing. But it is clear that Prospero hasn't in mind any such bourgeois notion as whether Ferdinand is likely to make an adequate père de famille. The nursery rhyme, however, offers us two words that Shakespeare does not, 'wise' and 'good'. Can we say that wisdom and goodness are in evidence among Ferdinand's eligible qualities? In fact, as far as Ferdinand is concerned, Prospero has but one overt piece of evidence to go on, and that is that he is very strongly attracted to Miranda. That no doubt is an admirable thing in Ferdinand, but also it is something he shares with Caliban. What I cannot help wondering about at this point, is the difference, in Prospero's mind, and in ours, between Caliban and Ferdinand. What Caliban's qualities are—and they are surely considerable—we know, and so does Prospero; what Ferdinand's are we as yet do not, or at least not much. So I wonder, when I am thinking about which man would be the more suitable partner for the exquisite Miranda, whether Shakespeare (and Prospero) wasn't depending very heavily upon certain prejudices which would make us feel that Prospero was making a judicial fatherly selection between these two aspirants. For Caliban, of course, is an ugly, hairy, ill-mannered, smelly, foul-mouthed savage; whereas Ferdinand is hand-some, elegant and fair-spoken, and though he has but lately suffered shipwreck, has, like a movie star, survived with hair unruffled and clothes undrenched. Now I am not suggesting that we could expect Shakespeare, or Prospero, or any man who has a daughter, to make, in equivalent circumstances, a choice different from that which Prospero makes. Yet, in The Merchant of Venice and in Othello, where Shakespeare finds himself dealing with situations wherein powerful prejudices operate, we find him asking, perhaps in spite of himself, radical questions, by which I mean humane questions, even if in some of his conclusions he is more conventional. So I think we might ask whether his failure to confront this romantic situation in The Tempest in a radical spirit, and indeed his willingness to use his audience's most conventional prejudices, is not indicative of a change of interest which is also a slackening of imagination. I think that in this case Shakespeare is not letting us see, as he very much does let us see in The Merchant of Venice and Othello, what our feelings are made of and what determines our choices, even in the most serious matters. In The Tempest all of that is carefully hidden. The American comedian Lenny Bruce brought it out, in one of his California nightclub turns:

Now, here is a good summation on the cliché 'Would You Want One of Them to Marry Your Sister?' Yeah. I would like to do this even though it's no tour de force to do integration in Los Angeles—because we assume you are integrationists … So I say, where can I really do it where it'll count? Mobile, Alabama …

Then, I wanna do it for the Ku Klux Klan—and I am being objective—the Ku Klux Klan …

O.K. So now I wanna tell him, 'I'll leave the sister aspect, I'll get closer to home. You are a white, the Imperial Wizard, a man forty years old, and now you have a choice—and if you don't think this is logic you can burn me on the fiery cross. This is the logic: you have the choice of spending fifteen years married to a woman—a black woman or a white woman. Fifteen years kissing and hugging and sleeping real close on hot nights, watching her take off her garter belt, taking her makeup off, seeing every facet of her—fifteen years—with a black black woman, or fifteen years with a white white woman. And these two women are about the same age bracket, so it's not an unfair comparison. Fifteen years with a black woman or fifteen years with a white woman.

The white woman is Kate Smith … and the black woman is Lena Home!

So you're not concerned with black or white any more, are you? You are concerned with how cute, how pretty. And if you are concerned with how cute or how pretty, then let's really get basic and persecute ugly people. Not black or white, cause you see, it's a façade, man.

And now, as far as your sister is concerned, you can assume that your sister, boy, when she searches her soul, she will jump over fifty Charles Laughtons to get next to one Harry Belafonte … (Essential Lenny Bruce)

Could we, at this point in the play, put our hands on our hearts and say that we concur in Prospero's judgment for any other reason than that Caliban is ugly? Or to put it another way, if we had Caliban's verse and Ferdinand's verse laid out side by side, with neither names nor extraneous remarks subjoined, which man would we prefer?

The argument that I am depending upon realistic considerations inappropriate to The Tempest is likely to go as follows. Clearly The Tempest is a romance, and however we define the conventions of the genre it is perfectly obvious that Caliban is a baddie, related to Silenus before and Comus after (we need not be surprised, therefore, that he speaks such marvellous verse), and that Ferdinand is a goodie, related to Prince Charming and Tamino. Moreover, it is obviously quite unapt to question the propriety of the 'test', since as you yourself said a moment ago Prospero isn't interested in any questions of bourgeois homemaking.

Now we cannot ignore this person, however much we may think that that argument begs the question, for it also comes close in to the heart of the matter. For if we do not settle the question of how we are to take the play, we clearly cannot begin to erect an interpretation of any solidity. If we take the play to be a romance, and the atmosphere and the action and the characters to have a heightened symbolic force we do not accord the elements of a realistic or naturalistic play, how are we to take Prospero's next speech?

Then, as my gift … take my daughter: but
If thou dost break her virgin-knot before
All sanctimonious ceremonies may
With full and holy rite be minister'd,
No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall
To make this contract grow; but barren hate,
Sour-ey'd disdain and discord shall bestrew
The union of your bed with weeds so loathly
That you shall hate it both: therefore take heed,
As Hymen's lamps shall light you. (IV, 1, 13)

Where we get language of that kind in romance it tends to be said either to the wicked witch, or by the wicked witch, and not by the presiding genius of the story to the young lovers. A romance ordinarily ends with the lovers living happily ever after, but the conventions wouldn't preclude Shakespeare's at least suggesting the possibility of the opposite result. Yet we must see that Prospero's language becomes very specific. If he was not, in what has gone before, in the least bit concerned to discover Ferdinand's ability to create domestic harmony, he is here very anxious to remind Ferdinand, and us, of the possibility of domestic discord. So I don't think we can say that the conventions of the genre relieve Shakespeare of the necessity of giving us any reality in the one instance, while it allows him to ram reality down our throats in the other. For surely, what takes our attention in this speech is not any question of romantic archetypes and symbolic curses, but rather the question of what is going on in Prospero's mind. For his language here is at once over-bearing and discordant. Consider, for example, Prospero's phrase 'if thou dost break her virgin-knot …' which the Arden editor suggests (but does not say) is a translation from the Latin 'soluere zonam', which it is not—I doubt Shakespeare's Latin was as inaccurate as that. Kermode also refers us to Pericles where Marina, imprisoned in a brothel, says:

If fires be hot, knives sharp, or waters deep,
Untied I still my virgin knot will keep.
                                               (IV, 2, 146)

But there is a great difference between Marina's untie; and Prospero's break: had Prospero said untie we could have excused him this speech, for untying suggests a certain intricacy and a certain delicacy, which we are to believe that Ferdinand has by nature. However, break her virgin-knot is a euphemism for rape, and if Prospero believes Ferdinand capable of rape he is mentally setting him, far more than he did in the log-carrying business, at the level of Caliban. (Ferdinand doesn't notice, though.) What follows are those few lines about the probable results of what used to be called premarital intercourse.

No sweet aspersions shall the heavens let fall
To make this contract grow; but barren hate,
Sour-ey'd disdain and discord shall bestrew
The union of your bed with weeds so loathly
That you shall hate it both …

How are we, who cannot accept the categorical truth of that proposition, to take Prospero's words? Should we, for example, think of Prospero as uttering a curse? He is a wizard, the limitation of whose powers is not made clear in the play, so we can imagine that he could damn his daughter's marriage, if he wanted to. But he does not actually say, 'I will bring it about … ', nor does he say, 'let there fall no sweet aspersions' and so on. He offers a fact, dependent upon a causal relationship, if you do this, then that will be the result, so we must wonder whether Prospero believes it, and after that whether Shakespeare believes it, for the language forces us to feel that Prospero is not pointing out a risk, but promising a certainty. To find Prospero tolerable at this point, we must believe in what he says, or believe that he has reason for saying it, and we must, therefore, believe that Shakespeare's authority is behind him. (So at this point it might be very helpful to know a little more about Ann Hathaway.) So I cannot answer the question: I do not know whether Prospero is cursing Ferdinand or warning him; all that is plain to me is that his words have an arresting intensity.

