Tempest- 2

-Prospero and Faustus:

When  Shakespeare started writing,Christopher Marlowe was ruling the theatre. His “Dr.Faustus” was a huge success. That was the time Europe, under the Renaissance spirit, was expanding its horizons. The telescope was exploring the skies, and the compass was daring the ends of seas, new islands and new lands. And the same renaissance enthusiasm pushed Europe’s colonial ambitions, and its hunger for newer colonies.  “Dr.Faustus” was written in that phase of Europe’s colonial enthusiasm, when the whole of Europe was exultant about its growing political and economic power.

His Faustus sold his soul in exchange for witchcraft. He symbolised Europe’s mad hunger for power. Marlowe saw in that expansion a Faustian soulless pursuit of power.

Faustus asks Mephistopheles, why does Lucifer need my soul? And Mephistopheles makes no bones about it:  “Enlarge his kingdom.”  He adds,  “I will make him fly to India.” Finally, “Faustus hath lost both Germany and the world, yea Heaven itself, Heaven, the seat of God, the throne of the blessed, the kingdom of joy; and must remain in hell for ever, hell, ah, hell, for ever!”.

Not just Germany, England, or another European country. The whole of Europe has sold its soul.Marlowe had envisaged the sunset, at the very time of sunrise. One day,  . “…bind thy soul that at some certain day/great Lucifer may claim it as his own.” One cannot say when, but certainly Satan would come to collect its soul, “some certain day”  uncertainty about the day, not about the certainty.

This vision of Marlowe,  contrary to the contemporary mood, must have haunted Shakespeare for long enough. In the Tempest Shakespeare echoes Marlowe . But his treatment is entirely in his own inimitable style. His harshest criticism expresses itself in the colours of the comic garb. It is often observed, and well observed, that Shakespeare’s fools are his wisest.


I think he will carry this island home in his pocket

and give it his son for an apple.


And, sowing the kernels of it in the sea, bring

forth more islands.”

We have already considered this apparently comic conversation. It is a statement on Europe’s future colonial history. It needs courage to rage against the popular mood. And,Marlowe and Shakespeare had the prophetic wisdom as well as the prophet’s courage to speak out. But, what is important here is to separate a Marlowe from a Shakespeare.

Like Marlowe’s, Shakespeare’s hero too  acquired magic powers. But Prospero is the master of his magic, unlike Faustus who is slave to his slave,Mephistopheles. Moreover, instead of expanding his political power, Prospero lost his imperial position, not once but twice. He lost his throne to his brother because of his passion for magic; and he lost it again; once before the play started and again when he voluntarily abdicated power on the island and decided to return home. Thus, for Prospero, witchcraft was not a symbol of colonial hunger. In fact, his magic was to remedy the wrongdoings of his enemies. Both Marlowe and Shakespeare, it may be said, are saying the same thing; one negatively and the other positively. But the real difference is the tone. Marlowe’s is of a moralist , whereas Shakespeare’s is of an artist . Shakespeare’s vision is wider and broader than the contemporary; it is timeless. Shakespeare could see in the contemporary situation an eternal process. Colonialism was not born in England.Aeneas was not a contemporary of Shakespeare. Nor was the Roman Empire the first example of colonisation. His widely believed love for another empire-founder Dido ( Greek “Dy-doh”,and Latin “Dee-doh”) , could be an ancient example of marital politics. Shakespeare does bring in Dido too , in the Tempest. Colonialism is not an exclusive Elizabethan enterprise, is as ancient as man. And, one needn’t go far either. The British empire was not in the distant East India or West Indies phenomenon. It has a home existence, in its own Ireland, and Wales. Power madness is in the mind, not in the maps. And this madness is more evident within a kingdom. In the Tempest,there are three internal  throne grabbing subplots. Antonio dethroned his brother Prospero. Sebastian conspires to have his brother killed and grab the throne. Stephano, the drunkard butler of king Alonso, along with Trinculo and Caliban, wants to dethrone Prospero in the island,and make Miranda his queen. Caliban believes Stephano to be a god, because he gave him wine to drink. ( Here’s proof that liquor had been an effective means to influence the democratic voter!) What is important for us to note here is that Shakespeare sees the many faces of colonialism, not just an instance of contemporary colonial degradation. This reveals the maturity of Shakespeare’s mind and art at the time of writing The Tempest.


