Prospero emerged from his cave, dressed in his magician’s gown. Miranda and Ferdinand sat to one side, at a small table, playing chess. They were so immersed in their game that they didn’t look up. Prospero raised his hands and they disappeared into invisibility. He went forward to meet Ariel.
‘Now my project is gathering to a head,’ he said. ‘My spells are all intact, my spirits are obedient and everything is going according to plan. What’s the time?’
‘Six o’clock,’ said Ariel, ‘the time you said our work has to end, my lord.’
‘I did say that when I first raised the tempest,’ said Prospero. ‘How are the king and his followers getting on?’
‘Imprisoned together, just as you instructed,’ said Ariel. ‘Exactly as you left them, confined to the lime grove that shields your cave from the weather. They can’t budge until you release them. The king, his brother, and your brother, are all in a state of near madness, and the others are saddened with pity for them, especially the one you called, sir, “the good old lord, Gonzalo.” His tears are running down his beard like winter drops from thatch eaves. Your spell is working so strongly on them that if you saw them now your feelings would soften.’
‘Do you think so, spirit?’
‘Mine would, sir, if I were human.’
‘And mine will. You, who are nothing but air, are touched with sympathy for their sufferings, so why shouldn’t I, one of their kind, who feels everything as keenly as they do, be even more moved than you are? Though I am struck to the quick by the great wrongs they have done I side with my reason against my fury. Forgiveness is a better act than vengeance. If they are repentant then my purpose is achieved and I won’t do anything more to them. Go and release, them, Ariel. I’ll break my spells and restore them to their sanity, and they’ll be their usual selves.’
‘I’ll fetch them, sir,’ said Ariel and he was gone.
It was time to leave this world of magic and return to his life among the affairs of human beings. His spirit subjects were gathering, watching him from the trees, the pools, the sky, and everywhere around him. He stretched out his arms to them to make his farewell. ‘You elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves, and you that on the sands with printless foot do chase the ebbing Neptune, and flee from him when he comes back: you fairies that by moonshine make the green sour grass rings that the sheep won’t graze on, and you whose pastime is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice to hear the solemn curfew: by whose aid – powerless fellows as you are – I have dimmed the noontide sun, called up the mutinous winds, and between the green sea and the blue sky, set roaring war. I have given fire to the dread rattling thunder, and rifted Jove’s stout oak with his own bolt: the strong-based promontory have I made shake, and by the roots plucked up the pine and the cedar: graves at my command have waked their sleepers, opened and let them out. But this rough magic I here renounce: and when I have required some heavenly music – which I do even now – to work my ends upon their senses, that this airy spell is for, I’ll break my wand, bury it certain fathoms in the earth and deeper than has ever been measured, I’ll drown my book.’
As the haunting music that he had ordered began he drew a large circle in the air with his finger. The invisible spirits moved to form a magic circle on the ground in front of him.
Ariel led the king and the courtiers towards him. They were all in a trance and moved as though sleepwalking. He brought them into the magic circle, where they stopped, and stood like statues.
Prospero addressed them, although they couldn’t hear him. They gazed without seeing. ‘Let this solemn music, the best soother of an unsettled mind, restore your brains, which are now useless in your skulls. Stand there, because you are spell-bound..’ He entered the circle and went to Gonzalo, whose cheeks were tearstained. ‘Saintly Gozalo, honourable man, my eyes shed drops in sympathy with yours,’ he said. Gonzalo’s head moved slightly, as though hearing something from the distant past. The spell was beginning to fade and their awakening senses were beginning to clear, as the morning melts the darkness of night away. ‘Oh good Gonzalo, my true saviour, and a loyal servant of the man you follow, I’ll fully reward you, in both word and deed.’
Alonso’s face reflected the pain he had been suffering since the wreck. Prospero went close up to him. ‘You abused me, and my daughter, most cruelly, Alonso,’ he said. Alonso’s brother stood beside him. ‘Your brother was an accomplice in the act,’ said Prospero. ‘You are punished for it now Sebastian.’
Prospero went to his brother and stood in front of him. ‘Flesh and blood,’ he said, ‘you, my brother, who courted ambition, threw out remorse and natural feeling, who, with Sebastian, for whom the pain of conscience is now very strong, would have killed your king here…… I do forgive you, unnatural though you are.’
He nodded to Ariel. ‘Their consciousness is beginning to return and the approaching tide of reason will soon wash over their minds, which are now foul and muddy. None of them can see me yet, or would know me if he could. Ariel, fetch my hat and sword from my cave. Take these magician’s robes: I’ll present myself as I was before, the Duke of Milan. Hurry, spirit, you’ll be free before long.’