We might at this point step outside The Tempest and consider briefly a more general question. I take it that when T. S. Eliot, in his famous essay on the metaphysical poets, spoke of a dissociation of sensibility, a dissociation, that is, of the physical from the mental consciousness, one of the things he had in mind was a sense of the change in the way that people thought about sexuality. Shakespeare lived in an age of intense sexual awareness, an age, toward the latter part of his life, evidently half-crazed with thinking on virginity. The marks of that consciousness are to be found in nearly every Jacobean dramatist. Some of them, like Webster, Middleton, and Ford, endlessly irritated that consciousness by throwing up lurid images of lust, infidelity, violation, and incest, while others, like Beaumont and Fletcher, tickled it for a little prurient amusement. But there's no reality in any of this because fundamentally all of these dramatists, however remarkable their skills, were unwilling to confront what it really was, in themselves and in their age, that they were pretending to write about. In all of them there is incident and rhetoric of great force, but no steady presentation of what, at bottom, is troubling them. It is only Shakespeare who can give us men who are not distorted into monsters, but are truly on the rack—Hamlet, Angelo, Othello, Prospero.

I feel then, that this speech of Prospero's gives us a strong reason to believe that there is something working in Prospero's mind that is incommensurate with the 'disciplined exercise of virtuous knowledge', or 'intellect pure and conjoined with the powers of the gods', and which cannot be explained away by defining The Tempest as a romance. Some corroboration comes a moment later. Prospero, we must imagine, turns away from Ferdinand and Miranda to address those words to Ariel wherein he directs the spirit to conjure up a masque. Prospero then turns back to Ferdinand and Miranda, who, we imagine, have during this very short space of time joined hands and exchanged meaningful, we might even say amorous, looks. Under the circumstances they could hardly be expected to do less; indeed, Prospero, not to say Miranda, might well have wondered had Ferdinand not at this point expressed some warmth of feeling. Yet Prospero's words are severe to the point of being minatory:

Look thou be true; do not give dalliance
Too much the rein: the strongest oaths are straw
To th' fire in' the' blood: be more abstemious,
Or else, good night your vow! (IV, 1,51)

At this point I think we might ask a slightly different question—what are we to think of Prospero's manners? Or, to put it more concretely, by what right does a father presume to speak to his prospective son-in-law in these terms? Or, why did he not at least choose a time when Miranda was not at hand? But, given the situation, we may say that here, if anywhere, is the real test of Ferdinand. He needs here a speech of extraordinary delicacy and force, one which will express his love for Miranda, assure Prospero of the honour of his intentions, and place the unbuttoned pre-occupations of Prospero's puritan psychology, a speech, in short, which will justify his election. What does he say?

          I warrant you, sir;
The white cold virgin snow upon my heart
Abates the ardour of my liver. (IV, 1, 53)

The Arden editor has a worried footnote about this speech, nor does he fail to remind us that the liver was thought to be the seat of emotions. But I cannot construct any interpretation on these lines which does not lead to the conclusion that Ferdinand is a cold fish. The Tempest, as a play, very badly needs someone who can resist and place what we are given as the character of Prospero, and there are many reasons why Ferdinand should have filled that róle. But at this crucial moment Ferdinand sounds as hollow as a drum. I don't see how Miranda can bear him.

But it would be fair to consider what it was that Shakespeare was trying to do with Ferdinand and Miranda. Do we not, indeed, must we not believe that in Miranda Shakespeare is offering us a girl who would answer to Marvell's invocation to his mistress?

Now therefore, while the youthful hew
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing Soul transpires
At every pore with instant Fires.…

We must, that is, think of her as chaste and innocent and obedient to her parent, at the same time that she is in the first bloom of sexual maturity and perfectly ready for life. A description is clumsy, but what we are to expect here is a young woman who shares affinities with Juliet, Desdemona, Cordelia, Marina, and Perdita. For those who believe that The Tempest is an epitome of major Shakespearean themes Miranda must somehow condense and recapitulate these predecessors. But I think we might note how very wanly, in fact, Miranda reflects them, so that she is not so much an epitome as an abstraction. We may let that pass, however, and continue to honour, for a moment, the apparent intention of Shakespeare.

The masculine equivalent of Miranda seems, really, to present a greater difficulty, not only for Shakespeare, but for other dramatists as well. What is needed is a young man who has had a certain amount of experience, enough, that is to say, to help him recognise the particular value of Miranda, and to bear towards her a delicacy of spirit unknown to a youth who is completely callow. He is, that is to say, to be a young man, and not a youth. And yet this experience should not in any way have sullied the nobility of his spirit and character. That this is what Shakespeare is after we are more or less told in Act III; whether he gets it or not is another matter. His young man must have in some measure those qualities which Aristotle described as characteristic of a Young Man.

Young men have strong passions, and tend to gratify them indiscriminately. Of the bodily desires, it is the sexual by which they are most swayed and in which they show absence of self-control. They are changeable and fickle in their desires, which are violent while they last, but quickly over: their impulses are keen but not deep-rooted, and are like sick people's attacks of hunger and thirst. They are hot-tempered and quick-tempered, and apt to give way to their anger; bad temper often gets the better of them, for owing to their love of honour they cannot bear being slighted, and are indignant if they imagine themselves unfairly treated. While they love honour, they love victory still more; for youth is eager for superiority over others, and victory is one form of this. They love both more than they love money, which indeed they love very little, not having yet learnt what it means to be without it … They look at the good side rather than the bad, not yet having witnessed many instances of wickedness. They trust others readily, because they have not yet often been cheated. They are sanguine; nature warms their blood as though with excess of wine; and besides that, they have as yet met with few disappointments. Their lives are mainly spent not in memory but in expectation; for expectation refers to the future, memory to the past, and youth has a long future before it and a short past behind it … They are easily cheated, owing to the sanguine disposition just mentioned. Their hot tempers and hopeful dispositions make them more courageous than older men are; the hot temper prevents fear, and the hopeful disposition creates confidence; we cannot feel fear so long as we are feeling angry, and any expectation of good makes us confident. They are shy, accepting the rules of society in which they have been trained, and not yet believing in any other standard of honour. They have exalted notions, because they have not yet been humbled by life or learnt its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things—and that means having exalted notions. They would always rather do noble deeds than useful ones: their lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning; and whereas reasoning leads us to choose what is useful, moral goodness leads us to choose what is noble. They are fonder of their friends, intimates, and companions than older men are, because they like spending their days in the company of others, and have not yet come to value either their friends or anything else by their usefulness to themselves. All their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They disobey Chilon's precept by overdoing everything; they love too much and hate too much, and the same with everything else. They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it; this, in fact, is why they overdo everything. If they do wrong to others, it is because they mean to insult them, not to do them actual harm. They are ready to pity others, because they think everyone an honest man, or anyhow better than he is: they judge their neighbours by their own harmless natures, and so cannot think he deserves to be treated in that way. They are fond of fun and therefore witty, wit being well-bred insolence.

(Rhetorica, 1389a)

(That strikes me, by the way, as true wisdom, of a kind which Prospero, whether he is a holy adept or not, hasn't the least inkling of. Indeed, as far as wisdom is concerned, Aristotle is humane and alive, whereas our holy adept is a museum piece to be displayed among the manuals of sorcery and the instruments of alchemy.) To catch, sur le vif, a young man such as would conform to Aristotle's definition is evidently a matter of nice delicacy. We have, I mean, very few created examples. Usually, a fictional young man is either too weak to sustain our interest or even our belief in him, like Claudio in Much Ado about Nothing, or Tamino in Mozart's Magic Flute; or else he has an interest of altogether the wrong kind, like Hamlet, or Vanderbank in The Awkward Age. I should like to postulate the theory that there comes a time in a writer's life after which he can no longer sympathetically 'get inside' such a young man. Either he shuts himself off from the real complexities of the case and gives us a character who is hollow, like Claudio; or else he engages with the complexities but brings to them thoughts and imaginings which are the product of a more mature introspection, and creates a Hamlet. The postulate is in a measure supported by the fact that at the age of about thirty—the perfect age for such sympathy, perhaps—Shakespeare created the most famous pair of young lovers in the language, and his one real success in this vein, Romeo and Juliet. It is remarkable how much of Aristotle's characterization is in Romeo, Mercutio, Tybalt, and yet all seen with the inward sympathy of a man who believed in, and was not afraid of, the real humanness of youth. It is by comparison with Romeo and Juliet that you realize how little you get in Ferdinand and Miranda, and how thoroughly that relationship is palled over by late middle age, and a state of mind which cannot sympathise with, or trust, what should really be there between lovers.