In the twentieth century, some attempts have been made to rewrite The Tempest from a purely colonial angle, with Caliban as the oppressed and deprived slave under Prospero, the representative of colonial ruler. The French play,  Aimé Césaire’s “Une tempête”, is one instance.Caliban became the representative victim of colonial exploitation.Shakespeare’s Caliban cries out:

“This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother,

Which thou takest from me.”

( The controversies over the hereditary rights through the maternal side, and the paternal, were quite live in those days. The rights of Mary of Scotland,James  and Elizabeth were important matters in those days. Caliban had inherited the island , through his mother Sycorax, before Prospero descended on it and dethroned him. This is about the relative rights of inheritance, which continue to be important till today.

To revert to the major subject of colonial relations.Prospero was not a tyrant, in the beginning. In Caliban’s own account:

“When thou camest first,

Thou strokedst me and madest much of me, wouldst give me

Water with berries in’t, and teach me how

To name the bigger light, and how the less,

That burn by day and night:”

Caliban too was not all savage:

“and then I loved thee

And show’d thee all the qualities o’ the isle,

The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile:”

Literally, Caliban the native,opened the doors of the island to guest. How did Prospero repay Caliban’s openness ? Caliban was lodged in a pigsty:

“Cursed be I that did so! …

and here you sty me

In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me

The rest o’ the island.”

And this is Prospero’s version of history:

“I have used thee,

Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee

In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate

The honour of my child.”

Prospero treated Caliban well. He kept Caliban in his own house, until he attempted to molest his daughter, Miranda. No father would silently watch such an outrage. Caliban was thrown out. This is the original sin of Caliban, and his Fall. Outrage is part of being the coloniser.Overpowering the woman is both the means and the end of colonising.And overpowering a colony would not be complete without overpowering the woman.  For the colonised, a similar attempt is a crime calling forth the severest punishment . Although,  the primal urge is the same in both the colonised and the coloniser.

But Shakespeare does not unilaterally take the imperialist side. He sees any issue in all its faces. Both Prospero and Sycorax are outsiders in the present island. Prospero’s exile on the island indirectly resulted from his preoccupation with magic; and Sycorax was banished directly for her indulgence in black magic. Caliban had been occupied by Sycorax much before Prospero arrived on the scene. Law says occupation is half ownership. And,Caliban had  the rights by inheritance. But let us leave the issue for legal assistance. It is much like the Kaurava-Pandava dispute about the ownership of the Kuru Kingdom.

-Language,Caliban and Commonwealth


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./(1.2.351–58)”

Caliban acknowledges.And more than acknowledges.


You taught me language; and my profit on’t

Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you

For learning me your language!”

A major part of the colonising process is the imposition of the coloniser’s language on the colonised, as part its cultural hegemony. Caliban does know the difference. between, “learning” and “teaching”, for he uses both ( “You taught me language”; “learning me your language!” Also, he knows the past form of “teach”Obviously . Miranda is obviously a good teacher !  But Caliban is more than a good student. It is not easy to learn dry grammar from a young beauty .But it must also be noted that Miranda is a mere grammarian while Caliban is creative, can take liberties with the language. He knows the nuances of a language.What is he saying in “learning me your language!”? He is saying a whole lot. We have already discussed Caliban’s meaning of “learning me your language!”

Shakespeare extracts profound meaning  without sacrificing the literal. Caliban’s ignorance of English grammar retains its surface level, and achieves profound possibilities. It is a fact that the colonisers contributed to the native languages, while teaching the locals the colonisers’ languages. Brown rendered enormous service to the Telugu language. Every native Indian language has a Brown.As with the language,so with the culture. The imposition of a coloniser’ language on the natives works in the reverse direction too. The coloniser has to hear abuses in his own language:

“and my profit on’t/Is, I know how to curse.”( Caliban). Europe’s landlady will have to hear Soyinka’s “Telephone Conversation.” And, a child starts enjoying a language when he starts cursing.

