March, 10, 1997
In G.E. Lessing's Nathan der Weise the wise Nathan averts tragedy by at the appropriate time relying on his reason. In German dramas of the Klassik period, human reason overcomes ignorance through its precision of timing; the inherently orderly world conspires with rather than against the protagonists. For the Germans of the late 18th century it was Shakespeare - and not the French - who provided the model for writing dramas, and as such, it should come as no surprise that the triumph of reason and appropriate timing of events which averts tragedy in German dramas of this time is found in Shakespeare's romances - especially in The Winter's Tale and The Tempest.
A play rich in thematic material, The Tempest tells the story of a father, Prospero, who must let go of his daughter; who brings his enemies under his power only to release them; and who in turn finally relinquishes his sway over his world - including his power over nature itself. The Tempest contains elements ripe for tragedy: Prospero is a controlling figure bent on taking revenge for the wrongs done to him, and in his fury he has the potential to destroy not only his enemies, but his own humanity and his daughter's future. Throughout the play, Prospero is a figure who talks at rather than to the other characters, including his daughter Miranda, Prince Ferdinand, and Ariel, his airy servant. At the end of Act IV Prospero is caught up in the ecstasy of punishing and determining the fate of his foes.
The beginning of Act V, however, marks a change in the character of Prospero, which averts a possible tragedy. Prospero is unsettled even though his plans are reaching fruition. In his talk with Ariel for the first time we see an actual conversation take place. In addition, in the line "...And mine shall." (V.i.20) we see a change of heart on the part of Prospero, and in the following monologue the audience is privy to introspection and contemplation even beyond that of the end of the masque in Act IV ("We are such stuff as dreams are made on...").
To begin, one notices how the beginning of Act V is rhetorically different than the other acts. There are four important facets of this difference. The language is much less colorful than that of previous acts, and is easily understandable by modern audiences. We also see Prospero randomly switch from one topic to another, showing his edginess. In addition, on several occasions Prospero is forced to finish incomplete lines, demonstrating that he is not controlling the conversation. The given lines provide an interesting counterpoint and complexity of meaning.
The language used at the beginning of Act V is surprisingly simple. It is direct, and in its simplicity conveys the state of affairs and the characters' feelings. In the first thirty-two lines, during Prospero's and Ariel's conversation, only two expressions can be considered highly figurative. In lines 2-3 Time is personified as a man carrying a heavy load: "...and Time/ Goes upright with his carriage." Later, Ariel describes Gonzalo's sorrow and tears with the use of a simile: "His tears runs down his beard like winter's drop/ From eaves of reeds." (V.i.16-7) This is in stark contrast to the highly figurative language of Act IV with all its references to money, sexuality, fertility, and the theater. This language, however, is appropriate for the scene: instead of needing to impress Ferdinand and Miranda and show off his power as in Act IV, Prospero now only has his obedient servant Ariel with whom to talk. In other words, the simplicity of language is indicative of a greater frankness between these two characters.
While frank and concise in his language, Prospero is clearly in a disturbed state of mind at the beginning of Act V, as evidenced by the first several lines of text. All of Prospero's plans are coming to pass as he has hoped: "Now does my project gather to a head" (V.i.1). As stated at the end of Act IV, all his enemies are within his power, and he reiterates here that his "charms crack not" and his "spirits obey" (V.i.2), but there is an inherent conflict involved in on the one hand presenting one's daughter with a wedding blessing and on the other hand planning to take revenge upon the bridegroom's father. Prospero's uneasy state of mind is reflected in his discontinuous speech. First he contemplates how well his plans are proceeding, but with no warning he turns to Ariel and asks for the time: "How's the day?" (V.i.3) Similarly, after reassuring Ariel of his promise to let the airy sprit free, he promptly asks about the condition of his captives: "How fares the King and 's followers?" (V.i.7)
This confused state of mind is reflected in another way in the passage. It is common in Shakespeare, more so in the later plays, to have broken lines, that is lines in iambic pentameter that are not metrically complete. Often the solution is that the next character completes the line. As a rhetorical device, this provides smoothness and rhythm in the speech of characters. However, this also pulls a character into a conversation: their role is to finish the line. Elsewhere in the play, Prospero finishes lines, such as with "Fairly spoke" (IV.i.30) and "Well." (IV.i.56) In these examples, however, the short statements provide punctuation to that which precedes them. At the beginning of Act V, however, Prospero is forced in to responding to Ariel. For example, Ariel reminds Prospero of his promise to free him, and Prospero responds immediately, in meter: "I did say so," (V.i.5) Similarly, Ariel makes a claim as to Prospero's feelings: "That if you now beheld them, your affections/ Would become tender." (V.i.18-9), and by ending the line short, Prospero's response must follow immediately: "Dost thou think so, spirit?" (V.i.19), for a pause disrupts the rhythm of the language. Instead of being in control, as was the situation earlier in the play, Prospero now responds to his servant, rather than the other way around. The Prospero we see at the beginning of Act V is a more confused and uneasy character than the figure encountered in previous acts.