The trouble with The Tempest in respect of this very important relationship is that Shakespeare does not create it, and Prospero does not trust it. Suppose that my postulate is true, and that Shakespeare could only in part have created that relationship because he was too old to be inward with Ferdinand: need The Tempest have foundered on this fact? Not necessarily, and it is possible that up to now I have been overdoing Ferdinand and Miranda. If they remain inadequate, they are still not at the centre of their play, as Romeo and Juliet are. Our real interest is in Prospero, so that our interest in Ferdinand and Miranda extends no further than the point where they help to determine our understanding of Prospero. Or to put it another way, they have no independent existence; they are only in the play for Prospero's use. Whether this ought to be the case is another question, but given that it is, what might have satisfied us that Prospero is really as wise as Shakespeare wants us to believe? It is a risky business to second-guess Shakespeare, but I wonder whether we mightn't have felt it a far better test of Ferdinand if, instead of making Ferdinand carry logs which he does not need, Prospero had left Ferdinand and Miranda alone together in his cell for long enough so that we could see the difference between Ferdinand's approach to Miranda and Caliban's, between lust and love, between animal desire and a belief in the sanctity of the marriage union. But more important, we should see that Prospero, without necessarily sympathising with Ferdinand, has, like Aristotle, or Mozart's Don Alfonso in CosÌ Fan Tutte, wisdom sufficient to recognise what Ferdinand is. What we see now in Prospero as tyrannical power, would come nearer to being the real power that flows from confidence in human nature and a belief in oneself. Finally, we should have, instead of Prospero's testy, prurient and ugly injunctions, something that made more in the direction of those lines of Yeats's:

How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?

Now, save for that famous Shakespearean set-piece which comes just after the masque—'Our revels now are ended …' and so on—about which I can find very little to say, the remainder of Act IV is concentrated upon the gulling of Caliban and his two sottish and obtuse companions. This scene, or rather this part of the act following the masque, seems to me one of the best in the play. Not, I mean, in the way that Shakespeare is at his best in the great tragedies, where a complex situation is brought to dramatic finish, but rather in the way which is, I take it, more appropriate to this play. The scene, that is, is a sketch which makes very clear the relationships between certain characters, and certain ideas. It is a sketch which tell us where we are—or should do, for the trouble is that I'm not at all sure that it tells us what Shakespeare intended. For I think the question we have to ask here is why, when Caliban, about whom all through the play we have been told the most unflattering things, is intent upon a vicious and deceitful murder as bad as that contemplated by Antonio and Sebastian earlier in the play, and when Prospero is merely taking action to defend himself, all our sympathies go out to Caliban, less than none to Prospero? Surely one of the things in play here is our uncertainty about the extent of Caliban's independence, and our uncertainty about the limitations of Prospero's power. It is true that of all the characters in the play Prospero's power over Caliban is most tenuous, as it is true that Caliban has more autonomy than anyone but Prospero. Yet it is clear that the match is unequal. Prospero has in his employ a spy far more expert than any mere George Smiley. Caliban's plans are known at headquarters almost before he has uttered them, his procedure is gulled and guyed by subtle traps and the dissemination of misinformation. At no point is Caliban in a position to knock a nail into Prospero's head (which sounds horrid enough), because in the first place Prospero isn't there in his cave, and even if he were, Ariel would certainly see that the conspirators were drubbed in another bog. Now, as said, we don't know the limitations of Prospero's power. Ker-mode is interesting on this subject in his introduction, and it is perhaps true that we lack the information which an ordinary Jacobean audience would have brought to the play, and which would have told them exactly at what point in the hierarchy of Thrones, Dominations, Prince-doms, Virtues and Powers Prospero, Ariel and the rest stood. It is not dramatically clear, however. I think we are on the whole to believe that Prospero's power is limited in some directions, and that it depends upon an assiduous application and concentration. Yet it appears that Prospero can raise a tempest, can raise a masque, and can, in his own words (Act V), dim the noontide sun, stir up earthquakes, and wake the dead. That is to say, at a push Prospero could give God a good fight. This is, of course, something of a characteristic of romance—we are always wondering why if ogres and witches can do one thing they can't do another—and we ought not perhaps to abuse Shakespeare for taking advantages of its vagaries. But the important point is this: I don't believe that anyone has ever believed, from first to last, that when Prospero breaks up the masque with the words

I had forgot that foul conspiracy
Of the beast Caliban and his confederates
Against my life: the minute of their plot
Is almost come …

that his life is in fact in the slightest danger. Everyone knows that Caliban is unequal to the contest, and our whole interest in the scene is in witnessing how he will be made to suffer. I would have said it was a kind of bear-baiting.

You remember what happens: Caliban comes sneaking in with his confederates Stephano and Trinculo. Unfortunately for him, Ariel has put up, I take it, a kind of clothes-line hung with—in Shakespeare's stage-direction—'glistering apparel, etc.'. Stephano and Trinculo are so attracted by this 'frippery stuff that they almost completely forget their purpose, much to the increasing dismay of Caliban, who is in an agony of anticipation at the prospect of levelling the score with Prospero, and at the same time terrified at the consequences should his scheme be interrupted. Just at the very point at which Caliban despairs and realises what a hopeless case he is in, Prospero and Ariel come on. This is Shakespeare's stage direction:

A noise of hunters heard. Enter divers Spirits, in shape of dogs and hounds, hunting them about; PROSPERO and ARIEL setting them on.

What, it seems to me, is striking about this scene is that we cannot help all our sympathies going out to Caliban, who is on the rack between the inane mindlessness of his allies and the relentless and uncharitable power of his enemies. The scene gives us Caliban's sinking heart, his quickening fear, and his dawning realization of the peril in which he stands. At the moment, at the precise moment when Caliban realises that all hope is gone, Prospero—it must have been delicious for him—looses his dogs. Now it seems to me that if we think of this as a funny or amusing scene, and worse, if we think that Prospero's action is 'the disciplined exercise of virtuous knowledge', or the work of an intellect 'pure and conjoined with the powers of the gods', then we are on the way to being as sadistic as Prospero.

You may think that sadistic is too strong a word. These are Prospero's words to Ariel, after he has set on his dogs:

Go charge my goblins that they grind their joints
With dry convulsions; shorten up their sinews
With aged cramps; and more pinch-spotted make
Than pard or cat o' mountain.
                                  (IV, 1, 258)

To which Ariel replies:

Hark, they roar!

And now, may I remind you of those words concerning Caliban that Prospero spoke in soliloquy earlier in the Act:

A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains,
Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost;
And as with age his body uglier grows,
So his mind cankers. I will plague them all,
Even to roaring.
                                     (IV, 1, 188)

Would we, if Prospero were talking not about Caliban, but about some miserable beast next-door at the Bear Garden, or some recalcitrant cart-horse, think that his words revealed a superior human fineness, or even the lowest common denominator of human feeling?

And as with age his body uglier grows,
So his mind cankers …

Do not those words rebound upon the speaker?

It is important to say something now about the Fifth Act of the play, for I can think of at least three things connected with it which make against what I have been saying.

  1. That the last Act is extremely efficient. Prospero appears relaxed and in control; the play moves definitely and purposefully to a conclusion; both Prospero and Shakespeare appear to be free of any anxieties about the plot, such as I have been worrying myself over.
  2. Prospero speaks some of his best verse in the last act. His language is free of the awkward verbosity of his early scene with Miranda, and of the intemperate quality that it has in Act IV. It is in Act V relaxed, confident, and in places very lovely.
  3. Should we not therefore conclude, from these two facts, that there is in the play a dramatic curve, intended by Shakespeare, which I have not acknowledged, but which takes into account, and explains, all that I have been saying about Act IV? I mean, did not Shakespeare intend Prospero at the beginning of the play to seem awkward and uncertain of his power, to go through a period of doubt and increasing strain as he juggles with his various plans, like a magician intensely concentrating upon doing three or four tricks at once? Did he not intend that this development should come to a head at the end of Act IV with those lines—which do come as something of a deep sigh—

          At this hour
Lies at my mercy all mine enemies … ?

The thought, indeed, is 'recapped' and more carefully elaborated in the first lines of Act V—

Now does my project gather to a head:
My charms crack not; my spirits obey; and time
Goes upright with his carriage …—

which prepare the way for an act in which Prospero, having pulled off his great trick, can now relax, with himself and everyone else, can afford to be a little more expansive and generous, and can efficiently tidy up in the comforting knowledge that he has won through, and that nothing can now threaten his plans or himself.