It is evidence of Shakespeare’s supreme poetic genius that he could see any issue in all its complexities. Caliban did not merely learn curses. There is in him not a Soyinka alone:

“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,

Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices

That, if I then had waked after long sleep

Will make me sleep again; 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.”  (3:2.130–138).


This is not a Soyinka speaking, but a Toru Dutt, a child in her mother’s lap, listening to her lullaby and slipping into sleep, waking up to listen while sleeping.

“ a thousand twangling instruments/Will hum about mine ears” (Toru Dutt).

-Love of mother tongue:

It is usually said, “ Love at first sight.” But Ferdinand’s love for Miranda was at first voice. He didn’t expect Miranda speak in his language, and when she did, he fell in love with her : “My language! heavens! ”. One’s language is more than “heavens”, (swargaadapi gareeyasi) , more so for someone wrecked and stranded on a strange island. It is language that blends communities, and it is language that divides.

So many faces has colonisation, and it cannot be covered in a blanket statement . Shakespeare loads his plays with such complexities.

-History and Humour:

We have seen how Shakespeare exploited Caliban’s ignorance of English grammar. We shall now see how ignorance of history is transformed into a prophetic vision of colonial history, and that in a scene of utter drunken frolic. Alonso, king of Naples, gave his daughter to the king of Tunis, an African. It was obviously a political marriage,not unusual, even when it is a marriage of Black and White,and the bride was not willing. The wedding party was returning to Naples after attending the wedding. Stranded and scattered,  the bride’s party landed, after the shipwreck, on Prospero’s island. One group of the stranded are talking among themselves:


Methinks our garments are now as fresh as when we

put them on first in Afric, at the marriage of

the king’s fair daughter Claribel to the King of Tunis.


‘Twas a sweet marriage, and we prosper well in our return.


Tunis was never graced before with such a paragon to

their queen.


Not since widow Dido’s time.


Widow! a pox o’ that! How came that widow in?

widow Dido!


What if he had said ‘widower Aeneas’ too? Good Lord,

how you take it!


‘Widow Dido’ said you? you make me study of that:

she was of Carthage, not of Tunis.


This Tunis, sir, was Carthage.




I assure you, Carthage.


His word is more than the miraculous harp; he hath

raised the wall and houses too.


What impossible matter will he make easy next?


I think he will carry this island home in his pocket

and give it his son for an apple.


And, sowing the kernels of it in the sea, bring

forth more islands.”

Gonzalo is an elder member of the group, but his utopian dreams make him an object of mockery for the others in the group. Apparently, Gonzalo talks like an ignoramus.And the group is having fun at his expense. But we know what Shakespeare’s fools are. They speak wisdom  in disguise. This scene is meant to cheer up Alonso, who is in a grieving mood as he believes his son is drowned and lost in the shipwreck.

Gonzalo says of the bride: “ the king’s fair daughter Claribel”. What about the groom? He need not be handsome,being a king. He is the king of Tunis, and he is black. Alonso’s brother Sebastian is happy at this wedding, though for a different reason. He has an eye on Alonso’s throne, and with this marriage of, the king’s daughter with a king of a distant land ( (“Antonio: She that is queen of Tunis; she that dwells /Ten leagues beyond man’s life.”) one serious contender to the throne of Naples is removed from the scene. So, he has reason to say, “ ‘Twas a sweet marriage, and we prosper well in our return.” (He must have helped himself with enough sweets. )

Adrian says, “Tunis was never graced before with such a paragon to/their queen.” And Gonzalo adds, apparently inappropriate and inauspicious, while talking of a wedding :

“Not since widow Dido’s time.”

That was not a right moment to utter the word “widow”.And Antonio says as much:

“Widow! a pox o’ that! How came that widow in?

widow Dido!”


Widow! a pox o’ that! How came that widow in?

widow Dido!


What if he had said ‘widower Aeneas’ too? Good Lord,

how you take it!”

