Two figures stood on the cliff top, watching the ship being torn apart in the storm and disappearing beneath the angry sea. The strange thing was that, although the elements raged and the waves churned, the lightning flashed and the thunder roared, the weather on the island was still and calm. It was hot: the sun beat down and the sky was cloudless. The man wore a long cloak and held a staff: the girl, golden haired and pretty, was dressed in a white gown. He stood, unmoving, his face expressionless. She covered her face with her hands and peeped through her fingers. When she saw that the ship had sunk she turned to him.
‘Dearest father,’ she said. ‘If you’ve used your magic to stir the sea into this wild roaring, calm it now. The sky seems as though it’s going to drop stinking pitch except that the sea is rising up to its cheek and quenching its fire. Oh, I suffered with those suffering on board! A sound ship that probably had some noble person on it, smashed. Oh, their cries wrenched my heart! Poor souls, they died. If I had any power I would drain the sea before I let it swallow up that ship and all the suffering souls on board.’
Her father placed his hand gently on her shoulder. ‘Cheer up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid. Let your compassionate heart be assured that no harm’s been done to anyone.’
She couldn’t see how that could be. ‘Oh it’s terrible,’ she murmured.
‘No harm,’ he said. ‘Everything I’ve done is for your sake. For your sake, my dear one: my beloved daughter, who knows nothing of her origins: of where I came from, nor than that I am anything more than Prospero, occupant of a very poor cave, and your humble father.’
She looked at him in astonishment. ‘It’s never crossed my mind that there was anything more to it.’
‘The time has come to tell you,’ he said.
He faced the storm. He raised his staff and stretched both his arms out. The thunder faded, the wind subsided, the clouds dissolved and the waves flattened out. Within moments they were looking at a calm blue sea beneath the same bright sun that shone on them. Then he turned and started walking. She followed him to the cave, set in a rocky hill, where they lived.
‘Help me take my cloak off,’ he said once they had gone in.
She helped him and when the heavy cloak had been removed she folded it and lay it down gently on a table.
‘Lie there, my magic,’ he said. He kissed her, then he led her to a chair and indicated to her to sit down. He pulled up the other chair and faced her. ‘Don’t be concerned’ he said. ‘Wipe your eyes. I’ve used my magic to control the shipwreck that so distressed you, so that not one soul – no, not even a single hair on anyone’s head – has come to any harm, even though you heard their cries and saw the ship sink.’ He took her hand and looked intently at her, encouraging her to smile, which she did, nervously. ‘There are things you should know,’ he said.
‘You’ve often started to tell me something but then stopped yourself and left me with unanswered questions, saying only, ‘wait, not yet.’’
‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘It’s important, so listen carefully. Can you remember anything about the time before we came here? I don’t think so because you weren’t even three years old.’
‘Oh I can,’ she said.
‘What? Another house or person? Tell me what you remember.’
‘It’s very distant,’ she said, ‘and more like a dream than anything that I can be sure about. Didn’t I once have three or four women looking after me?’
He nodded slowly. ‘You did, and even more than that, Miranda. But why did this particular thing stay in your memory? What other memories are there in the dark recesses of your mind? If you remember anything of that then you may remember how you got here.’
‘But I don’t.’
He nodded again. ‘Twelve years ago, Miranda, twelve years ago, your father was the Duke of Milan, a powerful man.’
‘She sprang up. ‘Aren’t you my father?’ she said.
He laughed. ‘Your mother was the picture of virtue and she assured me you were my daughter.’
She sat down again.
‘And your father was the Duke of Milan, and you, no less noble, a princess, and his only heir.’
‘Oh heavens!’ she exclaimed. ‘What foul play was there, that drove us away?’ She paused. ‘Or was it a good thing?’
He chuckled at her confusion. ‘Both, both, my girl: we were thrown out by foul play, as you put it, but good fortune helped us to get here.’
‘Oh, my heart goes out to you when I think about the sorrow I’m reminding you of, which I can’t remember,’ she said. ‘Please tell me more.’
‘My brother, your uncle, Antonio – please pay attention. That a brother could be so treacherous! He whom, apart from you, I loved most in the world! I delegated the running of the state to him. It was the foremost of all the Italian states and Prospero was a leading duke, highly respected and renowned as a scholar. Because I was absorbed in my learning I loaded him with the work of governing and, being preoccupied with my studies, became remote from the affairs of state. Your deceitful uncle… Are you listening?’
‘Most attentively,’ she said.
