Today we’re going to be unpacking one of, but not the last, of Prosperos monologues from The Tempest. If ever there was a case for just how beautiful Shakespeare’s poetry can be, in this monologue we’re offered just that. Let’s take a look.
We begin the play, aboard a ship carrying King Alonso and his court in the middle of a violent storm, or tempest (wink wink). As courtiers and sailors scream and carry on alike, little do they know what’s really going on, but we’ll get to that. The ship goes down in the briney sea along with the souls aboard.
Meanwhile, on the island known as Prospero’s Cell, we meet Prospero, a great sorcerer and his daughter Miranda, who watches out to sea, concerned about what her father has conjured up. She pleads with him to stop, but, as we’ll come to learn, Prospero solves that problem with magic, and by putting people to sleep. He tells her of how they came to the island. That when she was just a small baby, they were driven out of Naples where they once lived happily by his brother Antonio, and escaped in a tiny boat with aid from his friend Gonzalo, and was given his books on magic. And then he puts her to sleep. Rude.
Enter Ariel, his magical spirit servant who has returned from wreaking havoc on the ship and separating everyone on the ship into different groups keeping them alive, comes back to the island now to ask for their freedom that Prospero has promised. But Prospero denies the request, saying that if Ariel can do one last job for him, only then will they be set free. Ariel begrudgingly agrees and gets to work. Next we meet Caliban, and Caliban, is not referred to as a servant, but as a slave. Prospero hates Caliban, often calling him a monster, and Caliban hates Prospero, claiming to be the rightful heir to control of the island. Prospero, as usual not listening, sends Caliban to get some wood, and Caliban, being a slave, does so.
And so Prospero’s plan to enact revenge on his brother and the court is in motion and he gets to work. The first part of which being getting Miranda, and the King’s son Ferdinand together. Ferdinand bumps into Miranda in the jungle and they fall madly in love instantly. Boom.
The second part of the plan is to get the King and court to see the error of their ways, so he gets Ariel to torment them in various ways. That works and they’re scared out of their eyeballs. Boom.
And the third part of the plan… isn’t really a part of the plan at all. The King’s jester, Trinculo, and the King’s butler, Stephano, bump into Caliban who is collecting wood. Caliban tells the two unlikely assassins his story and so they plot to kill Prospero. Boom?
Anyway, so Miranda and Ferdinand have been madly in love now for an entire morning and so Prospero has Ariel and some of their spirit friends marry them, and off they go to play chess. Meanwhile after King and court have regained their conciousness after being tortured by Ariel, they run into Ariel again, who tells them, in the form of a harpy that they are sinners and really shouldn’t have messed with Prospero, to which they agree and are hypnotized by Ariel to go back to Prosperos lair.
And lastly, just to tie up any loose ends Ariel finds out Caliban’s plan and promptly hypnotises the trio, luring them back to Prospero’s lair where they will be swiftly dealt with.
And as Ariel goes to fetch everyone Prospero makes this vow…
Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him
When he comes back; you demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites; and you whose pastime
Is to make midnight-mushrooms, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew, by whose aid –
Weak masters though ye be – I have bedimmed
The noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds,
And ’twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war; to the dread-rattling thunder
Have I given fire and rifted Jove’s stout oak
With his own bolt: the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake, and by the spurs plucked up
The pine and cedar; graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, ope’d and let ’em forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure; and when I have required
Some heavenly music (which even now I do)
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.
Neptune: God of the Sea
Bedimmed: Made Dark
Spur: Root of a Tree
Airy Charm: Spell
Plummet: Weighted line for measuring water
You elves of hills, creeks, lakes, and bush,
And you that leave no footprints in the sand
And chase the waves as they go out and run from them
When they come back in, you tiny puppets that
Make fairy rings in the moonlight,
That sheep wouldn’t dare to eat, and whose pass time
Is to make midnight mushrooms, that celebrate
When you hear the bells that signal nightfall, whose help,
However weak you may be, has helped me darken
The midday sun, wrangled the gusty winds,
And made the green sea and blue sky
Go to war with each other, I have fought back
The loud thunder, and burned Jupiters strong oak
With lightning: The strong cliffs,
I’ve made tremble, and the strong pine and cedar trees
I have pulled up by the roots. By my command,
Graves have opened up and those inside them have come back to life.
But now, I reject this magic. And when I have conjured some heavenly music as I am doing now,
To complete my goal, I’ll break my staff and bury it deep in the ground,
And I’ll throw my spell book in deeper waters than have ever been measured.
Notes on Performance
When inhabiting the character of Prospero it’s important to note his age. This is someone who has been, seen and done a lot of different things and lived through some tumultuous events. That comes with a certain level of wisdom and gravity, so try to inhabit that in your characterisation.
Secondly it’s important to note the sort of spiritual journey that Prospero has been on throughout this play. Remember at the beginning of the play Prospero’s only goal is to exact revenge upon his enemies but at this point he starts to have serious second thoughts. Whether Prospero has already made up his mind or not, is up to you.
Lastly read the words alone and then read them again. The imagery is rich and complex in this speech so relish it and enjoy!
For more Monologues Unpacked