Here is an obvious  reference to the gender discrimination. To be a widow is inauspicious, and the very utterance  of the word is inappropriate, whereas Aeneas is never referred to as a widower. How many social issues does Shakespeare pull into an apparently comic scene! Incidentally, Aeneas is an ancient among the colony founders. He fled from Troy,and founded one of the greatest empires. And he is supposed to have had a relationship with Dido, a black queen. No history can be too ancient.

But let us move on and view more vistas of this foolish fun. Gonzalo betrays his ignorance of history and geography. He does not know that Carthage is different from Tunis. It was a good point for the group to make fun of Gonzalo. What miracles else would he not perform? Like Amphian. he would with his magic powers create new cities. He would carry this island in his pocket, and when his son runs to welcome him  and asks what he has brought for him, he would give his son (yes, his son,not the daughter) the island like an apple he had carried in his pocket! He would do more. After the fruit is eaten, he would farm the seas and sow the seeds, and grow island colonies! There is no end to Shakespeare’s ability to pack an apparently nonsensical conversation with so much- gender discrimination,racial issues, marital politics, the future of colonialism! And the last but not the least, the woman as the means and the end of colonialism , “Antonio: And, sowing the kernels of it in the sea, bring forth more islands.” What poetic magic can be more magical !

-Caliban and Prospero- equity and equality:

Caliban’s dethronement, unlike Alonso’s , is universally alleged, in modern  times, to be an early example of colonial Calibanism. But does Shakespeare take a totally postmodernist stance? If he took a stance he would not be the artist he is. He saw in Caliban’s attempted outrage, a more basic force. Both Prospero and Miranda “Took pains” to educate and civilise a Caliban.

“Miranda : Abhorred 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 endow’d thy purposes

With words that made them known. But thy vile 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.”

( This  piece was given to Miranda in the first edition of the play, and then someone, maybe Dryden, gave it to Prospero. But it looks more appropriate in Miranda, for it is necessary for a maiden to be as tough as tender.)

Miranda is saying here, education has limits, and it can civilise a student but cannot turn black it to white— not skin,  but nature. It is not easy to convert one’s nature. Swabhaavastu pravartate, Nature prevails,  (“any print of goodness wilt not take”:books  take print, not humans. There is a Caliban in each of us, black or white. But black is more easily identified. Caliban is indeed the fire in us all, the fuel. He is the eternal woodcutter, and “…he makes our fire ”, says Prospero.

Caliban himself acknowledges the good treatment Prospero gave him when he arrived on the island:

“When thou camest first,

Thou strokedst me and madest much of me, wouldst give me

Water with berries in’t, and teach me how

To name the bigger light, and how the less,

That burn by day and night:”

Did Prospero teach him  just this: “ this is Sun, this is moon” ? He must have taught him the white path, and the black path,sukla krishna gateehyete jagatah saasvate mate ( Gita:8.26). Caliban was taught not just the sun and the moon, he was taught “the bigger light”,and “the less”; the bigger and brighter lights up  the path upwards and the less to the path downwards. These paths are eternal and universal, jagatah saaswate . Caliban could not overcome his black path. The Gita also says, swabhaavo duratikramah, nature is difficult to overcome .

Most characters in the play refer to Caliban as monster,villain, filth,half-man half-beast. Prospero once refers to him as “earth”. It is usually said that Ariel stands for air and fire, whereas Caliban represents earth and water . In the language of yoga Caliban is at the moolaadhaara and swaadhishthaana, and in the language of Vedanta, in the five sheaths (pancha kosa) ,  he is at the annamaya and praanamaya kosa levels. According to the gunatrayavibhaaga in the Gita, Caliban is of the taamasa nature. Man should lead himself upwards from the earth . Shakespeare is saying that a half-man should be treated as a half-man, but without losing the man in you. The Gita says that a wise person looks upon the humble-scholar-brahmana , the cow, the elephant, the pariah, dog and the dog-eater alike. But the Gita is not saying that these are equal. Equity is not equality. So, it is not easy to charge Prospero with colonial oppression. Calibanism is not a product of colonialism.And, it is Shakespeare’s art to see that the two have their independent existence,with their invalidity unaffected. Shakespeare doesn’t sacrifice either of the two possibilities, of colonialism or calibanism. That is the artist’s privilege. To treat man as a beast is inhuman, and to treat the beast as a man is dangerous. The tiger listens moral lessons patiently, till lunch time. Caliban listened to Miranda’s grammar lessons quite attentively , with the palm under his chin, till he was hungry, and then he pounced on the young beautiful teacher maiden !

