Turbulence resolved.
The Tempest

All Shakespearean plays have a high and free mobility. The action shifts from place to place and over great intervals of time.
The Life of Henry the Fifth spans several years and starts with a prologue directed at the audience: The action will lead us at lightning speed between England and France, showing us great events and types of people quite different from those we meet in our daily lives. For all the playwright's thoughts to be conveyed the audience must be willing to accept his soaring flights of imagination.

The Tempest is even more condensed than Henry the Fifth. The play in fact satisfies the classicist requirement of unity of time since the action takes place within the three hours of the performance; but fairy tale means are employed, so the topic is still the totality of our lives.

Prospero, Duke of Milan, was ousted by his ambitious younger brother Antonio. Since then Prospero has lived for twelve years on an island with his daughter. Through reading and studying the duke has become a right magician, with two serving spirits who do his bidding; the earthbound Caliban taking the rough work while Ariel manages sleep, awakening and the movement of people over great distances in a moment.

The episodes are arranged around a shipwreck inflicted by Prospero on a royal party led by the King of Naples. The stranding disturbs the orderly relations between the travellers and they split up into three straying flocks. Some drunken servants believe the king to be dead and want to take power. Prospero's brother Antonio is among the castaways and encourages another junior to murder his royal protector.

Prospero's world

These disorderly characters are Caliban's allies. But nature is also rich in elements of a different kind.
Prospero is Latin for ‘I render fortunate’ or ‘I render happy’, and the duke is Shakespeare's representative of the beneficial powers.

Prospero's most important contribution is the upbringing of his daughter Miranda. Her education is determined by her father's thoughtful assessment of the previous events in Milan.

On the island these experiences of civilisation are seen in the light of an investigation of the mysteries of nature. In Miranda, this kind of life leads to courteous mildness and love; and this is the way she appears to the son of the Neapolitan king after the storm. The playwright's opinions on bringing up and teaching the young is the first major topic of
The Tempest.

Next to the mode and content of education we note Prospero's reaction to the growing love between the island's two young people. “Poor worm”, is his first remark when he sees the state his daughter is in. Like many Shakespearean critics of Romeo the duke considers momentary infatuation a symptom of incomplete understanding. He calls down the grace of the heavens on their affection. Love is a natural phenomenon, but its development must be helped through to successful maturation. The effect of another kind of intoxication left unchecked is revealed when the drunken servants become self-contradictory, blaming the earth for touching their feet when they walk. Where such foolishness is coupled with stubbornness we “smell all horse-piss”.

In order to guard against dangerous developments, Miranda's lover is subjected to trials. With Caliban off to join the excited drunkards, Prospero lets the king's son take over the duties of his runaway slave. Ferdinand must gather great quantities of firewood and pile it up for use in the kitchen. Miranda is offended at this abuse, but her happy suitor is ready to do anything to win her. Prospero's tests lead from natural drive to self-discipline and insight.

The third theme of the play is its attitude to forgiveness versus punishment. Here
The Tempest discusses in words issues from which Hamlet never found time to lift the veil although they were decisive factors in determining the fate of Denmark's studious prince.

One of the king of Naples' party is Antonio, who in the past was trusted with the administration of Milan while the duke devoted himself to his studies, but who repaid that trust with a coup d'état which nearly cost Prospero and Miranda their lives. With Antonio stand Sebastian, Stefano, Trinculo and Caliban, who all want to murder either the duke or the king of Naples.

Prospero therefore has as good reasons as Hamlet for killing, and he has greater power than the Danish prince. But the wise duke clearly confirms the attitudes that we met in practice in the actions of Petruccio and of England's splendid Henry the Fifth. Cleverly aided by Ariel, the duke has all insidious plans revealed, hypocrisy exposed, and the rebels divested of the power they wanted to abuse. All the same, once this is over the storm subsides, a wise man being always without any wish for revenge. Retaliation, as common as it may be, is still not justifiable. In the explicit words of the duke: “The rarer action is In virtue than in vengeance”. The refugee forgives his adversaries and makes forgiveness the basis of an attempt to have them understand their mistakes.

The wizard's magnanimity is shared by his author, with no contradiction to the harsh fate of Richard the Second or Iago. They were without self-knowledge; hence Shakespeare is relentless. Where there is fellow feeling the position is different, we can skip moralising and instead make mutual concessions. The king of Naples, apologising for his alliance with the usurper Antonio, is met with the duke's spontaneous: “There, sir, stop. Let us not burden our remembrance with A heaviness that's gone.”

Airy spirit and poet

The fourth theme of
The Tempest is Prospero's unique position and its cause. His generosity is due to his supernatural powers. His servant Ariel obtains for the probing researcher a freedom which is immediate and unlimited. Through his airy helper the magician acquires two inestimable advantages: He is given insight into everything which happens; and Ariel obeys his every command. The spirit can seek out the castaways and lead them astray or to Prospero's dwelling whenever he wants.

His power makes the duke generous because he has nothing to fear, and this throws a side-light on an important source of aggression. The spectators glimpse the freedom of mind which follows from insight.

Superficially this message of the play is completely utopian, the means of gaining power based on insight being altogether remote from what is possible in our daily lives. So why has Shakespeare included Ariel in a plot which is basically realistic throughout?

Prospero explains the mythical origin of his two spirits: Caliban's mother, the witch Sycorax, held power over the island until Prospero arrived. Ariel had fallen out with the witch; as punishment she had him confined in a cleft tree until the duke freed him and caught the son of the witch. Thereafter both Caliban and Ariel do service to Prospero.

