Internet Shakespeare Editions

About this text

  • Title: The Tempest: Critical Introduction
  • Author: Paul Yachnin
  • ISBN: 978-1-55058-370-0

    Copyright Paul Yachnin. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Paul Yachnin
    Not Peer Reviewed

    Critical Introduction

    3. The World in the Play

    The world that Shakespeare creates in The Tempest has many features that make it recognizably like the world we live in. There are bad, self-seeking people; brothers fall out with brothers; people who have power are reluctant to give it up and will go to great lengths to get more; people fall in love; fathers (like Prospero) love their children dearly, wish for their happiness, and yet are sometimes irritated by them; children (like Miranda) love their fathers but can find them overbearing in the extreme and can want to break free; people commit great crimes against others; and people forgive others who have wronged them. But there are elements in the Tempest world that are very unlike the world we live in. There is a monster on the island (or a human being that is unjustly called a monster--we'll get to that later), there is a fairy-spirit named Ariel who can produce storms, prepare a sumptuous dinner from thin air, organize a wedding masque "with a twink" (TLN 1698); there is music in the very air of the island; and there is a powerful magician who can command the elements and even, he tells us, bring the dead back to life (though we never see him do that).

    Beyond these strikingly magical features, there is something about the world of the play that is deeply out of keeping with the world that most of us know. We can call it the quality of moral intelligibility, by which we mean that events and the acts of people are meaningful in ways they are usually not in the real world. In the real world there are accidents, with which we cope as well as we can; in the world of The Tempest, accidents, even shipwrecks, are part of a larger meaningful pattern. It is not at all that the play has a simple moral. Shakespeare would have had no patience with the Duchess in Lewis Carroll who says to Alice, "'Tut, tut, child!' said the Duchess. 'Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it'" (Carroll 96). But while the world that Shakespeare creates in the play does not reduce down to a moral, it is sufficiently well structured and its parts sufficiently interrelated to be able to support a kind of wholesale moral inquiry that could not find easy purchase in the real world.


    How does Shakespeare achieve a kind of intelligibility that is at once coherent and suggestive and also irreducible? The answer has to do with how Shakespeare creates the world of the play; since, of course, he cannot create an actual world, he creates a simulacrum of one that is made up by its formal features--the play's genre, design, language, themes, and characters.

    The first consideration has to do with genre. What kind of play is The Tempest? Heminge and Condell placed it as the leading play in the Comedy section of the 1623 Folio. That makes a good sense since the play, like romantic comedies such as Twelfth Night and As You Like It, is in part a story of the love and courtship of Ferdinand and Miranda. Prospero even takes on the conventional role of the curmudgeon who stands in the way of the happiness of the young lovers. But since much more happens in the play than courtship, many readers have not been satisfied by Heminge and Condell's designation and have preferred, usually, one of two genres that are related but not identical to comedy--one being romance and the other tragicomedy. Romance is an expansive narrative genre that features adventures, long journeys, accidental happenings, the marvelous and magical, and key story elements having to do with separation and reunion and loss and recovery. Northrop Frye remarked wryly that in Greek romance, "the normal means of transportation is by shipwreck" (Frye 4). In Shakespeare's time, two of the most important longer narrative works, Philip Sidney's Arcadia and Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, are well characterized as romances. Tragicomedy is a dramatic genre, imported from Italy, that was fashionable in the early seventeenth century and that Shakespeare's younger colleague John Fletcher defined as a form that has too little violence for tragedy and too much for comedy: "A tragicomedy is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedy, yet brings some near it, which is enough to make it no comedy" (Fletcher 3: 497). Clearly, then, while the Folio designates The Tempest a comedy, the play also has strong affinities with romance and tragicomedy.

    40Does this mean that we cannot identify the play's genre? The answer will depend on what we mean by "genre." Stephen Orgel's thinking about genre can help us greatly here. He has remarked that "[m]odern conceptions of genre are not those of the Renaissance, and our categories tend towards different ends: ours are exclusive and definitive, theirs tended to be inclusive and analytic. To find a new category for a play was not, for the Renaissance critic, to abandon the old ones" (Orgel 4). In light of Orgel's insight, we can say that Shakespeare's idea of genre was not of something rigidly prescriptive but rather was of the nature of a set of guidelines for experimentation with dramatic form and audience response.

    The Tempest is only the latest instance of Shakespeare's usual practice, which is always to push the boundaries of genre in ways that renovate and vitalize literary form from the inside. Like all his plays, this one is hybrid in terms of genre, in part because Renaissance genre is hybrid in its basic character. The play is able to orchestrate comic, romantic and tragicomic conventions, and able also to subject these conventions and the world picture they embody to scrutiny. Stanley Wells is surely right to point out how the play's mixing of genres goes against the grain of the open-endedness and copiousness of romance and produces "an attitude firmly though sympathetically judicious": "The Tempest is a romance containing a built-in critique of romance; not a rejection of it, but an appreciation both of its glories and of its limitation." (Wells 77, 76).The play's genre, then, is hybrid, processual, and critical. Its mix of comedy, romance, and tragicomedy, especially when married to the remarkably compressed design of plot and scenic structure, is capable of giving us the pleasures that belong to stories of loss and recovery and giving us also the pleasurable challenges provided by a critical view of such stories.


    The design of the play is twofold. It has a narrative dimension that is sequential and diachronic (unfolding over time) and a structure of parallel incidents and characters that is synchronic (not unfolding over time, but there all at once, as it were). The diachronic and synchronic sides of the play's design are interrelated. The narrative weaves together (1) a courtship plot (Ferdinand and Miranda, with Prospero as the blocking figure), (2) a revenge plot modulating into a story of restoration and forgiveness (Prospero and the members of the court party), and (3) a parallel revenge plot, in which Caliban undertakes to gain back the island by conspiring with Stephano and Trinculo. The second plot also includes a repetition of the political conspiracy that brought about the ouster of Prospero, when in 2.1 Antonio and Sebastian decide to murder Alonso and Gonzalo. The three plots are prepared for by an extended exposition in 1.2, in which Prospero tells Miranda (and us) the story of the original conspiracy that led to their exile on the island, and in which Prospero, Miranda, and Caliban recall for us, in their angry exchange, how their harmonious living and learning arrangements were violated by what Prospero characterizes as Caliban's attempted rape of Miranda.

    This account of the narrative design suggests something about the play's structure of parallel and contrasting elements. There are three conspiracies bent on the violent overthrow of rulers--two in the play and one antecedent to its beginning. All three engender pathological relations of domination among the conspirators: Antonio sought the throne of Milan but became a subject of the King of Naples. Now he seeks to seduce Sebastian into killing his brother, the very same King of Naples, so that he, Antonio, can gain the upper hand at last. Caliban seeks to repeat the ouster of Prospero in order to have his revenge for what he sees as Prospero's usurpation of his rule of the island; but in order to do that, he becomes the slave of two Italian servants (his slavishness is either in his nature or is a learned behaviour that he adapts strategically in order to manage Stephano and Trinculo or is a mix of his nature and his strategy--more about this in the section on Caliban).