Caliban and the primal desire : “He makes our fire”:

That was Caliban in the frame of colonialism. Let us view him in another frame, the frame of primal fuel. Shakespeare puts his characters in several frames in the gallery, in various sections-the Prospero section, the Caliban section,and so on. Or, it might also be said that he composes a tune for every character with varied notes. Or, draws his characters in several hues. Sexual desire is in the origins of creation. It is not enough to note that it is the primal libidinal fuel that runs the world. But the engine has to be run, it should not be allowed to run you.  Centuries before Freud,Shakespeare observed this. This energy must be led upwards, in the right path. In Freud’s language,desire must be sublimated. That was what Prospero did with Ferdinand. We have seen in some movies how the bride’s father conducts various tests on his contending groom, who sets for him tasks like ploughing the fields, tending to the buffaloes, etc. Prospero did it with Ferdinand in various ways in order to satisfy himself about the seriousness of the young man’s love for his daughter. Desire must be tested and attested that it is well channelled. Marriage is the right channel for desire. It is the social institution that redeems fire from fire. (“To be redeemed from fire by fire.”Four Quartets:T.S.Eliot).

The libidinous energy does not always have an ugly face. Surpanakha in the Ramayana could put on the face of a heavenly damsel, and a Caliban can look like an angel. Prospero says it , speaking of Ferdinand who looks an angel to Miranda:

: foolish wench!

To the most of men this is a Caliban

And they to him are angels.”

Looks are in your looks, not in the object . Marriage is the right channel for this libidinous looks. Marriage is the instrument of social insurance to prevent the primal desire from turning man into a Caliban. Shakespeare leaves enough hints in the play that he, as an artist , would believe in the institution of marriage. It was love on first sight for Ferdinand, but the first question (“ prime request”) to Miranda is whether she’s a maiden:

“my prime request,

Which I do last pronounce, is, O you wonder!

If you be maid or no? ”

When Miranda confirms that she is a virgin, he asks if she is already in love with someone:


“O, if a virgin,

And your affection not gone forth, I’ll make you

The queen of Naples.”

( Ferdinand already announces himself as king of Naples, because he thinks the king his father was dead in the shipwreck.) But Ferdinand firmly believes in the filial affiliations, and respects the family institution. He respects the obligations the institution of marriage imposes on a son. It would be improper for him to propose to a maid without informing his father, especially when the throne of the kingdom is involved. Ferdinand later in the play introduces Miranda to his father apologetically ,for he hadn’t informed him earlier.

“I chose her when I could not ask my father

For his advice, nor thought I had one.”

Shakespeare seems to be very meticulous in his familial hierarchy. All this is Shakespeare’s effort to show how much he respects the institution of marriage. In the play arranged for the occasion of the marriage , the importance of the institution of marriage is in focus . Juno, the goddess of virginity presides over the celebration and blesses the newly  weds. The blind Cupid’s absence at the show is ensured, significantly.

“Ceres: Tell me, heavenly bow,

If Venus or her son, as thou dost know,

Do now attend the queen? Since they did plot

The means that dusky Dis my daughter got,

Her and her blind boy’s scandal’d company

I have forsworn.”


Shakespeare obviously is emphasising the role of the institution of marriage as a safeguard against the damage that the primal sex desire could do. This regulatory mechanism is what Lord Krishna was referring to in his “ dharma aviruddho bhooteshu kaamosmi ( Gita : 7:11)


The Tempest was commissioned by King James, for the wedding celebration of the princess of England. It is appropriate that the play should have the theme of marriage. But there is in it more than a royal behest.


