Today we’re gonna break down Prospero’s final speech from The Tempest. This speech, like so many in Shakespeare’s canon, offers a sort of meta perspective into the mind of the Bard himself. Many believe The Tempest to be one of the last plays that Shakespeare ever wrote on his own and so in this speech we’re offered a sort of farewell from Shakespeare to his audiences. Whether this was intentional or not we may never know, but that’s half the fun. 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 so we all are back Prospero’s lair. Prospero breaks the spell on all parties involved and denounces his magic. However, at the last second Prospero has a change of heart and instead of enacting his revenge forgives the group and the King decides to reinstate Prospero as the Duke of Milan. Prospero reunites Ferdinand and his Father where there is great rejoicing. Prospero then chastises Caliban who promises to be good, and is sent away in shame along with his new pals. And lastly, as everyone wanders off to celebrate, Prospero is left with Ariel. Prospero set’s Ariel free, and the two say their final goodbyes. Prospero having achieved what he set out to achieve says…
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 pardoned 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;
And 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 pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
o’erthrown: gone away
ending: end of life
charm: magic spell
Now that my magic is all gone.
And the only strength I have is my own body which is not very much.
Now it is true that I’ll either be kept here by you, the audience or go back to Naples.
Please don’t make me, since I have my dukedom back, and have pardoned my brother for betraying me, stay here on this deserted island under your spell.
Release me from my prison with your applause.
Your cheers and shouts will be the wind in my sails and if they don’t then I have failed my mission to please you.
Now I command no spirits and I have no magic.
I’ll end up in despair unless you honour my requests and forgive this play’s faults.
Just as your sins are forgiven, forgive this play of it’s faults and set me free
Notes on Performance
So first and foremost with any monologue you should begin with the truth. What are the given circumstances? Where in the story does this happen? But also, what purpose does it serve?
Whenever we’re confronted with delivering a prologue or epilogue we’re met with a unique challenge. Because there is, in a sense, a quality of these speeches that takes a step outside of the play itself, and the actor is asked to play Character, Playwright, and Emcee simultaneously.
So when performing this you should never play the meta nature of the speech but it must always be in the back of your mind. This is Shakespeare speaking to audiences now, 400 years ago and everything in between.
So be sure to play the truth, speak directly to the audience, and lastly keep in mind the history that is Prospero’s life. The pains, the highs, the lows and the triumphs and where it might go next.
Prospero didn’t cast a spell on you? Check out these other Male Shakespeare Monologues.