This is a very attractive interpretation, and it seems to me very possible that Shakespeare had in mind something of the kind. But on the other hand, I certainly do not get any strong sense of the inevitability of looking at The Tempest in this way. I mean, it does not immediately seem to fit all the facts and make sense of them, and parts of the foundation (to change the metaphor) upon which such an interpretation is built seem to me a little crumbly. So I would like to examine these three points, which seem to make against my sense of the play, a little more closely.

In the first place, if we accept such an interpretation as this, we must also accept that practically the entire weight of The Tempest is carried by Prospero. No other character can be allowed independent existence or independent development, except insofar as he contributes to our understanding of Prospero. Thus there can be no drama as such: there is no conflict because Prospero confronts no one remotely his equal, in narrative importance, in dramatic power, or imaginative autonomy.

The one real drama in The Tempest, then, takes place entirely within the person and character of Prospero: the play is about his struggle with himself. Certainly, with the exception of Caliban, to whom I shall return in a moment, no character in The Tempest remotely competes with Prospero for our attention, and if we cannot find the play in him, we cannot find it at all.

But at the same time we must realize that if we are going to have not a conventional drama of human conflict, but a drama of character, as it were a psychological drama, then the character of Prospero must be not only rich and significant, but also available to our understanding. We must be given a lot to work on. Now let us say, for the sake of the argument, that we really have been given, in the earlier parts of the play, the steps in Prospero's struggle toward self-knowledge and self-fulfillment. That we have been given, I mean, very convincingly, a Prospero in the Act I who is awkward, ill-at-ease, and uncertain of his power, either over himself or over others, and later on a clear development to a Prospero who is intensely excited and pre-occupied with his plans, and therefore, of course, very irritable and pre-occupied, or to use Kermode's word, 'irascible'. It is in some such way that we might explain, or explain away, such things as Prospero's bad verse in Act I, his ill-mannered treatment of Ferdinand, and his savage attitude to Caliban in Act IV. What we would need to be given at the end of the play is something in the nature of a revelation, the image of a mind coming to know itself. Something, that is to say, as good as the soliloquies of Macbeth. Of course everything will depend upon Prospero's verse, and so we have now to ask, is Prospero's verse in Act V really as good as that? There is no space to analyse it all, but I think, if we laid it all out in a continuous speech, the first thing we'd notice would be how very much of it is competent plot summary. There is no other play of Shakespeare's in which we are told so much and shown so little, and a great deal of the telling is done by Prospero, awkwardly at the beginning with Miranda, rather more fluently at the end with all his victims around him.

                          Most cruelly
Didst thou, Alonso, use me and my daughter:
Thy brother was a furtherer in the act.
Thou art pinch'd for't now, Sebastian. Flesh and

You, brother mine, that entertain'd ambition,
Expell'd remorse and nature; whom, with
Whose inward pinches therefore are most
Would here have kill'd your King; I do forgive
Unnatural though thou art.
                                            (V, 1, 71)

The great part of Prospero's verse in Act V is of that kind: reminding us what has happened, and telling us how to take it. So we do get a strong feeling of a Prospero efficiently winding up the play. He is so good at it that we hardly notice that he's winding up a play which we haven't seen.

Of course some of the verse is a great deal better than this. In the speech from which I have just read, for example, we find—

            Their understanding
Begins to swell; and the approaching tide
Will shortly fill the reasonable shore,
That now lies foul and muddy …

or just a bit earlier—

            The charm dissolves apace;
And as the morning steals upon the night,
Melting the darkness, so their rising senses
Begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle
Their clearer reason …

I would not for a moment want to deny that that is lovely and moving verse. At the same time I think we should notice that it is descriptive verse, and of Prospero it tells us no more than that he is a sensitive observer of a moment of wakening. And so, may I remind you, is Shakespeare. Images of waking and sleeping, of sunrise and sunset, in short images of light and darkness are one of Shakespeare's most reliable strengths. I should imagine that if anyone rolled off his tongue the first six Shakespearean periods that came to his mind, at least half would include images of this kind:

But look, the morn in russet mantle clad
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill …

    —Light thickens; and the crow
Makes wing to the'rooky wood …

But soft! What light through yonder window
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of this. Indeed, Shakespeare has more than any other writer taught us what subtle effects changes in light can work upon our emotional states. At the same time, Shakespeare never seems to have any trouble with verses of this kind. I don't mean that here Shakespeare is just turning it on, but I do mean that we need not suppose that images of this kind necessarily indicate Shakespeare is concentrating all his imagination to tell us something. So, on the face of it at least, I don't think that the superior dramatic organisation, and the superior verse of the last Act, are sufficient to support a belief that the whole play comes to rest on them.

Fortunately there is a place in the last Act where we can test directly and adequately the hypothesis that Prospero undergoes a spiritual development through the course of The Tempest. Near the beginning Ariel gives Prospero a brief account of what he has done with Alonso and his courtiers, which ends with these words about Gonzalo and the others:

His tears run downs his beard, like winter's
From eaves of reeds. Your charm so strongly
  works 'em,
That if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender. (V, 1, 16)

To which Prospero replies, almost surprised:

Dost thou think so, spirit?

Ariel's next line is loaded:

Mine would sir, were I human.

To which Prospero replies:

And mine shall.

Now it is clear that something has happened to Prospero here. In the first place Shakespeare does not usually drop a word like 'human' lightly. We are, I think, to believe that Prospero is taking just that final difficult step which makes meaningful all that he has done so far, and which is, nevertheless, a revelation, a leap of imagination whereby Prospero discovers at once what it is to be human, and where his real human power lies. Prospero's speech that follows must give us this inward discovery. This is what Prospero says:

             And mine shall.
Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
Passion as they, be kindlier mov'd than thou art?
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to
  th' quick,
Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance: they being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further … (V, 1, 20)

I do not find it easy to read this speech with the seriousness which it asks for. 'They being penitent, the sole drift of my purpose doth extend not a frown further …'—have we come so far for so little? Do we feel that those lines summarise a high spiritual purpose, or are they more like the sentiments of a school bully: 'Say you're sorry, and I'll stop twisting your arm'? And in the three-and-a-half lines to which the Arden editor devotes such a lot of attention—

Though with their high wrongs I am struck to
  th' quick,
Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance …—

do we really feel in the grip of a new spiritual and moral revelation? Or do we feel that Shakespeare is asking us to take as serious what is really only sententious?

At the end of The Tempest Prospero is obliged to separate Caliban, and all that Caliban represents, from himself ('This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.'). Kermode is surely right to argue that in the play Shakespeare brings into conflict nature and art, and we should no doubt all agree that in Caliban nature is represented very thoroughly. Caliban, too, is an abstraction, like all the other characters in the play save Prospero; but unlike most of them he really does seem more than an efficient epitome of his ancestors, Launce and Bottom, Falstaff, Sir Toby, and Autolycus. He really is something new, and perhaps Shakespeare's greatest reward for presenting his material in this abstract way. What is curious is Shakespeare's determination that we should regard Caliban as a spiritual inferior. (Papageno is supposed to be the spiritual inferior of Tamino and Pamina, but it was the birdcatcher's song that Mozart, on his death-bed, could not get out of his mind.) But would anyone think of Caliban as spiritually inferior, if we did not have Prospero and Miranda constantly telling us that he was so? And how far did Shakespeare (who may, no doubt, by this time in his career have wished well enough to sit upon a golden bough and sing to lords and ladies of Byzantium of what was past, or passing or to come) really believe that a force such as that represented by Caliban could be suppressed, on the mere say-so of a testy old man and a pair of callow lovers?