Ariel was back in a split second and helped Prospero to dress so that he became, once again, a courtly prince. He sang as he helped his master with his dressing:
Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip’s bell I lie:
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
‘Why, that’s my dainty Ariel!’ said Prospero. ‘I’m going to miss you: but still, you’ll have your freedom.’ He gave directions about the way he wanted the clothes arranged and put on his hat. ‘Go to the king’s ship. Stay invisible. You’ll find the sailors asleep below deck. When the captain and the bo’sun wake up, bring them here. And hurry.’
‘I’ll drink the air before me and be back before your pulse beats twice.’
The captives stirred. Gonzalo was the first to speak.
‘This place is inhabited by torment, trouble, wonder and amazement,’ he said, looking around. ‘Some heavenly power guide us out of this fearful country!’
Alonso was the first to notice Prospero. His jaw fell open.
Prospero smiled. ‘Behold, Sir King,’ he said. ‘The wronged Duke of Milan: Prospero. To convince you that a living prince is speaking to you, I embrace you.’ Prospero put his arms around the king, then stood back again. ‘I extend a hearty welcome to you and your company.’
Gonzalo crossed himself while Antonio rubbed his eyes. Sebastian’s expression was one of horror.
Alonso drew himself up. ‘I don’t know whether you’re Prospero or not, or this is some magic trick to upset me, as has been happening lately.’ He offered his hand and Prospero took it. ‘Your pulse beats like flesh and blood, and as soon as I saw you my mind began to work again, which was, I’m afraid, in a kind of madness. This demands a remarkable explanation if it’s really happening. I resign your dukedom and I beg you to pardon my wrongdoing. But how could Prospero be living and be here?’
Prospero embraced Gonzalo. ‘First, noble friend, let me embrace your revered self, whose worth can’t be measured.’
‘I won’t swear whether this is real or not,’ said Gonzalo.
‘You’re still feeling the illusions of this isle, which won’t let you believe what is real,’ said Prospero. ‘Welcome all my friends!’ He approached the amazed Antonio and Sebastian and spoke quietly to them. ‘But you, my brace of lords, if I had a mind to, I could bring his highness’ wrath down on you and reveal you as traitors, But for the time being I’ll tell no tales. As for you, wicked sir,’ he said, facing his brother, ‘To call you brother would poison my mouth. But I forgive your most foul faults – all of them. And I demand my dukedom of you, which I know, by necessity, you must return.’
Sebastion couldn’t speak. He took his brother’s hand and kissed it.
‘If you are Prospero,’ said Alonso, ‘give us the details of your survival. Tell us how you met us here, who were wrecked on this shore three hours ago, where I lost… how painful the memory of it is!… my dear son, Ferdinand.’
‘I’m sorry, sir,’ said Prospero.
‘The loss is irreparable,’ said Alonso, ‘and even patience can’t cure it.’
‘I don’t think you’ve sought the help of patience,’ said Prospero. ‘By her mercy I have received her aide for a similar loss and I’m now at peace.’
‘You had a loss like this?’ said Alonso.
‘As great to me and as recently. And I have much less to comfort me to make the loss supportable than you have. I have lost my daughter.’
‘A daughter? Oh heavens, I wish that they were both living in Naples, the king and queen there! I wish it were I who was lying muddied in that oozy bed where my son lies. When did you lose your daughter?’
‘In this storm.’ Prospero dismissed the subject with a casual wave of his hand. ‘I see that these lords are so astonished by this encounter that they’re speechless. They can’t believe their eyes, but no matter how shocked you are you can be sure that I am Prospero, the same duke who was expelled from Milan and who landed so miraculously on this same shore where you were shipwrecked, and became the prince of it. No more of this, though, as it’s a long story, not something to tell over breakfast or at this first meeting.’
Prospero turned and they followed him. When he reached his cave he turned. ‘Welcome, sir,’ he said. ‘This cave’s my court. I have few attendants, and no subjects. Please look in. Since you’ve given me my dukedom again, I’ll reward you with something just as valuable, or at least perform a miracle to please you as much as my dukedom pleases me.’
He passed his hand slowly backward and forward and Miranda and Ferdinand became visible, still playing their game of chess.
‘Sweet lord, you’re cheating,’ laughed Miranda.
‘No, my dearest love,’ protested Ferdinand, ‘I would not for the world.’