    The parallel conspiracies are one instance of the vast and complex metaphorical webwork in the play, where one cannot pluck one string anywhere in the fabric of the play without awaking an answering resonance somewhere else. Consider how Caliban celebrates his abandonment of his wood-carrying, among other tasks, at the end of 2.2--

    No more dams I'll make for fish,
    Nor fetch in firing at requiring,
    Nor scrape trenchering, nor wash dish:
    'Ban 'Ban Ca-Caliban
    Has a new master. Get a new man!
    Freedom, high-day, high-day, freedom, freedom,
    high-day, freedom!
    (TLN 1226-32)

    45--and how his exit is followed by the entrance of Ferdinand, who struggles onstage "bearing a log." This juxtaposition of contrasting figures--one casting off service and embracing "freedom," which is merely a new word for slavery, and another embracing service to his beloved Miranda as a higher form of freedom--is a particularly pointed example of a strong feature in the play, a critical mirroring of one character by another by which we are invited to think about the claims that all the characters make about themselves and others. For example, Prospero shares many features with the "foul witch Sycorax" (they are both powerful magicians who were banished from their homelands but not killed when they might well have been, both arrived on the island with offspring, both made Ariel their servant) as well as a number of attributes with the drunken butler Stephano--both escaped drowning by means of a "butt," both teach Caliban language, and both control him by means a spirit that issues from a tree (Prospero uses Ariel for the purpose once Ariel is freed from the pine; Stephano pours alcohol into Caliban's mouth from a vessel made of bark). Caliban shares his capacity for wonder with Miranda and his strategizing for revenge with Antonio. Of course, Caliban is also paired with Ariel as opposing figures of the natural world--one all air and the other earth, one strangely without emotion and the other burdened with an excess of passion--although they both seem to feel a certain vexed devotion to Prospero and both also long for freedom.

    We could go on cataloguing the very many correspondences among incidents and characters in the play. As Reuben Brower has commented, "The harmony of the play lies in its metaphorical design, in the closeness and completeness with which its rich and varied elements are linked together through almost inexhaustible analogies" (95-122; quote on 95). Like the design itself, the purpose of the play's inexhaustible analogies is twofold: the beauty and intricacy of the relationships arouses pleasure and provokes wonder; and the ways in which parallels are drawn between incidents (the usurpations of power, the multiple conspiracies, the escapes from drowning), or between characters that seem to be opposites (for example, Caliban and Miranda, Prospero and Sycorax) invites us to respond alertly to what the characters or even what the play itself seems to be saying about the moral order of its world.


    From the start of his career, Shakespeare was able to write beautiful, moving poetry and to orchestrate his language so that his most passionate speeches have also a critical element. He seems almost incapable of conventional, simplifying forms of poetic expression. He uses the contrast between prose and verse brilliantly for dramatic and political effect, say, at the start of The Taming of the Shrew, where we move from the louche, colloquial prose of the drunken Christopher Sly to what by contrast sounds like the somewhat asinine verse of the Lord:

    Third, or fourth, or fifth borough, I'll answer him by law: I'll not budge an inch, boy: let him come, and kindly.
    Falls asleep
    Horns winded. Enter a Lord from hunting, with his train
    Huntsman, I charge thee, tender well my hounds:
    Brach Merriman, the poor cur is emboss'd;
    And couple Clowder with the deep-mouth'd brach.
    (Shr TLN 15-21)

    Over the course of the 1590s and in the early years of the new century, Shakespeare's iambic verse becomes more and more flexible; he learns how to use different verse forms for contrastive effect. Hamlet can manage that in a single speech, as he does here where he tries on and immediately rejects an old-fashioned "ranting" style as inadequate to his character or his situation:

    'Swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be
    But I am pigeon-liver'd and lack gall
    To make oppression bitter, or ere this
    I should have fatted all the region kites
    With this slave's offal: bloody, bawdy villain!
    Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!
    O, vengeance!
    Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
    That I, the son of a dear father murder'd,
    Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
    Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,
    And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,
    A scullion!
    (Ham TLN 1616-27)

    Shakespeare learns how to make various uses of prose. In King Lear, for example, he has the King formulate the most profound questions about the nature of humanity in prose rather than in what is usually thought to be the more dignified form of iambic verse:

    Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha! here's three on 's are sophisticated! Thou art the thing itself: unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor bare, forked animal as thou art.
    (Lr TLN 1882-88)

    By about the time he is writing Antony and Cleopatra in the second half of the first decade of the new century, his language undergoes an astonishing "sea change"--it is not just the invention of new words, new variations in prose or verse, or new ways of contrasting prose and verse styles, but something like the invention of new ways of speaking altogether, as if he is possessed of unprecedented ideas and ways of seeing that cannot be contained within the lexical, syntactical, idiomatic, and prosodic conventions of the language he has already fashioned. This pressure of meaning-making within language can make it highly compressed, cause the elision of certain normal features such as prepositions and pronouns, add parenthetical elements, make the poetic line hypermetrical or metrically deficient, cause it to leap over normal steps of logical thinking, and make it utterly surprising. Take, for example, Antony's outpouring after his victory over Caesar (he seems to be inviting the queen to vault through his armour onto his hard-beating heart as if his heart were a horse):

    Enter CLEOPATRA, attended
    (To Scarus) To this great fairy I'll commend thy acts,
    Make her thanks bless thee.
    (To Cleopatra) O thou day o' the world,
    Chain mine arm'd neck; leap thou, attire and all,
    Through proof of harness to my heart, and there
    Ride on the pants triumphing!
    (Ant TLN 2660-66)

    The Tempest features all these qualities of language: it mixes prose and verse and different forms of both effortlessly, the language is capable of beauty and inventiveness but is never without a critical dimension, and it manifests fully the compression and elision--the evident pressure of meaning within utterance that is a central feature of Shakespeare's late style.

    55We hear the difference between the storm scene that opens the play and the scene that follows it by attending to the difference between the sound of Miranda's emotional but measured verse and the various prose styles of the men on the ship. Shakespeare differentiates among the men by giving the sailors an energetic language of command and response, making Antonio's lines short, explosive, and repetitive, and contrasting that with Gonzalo's more thoughtful and developed sentences. Here are all three ways of speaking in one sequence:

    Hang, cur. Hang, you whoreson, insolent noisemaker! We are less afraid to be drowned than thou art.
    I'll warrant him for drowning, though the ship were no stronger than a nutshell and as leaky as an unstanched wench.
    Lay her ahold, ahold: set her two courses off to sea again. Lay her off!
    (TLN 52-58)

    Miranda's strongly marked verse and use of the conditional in the first line and her expression of empathy in the following lines ("If by your art . . . I have suffered / With those that I saw suffer") open the next scene, as if to assure us that, while what we have seen is worth our emotional engagement, it is also an event from which we can stand apart and about which we can think analytically.