It is Shakespeare's opinion that nature provides the foundation for a happy life and aids goodness in that it produces harmony as the outcome when our actions are right. In order for this to happen nature requires of us that we harness Caliban's uncivilised passions and aggressions and employ the intellect in Ariel's fashion to understand the world and ourselves. In this sense nature is beneficial and Shakespeare can be considered an early utilitarian. However, such a view requires weeks, months and perhaps years before being confirmed by results, since the consequences of our actions take that long to become manifest.

Ordinarily, a play gets around this difficulty by disregarding the unity of time and action. In
The Tempest, however, Shakespeare uses Ariel to overcome this limitation. The powers of the airy spirit cut the time of the action down to the length of a play.

No human being possesses such powers over the world and the actions of others. Still Ariel's capability is familiar to us all. For every one of us is endowed with the power to translate our understanding and foresight into action, if we can muster the energy to do so. The airy spirit becomes a poetical expression of the limitless, universal power of thought. Furthermore, the character Ariel reflects the unshackled freedom of our consciousness, which is capable of making present here and now even the most remote of possibilities.

The theatre becomes the place where development and change are made clear because late consequences are shown without delay. Therefore even the most fanciful stage becomes realistic through its revelation of the hidden life of the mind, and the dramatist makes visible all the characters and events that populate it. The task of the theatre is never to show a flat, realistic copy of the entire time-span needed for the consequence of an action to present itself, but to display all the patterns of cause and effect which our very widest thought is capable of imagining.

Ariel is therefore credible as an expression of an activity with which everyone is familiar but which finds its clearest expression precisely on the stage and in research. Here lies one of the main tasks of the theatre for Shakespeare, the airy spirit showing us the playwright's view of his own work. As Ariel makes clear the inner meaning of Prospero's world, so the dramatist's magic in the theatre shows the audience fundamentals of our own lives and through this visualisation enlightens us.

Even before his banishment the duke has shown only moderate reverence for the power of ordinary rulers; he has preferred studying to active politics. A rule founded on anything but insight is powerless to secure its aims. Short-sighted influence is as ridiculous as Trinculo the jester and Stefano the butler using their wine-bottle as their status-symbol and making Caliban swear by it. The duke's power has as its source his twelve years as thinker, his research being directed towards life as a whole.

An aspect of Prospero's wisdom is his modesty; the power of the researcher goes only as far as his insight. His task ended, the magician is once more like everyone else. Prospero's education of Miranda is complete and she will start her independent life with Ferdinand; the magic staff is broken and both spirits are set free. From now on they will continue as two different aspects of nature.

The parallel between Ariel and the magic of the stage is emphasised by Prospero's laying aside his magical powers when he returns to Milan. When the performance at the theatre is at an end, so is the playwright's power over us, except for the lasting influence of what the play has taught us.

As the play ends and Prospero is about to leave the island, there is talk of his dukedom on the mainland. The wizard's answer is to open the door to his humble cell and show us Miranda and Ferdinand at chess. To his former enemies he says: “My dukedom since you have given me again, I will requite you with as good a thing; At least bring forth a wonder to content ye As much as me my dukedom.” — Chess is a mathematical game which displays variations on a limited number of freely chosen patterns, like the theatre.

Through this final glimpse Prospero's magical powers have their ultimate interpretation — that of enlightenment and resolution through knowledge — confirmed. During the action Ariel, Caliban and the magic wand have been elements in Prospero's moral settlement, but the images used indicate that the poet has the wider perspective in mind, with important implications outside the theatre as well.

Natural force, insight and change form the basis of all those revolutions brought about by research. In England the breakthrough of modern scientific thinking had taken place at the time when Shakespeare wrote
The Tempest, through, among others, the statesman Francis Bacon, who was also a famous philosopher.

From Miranda to Rousseau

After the shipwreck the king of Naples is in despair believing his son to be dead, but is comforted by his counsellor Gonzalo, who pictures a new and better world in which everything will be effortless. The advisor's dream of a future land of leisure and plenty is a mixture of nature-idyll and wishful dreaming. Prospero's more realistic hope for the future is expressed in the character of his daughter. She praises “beauteous mankind” in the “brave new world” after her father's long effort to put things right. Miranda is Shakespeare's contribution to a new understanding of the development of the human character. Prospero's daughter has become friendly, gentle and gracious without being exposed to the harsh school of life, and differs from Viola and Rosalind in that she has had the foundation of her life fixed by a reflective parent, happily undisturbed by others.

As the turbulence of conflicts in adult social life is resolved by Prospero's wise mildness and his way of wielding power, so the turbulence of childhood and youth is overcome through wise education in a harmonious environment.

In Miranda Shakespeare gives us a first literary version of Rousseau's ‘noble savage’. The Frenchman's portrayal in
Émile is a literary contribution to the discussions of developmental psychology of our own times, which therefore have two literary roots: Ibsen and Freud investigate harmful influences, Rousseau turns to such as are beneficial. Rousseau's portrayal is an oversimplification; he concentrates on factors which we can control and pays little attention to life's complexities of unpreventable and unforeseeable difficulties and dangers, against which education is seldom enough protection. Nevertheless, if the above interpretation is indeed valid, Émile finds a model in Miranda, although Shakespeare is never naive: Miranda's personality is not undiluted, unmodified nature, but the result of her father's deliberate forming, promoting the good and guarding her against the harmful, the island providing an unusually propitious setting for his task. Prospero also realises that his efforts are only effective because the natural foundation is favourable. On Caliban his methods can work no real change: “A devil, a born devil, on whose nature Nurture can never stick”. Here Shakespeare agrees with modern biology and psychology: Natural endowment, maturation and a conducive environment are all of importance to the harmonious growth of a living creature.