The mother is not an important  character in any of Shakespeare’s plays. Usually,it is the father-daughter relationship as in Othello and  Lear.


“And all the more it seeks to hide itself,

The bigger bulk it shows. Hence, bashful cunning!

And prompt me, plain and holy innocence!

I am your wife, if you will marry me;

If not, I’ll die your maid: to be your fellow

You may deny me; but I’ll be your servant,

Whether you will or no.”


Miranda was half an hour ago the child behind her dad’s coattails,but now the bashful child is bold enough to defy him or anyone, and is willing to be a slave-wife to Ferdinand, “I’ll be your servant,/Whether you will or no.”One could spot a Cordelia in Miranda, in her “bashful” defiance of the father, and her faith in the institution of marriage.She doesn’t seem to trust herself without marriage, for she thinks that she might succumb to the youthful urge, and the secret of her love for Ferdinand would  announce itself to the world, in her belly bulk : “the more it seeks to hide itself,/The bigger bulk it shows”.


Prospero is aged enough to know the folly of love:


“as my gift and thine own acquisition

Worthily purchased take my daughter: but

If thou dost break her virgin-knot before

All sanctimonious ceremonies may

With full and holy rite be minister’d,

No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall

To make this contract grow


Look thou be true; do not give dalliance

Too much the rein: the strongest oaths are straw

To the fire i’ the blood: be more abstemious,

Or else, good night your vow!”


Shakespeare values the institution of marriage so much.


-Prospero ,Ariel, Caliban


Ariel and Caliban are two aspects of Prospero, indeed of Man. .


Prospero says of Caliban: “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.” Everyone has to acknowledge the Caliban in him. And Caliban represents the beastly sex, and the child’s innocence, beyond Good and Evil. Man harms oneself and his society, if he doesn’t grow out of that state. Unless this split in man is recognised , we err in viewing Prospero as the hero and Caliban as the dark villain. Some view Prospero as the colonialist villain,and Caliban as the freedom fighter, although Caliban declares he is willing to be a slave, slave to Stephano, a drunkard. Stephano is a God to Caliban, and is willing to see him in power, because he served him divine wine. Power grows through the barrel. Liquor as a means to power is an ancient instrument.  “I’ll serve thee…Let me lick thy shoe”, says Caliban.


Ariel too is a part of Prospero. He represents his imagination and art. Both Caliban and Ariel are Prospero’s servants. Prospero should master both. If he cannot master them they become a Mephistopheles. Prospero would be a Faustus.




It is part of human nature to imagine various types of utopias, into which he wants to fly away. There are three types of utopias in The Tempest.One is the utopia Gonzalo dreams of. It was in  later times the utopia of Montaigne, and of  More  (“Utopia”), and the latest utopia of Marx.


We have, mostly in regional films in India, comic villains. But in The Tempest,villains are part- time comedians, and  comic characters are re part- time villains. But their satire is not less valuable because of their villainy, and otherwise . One can be a villain and still be a valid satirist. The profoundest words in a Shakespeare play usually come from  a comic villain , and the reader must be more alert in those  unsuspected corners. ! Here’s one scene of mockery at serious utopia:


The political utopia of Gonzalo :




I’ the 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,

Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;

No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;

No occupation; all men idle, all;

And women too, but innocent and pure;

No sovereignty;–



Yet he would be king on’t.



The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the




All things in common nature should produce

Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony,

Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,

Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,

Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,

To feed my innocent people.



No marrying ‘mong his subjects?



None, man; all idle: whores and knaves.



I would with such perfection govern, sir,

To excel the golden age.



God save his majesty!



Long live Gonzalo!”


The “withering of the state” is  as ancient an utopia and as modern as Marx’s dream is. And its ridicule in that Tempest scene is as ancient and as modern.

This short satirical scene summarises a whole political tract. The vedantin speaks of a “Selfless ” utopia as Marx does of a “ Stateless “ society,(urvaarukamiva bandhanaat mrityormuksheeya,  “ as a ripe cucumber drops off  its stalk, release me from death”  : the Rudram ) Man is never prepared for the frightening freedom from his little self,a divine anarchy, as he is never ready for the freedom from the  state.