    The play also uses the contrast between prose and verse to set characters apart from each other, most remarkably when Caliban adopts a dignified verse against the drunken prose of the two servants who are supposed to be his betters:

    O King Stephano! O peer! O worthy Stephano,
    look what a wardrobe here is for thee!
    Let it alone, thou fool; it is but trash.
    Oh ho, monster! We know what belongs to a
    frippery. O King Stephano!
    . . .
    The dropsy drown this fool. What do you mean
    To dote thus on such luggage? Let's alone
    And do the murder first -- if he awake,
    From toe to crown he'll fill our skins with pinches,
    Make us strange stuff.
    (TLN 1901-09)

    Caliban is full of linguistic surprises, not only when he uses the word "scamels" ("I'll bring thee to clustering filberts, and sometimes I'll get thee young scamels from the rock"), which generations of scholars have failed to explain, but also when he is suddenly overcome with a memory of aesthetic rapture (note how the recollection engenders a confusion of tenses--present, future, pluperfect and past--and a mixing of indicative and subjunctive voices; and also note how this speech parallels Prospero's dreamy reflection on the ephemerality of art and nature in "Our revels now are ended"[TLN 1819]):

    60Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises,
    Sounds, and sweet ayres that give delight and hurt not.
    Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
    Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices --
    That if I then had waked after long sleep,
    Will make me sleep again -- and then, in dreaming,
    The clouds methought would open and show riches
    Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
    I cried to dream again.
    (TLN 1492-1500)

    Caliban's reverie about his dreams of riches dropping from above becomes even more complicated when we consider it in relation to the unfolding action. The play picks up the motif, literally materializing it in the scene we have just looked at, where Stephano and Trinculo are transfixed by "glistering apparel" hung on a "line." Caliban's accurate assessment of these goods as "but trash" (TLN 1899) puts in question his own fantasy of riches from the clouds, a dream of bounty that helps to keep him under Prospero's sway just as the would-be usurpers are distracted by shiny rags that they mistake for the accoutrements of wealth and honor. By the subtle orchestration of language, staging (including stage properties), and incident, Shakespeare gives us a vision of natural, musical wonder in Caliban's speech as well as a critique of that vision.

    It is with Prospero himself that the language of the play achieves its greatest inventiveness. Here he explains to his daughter--who could hardly be more attentive--how his brother gained control of the state. He is evidently flooding with painful memories as well as with a question about how responsible he might have been for provoking Antonio's wickedness:

    Being once perfected how to grant suits
    (How to deny them, who t'advance, and who
    To trash for over-topping), new created
    The creatures that were mine, I say, or changed 'em,
    Or else new formed them; having both the key
    Of officer and office, set all hearts i'th'state
    To what tune pleased his ear, that now he was
    The ivy which had hid my princely trunk
    And sucked my verdure out on't -- thou attend'st not.
    (TLN 175-83)

    To get a fuller sense of the scope and value of Shakespeare's stylistic innovation, it is worth quoting Russ McDonald's acute analysis of the passage as well as some of his general comments on Shakespeare's late style:

    Such extreme omission far surpasses [poetry theorist George] Puttenham's limited tips for tidying up the poetic line. In fact, the cluster of examples visible (but not audible) here has rather the opposite effect, disturbing the order of the pentameter and stuffing as many ideas as possible into lines that can barely contain them. The notorious compression of this passage is also apparent in the mercurial quality of its figurative language. A metaphor often lasts only as long as it takes a practiced mind to perceive it, whereupon it is immediately dropped or succeeded by yet another: the "key" in line 83 [TLN 179] appears to be a tool for opening locks, but by line 85 [TLN 181] it has become a musical image, the key signature of the "tune" dictated by the usurper. . . .Shakespeare, with some two decades of experience at composing various kinds of verse for all classes of speakers, now aims at something beyond a regular, unbroken line. . . . His strategies for condensation tend to make the aural surface of the line even rougher and more irregular, unruliness being the price of extreme reduction and semantic bounty. The omission of dispensable vowels and consonants, not to mention words and larger units, implies the desire to reduce the poetic statement to its essential terms and qualities and to make room for sounds of greater resonance and complexity. (Shakespeare's Late Style 87-8)

    65McDonald's astute account of Prospero's speech and of Shakespeare's late style in general can be joined to what we have just seen about how Shakespeare creates meaning by the multiplication of echoes, parallels, and critical juxtapositions; and together these dimensions of his language help us understand the inexhaustible capacity of Shakespeare's language to repay our interpretive work by providing us with a bounty of both pleasure and understanding.


    In what follows I look at three key areas of philosophical, political, and ethical concern in the play. "Animality and Humanity" has to do mostly with the linked philosophical questions--what is it to be human, and what therefore is the highest purpose appropriate to our nature? "Service and freedom" bears on these philosophical questions since freedom is meaningful only if it is freedom appropriate to what we are. If Caliban is incapable by his nature of true freedom, then any apparent movement from captivity to liberty will be merely a shift from one set of chains to another. Since in the play, however, there are actual physical, ideological, and social means of domination, the question of freedom is bound up with the ways people organize themselves and their actions within political structures and according to political ideas. Gonzalo, as we will see, entertains an idea about the possibility of an anarchist political community where everyone is perfectly free, but the play and Gonzalo himself recognize how unlikely such a polity is in the real world. "Memory and Forgiveness" takes up the play's reflections on the ethical dimensions of living together with others. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "ethics" as the "study concerned with the principles of human duty," so this thematic area has a strong link to "Service and Freedom" even as it takes these questions in a different direction--one that has to do with what are the best things to do in our lives as particular individuals with particular life-histories rather than as more or less interchangeable members of a political community. In order to function as an ethical actor in my own life, I must remember what I have been and done; and in order to be able to live with others ethically, I need to cultivate the capacity to forgive them for wrongs that they might have done. The whole arc of the play's action registers the difficulty of forgiving someone who is unable to recall or who simply refuses to remember his or her own past actions.