Alonso stopped dead and stared. All the others did too.
‘Yes, you would try and win for a handful of kingdoms,’ she said. ‘I would call that reasonable.’
Alonso put his hand over his heart. ‘If this turns out to be another of this island’s illusions I’ll have lost one dear son twice.’
Sebastian found his tongue at last. He drew his breath in. ‘A great miracle!’ he exclaimed.
Ferdinand looked up and saw his father surrounded by his court. He sprang to his feet and embraced him. ‘Though the seas threaten they are merciful!’ he exclaimed. ‘I’ve cursed them without cause.’
‘Now the blessings of a happy father surround you!’ Tears ran down Alonso’s cheeks. ‘Tell me how you got here.’
‘Oh wonder!’ exclaimed Miranda. She looked from one to the other with large eyes. ‘How many fine creatures there are here! How beautiful mankind is! Oh brave new world that has such people in it!’
‘It’s new to you,’ chuckled Prospero.
‘Who is this young woman with whom you were playing?’ said Alonso. ‘You can’t have known her for more than three hours. Is she the goddess that separated and then re-united us?’
Ferdinand took Miranda’s hand and led her to his father. ‘Sir, she’s mortal,’ he said. But by immortal Providence she’s mine. I chose her at a time when I couldn’t ask my father for his advice – when I thought I had no father. She’s the daughter of this famous Duke of Milan, whom I’ve often heard praised but never seen before, and from whom I’ve received a second life, and this lady makes him a second father to me.’
‘And I am her father,’ said Alonso. ‘But oh, how odd it will sound to ask my child’s forgiveness!’
‘Stop there, sir,’ said Prospero. ‘Let’s not burden ourselves with reminders of a past sorrow.’
Gonzalo had been watching all this with amazement. ‘I’ve been weeping inwardly,’ he said, ‘or I would have spoken before now. Look down, you gods, and drop a blessed crown on this couple! For it is you that have marked out the path that bought us here.’
‘I say amen, Gonzalo,’ said Alonso.
‘Was the Duke of Milan thrust out of Milan so that his descendants should become kings of Naples?’ said Gonzalo. ‘Oh rejoice, beyond all common joy, and write it down in gold on eternal pillars of stone. In one voyage Claribel found a husband in Tunis, and her brother Ferdinand found a wife when he himself was lost. Prospero found his dukedom in a poor island and we all found ourselves when no man was himself.’
‘Give me your hands,’ Alonso told the young couple, and he took them and enclosed them in his. ‘If anyone doesn’t wish you joy may grief and sorrow fill his heart forever.’
‘So be it,’ agreed Gonzalo heartily. ‘Amen! Oh, look,’ he said, as Ariel led the bemused captain and bo’sun towards them. ‘Here are more of us. I prophesied that as long as there was a gallows on the land this fellow would not drown.’ He confronted the confused bo’sun. ‘Now Blasphemy, who drove grace overboard with your swearing, not an oath on shore? Don’t you have a mouth on dry earth? What’s the news?’
The bo’sun bowed to Alonso. ‘The best news is that we have safely found our king and company: the next, our ship which, only three hours ago we gave up for wrecked, is as watertight, shipshape and finely rigged as when we first put out to sea.’
Ariel whispered to Prospero: ‘Sir, I’ve done all this service since I left here.’
‘My clever spirit,’ mouthed Prospero.’
‘These are not natural events,’ said Alonso. ‘They get stranger and stranger. Tell me, how did you get here?’
‘If I thought I was fully awake, sir, I’d try and tell you. We were fast asleep and – how, we don’t know – all fastened below deck. Then, just a while ago, we were woken by a lot of strange noises of different kinds – roaring, shrieking, howling, jangling chains, and a lot more noise, all horrible. Then suddenly we were free of the galley and, feeling well, we stood on the shore and saw our royal good and gallant ship: and the captain was jumping for joy at seeing her. And in a trice, if you like, as though in a dream, we were separated from the crew and brought here in a trance.’
‘Was it well done?’ whispered Ariel.
‘Exceptionally, my diligent servant.’ Prospero smiled at his spirit. ‘You will be free.’
‘This is as strange a maze as ever a man had to find his way through,’ said Alonso. ‘And there’s more in this business than nature could ever devise. Some oracle will have to explain it.’
‘Sir, my liege,’ said Prospero. ‘Don’t strain your mind with trying to work this strange business out. At a convenient moment, which will be soon, I’ll explain everything and all these strange occurrences will become clear. Until then be cheerful, and be assured that all is well.’ He turned and whispered to Ariel: ‘Come here, spirit. Set Caliban and his companions free. Take the spell off.’ He smiled at Alonso. ‘How are you feeling, my gracious sir? There are still some of your company missing, a few lads that you’ve forgotten about.’
The three conspirators came running towards them, driven by the invisible Ariel. They were wearing layers of the cheap gaudy clothes they had stolen. It was a strange sight.
‘Let every man guard everyone’s back,’ shouted Stephano. ‘And not think only of himself, because it’s all a matter of luck.’ When he saw Caliban stop and cower away, he tried to encourage him like a grotesque imitation of a military leader. ‘Courage, bully-monster,’ he shouted. ‘Courage!’
‘If I can trust my eyes this is a welcome sight,’ said Trinculo.
Caliban covered his eyes with his hands. ‘Oh, devil Setebos, these are wonderful spirits indeed,’ he moaned. ‘How finely dressed my master is. I’m afraid he’ll punish me!’
Sebastian laughed. ‘What on earth are these things, my lord Antonio? Will money buy them?’
‘Very likely.’ Antonio laughed. ‘One of them is a plain fish, and no doubt marketable.’
All three tried to stop themselves, to turn and run away, but they were somehow thrust forward and then, as they reached Prospero, they were all forced to their knees in front of him.
‘Just look at the clothes these men are wearing, my lords, then tell me if they’re honest,’ said Prospero. He nodded towards Caliban. ‘This misshapen knave, his mother was a witch, and so powerful that she could control the moon, make the tides ebb and flow, and do as she commanded. These three have robbed me: and this half-devil – he’s a bastard – plotted with them to take my life. You must take responsibility for two of these fellows. This thing of darkness I acknowledge as mine.’
Caliban rocked from side to side. ‘Ohhhh,’ he moaned. ‘I’ll be pinched to death.’
‘Isn’t this Stephano, my butler?’ said Alonso.
‘He’s drunk, right now,’ said Sebastian. ‘Where did he get the wine?’
‘And Trinculo is reeling drunk too,’ said Alonso. ‘Where did they find this wonderful liquor that’s flushed their faces like this? How did you get so pickled?’
‘I’ve been in such a pickle since I saw you last that I’m afraid that it will never get out of my body. I’m so pickled that I won’t worry about flies again.’
Sebastian went to Stephano and gave him a slap on the back. ‘Hey, hello Stephano!’ he exclaimed.
Stephano fell over. ‘Oh, don’t touch me!’ he whined. ‘I’m not Stephano, I’m one big cramp.’
Prospero nodded to him to get up again and Stephano struggled back to his knees.
‘So, you would be king of this island, you knave?’
‘I’d have been a sore one then,’ said Stephano, wincing.
Alonso couldn’t take his eyes off Caliban. ‘This is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,’ he said.
‘He’s as twisted in his ways as he is in his shape,’ said Prospero. ‘Go into my cave, scoundrel, and take your companions with you. If you hope to be pardoned then behave yourself.’
Caliban scrambled to his feet enthusiastically. ‘Yes, I will,’ he said. ‘I’ll be wise from now on and seek your blessing. What a six-fold ass I was to take this drunkard for a god and worship the slow-witted fool.’
‘Go on, now. Away!’
‘Go and return your luggage to where you found it,’ Alonso instructed his servants.
‘Or stole it rather,’ sneered Sebastian.
As the three slunk off Prospero embraced his daughter and her betrothed. Then he turned his attention to his visitors. ‘Sir, I invite your highness and your attendants to my humble cave, where you can rest tonight. I’ll spend part of the night telling you my life story and the particular adventures I’ve had since I came to this island. It will make the night go quickly, I have no doubt. In the morning I’ll take you to your ship. And then, to Naples, where I hope to see the nuptials of our dear beloved children solemnised. After that I’ll return to Milan and move peacefully towards the end of my life.
‘I long to hear your story, which must be very unusual,’ said Alonso.
‘I’ll tell you everything,’ said Prospero. ‘And promise you calm sees, favourable winds, and a voyage so fast that the ship will catch up with your royal fleet, which is already far away.’
He whispered his final words to Ariel. ‘My Ariel, chick, that’s your task. Then be free to the air, and good luck.’ He bowed to Alonso. ‘Come with me, if you please.’
As the party enters the cave Prospero steps out of the play and becomes the Chorus, addressing the audience directly.
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,
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 pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.