‘Once he had perfected the art of government – how to say yes and no to requests: who to promote and who to dispose of for being over-ambitious – he either won over or dismissed all my people until he had the keys both of power and the dukedom, which he used to have all the officers of state playing his tune. He became a parasite, the overgrown ivy that both covered the princely tree and sucked the life out of it. Are you still listening?’
She was most alert. ‘Oh, sir, of course!’ she said.
‘You must listen,’ he said. ‘And so, in my seclusion and the improvement of my mind, neglect of those worldly things awakened an evil nature in my disloyal brother. His deceitfulness was as great as my unlimited trust in him. My trust in him was boundless. He rose to a great height and became very rich, not only from my legitimate income but also from corruption. He was like an habitual liar who begins to believe his own lies. He began to believe that he was, indeed, the duke, because, standing in for me and carrying out my duties, he had all the privileges and power of a prince. And so, as his ambition grew.. are you listening?’
‘This story would cure deafness,’ she said.
‘And, like an actor not recognising the difference between the part he plays and the character he’s playing, he had to be the actual Duke of Milan. As I was a humble man my library was a dukedom large enough for me and he now thought that I was incapable of handling administrative matters. He was so thirsty for influence with the King of Naples that he made an alliance with him, agreeing to pay him an annual levy, recognise his superiority and make himself the king’s subject. It was a humiliating situation for Milan, to become subservient to another state for the first time.’
‘Oh heavens!’ exclaimed Miranda.
‘Listen to the terms of the treaty then tell me if this could be a brother.’
‘It would be wrong of me to think badly of my grandmother,’ said Miranda. ‘Good women have had bad sons.’
‘Now the treaty,’ said Prospero. ‘This King of Naples was my long time enemy. He listens to my brother’s request, which was that the king would immediately expel you and me from the dukedom and make him the duke officially, in return for his loyalty. So they recruited a treacherous band. One midnight Antonio opened the gates of Milan and they hurried us through them in the dead of night. You were crying.’
‘Oh, how sad!’ Miranda took his hand. ‘I don’t remember crying then but I’ll cry now. I feel so sad.’
Prospero stroked her hair. ‘There’s a little more,’ he said, ‘and then I’ll tell you what’s going on now, because it’s connected.’
‘Why didn’t they kill us?’
‘Good question,’ he said. ‘My story begs that question. Darling, they didn’t dare because my people loved me too much. They didn’t want to complicate it with violence but rather to make it seem better than it was. To cut a long story short, they hustled us on to a ship and took us several miles out to sea. And then they prepared a rotting, useless tub without rigging or tackle: no sails, no mast – even the rats had instinctively deserted it – and put us on board, to be at the mercy of the roaring sea, leaving us to mix our sighs with the howling wind.’
‘Oh, what a worry I must have been to you!’
‘Oh you were an angel and it was you who saved me. You smiled through it, seemingly inspired by heaven, whereas I was feeling sorry for myself and crying profuse tears into the sea. Your smiles gave me the courage to endure whatever was to come.’
‘How did we come ashore?’
‘By divine Providence. There was a good man in charge, a noble Neopolitan called Gonzalo, who felt sorry for us and gave us food and fresh water, and also expensive clothes, linen, and the other necessities that have been so useful to us. Out if decency, he gave me the books from my library that I loved more than my dukedom because he knew how much I valued them.
‘I wish I could meet that man!’
Prospero stood up. ’I must go,’ he said. ‘But don’t get up. Stay there. Let me tell you the rest. We arrived on this island, and I’ve been your teacher here and given you a better education than other princesses have who have more time for silly things, with tutors who don’t care as much as I do.’
‘Heaven thank you for it,’ she said. ‘Now please tell me, sir, why did you bring this storm on, because it’s still upsetting me?’
‘I can tell you this for the time being,’ he said. ‘By a strange co-incidence, Fortune, favouring me now, has brought my enemies to this shore. I can tell the future and I can see that I have a guiding star leading me: if I don’t take advantage of its signals I won’t have another opportunity. No more questions now.’ He raised his hand and moved it slowly from side to side in front of her. Her eyes followed its movement.
‘You’re sleepy,’ he said, speaking softly. ‘It feels nice. Let yourself go. You’re in my power.’
Miranda’s eyelids flickered. Her head dropped on to her chest and she fell asleep.
Prospero went to the entrance of his cave and stood with his arms outstretched. ‘Come here, servant, come,’ he said. ‘I’m ready. Come to me my Ariel, come.’