    Animality and Humanity (and Caliban)

    The Tempest is the culmination of Shakespeare's long-standing interest in the relationship between the human and the animal. Most often, he defines the human as qualitatively better than the animal. When Hamlet wants to express his distress at his mother's hasty re-marriage, he says that "a beast, that wants discourse of reason, / Would have mourn'd longer" (Ham TLN 334-5). She behaved, he suggests, worse than a creature bereft of reason and speech, motivated only by instinct and appetite. Elsewhere Shakespeare puts in question Hamlet's conventional distinction between animality and humanity. We have just heard Lear say that "man is no more but . . . a poor bare, forked animal"--we are no better and perhaps a bit worse than animals. And still elsewhere, Shakespeare raises the relative standing of animals by suggesting that the bestial can embody virtue above the human. In The Winter's Tale, King Polixenes says of his boyhood with his friend Leontes, "We were as twinn'd lambs that did frisk i' the sun . . . / what we changed / Was innocence for innocence" (WT TLN 131-2). Note that throughout all his representations of animality and humanity, Shakespeare maintains the idea that reason and speech belong exclusively to humanity. After all, the lambs in Polixenes' image did not think their way to virtue, and they engaged in bleating rather than in debate.

    For Shakespeare, furthermore, not all humans are the same. A unitary idea of personhood is automatic and obvious to us: all persons regardless of race, sex, class, ethnicity, or sexuality are entitled to the recognition of their human dignity and the social, legal, and political rights that flow naturally from such recognition. But the boundary between human and animal was more porous for Shakespeare and his contemporaries than it is for us. It was neither automatic nor obvious to them that women or non-Christians or people of lesser rank were human the way male members of the upper ranks were human. That means that in Shakespeare, some characters might be far closer to the nature of beasts and some others might be more fully human; and it also means that all his characters have elements of both humanity and animality and that "humanity" necessarily includes animality.

    The Tempest and Caliban represent the most radical phase in Shakespeare's thinking about humans and animals. Caliban is a "thing of darkness," a creature apparently made up of appetites and instincts. One of his first lines in the play is, "I must eat my dinner" (TLN 469). He might seem the very emblem of the animal as opposed to the human. When Prospero accuses him of attempting to rape Miranda, he responds with unbridled glee and the suggestion that, had he succeeded, he would have sired a litter of offspring:

    Oh ho! Oh ho! Would't had been done!
    Thou didst prevent me. I had peopled else
    This isle with Calibans.
    (TLN 489-91)

    70The word "peopled" troubles a simple view of Caliban as a mere animal, a reduced version of the character against which we might be able to define the humanity of the others. He is also capable, as we have heard, of articulate and dignified speech, which is very unlike an animal; he seems to have a deep appreciation for the beauty of Nature and the wonder of music; and (though Prospero seems not to see it), Caliban is capable of rational thinking and good judgment, which is evident when he realizes just how wrong he has been about Stephano and Trinculo:

    Go, sirrah, to my cell:
    Take with you your companions. As you look
    To have my pardon, trim it handsomely.
    Ay, that I will; and I'll be wise hereafter
    And seek for grace.
    What a thrice-double ass
    Was I to take this drunkard for a god
    And worship this dull fool!
    (TLN 2288-94)

    The coupling of human and animal qualities in a single character is usually a recipe for making a monster, like the ass-headed Bottom in Midsummer Night's Dream or the ghastly insect-human hybrid in the 1986 David Cronenberg film, The Fly. Caliban is repeatedly called a monster: "a very shallow monster. . . . very weak monster . . . most poor, credulous monster" (TLN 1188-91) and "servant monster" (TLN 1354). But while there must be something remarkable about Caliban's appearance, he is not, on the evidence of the text, intended to resemble a monstrous hybrid. That is the conclusion of Trinculo's delightfully roundabout examination of him, which demonstrates that Caliban has human arms in spite of Trinculo's working assumption that he is a fish with fins:

    What have we here -- a man or a fish? Dead or alive? A fish. He smells like a fish . . . A strange fish. Were I in England now, as once I was, and had but this fish painted, not a holiday-fool there but would give a piece of silver. There would this monster make a man. . . . Legged like a man, and his fins like arms. Warm o'my troth -- 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.
    (TLN 1063-75)

    Caliban is neither a monster nor a fish. His human but in some respects bizarre physicality, strange speech, ability to reason, love of natural and musical beauty, and failure to understand or to defend himself against the charge of attempted rape--and the attack itself--suggest not that he is a monster but rather that he is a creature on the threshold between the human and the animal. It can even be argued that he is not guilty of attempted rape because his share of animality renders him pre-moral rather than immoral. Given Shakespeare's idea of humanity as a graduated rather than a uniform category, Caliban can be seen to stand at the base of the category of the human but with all the potential of the more refined characters such as Miranda and Prospero. Shakespeare is not being merely mischievous when he draws parallels between the "servant monster" and the magician-ruler, especially their hankering for revenge and their love of beauty. The connections between the two men are a necessary feature of Shakespeare's understanding of humanity and animality as adjacent and interpenetrating categories. Caliban is the "thing of darkness" (TLN 2270) that Prospero acknowledges his because Caliban is his servant and more importantly because he knows that they share an instinctual capacity for violent rage. Prospero's fury is expressed in the storm and the other frightening shows he puts on, in his harsh speech even to those he loves like Ariel and Miranda, and in his vindictive treatment of Caliban. The figure of the dark beast Caliban is necessary for Prospero to be able to safeguard his own humanity, since acknowledging the servant monster allows Prospero to recognize the dark rage in himself and yet keep it separate from his supposedly pure human nature. Since Prospero seems determined to maintain a clear division between humanity and animality, he would not wish to acknowledge the kinship of his aesthetic delight and Caliban's love of nature and music, but, as we have seen, the play makes the connection clear enough by way of their allied dream-like visions of beauty and harmony. Prospero's devotion to an unyielding boundary between the human and the animal prevents him from seeing the evident good qualities and potential for reform in his servant and also the manifest complexity of Caliban's character as the perfect figure of Shakespeare's understanding of the hybridity of humanity itself.

    75Service and Freedom (and Ariel)

    Shakespeare's society was characterized by a system of rank (a series of gradations from the lowest to the highest), by deeply engrained habits of deference to one's social superiors, and by relations of service in every quarter of social life. In his brilliant study of the ethical and affective dimensions of master-servant relations in Shakespeare, David Schalkwyk comments that service was "the predominant form of social organization and personal experience in early modern England" (Shakespeare, Love and Service 3 [his italics]). Shakespeare himself was a member of the King's Servants; no doubt he proudly wore the King's livery (distinctive clothing worn by household retainers) on several state occasions. People from the highest to the lowest were in service to some master or other--from domestics like the butler Stephano to the courtiers and counselors such as Gonzalo. Ferdinand, who is a prince and therefore not in domestic or political service, plays at being a servant to his beloved mistress after the fashion of poetic lovers going back at least to the twelfth century. Shakespeare gives the motif a twist by making Ferdinand's love-service into real work. And beyond the social, political, and amatory realms, every single person in Shakespeare's society, including people like Prince Ferdinand, his father the King of Naples, and all the others, served their divine master, God.