However, the confusion does not last, and in the next several lines a change of heart takes place, which influences the remainder of the play and drastically colors our interpretation of Prospero's motives. Although the preceding lines point to uneasiness on the part of Prospero, they also mark rare signs of actual two-person dialog. This is accomplished by the same method which diminished Prospero's power earlier: broken lines of verse. The broken lines force characters to respond quickly, but at the same time they facilitate conversation by causing smooth transition from one speaker to the next, as is the case in Act V, Scene I. Prospero can no longer simply talk at Ariel and others. For example, he asks for Ariel's opinion - not just whether Ariel has carried out his commands: "Dost thou think so, spirit?" (V.i.19), and Ariel answers "Mine would, sir, were I human." (V.i.20) Prospero's response to Ariel's answer is what show's Prospero to be more than just a manipulator, but also an introspective figure, who can have a change of heart. After pausing to contemplate Ariel's words, Prospero quietly states: "And mine shall." (V.i.20)
With the delivery of these three words, our interpretation of Prospero's motives is decided. A quick response on the part of Prospero is indicative of mercy and forgiveness being his goal all along, and that he is now just filling Ariel in on the details. Instead, at this point Prospero pauses and contemplates the meaning of Ariel's words, and with quiet determination says "And mine shall." He clarifies his logic: if an airy spirit such as Ariel can empathize with the plight of Prospero's captives, then should not he, as human being and a man related to one of his captives, not be able to put his plans for revenge aside and forgive his foes? (V.i.21-4) The conclusion we have to draw, however, and it is clearly the correct one, is that up until this moment, Prospero planned on exacting rather cruel revenge upon his enemies. The noble magician whose passion was his books, was willing to let himself be run by his anger and fury. But after a moment of introspection, we see a change of heart occur, and this dramatic point represents a shift of mood in the play.
The next seven lines provide us with an inner monologue, which further clarifies Prospero's inner logic. Prospero is a man of learning and a man of compassion. He is willing to punish his enemies, such as at the end of Act IV, but at the same time his initial reaction is that of grace, as was the case when he first encountered Caliban: "...I have us'd thee/...with humane care, and log'd thee/ In mine own cell, till though didst seek to violate/ The honor of my child." (I.ii.345-8) Just as Caliban's attempt to rape Miranda was enough to incite Prospero's wrath, being usurped and cast at sea to die was a "high" wrong that "strook to the quick" (V.i.25), and is difficult for Prospero to forgive, but he realizes once one becomes penitent, there is nothing left to punish. This inner monologue is an aside, and not directed at Ariel. Nor is it directly aimed at the audience. In contrast, the end of the masque in Act IV (IV.i.148-158) is not only a personal aside, but part of a show being put on for the audience. Here, however, Prospero retreats into himself, and is unaware of the audience: it is a private moment shared with the rest of us. This, like the simplicity of the language used thus far in the scene, is an indication of a plainness and frankness of character.
Throughout the play Prospero has been a character who uses his art - white magic - to deceive, punish, and even enlighten. It is this passage that prepares him for giving up his magic, which he promises to do as soon as Ariel departs to release the prisoners. (V.i.33-57) At the same time, this passage has been prepared for by Prospero's monologue at the end of the masque in Act IV. There is something dramatically awkward about the beginning of Act V, given the Act IV monologue, and the denouncing of theater and artistry given there. However, the beginning of Act V and the masque in Act IV become integral and complementary counterpoint. That is, both scenes are interwoven, and whereas the earlier one deals with the theater and illusion, the latter provides an interesting mirror to the soul and an important turning point.
Through the first 32 lines of Act V the audience is presented with a more complete and complex view of Prospero. Whereas to this point he is a powerful scholar and protective father, this passage opens up Prospero's soul for the audience to see. He is faced with contradictory goals: preparing his daughter for marriage and exacting revenge upon his enemies. Yet he is an introspective character, and by the use of his reason, he comes to a just and correct decision. These are not, however, just abstract qualities - they are what one draws from reading the text and analyzing Prospero's character.
Similar to Prospero is Lessing's Nathan, who simultaneously wants his daughter's happiness and seeks to keep her from marrying a person whom Nathan deems undesirable. Through reason, Nathan is able to see the truth and set aside his hatred, before the drama can take a tragic turn. In Act V of The Tempest Prospero, too, has a conflict to resolve that causes him unease. But through introspection, he finds the just and proper decision, and through this change of heart he is able to forgive this enemies. The Tempest is a drama about loss: Prospero has had to give up his daughter and his magic, but as Act V teaches us, it is more important to lose our bitterness and our hatred, and let our affections become tender.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans, et. al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974. 1632.
Enter PROSPERO in his magic robes, and ARIEL
Pros. Now does my project gather to a head: My charms crack not; my spirits obey; and Time Goes upright with his carriage. How's the day? Ariel On the sixt hour, at which time, my lord, You said our work should cease. 5 Pros. I did say so, When first I rais'd the tempest. Say, my spirit, How fares the King and 's followers? Ariel Confin'd together In the same fashion as you gave in charge, Just as you left them; all prisoners, sir, 10 In the line-grove which weather-fends your cell; They cannont boudge til your release. The King, His brother, and yours abide all three distracted, And the remainder mourning over them, Brimful of sorrow and dismay; but chiefly 15 Him that you term'd, sir, "the good old Lord Gonzalo," His tears runs down his beard like winter's drops From eaves of reeds. Your charm so strongly works 'em That if your now beheld them, your affections Would become tender. Pros. Dost thou think so, spirit? Ariel Mine would, sir, were I human. 20 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? 25 Though with their high wrongs I am strook 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 30 Not a frown further. Go, release them, Ariel. My charms I'll break, their senses I'll restore, And they shall be themselves. 32 Ariel I'll fetch them, sir.
Prospero enters in his magic robes, in contrast to the more simple garb from Act IV
ln 1, project - refers to Prospero's planned revenge
ln 2-3, Time/ Goes upright with his carriage - Time as a figure or person. His carriage is his upper body, and "Goes upright" refers to walking upright. This implies that stress has been alleviated, and that the plot is going to lighten
ln 3, How's the day? - Prospero is asking Ariel what time of day it is.
ln 4, On the sixt [sixth]- approaching/nearing, so it is near 6pm.
ln 5, our - means first person plural possessive, that is, Prospero's and Ariel's work, but also refers simply to Ariel, who is waiting to be freed.
ln 8, gave in charge - as ordered or commanded.
ln 10, line-grove - line could in sense mean "lime", and hence "lime-grove". In V.i.193, however, line refers to the clothes line. Here, since this is in front of Prospero's cell, I assume line means "lime".
ln 10, weather-fends - "fend" as in "defend". So, serves as a wind break.
ln 11, til your released - until released.
ln 14, Brimful of sorrow and dismay - full of sorrow and dismay.
ln 15, like winter's drops - like snow
ln 16, eaves of reeds - thatched roof
ln 18, affections - state of mind, referring to Prospero's desire for revenge.