A utopia is in its nature “ contrarian “ : “I would by contraries/Execute all things”( Gonzalo)


The second utopia: Caliban the  poet’s dream :


“The isle is full of noises,

Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices

That, if I then had waked after long sleep

Will make me sleep again; 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 is the dream that reveals one face of Caliban: the poet and the child in the poet. A dream untouched by civilisation.


The third utopia is the legitimate illusion, of art:


The Tempest has a play-within-play, the fairy show, ordered by Prospero as part of his daughter’s wedding celebrations. The Tempest itself was a specially commissioned play for a similar occasion. And Shakespeare uses this commissioned play-within-play as metadrama, where he announces the retirement  of King Prospero of the island ,and the king of poetry.His farewell speech is famous:


“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits and

Are melted into air, into thin air:

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.”


The reference to his association with the Globe Theatre is very much visible, “the great globe itself ”. Shakespeare doesn’t put himself in his characters, and that is supposed to be the hallmark of a poetic genius, and more of it in a drama. But in The Tempest,  Shakespeare the playwright speaks through Prospero, and it is too obvious in this piece of dialogue.


-The Tempest as metadrama :


Also, in this play, Shakespeare seems to anticipate Pirandello with this kind of metadrama, “Six Characters in search of an author”). For Shakespeare “ All the wold’s a stage” ,and for Pirandello,  all the stage is the world. Both want us to see the thin veil between illusion and reality. The opening scene of The Tempest is a magic show in which a shipwreck takes place. Prospero and Miranda are the two spectators. One of them is aware that it’s a magic show, the other thinks it is a real tragic scene. In real life too, all the world is a stage, and what is viewed is illusion or reality in varying degrees to various spectators. As Pirandello puts it, “Everything that is real may be an illusion.Similarly, illusion.”


In The Tempest, we are watching the watchers, and what they watch. We should learn to watch life as drama, like Prospero does . Prospero asks Ariel if he had done everything as he was told:“Hast thou performed to point the storm I bade thee?”Ariel, the executive director of the show, tells him “..I flamed amazement…”. What better opening for a drama? This is the director of the show. Prospero is next an actor, and is now in the green room, working on how to act with the characters who he had ordered, as director, to be brought before him. His rehearsal is not “ to punish or not punish ” his political enemies. They would not change, punished or pardoned. His rehearsal is how to “act out”  his pardon. “Do I take part”. “The rarer action is in virtue,rather than in vengeance.” It makes no difference to the actor, pardon or punishment.What matters is better action,”The rarer action”,  “therefore,not a frown further”.Enough of this frown. Prospero has made his choice against frown on his face.  He must wash it off  and put on the paint of grace.


All the world is a stage, and all of us are actors in it. We watch, and act out too.


-Prospero’s epilogue:


“Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own,

Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,

I must be here confined by you,

Or sent to Naples. Let me not,

Since I have my dukedom got

And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell

In this bare island by your spell;

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands:

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please. Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgence set me free.”


This is clearly Shakespeare’s farewell oration. He is asking the spectators to give him a good hand, (“But release me from my bands/With the help of your good hands.” Shakespeare is asking the spectators not to clasp their hands, but release them and give him claps. One can only imagine the response of his spectators to his momentous announcement on that historic moment in world drama . It is not necessary to believe that the spectators on that occasion did not expect their favourite playwright to survive for centuries.


-The three voices in the farewell speech:


One hears three voices in this farewell address, like in Trinculo, with Caliban in his coat.  ( There can’t be a more serious farce ! A caliban hiding under your coat, and mine ! A Pirandello might reach such farcical depth. ) Prospero dismissed the rest of the characters, retired the magician in him, and remains the king of Milan, bidding goodbye to the island, exile and king. But we hear again three voices in the famed farewell address, the voice of the king of Milan, Shakespeare-the-playwright’s voice, and the voice of Shakespeare the man.