    Given the ubiquity of relations of service, it is no surprise to find the play is concerned with different kinds of service and with the possibility of being liberated from servitude (this is the apparent goal of both Ariel and Caliban) or of finding freedom through service, which is what Ferdinand achieves by his loving labor for Miranda. It is important to note how Ariel achieves his freedom by following a conventional pattern: in the London trade guilds, young men signed a contract to serve as apprentices, usually for seven years, before being advanced to the "freedom" of the guild, which allowed them to practice their trade on their own account. Ariel follows that pattern except that he agrees to contractual service under extreme duress and the "freedom" he earns amounts to an escape into a radically non-human state of nature. He sings as he helps Prospero dress again as the Duke of Milan:

    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.
    Merrily, merrily shall I live now
    Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
    (TLN 2045-51)

    The play borrows from Montaigne in order to redescribe Ariel's natural freedom in social and political terms. The essay "Of the Cannibals" provides the core of Gonzalo's utopian imagining of a commonwealth without service, sovereignty, or the violence that takes root in hierarchical political communities, especially on account of their unequal distribution of wealth, status, and power:

    I'th'commonwealth I would by contraries
    Execute all things, 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,
    . . .
    No sovereignty --
    . . .
    All things in common nature should produce
    Without sweat or endeavor. 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.
    . . .
    I would, with such perfection, govern, sir,
    T'excel the Golden Age.
    (TLN 824-46)

    80The problem, as Gonzalo understands well since he serves the King of Naples, is that men and women live not in a state of nature or a "Golden Age" but rather in relations with others that are structured by social habits of domination and deference, political hierarchies with their unequal apportioning of wealth and power, and the attendant practices of symbolic and actual violence. It is with great surprise therefore that he declares near the end of the play that each of the characters has achieved the freedom that comes from being one's own person--the self-fulfilling capacity to choose one's own course of action and form of identity:

    O rejoice
    Beyond a common joy, and set it down
    With gold on lasting pillars! In one voyage
    Did Claribel her husband find at Tunis;
    And Ferdinand, her brother, found a wife
    Where he himself was lost; Prospero, his dukedom
    In a poor isle; and all of us, ourselves,
    When no man was his own.
    (TLN 2188-95)

    Given that Claribel's marriage to the King of Tunis was forced upon the poor young woman, we should not take everything Gonzalo says at face value. Nevertheless, we can agree with his praise of Ferdinand and Prospero's good fortune; and we can begin to discern in what he says how service and freedom are linked, and even how human freedom, which is necessarily fostered by and joined to relations of service to others, might be more valuable than Ariel's radical liberty within nature. For Ariel and Prospero (before he learns better), "freedom" is an essentially passive liberation from anything that might constrain one's acting and thinking. Against this, human freedom is the freedom to undertake something meaningful and fulfilling. "Freedom to," as opposed to "freedom from," is active and productive and therefore requires the presence of others as witnesses, judges, stakeholders, and partners.

    As already discussed (in the section on Design), Ferdinand's embracing of service stands against Caliban's rejection of it. To be fair, Caliban's log-bearing and dish-washing bring him no pleasure and win only curses from his master, whereas Ferdinand's labor is translated into delight by Miranda. "The mistress which I serve quickens what's dead," he says (joining pleasure and the life-force), "And makes my labors pleasures." And she, in her turn, commits to a life of service to him ("I'll be your servant / Whether you will or no"). They achieve the freedom to determine who they are by means of a relationship of mutual service.

    The play suggests that human freedom is founded on a renunciation of private interests in favor of a commitment to be useful to others. The emotional tone of Prospero's recovery of his dukedom and the work of government it involves is more somber than his daughter's youthful discovery of love, but both are movements toward a freedom founded in service to others rather than by a flight from community into self-cultivation--"transported / And rapt in secret studies" (TLN 171-2) as Prospero describes his earlier abdication of political responsibility.

    85Harry Berger Jr. has noted a parallel between Prospero and Ariel. According to his view, both are what we might call artists of radical freedom: "Ariel . . . 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 . . . Ariel and Prospero thus share a common delight in art which--in Prospero's case--continually distracts him from his ethical purpose" (Berger, "Miraculous Harp" 255-6, 257). What makes Prospero's renunciation of his magic and his return to a life of service so sad is thus not exactly his anticipation of physical death but more poignantly his turning away from his desire for radical freedom and his turning toward the specifically human attainment of freedom through service. Most remarkably, however, and in a way not accounted for by Berger, the "self-delighting spirit" Ariel is deeply influenced by the human model of service. Sycorax and then Prospero drag him into a life of indentured labor quite against his nature. To induce him to perform, Sycorax uses physical coercion, at the end binding him "into a cloven pine"; and Prospero threatens worse punishment in order to ensure his compliance. Yet even in the face of violence and threat and in spite of his nature, Ariel's feelings for his master develop to the point where they issue in the question, "Do you love me, master, no?" (TLN 1703). Ariel's love for Prospero and his wish to be loved in return grow because he takes delight not only in his own art, but in the delight his service arouses in his master (note how their serviceable love is founded on the model of working relations between playwright and boy-actor and also how the passage ends with Ariel's parodic imitation of Ferdinand, a theatrical gesture designed to please Prospero and the audience too):

    Hast thou, spirit,
    Performed to point the tempest that I bade thee?
    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'ld divide
    And burn in many places. On the topmast,
    The yards and bowsprit would I flame distinctly,
    Then meet and join.
    . . .
    My brave spirit,
    . . .
    . . .
    The King's son have I landed by himself,
    Whom I left cooling of the air with sighs
    In an odd angle of the isle, and sitting,
    His arms in this sad knot.
    (TLN 305-41)

    The culmination of the play's communitarian model of freedom through service brings matters home to the audience. The Epilogue focuses on playing and playgoing as forms of service. The actor playing Prospero has agreed as if by contract to "please" the audience, and the playgoers are expected to reciprocate by applauding, which is described as an activity able to save Prospero from isolation on the island and also able to free the actor playing Prospero from the "bands" of the role. "With the help of your good hands" (TLN 2331) is perfect since it links the audience's applause, which will rescue Prospero and the actor playing Prospero, to the manual work performed by the sailors ("we will not hand a rope more" says the Boatswain), when they try to save themselves and their passengers in the opening scene:

    . . . 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.
    (TLN 2324-31)

    Memory and Forgiveness

    The play's adherence to the unity of time requires an elaborate exposition in order to provide audience members with the information they need so they can follow the compressed dramatic action. Shakespeare turns this potential weakness into a strength by transforming Prospero's recounting of his history into a series of revelatory encounters that focus on the importance and also the difficulty of remembering. His internal struggle with memory and his arguments with Ariel and Caliban about their shared past introduce the play's wholesale interest in memory as a crucial feature of personhood and ethical relations among persons.

    90With the impending arrival on the island of his old enemies, Prospero is at last ready to share his story with this daughter. But he hesitates. Before he begins, he asks her if she can remember a time before they came to the island. That is a normal conversational gambit, but there seems to be much at stake for him in her ability to remember, which he indicates by his surprise and his arresting metaphors of some previously unknown thing living in his daughter's mind and of the power of her sight to pierce the deepest darkness, as if remembering itself were a wondrous act:

    Canst thou remember
    A time before we came unto this cell?
    I do not think thou canst, for then thou wast not
    Out three years old.
    Certainly, sir, I can.
    . . .
    'Tis far off --
    And rather like a dream than an assurance
    That my remembrance warrants. Had I not
    Four or five women once that tended me?
    Thou had'st, and more, Miranda. But how is it
    That this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else
    In the dark backward and abysm of time?
    (TLN 126-40)

    Prospero is encouraged by his daughter's ability to remember her nursemaids in Milan because he understands how malleable and selective memory can be. He knows that Antonio "made such a sinner of his memory" that he believed "his own lie" that "he was indeed the duke" (TLN 198-200) In the scene with his daughter, Prospero floods with memory, suffering his own emotional tempest as he recollects his ouster from power and his and his daughter's arduous journey to the island. He remembers those terrible events in a way that tends to justify his actions, but he also tests the accuracy of his memory by telling Miranda the story of his failure as a ruler, even including the possibility that he was partly responsible for this brother's treachery:

    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 retired,
    O'er-prized all popular rate) in my false brother
    Awaked an evil nature, and my trust,
    Like a good parent, did beget of him
    A falsehood in its contrary as great
    As my trust was, which had indeed no limit --
    (TLN 185-93)

    He challenges the other two creatures on the island who have lively recollections of their history with him. The justice of those relationships depends on recollection held in concert, but both encounters only exacerbate the problem of memory. When Ariel reminds Prospero about their agreement to shorten the length of his service by a full year, Prospero just changes the subject. It is remarkable that Prospero also seems keen to disagree with Ariel about the history of Sycorax, about which he can have no knowledge beyond what he has learned from Ariel. Things are little better in Prospero's second encounter. He and Caliban agree that their happy initial phase was shattered by the attack on Miranda. They each remember the event but disagree fundamentally about its ethical character. Prospero, who describes it as the worst kind of treachery, seems to be superimposing on it Antonio's betrayal of his, Prospero's, parent-like trust, while Caliban remembers it with a strange animal chortling, as if it had little to do with the human categories of honor and trust (for Miranda's view of the matter, see the section on Character). They disagree also about which of them has legitimate title to the island. Caliban argues that he inherited legal title from his mother. As in his previous argument with Ariel, Prospero simply ignores the claim, evidently because he thinks Caliban is not human enough to hold legal title to anything.

    95Memory underlies the characters' sense of who they are, what rights they can claim, and what acknowledgment of those rights is due to them from others. Prospero's failure to secure a shared recollection of what has happened on the island means that his rule can never be justified; he will always remain open to the charge that his rule of the island, like Antonio's usurpation of the dukedom, is an exercise of raw power rather than an instance of political justice. "I must obey," Caliban says, "his art is of such power / It would control my dam's god Setebos / And make a vassal of him" (TLN 515-7).

    Prospero is unable to summon the kind of compliant recollections from his servants that would serve to confirm the justice of his rule on the island. He nevertheless seeks to stir up the memories of his old enemies, prompting them to acknowledge their raw exercise of power over him and his daughter, especially since he cannot forgive them meaningfully unless he can be persuaded that justice has been done and that they are sorry for their crimes. That is what the spectacle of the broken feast and the appearance of Ariel as a harpy are designed to achieve. In the scene, the famished courtiers are offered a banquet--a gesture of welcome and community. When they move toward the food, Ariel appears as a harpy, a Virgilian figure symbolizing revenge for sin, claps his wings over the table and causes the food to disappear. He then launches into a denunciation of the "three men of sin" for their crime against Prospero and his daughter:

    you three
    From Milan did supplant good Prospero,
    Exposed unto the sea (which hath requite it)
    Him and his innocent child, for which foul deed
    The powers (delaying, not forgetting) have
    Incensed the seas and shores (yea, all the creatures!)
    Against your peace.
    (TLN 1602-08)

    Alonso takes the rebuke to heart. It organizes his past history and present tragedy into a coherent narrative of crime and punishment that is recounted to him by the deep music of sea, wind, and thunder:

    Oh, 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, pronounced
    The name of Prosper -- it did bass my trespass.
    Therefore, my son i'th'ooze is bedded
    (TLN 1632-7)

    In contrast, Antonio and Sebastian seem to grasp, not the meaning of Ariel's words, but only the threatening sound of his voice:

    But one fiend at a time,
    I'll fight their legions o'er.
    I'll be thy second.
    (TLN 1640-2)

    100The spectacle's capacity to arouse lively recollection in Alonso indicates the power of memory and forgiveness to create ethical individuals and relations; its failure to remind Antonio and Sebastian of their crimes, especially striking in Antonio's case since his sin ought to be easy for him to recall, tells us that shared memory cannot by itself create a political community. After all, as Caliban says, "thought is free" (TLN 1479) People will remember what they want to remember; what "really happened" in the past will always remain a matter of dispute; and no one can be compelled to remember a past dictated by the powers-that-be.

    The limitations of memory and forgiveness as an instrument for the creation of political states are clear in the play. Prospero might harbour a desire to re-build his rule of Milan by having everyone remember that he was a good ruler who was unlawfully removed from his dukedom and also by having the denizens of the island remember how "humane" his rule of them has been. But that desire is bound to remain frustrated since people and even spirits are individuals with their own recollections of the past. But that does not mean that the memory-work Prospero undertakes on his own account and encourages in others is pointless. Remembering the past allows Prospero to forgive his enemies rather than merely repeating their violence against him, and it binds together the two former enemies on the strength of Alonso's apology and Prospero's pardon. That might seem to promise a fresh start for the political world of Italy, especially since Naples and Milan, now joined by dynastic marriage, are respectively in the south and the north of the country; but, as we have seen, the ethical benefits of remembering accrue to individuals and relations among individuals and cannot serve as solid foundations for larger political structures. We might say that memory and forgiveness can create the small dwellings of interpersonal relationship, but that neither memory nor forgiveness is able to build the great edifices of city-states or nations.