ln 19, Would become tender - would have a change of heart.
ln 21, touch - not just a feeling, but a gentle or delicate feeling, as in Twelfth Night, II.i.13.
ln 22, afflictions - in this case, empathy with Prospero's prisoners. Also, however, Ariel is afflicted in the same manner as the prisoners, since Ariel is Prospero's slave.
ln 23, kind - human (like the prisoners), but also kin, referring to Prospero's brother.
ln 23, relish - to experience
ln 24, kindlier - 1) more sympathetically; 2) more naturally (as one of their "kind", see above)
ln 25 strook - struck.
ln 25 quick - refers to any tender or sensitive part of the body, such as under the nails.
ln 27, take part - Prospero chooses his reason over his fury (rational versus emotional)
ln 27, rarer - finer, nobler, but also less common
ln 28, virtue - what is meant here is "pardon" or forgiveness. On the one hand this is virtue in the Christian sense, but at the same time it is a link to the moral and ethical power that Prospero wields. There is a connection to the proverb "To be able to do harm and not to do it is noble." Prospero, after all, is the rightful duke of Milan.
ln 29, drift - direction. Also, the same as "drive" or motivation. But also "scope" or "range"
ln 30, Not a frown further - no more.
ln 31, their senses I'll restore - bring them back to themselves.
Prospero enters in his magic robes, Ariel behind him, following. Prospero walks with his hands in his pockets, if he has pockets.
ln 1, Now - emphasized. The emphasis of the first few lines in "timing" - that Prospero's plans are going according to schedule.
ln 2, Prospero pauses between "not" and "my" and between "obey" and "time". By emphasizing "obey", one notices the rhyme with "day" in the next line.
ln 3, Prospero pauses between "carriage" and "How's" as he suddenly stops and spins around to confront Ariel.Ariel comes around to face Prospero.
ln 4, "my lord" is set apart, as are all instanes of "sir". Ariel is acutely aware that Prospero is his master.
ln 5, Prospero completes the line. By saying "I did so" Prospero admits and recollects his promise to Ariel.
ln 6, A pause before "Say" - again the topic is changing.
ln 7, Ariel complete's Prospero's line in a casual fashion - there is nothing unexpected. In fact, the question is almost rhetorical.
Prospero moves beyond Ariel, who begins his monolog. I believe Prospero is little interested in what Ariel has to say.
ln 12, "and yours", although not marked in the text, should be set apart - as if a reminder to Prospero, who at the mention, turns his head to Ariel. Ariel continues.
ln 19, Prospero does a sudden turn to Ariel and completes the line in meter, which a slight pause before "spirit". I think Prospero is slightly amused. To him, Ariel is "just" a spirit.
ln 20, Ariel pauses before "were I human". It is a qualifier - since the reply "Mine would" is somewhat bold.
ln 20, "And mine shall" is the key line for Prospero in this passage. Instead of immediately completing Ariel's line, Prospero pauses and contemplates. The line is delivered resolutely, but softly. It is not bold, but the result of "a light going off" in Prospero's head. He is not telling Ariel that freeing his prisoners was his plan all along, but that instead he has just accepted an alternative - forgiveness - that he hadn't previously considered. This is a true change of heart for Prospero, as I see it.
ln 21-24, a rhetorical question, directed at Ariel. Prospero paces, and circles Ariel.
ln 25-30, Prospero stops pacing, and faces the audience, speaking to and for himself - not for Ariel, and not for the audience. Passion in delivering "I am strook to the quick" - he remembers his anger and why he brought his prisoners to the island. From "They being penitent" to "further" is a resolution.
ln 30-32, Prospero pauses before commanding Ariel, as he comes out of his monolog, and as at the beginning of the scene, he pauses between statements.
ln 32, Ariel agress willingly to this task. The "sir" is not as bitter and barbed as elsewhere in the scene, since Ariel not believes if Prospero will let his other captives go, then he, too, will be freed. Ariel completes the line in the correct meter.