A breeze rustled the leaves around the cave’s entrance and a patch of air thickened and began to shape itself into a small human form. It became clearer and materialised as a solid figure that looked like a beautiful child. He stood before Prospero and bowed.
‘All hail, great master, reverend sir,’ he said. ‘I’m here, to do whatever you ask me. Whether you tell us to fly, to swim, to dive into the fire, to ride on the woolly clouds, Ariel and all the other spirits will do it.’
‘Spirit, have you carried out to the letter the storm I ordered?’
‘In every detail,’ said Ariel. ‘I boarded the king’s ship. Now on the prow, now on the deck, and in every cabin, I flared terror. Sometimes I divided myself and burnt in many places: I appeared on the topmast, the yardarms and the bowsprit as separate flames, then reassembled and burnt as one big fire. I flashed more brilliantly and more profusely than Jove’s lightning bolts that come before his dreadful thunderclaps. The lightning and roaring thunder were enough to frighten the most mighty Neptune, making his bold waves tremble and his dreadful trident shake.’
‘My intrepid spirit!’ said Prospero. ‘Was there anyone so firm and steady that this uproar didn’t terrify him?’
‘Every single soul was terrified and desperate. All of them, apart from the crew, plunged into the foaming, salty sea, abandoning the ship, which was by then all on fire from me! The king’s son, Ferdinand, his hair all standing up – more like reeds than hair – was the first one to jump, shouting, ‘hell is empty: all the devils are here!’ Ariel laughed, his voice ringing our clearly like joyful music.
Prospero joined him in laughing. ‘That’s my spirit,’ he said. ‘It was near the shore, though, wasn’t it?’
‘Very near, my master.’
‘They are safe, though, Ariel?’
‘Not a hair on their heads harmed. Not a spot on their clothes, which spread out to help them float: they’re fresher than they were before. I’ve distributed them around the island in groups, just as you told me to. I landed the king’s son by himself, in a remote cove, sighing hard enough to cool the air and sitting with his arms folded in despair. Like this.’ Ariel threw himself down and showed Prospero how he had left Ferdinand sitting. Then he sprang up again, laughing.
‘What have you done with the king’s ship, the sailors, and the rest of the fleet?’
‘The king’s ship is safely in harbour: hidden in a deep cove, the one where you called me up at midnight, that time you wanted me to fetch dew from the stormy Burmudas. That’s where she’s hidden. The sailors are all stowed below deck where I’ve left them asleep, combining a magic spell with their exhaustion from their efforts. I scattered the rest of the fleet and they have joined up again, and they’re now in the Mediterranean Sea, bound sadly home for Naples, believing that they saw the king’s ship wrecked and watched him drown.
‘Ariel, you’ve performed your task perfectly. But there’s more work. What’s the time?’
‘Past noon,’ said Ariel.
‘At least two o’clock. We must both use the time between now and six carefully.’
Ariel looked surprised. ‘Is there more work? Since you give me so many jobs let me remind you of what you promised me, and that you haven’t done yet.’
‘What? Cheeky? What could you demand?
‘Before your time is up?’
Ariel opened his mouth to speak.
‘No more!’ said Prospero sternly.
Ariel persisted. ‘Please,’ he said. ‘Remember, I’ve served you well. I haven’t told you any lies, I’ve made no mistakes, and never complained about the work. You promised to free me a full year early.’
‘Have you forgotten the torment that I freed you from?’
‘You have! And you’ve started to think that walking on the mud of the ocean floor, or riding on the sharp north wind, or doing things for me deep in the frost-bound earth, is too much for you!’
Ariel stepped back. ‘I haven’t, sir.’
‘You’re lying, you evil thing! Have you forgotten the disgusting witch Sycorax, all stooped with age and bitterness?’ Prospero pointed at the cowed spirit. ‘Have you forgotten her?’
‘No, sir,’ said Ariel quietly.
‘You have! Where was she born? Speak: Tell me!’
‘Sir, in Algiers.’
‘Oh, is that so?’ said Prospero sarcastically. ‘I have to tell you once a month what it was like for you, or you forget. That despicable witch was banished from Algiers for countless mischiefs and spells too terrible for human ears. You know that. There was a reason why they wouldn’t execute her. Isn’t that true?’
‘This hag, her eyes blue from her condition, was brought here pregnant, and left here by the sailors. You – my slave, as you call yourself – were her servant then. And because you were a spirit too delicate to carry out her base and disgusting orders, you refused to obey her. In a terrible rage, using her most powerful magic, she imprisoned you in a split pine tree. You stayed there, trapped, for a dozen years, because she died and left you there in pain, where you groaned like a mill wheel grinding against stone. There were no human beings on this island, apart from a speckled mongrel, the son she littered here.’