Shakespeare speaking:


“ It has been twenty years since I have been here with you, writing plays, and entertaining you. From this day, my charms  of art  end, “my charms are all o’erthrown”. I am like an overthrown king, in the kingdom of arts. There in the village are  my wife, and my children, living away from me. I long to join my family. Shakespeare is asking for fans’s permission to retire. Please give me a good hand, (“With the help of your good hands.”), and bid me goodbye. He wants to be released from his obligations as a dramatist, “release me from my bands/With the help of your good hands”. Good hands may also mean hands in prayer. He is asking his fans to pray for  his release,  pray for all the sins he might have committed.


(The Tempest was the last play by Shakespeare, written when he was about 49. No writer usually retires at that age. The  death of his dear daughter, Susanna, could have been the reason for his premature retirement.He retired to Stratford after writing The Tempest, and died there three years later. )


The  king of Milan speaking:


“Let me not,

Since I have my dukedom got

And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell

In this bare island by your spell;”


Shakespeare’ spell is ending. It is now not “my spell ” but “your spell”.  Roland Barthes announced the author’s death,but Shakespeare’s author, much before Barthes, had written his will too. Hereafter it would be the spectator’s spell. And, importantly, this spell has besides prospective effect, the retrospective signification too. W, the writers, Shakespeare means to say,are only the “faint” partners in this drama,( “Which is most faint”) ; the spectators’ spell is a part  of this partnership.Has Barthes said anything more? This is one level of meaning in this piece of dialogue.


There is another level . Prospero who has ruled the island for the past twelve years begs the residents to release him! Does prospero feel he had been actually not the ruler,but a king in exile! Shakespeare is fusing the two opposing faces of a ruler and the ruled. A ruler is a ruler only as long as his subjects allow him to rule, and his ruling magic ceases to work.This is the political face of the dialogue. The opposites can and do coexist. Prospero is both the colonizer and the exile at the same time. One can see this in Albert Camus’s story “The Guest”( The Exile And the Kingdom) in which the opposites coexist.


This blend is reinforced by Prospero’s unhurried state of mind in returning to his kingdom. “ I must be here confined by you,/Or sent to Naples.” Not once does he refer to Milan by name. Naples stands in his thoughts before Milan. He would very much attend another wedding feast, and perhaps another musical fantasy, on way back to Milan.


And he does hang on to his subjects. He has barely minutes before released Ariel and Caliban, and he yearns for their presence!  (“my dainty Ariel! I shall miss thee”.5.1.100).. “Now I want/ Spirits to enforce, art to enchant”. “I want”,here could mean either “I am wanting in, I am deficient in”; or  “ I long for them”” I miss them”.He misses Caliban as well, and as much, (“This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”). How complex are relations? Shakespeare’s supreme art consists in catching this complexity. An artist’s level lies in the extent of complexity he catches, without delivering unilateral opinions or judgements. To be lost in the magic of books is a legitimate joy of life. Equally legitimate in drowning them, “I’ll drown my book.”


The playwright’s voice again:


Shakespeare sets another task for the spectators’ hands, apart from giving him a clap. They could also rise in prayer , ( “relieved by prayer”).Whatever the playwright wrote, was with the  “indulgence” of the spectators, (  (“else my project fails, Which was to please”.) Whatever Shakespeare wrote was  to please his spectators. And they would with the same indulgence release them by their prayers. The issues and the concussions are the spectators’. Shakespeare seems to say, “The wrongs are yours, and may God release you from your wrongs.”


-The parting statement:


And, the parting statement of of the playwright is, the author has no answers . He only raises questions in you. Freedom and bondage, the coloniser and the colonised; white and black; lust and love- all these have blurred borders. Art has no answers.  Any unilateral opinions are always partly valid. A Marlowe would shout in a moralist tone against colonial callousness , ( oh! What’s happening to England! Where is Europe going! Is man turning a devil ! ). Shakespeare does not shout like an activist. He doesn’t also ask us to flee into utopias. He views life from above the contraries.


The Tempest was the last of his plays, may be,  but certainly not written in the decline of his dramatic art , but at its very zenith. No other play of Shakespeare plays so many roles. Probably, no other play in world literature.


Radhakrishna Murthy, Suraparaju

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