    Character is the organizing principle of Shakespeare's plays; it is the quantum of meaning-making in his writing. Where Aristotle places plot ahead of character ("character comes in as subsidiary to the actions"), Shakespeare tends to overturn the classical ranking of plot over character by reworking traditional narrative types such as revenge tragedy, romantic courtship, struggle for mastery between husband and wife, or the story of growth-into-adulthood so that character displaces plot as the center of interest in ways that determine the kinds of elements we find in the plays and how those elements are organized. Each major character is fashioned by what William Dodd calls a "discourse biography." As a consequence of both the inversion of plot and character and the prominent unfolding of discourse biographies, we are far more interested, say, in how the action of revenge seems to Hamlet than we are in the working out of the revenge plot. The centrality of the character Hamlet is also enforced by and underlies the number and the nature of soliloquies, which do little to provide exposition or to advance the plot but which contribute to the development of Hamlet's thinking about action in relation to an increasingly complex world. The central plot-points of plays such as Hamlet, Henry IV, The Taming of the Shrew, Measure for Measure, and others depend for their meaning on how they are performed and grasped by the central characters.

    It is sometimes said that the Shakespeare of the final plays is more interested in story and theme than in how the world seems to the major characters, and accordingly that the characters of The Tempest and the other final plays are less three-dimensional than the characters of the tragedies, histories, or earlier comedies. There is some truth to this claim, but it does not follow that the characters of The Tempest are two-dimensional counters playing out an action whose meaning lies in the resolution of the plot or in the play's treatment of philosophical or political questions. Indeed, as I have already suggested, the most important conflict in the play takes place not in the realm of ideas or in the working out of the action (there is very little action in any case), but rather within Prospero himself.


    The character Prospero has been the victim equally of critical adulation and critical condemnation. The critics of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the earlier part of the twentieth, tended to view him as a magus, a wise man, and even as a figure of providential justice. This idealization was of a piece with the widespread identification of Prospero with Shakespeare, who was generally held to be the transcendent genius of British literature. On this account, Prospero must be an omniscient sage because he is Shakespeare. More recently, Prospero has been the target of a concerted skeptical critique, which tends to see him as a figure of European colonialist domination of the Americas or, to a lesser degree, as a figure of unscrupulous rule in a European context--in either case as someone who holds power unjustly by dint of a mystification of white, European rule in which Shakespeare's play itself is implicated.

    105Both these views of Prospero are based on a key misconception. Both allegorize Prospero as if he were Shakespeare (Shakespeare the sage or Shakespeare the apologist for colonialism) and as if he spoke for the play itself. But while he is an insightful and intelligent character, and while the figure of the playwright can at moments shimmer weirdly through him, Prospero is nevertheless a character in the play and not the play's spokesman: he understands his world and himself less deeply than Shakespeare or the play does, and he does not speak for either the play or its author. I have already noted (in the section on Humanity and Animality) his blindness to the resemblances between Caliban and himself. The play draws similar lines of connection between Sycorax and him. We saw how he tries to justify his domination over Caliban and Ariel in arguments where his servants speak so cogently that they are able to call into question the justice of his government. Consider finally how he upbraids his daughter, first, for not listening to his story of their banishment (she is all ears) and, second, for apparently seeking to have sex with Ferdinand before they are wed (the two young people give no signs of unbridled passion). For all that he can watch others who cannot see him, and even though he has the assistance of an invisible spirit who can spy on others and report back to him, Prospero remains strikingly not all-seeing and not all-knowing.

    But the limitations that prevent Prospero from being either an omniscient magus or the evil genius of European colonialism are also the features that constitute his humanity and that help us understand and care about his story. In his past life in Milan, he seems to have been woefully unsuited for the role of ruler. He tells his daughter that he had a "confidence sans bound" in Antonio, but it is clear that he simply off-loaded the tiresome business of government onto his brother so that he could devote himself to a life of scholarship. The experience of having been betrayed has made Prospero angry, but has it improved his political skills or deepened his wisdom? On the evidence of what we see on the island, we would have to say no--except for one thing, which is his love for his daughter.

    If he starts the play with essentially the same characteristics we may presume he had in his early years in Milan--bookishness, arrogance, a certain distaste and impatience with worldly matters, a tendency toward angry outbursts--we can nevertheless also discern how his sense of responsibility for his daughter has aroused in him a willingness to return to the world--even if it means the abjuration of his magic and the loss of Ariel--for the sake of her happiness. The struggle in Prospero between revenge and forgiveness takes its direction decisively from his relationship with Miranda. He also wishes to regain his dukedom, of course, but the prospect of being a governor seems not particularly pleasing to him, and it is not likely to be is main goal. His work toward rapprochement with Alonso is thus not an end in itself but is of a piece with his primary goal--Miranda's marriage to Ferdinand, a happy outcome which is to be politically and emotionally beneficial.

    Importantly, he works toward self-understanding through Miranda. Prospero can parade his manly anger openly, but he needs time to admit to his tenderness. He projects the tender side of his character onto her and realizes it in himself by taking care of her. At the start of the play, he is able to renounce violence precisely by responding lovingly to her distress at the spectacle of the sinking ship:

    Be collected.
    No more amazement; tell your piteous heart
    There's no harm done.
    Oh, woe the day!
    No harm!
    I have done nothing but in care of thee --
    Of thee my dear one, thee my daughter -- who
    Art ignorant of what thou art, not knowing
    Of whence I am, nor that I am more better
    Than Prospero, master of a full poor cell,
    And thy no greater father.
    (TLN 95-105)

    Prospero's actions in the play unfold from his character, and they also unfold his character: they realize and make visible his identity, history, view of the world, and aspirations for the future. And in this case, what we could call Prospero's character-disclosing actions follow a classic Shakespearean pattern.

    110In Shakespeare, art is what characters make when they cannot confront those who have done them great wrong and whom they must either forgive or destroy. In each case, the art they make both reveals them and keeps them hidden, and it also helps and hurts their enemies. Edgar, in King Lear, uses performance and a make-believe miracle on his faithless father Gloucester, who had turned against his son Edgar on the strength of a forged letter. Edgar does not reveal himself even though he knows his father is penitent; instead, he disguises himself and then takes care of the blind old man. The stunt he stages--making his father Gloucester believe he is jumping off a cliff--is designed to cure the old man's despair. But, as Edgar himself tells us, the very idea of falling from such a great height could kill his father; the imaginary cliff expresses Edgar's forgiveness and his anger. Hermione (in The Winter's Tale), whose jealous husband puts her in prison and takes away her children, leading to the death of one of them, takes herself away from him for sixteen years (he thinks she is dead) and then makes herself into a statue in order to stir up his remorse and to re-introduce herself to him; and even then, once she has become human again, she speaks only to her long-lost daughter and not to him. Like these characters, Prospero cannot bear to face his enemies directly, so he creates a theater of punishment and redemption--the storm-scene that seems to kill Alonso's son, the banquet that is offered and then snatched back, Ariel's performance of a harpy, Prospero's self-presentation in his ducal robes, and, at the end, the happy revelation of Alonso's son and Prospero's daughter playing a game of chess.