Shakespeare, like all his contemporaries, was interested in voyages of discovery, and we may assume that his interest was not only in scenery and vegetation—though he was certainly interested in that—but in certain moral problems and possibilities as well. I would not argue that The Tempest is Shakespeare's American play, that it is concerned with the colonial experience or any part of it, or that it was in any way prophetic. At the same time it is impossible to suppose that there was not in Shakespeare's mind an interest in the question of what would happen if you put a lot of highly civilised Europeans upon a desert island and bring them into contact with an uncivilised native. If The Tempest is not about a confrontation of this sort, it is certainly about nature, nature as represented by Caliban, and nature as seen by a group of variously civilised Europeans. One of the nicest scenes in the play is that in Act II in which Gonzalo and Adrian describe what they see before them on the Island, while Antonio and Sebastian contradict them in discordant counterpoint. This indicates, in abstract, the opposition in the play between what is natural and what is unnatural, between Caliban, for example, and Stephano, Trinculo, Sebastian and Antonio. Obviously Caliban, as chief representative—one might say almost creator—of this natural world, is, and is meant to be, preferable to them. But there is another, and more important, contrast in the play than this between what is natural and what is unnatural, and that is the one between what is natural, and what is civilised. This is another subject that The Tempest shares with A Midsummer Night's Dream, where we are made comically aware that the rule of law which governs Athens is not so much a threat to human aspirations as is the caprice of nature which prevails in the woods beyond. Similarly, in The Tempest, we are intended to endorse Prospero's preference for Ferdinand, for Europe, and for 'all sanctimonious ceremonies', over Caliban, his Island, and the instant gratification of libido. But by the time he came to write The Tempest Shakespeare's faith in civilisation was not so uncomplicated as it had been when it was administered by Duke Theseus and tempered by the good graces of his Hippolyta; whereas all that associates with nature in this play still fairly teems! In this world Prospero seems an anachronism—this is no country for old men! He remains occupied, pre-occupied, with the past, with the future, and with consequences, and his attempts to understand and control nature seem sometimes ambiguous, and always neurotic, as though, in order to get any grip at all, he had to rule out, for himself and for others, wide areas of human nature. Kermode is surely right to argue that Shakespeare intended The Tempest for a romance whose protagonist is at the very pinnacle of human consciousness and human achievement. But I do not believe that Shakespeare really convinces us that Prospero arrives at wisdom, and if we connive at his intention we lose a better play than the one he hoped he was writing. And we lose, moreover, this last great character, Prospero, this disappointed old man by whose inability to tell us anything that matters we are told so much.

It was not … what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked
  forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes …

Stephen Orgel (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: "Prospero's Wife," in Representations, No. 8, Fall, 1984, pp. 1-13.

[Finding fault with previous psychological criticism of The Tempest, Orgel analyzes the theme of power in Prospero's role as father, magician, and ruler.]

This essay is not a reading of The Tempest. It is a consideration of five related moments and issues. I have called it "Prospero's Wife" because some of it centers on her, but in a larger sense because she is a figure conspicuous by her absence from the play, and my large subject is the absent, the unspoken, that seems to me the most powerful and problematic presence in The Tempest. In its outlines, the play seems a story of privatives: withdrawal, usurpation, banishment, the loss of one's way, shipwreck. As an antithesis, a principle of control, preservation, re-creation, the play offers only magic, embodied in a single figure, the extraordinary powers of Prospero.

Prosperos's wife is alluded to only once in the play, in Prospero's reply to Miranda's question, "Sir, are you not my father?"

Thy mother was a piece of virtue, and
She said thou wast my daughter; and thy father
Was Duke of Milan; and his only heir
And princess: no worse issued.

Prospero's wife is identified as Miranda's mother, in a context implying that though she was virtuous, women as a class are not, and that were it not for her word, Miranda's legitimacy would be in doubt. The legitimacy of Prospero's heir, that is, derives from her mother's word. But that word is all that is required of her in the play. Once he is assured of it, Prospero turns his attention to himself and his succession, and he characterizes Miranda in a clause that grows increasingly ambivalent—"his only heir / And princess: no worse issued."

Except for this moment, Prospero's wife is absent from his memory. She is wholly absent from her daughter's memory: Miranda can recall several women who attended her in childhood, but no mother. The implied attitudes toward wives and mothers here are confirmed shortly afterward when Prospero, recounting his brother Antonio's crimes, demands that Miranda "tell me / If this might be a brother," and Miranda takes the question to be a charge of adultery against Prospero's mother:

             I should sin
To think but nobly of my grandmother:
Good wombs have borne bad sons.
                                   (I.ii. 118-20)

She immediately translates Prospero's attack on his brother into an attack on his mother (the best she can produce in her grandmother's defence is a "not proved"), and whether or not she has correctly divined her father's intentions, Prospero makes no objection.

The absent presence of the wife and mother in the play constitutes a space that is filled by Prospero's creation of surrogates and a ghostly family: the witch Sycorax and her monster child, Caliban (himself, as becomes apparent, a surrogate for the other wicked child, the usurping younger brother), the good child/wife Miranda, the obedient Ariel, the violently libidinized adolescent Ferdinand. The space is filled, too, by a whole structure of wifely allusion and reference: widow Dido, model at once of heroic fidelity to a murdered husband and the destructive potential of erotic passion; the witch Medea, murderess and filicide; three exemplary goddesses, the bereft Ceres, nurturing Juno and licentious Venus; and Alonso's daughter, Claribel, unwillingly married off to the ruler of the modern Carthage, and thereby lost to her father forever.

Described in this way, the play has an obvious psychoanalytic shape. I have learned a great deal from Freudian treatments of it, most recently from essays by David Sundelson, Coppelia Kahn and Joel Fineman in the volume called Representing Shakespeare. It is almost irresistible to look at the play as a case history. Whose case history is a rather more problematic question, and one that criticism has not, on the whole, dealt with satisfactorily. It is not, obviously, that of the characters. I want to pause first over what it means to consider the play as a case history.

In older psychoanalytic paradigms (say Ernest Jones's) the critic is the analyst, Shakespeare is the patient, the plays his fantasies. The trouble with this paradigm is that it misrepresents the analytic situation in a fundamental way. The interpretation of analytic material is done in conjunction with, and in large measure by, the patient, not the analyst; what the analyst does is enable the patient, free the patient to interpret. An analysis done without the patient, like Freud's of Leonardo, will be revealing only about the analyst. A more recent paradigm, in which the audience's response is the principal analytic material, also seems to me based on fundamental misconceptions, first because it treats an audience as an entity, a unit, and in addition a constant one, and more problematically, because it conceives of the play as an objective event, so that the critical question becomes, "this is what happened: how do we respond to it?"

To take the psychoanalytic paradigm seriously, however, and treat the plays as case histories, is surely to treat them not as objective events but as collaborative fantasies, and to acknowledge thereby that we, as analysts, are implicated in the fantasy. It is not only the patient who creates the shape of his history, and when Bruno Bettelheim observes that Freud's case histories "read as well as the best novels," he is probably telling more of the truth than he intends. Moreover, the crucial recent advances in our understanding of Freud and psychoanalysis have been precisely critical acts of close and inventive reading—there are, in this respect, no limits to the collaboration. But if we accept this as our paradigm, and think of ourselves as Freud's or Shakespeare's collaborators, we must also acknowledge that our reading of the case will be revealing, again, chiefly about ourselves. This is why every generation, and perhaps every reading, produces a different analysis of its Shakespearean texts. In the same way, recent psychoanalytic theory has replaced Freud's central Oedipal myth with a drama in which the loss of the seducing mother is the crucial infant trauma. We used to want assurance that we would successfully compete with or replace or supersede our fathers; now we want to know that our lost mothers will return. Both of these no doubt involve real perceptions, but they also undeniably serve particular cultural needs.

Shakespeare plays, like case histories, derive from the observation of human behavior, and both plays and case histories are imaginative constructs. Whether either is taken to be an objective report of behavior or not has more to do with the reader than the reporter, but it has to be said that Shakespearean critics have more often than not treated the plays as objective accounts. Without such an assumption, a book with the title The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines would be incomprehensible. We feel very far from this famous and popular Victorian work now, but we still worry about consistency and motivation in Shakespearean texts, and much of the commentary in an edition like the Arden Shakespeare is designed to explain why the characters say what they say—that is, to reconcile what they say with what, on the basis of their previous behavior, we feel they ought to be saying. The critic who worries about this kind of consistency in a Shakespeare text is thinking of it as an objective report.

But all readings of Shakespeare, from the earliest seventeenth-century adaptations, through eighteenth-century attempts to produce "authentic" or "accurate" texts, to the liberal fantasy of the old Variorum Shakespeare, have been aware of deep ambiguities and ambivalences in the texts. The eighteenth century described these as Shakespeare's errors, and generally revised them through plausible emendation or outright rewriting. The argument was that Shakespeare wrote in haste, and would have written more perfect plays had he taken time to revise; the corollary to this was, of course, that what we want are die perfect plays Shakespeare did not write, rather than the imperfect ones that he did. A little later the errors became not Shakespeare's but those of the printing house, the scribe, the memory of the reporter or the defective hearing of the transcriber. But the assumption has always been that it is possible to produce a "perfect" text: that beyond or behind the ambiguous, puzzling, inconsistent text is a clear and consistent one.