‘Yes, her son, Caliban.’
‘You stupid thing! I just said that! Caliban, whom I now use as a servant. You know full well the torment you were in when I found you. Your groans made wolves howl and bad-tempered bears feel sorry for you. It was a torment fit for the damned and it was too late for Sycorax to undo it. It was my magic, when I arrived here and heard you, that opened the pine and let you out.’
Ariel was subdued. There was a tear in his eye. Then he leapt to his master, took his hand and kissed it. ‘I thank you, master,’ he said.
‘If you utter another sound about it I’ll split an oak and nail you to its knotty entrails until you’ve howled away twenty winters!’
Ariel went down on his knees. ‘Forgive me, master,’ he said. I’ll do as you tell me and perform my duties without complaining.’
‘Do that,’ said Prospero, ‘ and I’ll discharge you in two days’ time.’
Ariel rose up into the air and his laughter came again. ‘That’s my wonderful master,’ he said. ‘What do you want me to do? Tell me what! What do you want me to do?’
‘Go and transform yourself into the likeness of a sea-spirit. Make yourself invisible to everyone except me. Go and take that shape then come back to me in it. Go on, do it properly.’
Ariel flew up, spun round in a blur, and took off.
Prospero went back into the cave and sat down opposite the sleeping Miranda. ‘Wake up, Sweetheart,’ he said. Wake up, you’ve slept well.’ She stirred. He snapped his fingers. ‘Wake up!’
She opened her eyes and blinked. ‘The strangeness of your story must have made me drowsy,’ she murmured.
‘Shake it off. Come on, let’s go and see Caliban. He’ll be as aggressive as ever.’
Miranda shuddered. ‘He’s awful, sir, I hate the sight of him.’
‘I know,’ said Prospero, ‘but we can’t get along without him. He makes our fire, fetches our wood and does all those necessary things.’
They walked along the path to his cave. As they came near Prospero called to him. ‘Hey! Slave! Caliban! Speak, you piece of dirt!’
Caliban’s voice came, low-pitched, gruff and hoarse: ‘There’s enough wood in your cave.’
They approached the cave. ‘Come out of there, I said!’ Prospero’s voice was full of anger. ‘There’s other work for you to do. Come on, you tortoise! Where are you?’
Ariel was suddenly at Prospero’s side, looking different, now, almost transparent, shiny, and dressed in seaweed.
‘You look right,’ whispered Prospero. ‘My clever Ariel. Let me have a word in your ear.’
Ariel hovered and Prospero whispered to him.
‘My lord, it will be done,’ said Ariel, and whizzed off.
Caliban hadn’t come out and there was silence from his cave.
‘You poisonous scoundrel, fathered by the devil himself with your evil mother,’ shouted Prospero. ‘Come here!’
Caliban, wearing a cloak made out of old sacks, crawled out of his cave and screwed his eyes up against the brightness of the day. He was caked with dirt and his hair was matted. He straightened up, looked Miranda up and down, then turned to Prospero.
‘May a poisonous dew, as deadly as any that my mother scooped up from a stinking swamp with a raven’s feather, drop on both of you,’ he said. ‘May the biting southwester blow on you and blister you all over!’
‘For that, you can be sure that you’ll have cramps tonight, side stitches that will make it hard to breathe. Goblins will torture you all through the long dark night. They’ll pinch you till you’re like a honeycomb, with each of their pinches stinging you more painfully than bee stings.’
Caliban grunted. He turned away. ‘I must eat my dinner,’ he said. Then he turned back and looked defiantly at Prospero. ‘This island’s mine! It belonged to my mother, Sycorax, and you stole it from me! When you first came here you pampered me and made a fuss of me. You gave me water with berries in it and taught me the names of the sun and the moon. I loved you then, and I showed you all the good things on this island – the fresh springs, the salt pits: which were the barren places and which the fertile. Curse the fact that I did so! All the spells of Sycorax – toads, beetles, bats – descend on you! I’m your only subject. I, who was my own king! And now you keep me confined to this stye of hard rock, denying me the run of the island.’
‘You lying rogue!’ Prospero raised his hand as though to strike him. ‘The only thing you understand is whipping. Not kindness. You’re filth. I treated you with human kindness, and even allowed you to sleep in my cave, until you tried to rape my child!’
Caliban laughed loudly and raucously. Then he looked at Miranda again and licked his lips. ‘I wish I’d succeeded. You stopped me, or I would have populated this island with Calibans.’
Miranda’s eyes flashed with anger. Ignoring her father’s restraining hand, she took a step towards him. ‘You disgusting rogue!’ she exclaimed. ‘You’re unable to respond to kindness. And you’re capable of any evil thing. I felt sorry for you and took a lot of trouble to teach you to speak. I spent every hour of the day teaching you one thing or another. When you…’ Tears ran down her cheek as she thought about it… ‘you savage, couldn’t make any sounds that had meaning, just gabbling like an animal, I taught you how to talk, and express your thoughts. But even though you did learn, your vile nature had something in it that made it impossible for good people to be anywhere near you. That’s why you were confined to this rock, although you deserved a greater punishment than imprisonment!’
‘You taught me language,’ snapped Caliban, ‘and what I’ve got out of it is that I know how to curse. I hope the plague of red sores destroys you for teaching me your language!’
‘You hag-spawn, get out of here!’ exclaimed Prospero. ‘Bring us some fuel! And you’d better be quick about it!’
Caliban faced him squarely and sneered.
‘Are you shrugging, malicious thing?’ said Prospero angrily. ‘If you refuse to do your work, or do it reluctantly, I’ll give you cramps, make all your bones ache, so that you’ll roar so loudly that animals will tremble at the noise.’
He raised his hand. Pains immediately gripped Caliban and he started howling. He threw myself down on the ground and rolled about. ‘No please!’ he cried. He knew he had to obey. His master’s magic was so powerful that it could even control the god, Setebos, whom his mother had served, and turn him into a slave.
Prospero lowered his arm and Caliban stopped writhing. Prospero pointed in the direction of the woods. ‘So, slave: Go!’ he said.
Caliban slunk away, muttering and growling to himself. Prospero and Miranda walked back to their cave. Prospero took Miranda’s hand and they climbed the hill above the cave, and stood on a rocky platform high above the ground. Prospero placed his finger over his lips, gesturing Miranda to be silent. He closed his eyes, listening. Within a few moments they heard Ariel’s voice, singing somewhere below them, to the accompaniment of a lute. He was invisible to Miranda but what Prospero saw was the spirit floating gently on the air, strumming on his lute and singing. He passed his hand in front of her eyes and they fell shut. The music grew louder and soon they were able to hear his words.
Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:
Curtsied when you have and kissed
The wild waves whist:
Foot it featly here and there,
And sweet sprites bear
The burthen. Hark, hark…
The sound of dogs barking came, all in harmony, and in time to the music. Although she couldn’t see them, Miranda knew that Ariel was surrounded by a chorus of spirits.
The watchdogs bark:
The chorus of barking came again.
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer.
The chorus changed its sound to that of cocks crowing.
And then, a human figure appeared, looking about him as he walked slowly forward. It was a young man, splendidly dressed in richly embroidered clothes. He was talking out aloud to himself.
‘Where’s this music coming from?’ he said. ‘Is it in the air or on the earth?’ He stopped. ‘I can’t hear it anymore. I’m sure it’s meant for some god of this island. This music crept past me over the water as I was sitting on a beach weeping again about my father’s wreck, calming both the storm and my feelings with its sweet sound: so I followed it, or rather, it’s drawn me here. But it’s gone.’
A gentle strumming on the lute could be heard and the young man looked up, searching for its source. ‘No, it’s back,’ he said as Ariel started singing.
Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade:
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.
The spirits chimed like bells
Hark, now I hear them –Ding – dong, bell.’
‘The song’s about my father,’ the young man said. ‘This isn’t something human– it’s unearthly. And now it’s right above me.’
Prospero passed his hand over Miranda’s face again. ‘Open your lids and tell me what you see,’ he said.
She opened her eyes and gasped. There, below her, was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen. Or imagined. ‘What is it?’ she said. ‘A spirit? Lord, how it looks about! Believe me, sir, it’s splendid. But it’s a spirit.’
‘No, my girl,’ said Prospero. ‘It eats and sleeps and has the same senses as we have: exactly the same. This young fellow was in the wreck, and apart from the marks of grief on him, that mars one’s beauty, you could call him a handsome person. He’s lost his companions and is wandering about, looking for them.’
‘I would call him a divine creature,’ she said. ‘Because I’ve never seen any of natures creatures so wonderful.’
Prospero smiled to himself. It was going according to plan. He was pleased with Ariel: he would free him within two days for this. He took Miranda’s hand and led her down the rock’s side and they approached the young man.