    As we have seen, inasmuch as he wishes them to be able to change people for the better, Prospero's spectacles are not entirely effective. Antonio and Sebastian remain untouched by them. And even the gorgeous marriage masque is suddenly cut off by Prospero's recollection of Caliban's conspiracy. More important than their effect on others, however, is how they allow Prospero to remain hidden until he is ready to come face-to-face with his enemies and how they are also able to reveal and make real Prospero's attributes to himself and others--his harshness and tenderness, his fury and wish to forgive, and his acid skepticism about human nature as well as his desire for a "brave new world," a world that might be reborn as beautiful and just.


    Miranda, whose name means "wonder," is less experienced and less powerful than her father, yet she has achieved a practical wisdom about the world that he can only strive for. She knows people can be selfish and deceitful, and yet she is capable of loving them. As we have seen (in the Metatheater section), her natural compassion is signaled by her response to the foundering ship. "I have suffered," she says, "With those that I saw suffer." But the speech suggests also her independent-mindedness (the naturally emphasized first-person pronoun in the first line, which an actress can choose to stress, implies a comparison between her father and herself):

    Had I been any god of power, I would
    Have sunk the sea within the earth, or ere
    It should the good ship so have swallowed and
    The fraughting souls within her.
    (TLN 91-4)

    Her intervention in the confrontation between her father and Caliban makes it clear that she is her own person. They are arguing about Caliban's sexual attack on her; Prospero's emphasis on the attempted violation of her "honor" (which here is also a euphemism for the female genitals) and Caliban's highlighting of her presumed fecundity are a like verbal re-enactment of the original assault. In a speech so powerful that editors from the Restoration to the early twentieth century re-assigned it to Prospero, Miranda decisively redescribes Caliban's original transgression as a contravention of the principle of gratitude (and the gratitude a student owes a teacher at that!) rather than as an attempted violation of her body:

    115Abhorrèd slave,
    Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
    Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee,
    Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
    One thing or other when thou didst not, savage,
    Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
    A thing most brutish. I endowed thy purposes
    With words that made them known, but thy vild race
    (Though thou didst learn) had that in't which good natures
    Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou
    Deservedly confined into this rock,
    Who hadst deserved more than a prison.
    (TLN 492-503)

    This harsh judgment of Caliban is understandable under the circumstances, but she soon provides an indication of a more complex understanding of others. She has begun to fall in love with Ferdinand; in the face of her father's angry accusation against him, she says,

    There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple.
    If the ill spirit have so fair a house,
    Good things will strive to dwell with't.
    (TLN 612-4)

    Her first sentence sounds like a naïve version of neo-Platonism, which connects outward beauty with inward goodness--if he is handsome, he can't be bad. But what follows takes a different tack by reasoning that a beautiful person might have a mixed nature that includes an "ill spirit" and "good things" too--if he is handsome, he can't be all bad.

    Prospero views her as simply naïve and tender-hearted because he needs her to be his redeeming angel ("a cherubin / Thou wast that did preserve me" [TLN 259-60]). The play shows, however, that she shares some of her father's harsh understanding of the world and that she has outpaced his ability to embrace the world and its people. Shakespeare gives her and Ferdinand a remarkable, brief exchange when they are revealed to the court party in the play's last scene. They are discovered sitting at a game of chess. Miranda's first line is, "Sweet Lord, you play me false!" The actress might say the line lightly, but it is nevertheless a strikingly indecorous accusation. Ferdinand says he has not been cheating: "No, my dearest love, / I would not for the world" (TLN 2144-5). Miranda answers his grandiose profession of innocence and complete love by suggesting that he might indeed play false for something less than the whole world and that, even if he did, she would still declare his rectitude ("wrangle" helps her make the complex point since it suggests a public rather than a secretive action):

    Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle,
    And I would call it fair play.
    (TLN 2146-7)


    Critics tend to assume that Gonzalo is an old fool, a familiar figure of fun (like Polonius with the intrigue taken out). But to see him as a stereotype is to forget that Shakespeare seldom creates formulaic characters, and it is to ignore Gonzalo's history and also to miss how he provides a way of understanding the political maturity of the play. Prospero praises Gonzalo when he recounts to Miranda the story of their banishment, but he also makes it clear that Gonzalo was in charge of the operation that saw them abandoned in an unseaworthy boat--"A rotten carcass of a butt: not rigged, / Nor tackle, sail, nor mast" (TLN 251-2). Why does Prospero praise the very man that oversaw his ouster? We might point to the provisions and garments that Gonzalo placed on the boat, not to mention Prospero's much-loved books; but surely a truly admirable man, we might object, would have given them a better boat, a sail, and a compass. Someone who is as noble and charitable as Prospero says Gonzalo is might even have taken them to some place of relative safety instead of setting them adrift. After all, Prospero says that they reached the safety of the island "by Providence divine" (TLN 267). Providence, not Gonzalo, saved their lives.

    120Once we grasp that Gonzalo was carrying out his King's orders to get rid of the legitimate ruler of Milan and that he has thereby taken part in the harshness of the political world, we can note a certain toughness as well as a degree of garrulousness in his character. Consider Antonio and Sebastian's mockery of him in 2. 1. Usually, when two or more characters denigrate another in asides, the person being disparaged doesn't hear the insults and so bears the full weight of irony (see Twelfth Night 2.5; Cymbeline 1.2, 2.1). Here, in contrast, Gonzalo hears the mockers' insults; instead of being the butt of their mockery, Gonzalo is openly scornful of their ineffectual, empty laughter:

    Prithee, no more: thou dost talk nothing to me.
    I do well believe your highness, and did it to minister occasion to these gentlemen, who are of such sensible and nimble lungs that they always use to laugh at nothing.
    'Twas you we laughed at.
    Who, in this kind of merry fooling, am nothing to you; so you may continue and laugh at nothing still!
    (TLN 849-56)

    Why then does Prospero call this tough and talkative old man "Holy Gonzalo, honorable man" (TLN 2018)? It might well be, as Harry Berger has argued, that both Prospero and Gonzalo "share equally in a refusal to look too closely at the actual state of affairs, and more generally, at the world they live in" (Berger, 265). Or it might be, as I would argue, that Gonzalo acted on both his loyalty to his King and on his compassion for Prospero and Miranda. That indeed is just how Prospero characterizes his virtue: "O good Gonzalo, / My true preserver, and a loyal sir / To him thou follow'st" (TLN 2024-6). Those terms of praise reflect Prospero's own experience with disloyal subjects--first Antonio and now Caliban--and they speak more generally to the question of the guilty business of government, which allows no ruler or counselor to have clean hands. To see that Gonzalo bears a burden of remorse for his own political actions is to begin to grasp a deeper layer of meaning in his speech about an imaginary commonwealth, based on Montaigne, where there are no "bound[s] of land" (TLN 829) and no weapons of war, and also a deeper meaning in his final speech, where he rejoices in the unexpected benefit of finding himself when "no man was his own" (that is, when all men were in service to others).