Plays, moreover, are not only—and one might argue, not primarily—texts. They are performances too, originally designed to be read only in order to be acted out, and the gap between the text and its performance has always been, and remains, a radical one. There always has been an imagination intervening between the texts and their audiences, initially the imagination of producer, director, actor (roles that Shakespeare played himself), and since that time the imagination of editors and commentators as well. These are texts that have always had to be realized. Initially unstable, they have remained so despite all our attempts to fix them. All our attempts to produce an authentic, correct, that is, stable text have resulted only in an extraordinary variety of versions. Their differences can be described as minor only if one believes that the real play is a Platonic idea, never realized but only approached and approximately represented by its text.

This is our myth: the myth of a stable, accurate, authentic, legitimate text, a text that we can think of as Shakespeare's legitimate heir. It is, in its way, a genealogical myth, and it operates with peculiar force in our readings of The Tempest, a play that has been, for the last hundred and fifty years, taken as a representation of Shakespeare himself bidding farewell to his art—as Shakespeare's legacy.

The Missing Wife

She is missing as a character, but Prospero, several times explicitly, presents himself as incorporating her, acting as both father and mother to Miranda, and in one extraordinary passage describes the voyage to the island as a birth fantasy:

When I have decked the sea with drops full salt,
Under my burden groaned, which raised in me
An undergoing stomach, to bear up
Against what should ensue.

To come to the island is to start life over again—both his own and Miranda's—with himself as sole parent, but also with himself as favorite child. He has been banished by his wicked, usurping, possibly illegitimate younger brother Antonio. This too has the shape of a Freudian fantasy: the younger child is the usurper in the family, and the kingdom he usurps is the mother. On the island, Prospero undoes the usurpation, recreating kingdom and family with himself in sole command.

But not quite, because the island is not his alone. Or if it is, then he has repeopled it with all parts of his fantasy, the distressing as well as the gratifying. When he arrives he finds Caliban, child of the witch Sycorax, herself a victim of banishment. The island provided a new life for her too, as it did literally for her son, with whom she was pregnant when she arrived. Sycorax died some time before Prospero came to the island; Prospero never saw her, and everything he knows about her he has learned from Ariel. Nevertheless, she is insistently present in his memory—far more present than his own wife—and she embodies to an extreme degree all the negative assumptions about women that he and Miranda have exchanged.

It is important, therefore, that Caliban derives his claim to the island from his mother: "This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother" (I.ii.333). This has interesting implications to which I shall return, but here I want to point out that he need not make the claim this way. He could derive it from the mere fact of prior possession: he was there first. This, after all, would have been the sole basis of Sycorax's claim to the island, but it is an argument that Caliban never makes. And in deriving his authority from his mother, he delivers himself into Prospero's hands. Prospero declares him a bastard, "got by the devil himself / Upon thy wicked dam" (I.ii.321-22), thereby both dis-allowing any claim from inheritance and justifying his loathing for Caliban.

But is it true that Caliban is Sycorax's bastard by Satan?

How does Prospero know this? Not from Sycorax: Prospero never saw her. Not from Caliban: Sycorax died before she could even teach her son to speak. Everything Prospero knows about the witch he knows from Ariel—her appearance, the story of her banishment, the fact that her pregnancy saved her from execution. Did Sycorax also tell Ariel that her baby was the illegitimate son of the devil? Or is this Prospero's contribution to the story, an especially creative piece of invective, and an extreme instance of his characteristic assumptions about women? Nothing in the text will answer this question for us, and it is worth pausing to observe first that Caliban's claim seems to have been designed so that Prospero can disallow it, and second that we have no way of distinguishing the facts about Caliban and Sycorax from Prospero's invective about them.

Can Prospero imagine no good mothers, then? The play, after all, moves toward a wedding, and the most palpable example we see of the magician's powers is a betrothal masque. The masque is presided over by two exemplary mothers, Ceres and Juno, and the libidinous Venus with her destructive son Cupid has been banished from the scene. But the performance is also preceded by the most awful warnings against sexuality—male sexuality this time: all the libido is presumed to be Ferdinand's, while Miranda remains Prospero's innocent child. Ferdinand's reassuring reply, as David Sundelson persuasively argues, includes submerged fantasies of rape and more than a hint that when the lust of the wedding night cools, so will his marital devotion:

            … the murkiest den,
The most opportune place, the strong'st
Our worser genius can, shall never melt
Mine honor into lust, to take away
The edge of that day's celebration.…

This is the other side of the assumption that all women at heart are whores: all men at heart are rapists—Caliban, Ferdinand, and of course that means Prospero too.

The Marriage Contract

The play moves toward marriage, certainly, yet the relations it postulates between men and women are ignorant at best, characteristically tense, and potentially tragic. There is a familiar Shakespearean paradigm here: relationships between men and women interest Shakespeare intensely, but not, on the whole, as husbands and wives. The wooing process tends to be what it is here: not so much a prelude to marriage and a family as a process of self-definition—an increasingly unsatisfactory process, if we look at the progression of plays from As You Like It, Much Ado about Nothing, Twelfth Night through All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida to Antony and Cleopatra and Cymbeline. If we want to argue that marriage is the point of the comic wooing process for Shakespeare, then we surely ought to be looking at how he depicts marriages. Here Petruchio and Kate, Capulet and Lady Capulet, Claudius and Gertrude, Othello and Desdemona, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Cymbeline and his queen, Leontes and Hermione will not persuade us that comedies ending in marriages have ended happily, or if they have, it is only because they have ended there, stopped at the wedding day.

What happens after marriage? Families in Shakespeare tend to consist not of husbands and wives and their off-spring, but of a parent and a child, usually in a chiastic relationship: father and daughter, mother and son. When there are two children, they tend to be represented as alternatives or rivals: the twins of The Comedy of Errors, Sebastian and Viola, infinitely substitutable for each other, or the good son-bad son complex of Orlando and Oliver, Edgar and Edmund. We know that Shakespeare himself had a son and two daughters, but that family configuration never appears in the plays. Lear's three daughters are quite exceptional in Shakespeare, and even they are dichotomized into bad and good. We might also recall Titus Andronicus's four sons and a daughter and Tamora's three sons, hardly instances to demonstrate Shakespeare's convictions about the comforts of family life.

The family paradigm that emerges from Shakespeare's imagination is a distinctly unstable one. Here is what we know of Shakespeare's own family: he had three brothers and three sisters who survived beyond infancy, and his parents lived into old age. At eighteen he married a woman of twenty-four by whom he had a daughter within six months, and a twin son and daughter a year and a half later. Within six more years he had moved permanently to London, and for the next twenty years—all but the last three years of his life—he lived apart from his wife and family. Nor should we stop here: we do not in the least know that Susanna, Hamnet and Judith were his only children. He lived in a society without contraceptives, and unless we want to believe that he was either exclusively homosexual or celibate, we must assume a high degree of probability that there were other children. The fact that they are not mentioned in his will may mean that they did not survive, but it also might mean that he made separate, non-testamentary provision for them. Certainly the plays reveal a strong interest in the subject of illegitimacy.

Until quite late in his career, the strongest familial feelings seem to be expressed not toward children or wives but toward parents and siblings. His father dies in 1601, the year of Hamlet, his mother in 1608, the year of Coriolanus. And if we are thinking about usurping, bastard younger brothers, it cannot be coincidental that the younger brother who followed him into the acting profession was named Edmund. There are no dramatic correlatives comparable to these for the death of his son Hamnet in 1596. If we take the plays to express what Shakespeare thought about himself (I put it that way to indicate that the assumption strikes me as by no means axiomatic) then we will say that he was apparently free to think of himself as a father—to his two surviving daughters—only after the death of both his parents. 1608 is the date of Pericles as well as Coriolanus.

One final biographical observation: Shakespearean heroines marry very young, in their teens. Miranda is fifteen. We are always told that Juliet's marriage at fourteen is not unusual in the period, but in fact it is unusual in all but upper class families. In Shakespeare's own family, his wife married at twenty-four and his daughters at twenty-four and thirty-one. It was Shakespeare himself who married at eighteen. The women of Shakespeare's plays, of course, are adolescent boys. Perhaps we should see as much of Shakespeare in Miranda and Ariel as in Prospero.

Power and Authority

The psychoanalytic and biographical questions raised by The Tempest are irresistible, but they can supply at best partial clues to its nature. I have decribed the plays as collaborative fantasies, and it is not only critics and readers who are involved in the collaboration. It is performers and audiences too, and I take these terms in their largest senses, to apply not merely to stage productions, but to the theatrical dimension of the society that contains and is mirrored by the theater as well. Cultural concerns, political and social issues, speak through The Tempest—sometimes explicitly, as in the open-ended discussion of political economy between Gonzalo, Antonio and Sebastian in Act II. But in a broader sense, family structures and sexual relations become political structures in the play, and these are relevant to the political structures of Jaco-bean England.

