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and, every here and there, a passage occurs of matchless beauty or sublimity.
It is the story of Prospero, Duke of Milan, supplanted in the government of his dukedom by his scheming brother Antonio, who, with the assistance of the King of Naples, has driven him from his throne and country, committing him, along with the infant named Miranda, to a rotten and crazy vessel, in the expectation that they will never more be heard of. But, cast by destiny on a desert-island, Prospero has lived till his daughter has grown to ripe girlhood or the verge of womanhood, when, one day, his enemies—namely, his brother Antonio and the King of Naples, with Ferdinand, the son of the latter, and a number of courtiers-suffer shipwreck on the coast of this island and gather in various groups to the place where Prospero lives, who, having them completely in his power, recovers his dukedom, while his daughter becomes the wife of Ferdinand and, thus, the future Queen of Naples.
Prospero, while still at Milan, had been a great student. In fact, it was preoccupation with his studies which lost him his dukedom. When forced to quit his country, he was able to take his books with him, and, in the loneliness of the desert-island, he became a great magician. By his art he delivered the island from the witch Sycorax and compelled her misshapen offspring Caliban to become his servant.
This half-man, half-beast is one of the strangest products of Shakspeare's fancy. His name is said to be formed from the word “cannibal”; and the idea of so odd a creature is said to have been suggested by certain books of travel, published in Shakspeare's day, which contained accounts of savage men
seen in remote corners of the globe. In Caliban, Shakspeare anticipates much which is occupying the attention of our age about the development of the man out of the brute. Apparently his opinion was, that the last thing to be developed would be the moral sentiment; for Caliban has brains and cunning; but he has learned language only to curse, he is haunted by perpetual terror, and his talent is employed in shirking work and plotting mischief. Shakspeare was no believer in “the noble savage”.
Prospero has established close relations with the opposite section of the spirit-world; and the special instrument of his will is Ariel, whom he has delivered from the power of the witch Sycorax and thus bound to his service with the force of gratitude. This is one of Shakspeare's most delightful creations. He is not quite so light and airy as Puck in A MidsummerNight's Dream, but he belongs to the same family. He has more intellect; and he flies like lightning hither and thither along the threads of the magician's webs of purpose, keeping every portion in order and making all work to one central point. It turns out
that it is Ariel who has raised the tempest which has flung the strangers on Prospero's island. It is he who guides the different groups to Prospero's cellfirst, Ferdinand, the King's son, who, at sight of Miranda, plunges madly in love, while she, who has never seen any man before except her father and Caliban, is stupefied with amazement at his beauty and straightway loses her heart; then the King and the courtiers, but not before the King's brother has virtually become his murderer and the King himself has repented of what he did to Prospero
Methought the billows spoke and told me of it;
then the drunken butler Stephano, with his bottleholder Trinculo, with whom Caliban strikes up a friendship, proposing to them a design for the murder of Prospero, which is merrily foiled by Ariel ; last of all the mariners, who come up in time to complete the picture. Ariel is here and there and everywhere: he flames like lightning on the sinking ship; he pours drowsiness, when necessary, upon waking eyes; he makes music in the air; he spreads a banquet before hungry guests and snatches it away again when they are on the point of eating; he prevents the King of Naples from being murdered; and he plunges Stephano
and Trinculo up to the ears in a vile-smelling bog. He is Prospero's faithful and indefatigable servant ; yet he is pining to be free; and the reward of his great services at this crisis in Prospero's fortunes is that he is to be set at liberty.
Powers almost divine are ascribed to Prospero, such as the raising of the storm and the knowledge he possesses of the designs of his adversaries. He might almost be called an embodiment of Providence-that Providence which frustrates the plots of the wicked and makes all things work together for good to the righteous. But it probably comes nearer the author's thought to say, that he is an embodiment of Wisdom, and that Ariel is Science, working to the hand of wisdom and fulfilling its designs. The supreme effort of wisdom, however, is forgiveness: Prospero says of his enemies, when they are completely in his power: Though with their high wrongs I am struck to the
It is difficult not to believe that, in some places at least, Prospero is Shakspeare himself. The island, about which it is suggestively stated,
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 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
this island must surely be the enchanted realm of poesy; and Ariel is the spirit of poetry, able to raise and still the tempest, to curb sensuality, to terrify guilt, to bring lovers together and to reward honest labour. The different groups formed from the ship-wrecked crew are an epitome of the different sections of mankind or of the characters to be found in the poet's works, while the spirits with which the air is thronged are an intimation that in the poet's world, as in heaven and earth there are more things than are dreamed of in the ordinary man's philosophy. Ariel's passionate desire to be free, in spite of his attachment to his master, to whom he has rendered so long and splendid service, is a hint of the strain implied in poetic production and of the longing for release from the business of the theatre. It sounds like a plain intimation of the poet's resolution to retire from active life when Prospero says, towards the end of the play: