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Tales from Shakespeare


Charles and Mary Lamb



The Tempest

There was a certain island in the sea, the only inhabitants of which were an old man, whose name was Prospero, and his daughter Miranda, a very beautiful young lady. She came to this island so young that she had no memory of having seen any other human face than her father’s.
They lived in a cave or cell, made out of a rock; it was divided into several apartments, one of which Prospero called his study; there he kept his books, which chiefly treated of magic, a study at that time much affected by all learned men: and the knowledge of this art he found very useful to him; for being thrown by a strange chance upon this island, which had been enchanted by a witch called Sycorax, who died there a short time before his arrival, Prospero, by virtue of his art, released many good spirits that Sycorax had imprisoned in the bodies of large trees, because they had refused to execute her wicked commands. These gentle spirits were ever after obedient to the will of Prospero. Of these Ariel was the chief.

The lively little sprite Ariel had nothing mischievous in his nature, except that he took rather too much pleasure in tormenting an ugly monster called Caliban, for he owed him a grudge because he was the son of his old enemy Sycorax. This Caliban, Prospero found in the woods, a strange misshapen thing, far less human in form than an ape: he took him home to his cell, and taught him to speak; and Prospero would have been very kind to him, but the bad nature which Caliban inherited from his mother, Sycorax, would not let him learn anything good or useful: therefore he was employed like a slave, to fetch wood and do the most laborious offices; and Ariel had the charge of compelling him to these services.

When Caliban was lazy and neglected his work, Ariel (who was invisible to all eyes but Prospero’s) would come slyly and pinch him, and sometimes tumble him down in the mire; and then Ariel, in the likeness of an ape, would make mouths at him. Then swiftly changing his shape, in the likeness of a hedgehog, he would lie tumbling in Caliban’s way, who feared the hedgehog’s sharp quills would prick his bare feet. With a variety of such-like vexatious tricks Ariel would often torment him, whenever Caliban neglected the work which Prospero commanded him to do.

Having these powerful spirits obedient to his will, Prospero could by their means command the winds, and the waves of the sea. By his orders they raised a violent storm, in the midst of which, and struggling with the wild sea-waves that every moment,threatened to swallow it up, he showed his daughter a fine large ship, which he told her was full of living beings like themselves. “O my dear father,” said she, “if by your art you have raised this dreadful storm, have pity on their sad distress. See! the vessel will be dashed to pieces. Poor souls! they will all perish. If I had power I would sink the sea beneath the earth, rather than the good ship should be destroyed, with all the precious souls within her.”
“Be not amazed, daughter Miranda,” said Prospero; “there is no harm done. I have so ordered it, that no person in the ship shall receive any hurt. What I have done has been in care of you, my dear child. You are ignorant who you are, or where you came from, and you know no more of me, but that I am your father and live in this poor cave. Can you remember a time before you came to this cell? I think you cannot, for you were not then three years of age.”
“Certainly I can, sir,” replied Miranda.
“By what?” asked Prospero; “by any other house or person? Tell me what you can remember, my child.”
Miranda said: “It seems to me like the recollection of a dream. But had I not once four or five women who attended upon me?” Prospero answered: “You had, and more. How is it that this still lives in your mind? Do you remember how you came here?” “No, sir,” said Miranda, “I remember nothing more.”
“Twelve years ago, Miranda,” continued Prospero, “I was Duke of Milan, and you were a princess, and my only heir. I had a younger brother, whose name was Antonio, to whom I trusted everything; and as I was fond of retirement and deep study I commonly left the management of my state affairs to your uncle, my false brother (for so indeed he proved). I, neglecting all worldly ends, buried among my books, did dedicate whole time to the bettering of my mind. My brother Antonio, being thus in possession of my power, began to think himself the duke indeed. The opportunity I gave him of making himself popular among my subjects awakened in his bad nature a proud ambition to deprive me of my dukedom; this he soon effected with the aid of the King of Naples, a powerful prince, who was my enemy.”
“Wherefore,” said Miranda, “did they not that hour destroy us?”
“My child,” answered her father, “they durst not, so dear was the love that my people bore me. Antonio carried us on board a ship, and when we were some leagues out at sea, he forced us into a small boat, without either tackle, sail, or mast; there he left us, as he thought, to perish. But a kind lord of my court, one Gonzalo, who loved me, had privately placed in the boat water, provisions, apparel, and some books which I prize above my dukedom.”
“O my father,” said Miranda, “what a trouble must I have been to you then!”
“No, my love,” said Prospero, “you were a little cherub that did preserve me.Your innocent smiles made me bear up against my misfortunes. Our food lasted till we landed on this desert island, since when my chief delight has been in teaching you, Miranda, and well have you profited by my instructions.”
“Heaven thank you, my dear father,” said Miranda. “Now pray tell me, sir, your reason for raising this sea-storm?”
“Know then,” said her father, “that by means of this storm, my enemies, the King of Naples and my cruel brother, are cast ashore upon this island.”
Having so said, Prospero gently touched his daughter with his magic wand, and she fell fast asleep; for the spirit Ariel just then presented himself before his master, to give an account of the tempest, and how he had disposed of the ship’s company, and though the spirits were always invisible to Miranda, Prospero did not choose she should hear him holding converse (as would seem to her) with the empty air.
“Well, my brave spirit,” said Prospero to Ariel, “how have you performed your task?”
Ariel gave a lively description of the storm, and of the terrors of the mariners, and how the king’s son, Ferdinand, was the first who leaped into the sea; and his father thought he saw his dear son swallowed up by the waves and lost. “But he is safe,” said Ariel, “in a corner of the isle, sitting with his arms folded, sadly lamenting the loss of the king, his father, whom he concludes drowned. Not a hair of his head is injured, and his princely garments, though drenched in the sea-waves, look fresher than before.”
“That’s my delicate Ariel,” said Prospero. “Bring him hither: my daughter must see this young prince. Where is the king, and my brother?”
“I left them,” answered Ariel, “searching for Ferdinand, whom they have little hopes of finding, thinking they saw him perish. Of the ship’s crew not one is missing; though each one thinks himself the only one saved; and the ship, though invisible to them, is safe in the harbor.”
“Ariel,” said Prospero, “thy charge is faithfully performed; but there is more work yet.”
“Is there more work?” said Ariel. “Let me remind you, master, you have promised me my liberty. I pray, remember, I have done you worthy service, told you no lies, made no mistakes, served you without grudge or grumbling.”
“How now!” said Prospero. “You do not recollect what a torment I freed you from. Have you forgot the wicked witch Sycorax, who with age and envy was almost bent double? Where was she born? Speak; tell me.”
“Sir, in Algiers,” said Ariel.
“Oh, was she so?” said Prospero. “I must recount what you have been, which I find you do not remember. This bad witch, Sycorax, for her witchcrafts, too terrible to enter human hearing, was banished from Algiers, and here left by the sailors; and because you were a spirit too delicate to execute her wicked commands, she shut you up in a tree, where I found you howling. This torment, remember, I did free you from.”
“Pardon me, dear master,” said Ariel, ashamed to seem ungrateful; “I will obey your commands.”
“Do so,” said Prospero, “and I will set you free.” He then gave orders what further he would have him do; and away went Ariel, first to where he had left Ferdinand, and found him still sitting on the grass in the same melancholy posture.

Excerpted from Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb, published by Alhamra.


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