What is the nature of Prospero's authority and the source of his power? Why is he Duke of Milan and the legitimate ruler of the island? Power, as Prospero presents it in the play, is not inherited but self-created. It is magic, or "art," an extension of mental power and self-knowledge, and the authority legitimizing it derives from heaven—"Fortune" and "Destiny" are the terms used in the play. It is Caliban who derives his claim to the island from inheritance, from his mother.

In the England of 1610, both these positions represent available, and indeed normative ways of conceiving of royal authority. James I's authority derived, he said, both from his mother and from God. But deriving one's legitimacy from Mary Queen of Scots was an ambiguous claim at best, and James always felt exceedingly insecure about it. Elizabeth had had similar problems with the sources of her own authority, and they centered precisely on the question of her legitimacy. To those who believed that her father's divorce from Katherine of Aragon was invalid (that is, to Catholics), Elizabeth had no hereditary claim; and she had, moreover, been declared legally illegitimate after the execution of her mother for adultery and incest. Henry VIII maintained Elizabeth's bastardy to the end. Her claim to the throne derived exclusively from her designation in the line of succession, next after Edward and Mary, in her father's will. This ambiguous legacy was the sole source of her authority. Prospero at last acknowledging the bastard Caliban as his own is also expressing the double edge of kingship throughout Shakespeare's lifetime (the ambivalence will not surprise us if we consider the way kings are represented in the history plays). Historically speaking, Caliban's claim to the island is a good one.

Royal power, the play seems to say, is good when it is self-created, bad when it is usurped or inherited from an evil mother. But of course the least problematic case of royal descent is one that is not represented in these paradigms at all, one that derives not from the mother but in the male line from the father: the case of Ferdinand and Alonso, in which the wife and mother is totally absent. If we are thinking about the derivation of royal authority, then, the absence of a father from Prospero's memory is a great deal more significant than the disappearance of a wife. This has been dealt with in psychoanalytic terms, whereby Antonio becomes a stand-in for the father, the real usurper of the mother's kingdom; but here again the realities of contemporary kingship seem more enlightening, if not inescapable. James in fact had a double claim to the English throne, and the one through his father, the Earl of Darnley, was in the strictly lineal respects some-what stronger than that of his mother. Both Darnley and Mary were direct descendants of Henry VII, but under Henry VIII's will, which established the line of succession, descendants who were not English-born were specifically excluded. Darnley was born in England, Mary was not. In fact, Darnley's mother went from Scotland to have her baby in England precisely in order to preserve the claim to the throne.

King James rarely mentioned this side of his heritage, for perfectly understandable reasons. His father was even more disreputable than his mother; and given what was at least the public perception of both their characters, it was all too easy to speculate about whether Darnley was even in fact his father. For James, as for Elizabeth, the derivation of authority through paternity was extremely problematic. In practical terms, James's claim to the English throne depended on Elizabeth naming him her heir (we recall Miranda's legitimacy depending on her mother's word), and James correctly saw this as a continuation of the protracted negotiations between Elizabeth and his mother. His legitimacy, in both senses, thus derived from two mothers, the chaste Elizabeth and the sensual Mary, whom popular imagery represented respectively as a virgin goddess ("a piece of virtue") and a lustful and diabolical witch. James's sense of his own place in the kingdom is that of Prospero, rigidly paternalistic, but incorporating the maternal as well: the King describes himself in Basil-icon Doron as "a loving nourish father" providing the commonwealth with "their own nourish-milk." The very etymology of the word "authority" confirms the metaphor: augeo, "increase, nourish, cause to grow." At moments in his public utterances, James sounds like a gloss on Prospero: "I am the husband, and the whole island is my lawful wife; I am the head, and it is my body." Here the incorporation of the wife has become literal and explicit. James conceives himself as the head of a single-parent family. In the world of The Tempest, there are no two-parent families. All the dangers of promiscuity and bastardy are resolved in such a conception—unless, of course, the parent is a woman.

My point here is not that Shakespeare is representing King James as Prospero and/or Caliban, but that these figures embody the predominant modes of conceiving of royal authority in the period. They are Elizabeth's and James's modes too.

The Renunciation of Magic

Prospero's magic power is exemplified, on the whole, as power over children: his daughter Miranda, the bad child Caliban, the obedient but impatient Ariel, the adolescent Ferdinand, the wicked younger brother Antonio, and indeed, the shipwreck victims as a whole, who are treated like a group of bad children. Many critics talk about Prospero as a Renaissance scientist, and see alchemical metaphors in the grand design of the play. No doubt there is something in this, but what the play's action presents is not experiments and empiric studies but a fantasy about controlling other people's minds. Does the magic work? We are given a good deal of evidence of it: the masque, the banquet, the harpies, the tempest itself. But the great scheme is not to produce illusions and good weather, it is to bring about reconciliation, and here we would have to say that it works only indifferently well. "They being penitent," says Prospero to Ariel, "The sole drift of my purpose doth extend / Not a frown further" (V.i.28-30). The assertion opens with a conditional clause whose conditions are not met: Alonso is penitent, but the chief vil-lain, the usurping younger brother Antonio, remains obdurate. Nothing, not all Prospero's magic, can redeem Antonio from his essential badness. Since Shakespeare was free to have Antonio repent if that is what he had in mind—half a line would have done for critics craving a reconciliation—we ought to take seriously the possibility that that is not what he had in mind. Perhaps, too, penitence is not what Prospero's magic is designed to elicit from his brother.

Why is Prospero's power conceived as magic? Why, in returning to Milan, does he renounce it? Most commentators say that he gives up his magic when he no longer needs it. This is an obvious answer, but it strikes me as too easy, a comfortable assumption cognate with the view that the play concludes with reconciliation, repentance, and restored harmony. To say that Prospero no longer needs his magic is to beg all the most important questions. What does it mean to say that he needs it? Did he ever need it, and if so, why? And does he in fact give it up?

Did he ever need magic? Prospero's devotion to his secret studies is what caused all the trouble in the first place—this is not an interpretation of mine, it is how Prospero presents the matter. If he has now learned to be a good ruler through the exercise of his art, that is also what taught him to be a bad one. So the question of his need for magic goes to the heart of how we interpret and judge his character: is the magic a strength or a weakness? To say that he no longer needs it is to say that his character changes in some way for the better, that by renouncing his special powers he becomes fully human. This is an important claim: let us test it by looking at Prospero's renunciation.

What does it mean for Prospero to give up his power? Letting Miranda marry and leaving the island are the obvious answers, but they can hardly be right. Miranda's marriage is brought about by the magic; it is part of Prospero's plan. It pleases Miranda, certainly, but it is designed by Prospero as a way of satisfying himself. Claribel's marriage to the King of Tunis looks less sinister in this light: daughters' marriages, in royal families at least, are designed primarily to please their fathers. And leaving the island, reassuming the dukedom, is part of the plan too. Both of these are presented as acts of renunciation, but they are in fact what the exercise of Prospero's magic is intended to effect, and they represent his triumph.

Prospero renounces his art in the great monologue at the beginning of Act V, "Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves," and for all its valedictory quality, it is the most powerful assertion of his magic the play gives us. It is also a powerful literary allusion, a close translation of a speech of Medea's in Ovid, and it makes at least one claim for Prospero that is made nowhere else in the play: that he can raise the dead. For Shakespeare to present this as a renunciation speech is upping Prospero's ante, to say the least.

In giving up his magic, Prospero speaks as Medea. He has incorporated Ovid's witch, prototype of the wicked mother Sycorax, in the most literal way—verbatim, so to speak—and his "most potent art" is now revealed as translation and impersonation. In this context, the distinction between black and white magic, Sycorax and Prospero, has disappeared. Two hundred lines later, Caliban too is revealed as an aspect of Prospero: "This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine."

But Caliban is an aspect of Antonio, the evil child, the usurping brother. Where is the real villain in relation to Prospero now? Initially Antonio had been characterized, like Caliban and Sycorax, as embodying everything that is antithetical to Prospero. But in recounting his history to Miranda, Prospero also presents himself as deeply implicated in the usurpation, with Antonio even seeming at times to be acting as Prospero's agent: "The government I cast upon my brother"; "[I] to him put the manage of my state"; "my trust… did beget of him / A falsehood," and so forth. If Prospero is accepting the blame for what happened, there is a degree to which he is also taking the credit. Antonio's is another of the play's identities that Prospero has incorporated into his own, and in that case, what is there to forgive?

Let us look, then, at Prospero forgiving his brother in Act V. The pardon is enunciated ("You, brother mine, that entertain ambition.… I do forgive thee" [75-78]) and qualified at once ("unnatural though thou art"), reconsidered as more crimes are remembered, some to be held in reserve ("at this time I will tell no tales" [128-29]), all but withdrawn ("most wicked sir, whom to call brother / Would even infect my mouth" [130-31]), and only then confirmed through forcing Antonio to relinquish the dukedom, an act that is presented as something he does un-willingly. The point is not only that Antonio does not repent here: he also is not allowed to repent. Even his renunciation of the crown is Prospero's act: "I do … require / My dukedom of thee, which perforce, I know, / Thou must restore" (131-34). In Prospero's drama, there is no room for Antonio to act of his own free will.

The crime that Prospero holds in reserve for later use against his brother is the attempted assassination of Alonso. Here is what happened. Prospero sends Ariel to put all the shipwreck victims to sleep except Antonio and Sebastian. Antonio then persuades Sebastian to murder Alonso—his brother—and thereby become King of Naples. Sebastian agrees, on the condition that Antonio kill Gonzalo. At the moment of the murders, Ariel reappears and wakes Gonzalo:

My master through his art foresees the danger
That you his friend are in; and sends me forth—
For else his project dies—to keep them living.

This situation has been created by Prospero, and the conspiracy is certainly part of his project—that is why Sebastian and Antonio are not put to sleep. If Antonio is not forced by Prospero to propose the murder, he is certainly acting as Prospero expects him to do, and as Ariel says, Prospero "through his art foresees" that he will. What is clearly taking place is Prospero restaging his usurpation and maintaining his control over it this time. Gonzalo is waked rather than Alonso so that the old courtier can replay his role in aborting the assassination.

So at the play's end, Prospero still has usurpation and attempted murder to hold against his brother, things that still disqualify Antonio from his place in the family. Obviously there is more to Prospero's plans than reconciliation and harmony—even, I would think, in the forth-coming happy marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda. If we look at that marriage as a political act (the participants are, after all, the children of monarchs) we will observe that in order to prevent the succession of his brother, Prospero is marrying his daughter to the son of his enemy. This has the effect of excluding Antonio from any future claim on the ducal throne, but it also effectively disposes of the realm as a political entity: if Miranda is the heir to the dukedom, Milan through the marriage becomes part of the kingdom of Naples, not the other way around. Prospero recoups his throne from his brother only to deliver it over, upon his death, to the King of Naples once again. The usurping Antonio stands condemned, but the effects of the usurpation, the link with Alonso and the reduction of Milan to a Neapolitan fiefdom are, through Miranda's wedding, confirmed and legitimized. Prospero has not regained his lost dukedom, he has usurped his brother's. In this context, Prospero's puzzling assertion that "every third thought shall be my grave" can be seen as a final assertion of authority and control: he has now arranged matters so that his death will remove Antonio's last link with the ducal power. His grave is the ultimate triumph over his brother. If we look at the marriage in this way, giving away Miranda is a means of preserving his authority, not of relinquishing it.

A Bibliographical Coda

The significant absence of crucial wives from the play is curiously emphasized by a famous textual crux. In Act IV Ferdinand, overwhelmed by the beauty of the masque Prospero is presenting, interrupts the performance to say,

             Let me live here, ever.
So rare a wondered father and a wise
Makes this place Paradise.
                                   (IV.i. 122-24)

Critics since the eighteenth century have expressed a nagging worry about the fact that in celebrating his betrothal, Ferdinand's paradise includes Prospero but not Miranda. In fact, what Ferdinand said, as Jeanne Addison Roberts demonstrated only six years ago [in Virginia Studies in Bibliography 31 (1978)], reads in the earliest copies of the folio, "So rare a wondered father and a wife" but the crossbar of the / broke early in the print run, turning it to a long s and thereby eliminating Miranda from Ferdinand's thoughts of wonder. The odd thing about this is that Rowe and Malone in their eighteenth-century editions emended "wise" to "wife" on logical grounds, the Cambridge Shakespeare of 1863 lists "wife" as a variant reading of the folio, and Furnivall's 1895 photographic facsimile was made from a copy that reads "wife," and the reading is preserved in Furnivall's parallel text. Nevertheless, after 1895 the wife became invisible: bibliographers lost the variant, and textual critics consistently denied its existence until six years ago. Even Charlton Hinman with his collating machines claimed there were no variants whatever in this entire forme of the folio. And yet when Jeanne Roberts examined the Folger Library's copies of the book, including those that Hinman had collated, she found that two of them have the reading "wife," and two others clearly show the crossbar of the / in the process of breaking. We find only what we are looking for or are willing to see. Obviously it is a reading whose time has come.

Further Reading

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Bamber, Linda. "After Tragedy: The Tempest." In her Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare, pp. 169-91. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1982.

Examination of the ways in which The Tempest diverges from Shakespeare's other romances in its handling of the feminine.

Berger, Karol. "Prospero's Art." Shakespeare Studies X (1977): 211-39.

Influential analysis of Prospero's magic.

Bergeron, David M. "The Tempest." In his Shakespeare's Romances and the Royal Family, pp. 178-203. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1985.

Discusses the depiction of family politics in The Tempest and explores how the family of James I is represented in the play.

Brown, Paul. "'This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine': The Tempest and the discourse of colonialism." In Political Shakespeare: New essays in cultural materialism, edited by Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, pp. 48-69. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.

Argues that repunctuating the text of The Tempest highlight's the play's interconnection with British colonialism.

James, D. G. "The New World." In his The Dream of Prospero, pp. 72-123. London: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1967.

Classic account of the parallels between The Tempest and the English colonization of Virginia.

Kott, Jan. "The Aeneid and the Tempest." Arion 3, No. 4 (1976): 424-51.

Discussion of the Vergilian background to The Tempest.

Levin, Harry. "Two Magian Comedies: 'The Tempest' and 'The Alchemist'." Shakespeare Survey 22, (1969): 47-58

Explores the very different treatment of magical themes in The Tempest and Ben Jonson's The Alchemist.

Lindley, David. "Music, masque, and meaning in The Tempest." In The Court Masque, edited by David Lindley, pp. 47-59. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984.

Places The Tempest in the context of the Jacobean court masque, with a particular emphasis on the play's musical elements.

Mincoff, Marco. "The Tempest." In his Things Supernatural and Causeless: Shakespearean Romance, pp. 93-118. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992.

Analysis of the genre of The Tempest, arguing that the play is more of a comedy than a romance.

Orgel, Stephen. An introduction to The Tempest, edited by Stephen Orgel, pp. 1-56. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Excellent overview of The Tempest's major themes and characters and the major crtical interpretations of the play.

Solomon, Andrew. "A Reading of The Tempest" In Shakespeare's Late Plays, edited by Richard C. Tobias and Paul G. Zolbrod, pp. 213-34. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1974.

General discussion of The Tempest that pays particular attention to Shakespeare's handling of supernatural elements.

Summers, Joseph H. "The Anger of Prospero: The Tempest." In his Dreams of Love and Power: On Shakespeare's Plays, pp. 137-58. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.

Discussion of Prospero's temperament and its evolution during the course of The Tempest.

Traister, Barbara Howard. "Prospero: Master of Self-Knowledge." In her Heavenly Necromancers: The Magician in English Renaissance Drama, pp. 125-49. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1984.

Examination of Prospero as a combination of the neoplatonic ideal of the magus and as a traditional stage magician deriving from medieval romance literature.

West, Robert H. "Ceremonial Magic in The Tempest." In his Shakespeare & the Outer Mystery, pp. 80-95. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1968.

Important study of medieval and Renaissance magical traditions and their influence on The Tempest, focusing in particular on the characters of Ariel and Prospero.

Yates, Frances A. "Magic in the Last Plays: The Tempest." In Shakespeare's Last Plays: A New Approach, pp.87-106. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.

Maintains that Shakespeare's incorporation of Renaissance magical traditions in his plays throughout his career culminates in The Tempest, which is described as "… the supreme expression of the magical philosophy of the Last Plays."

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The Shapeliness of The Tempest


The Tempest (Vol. 45)