The Tempest, Act 3


And as Act 3 begins we see Ferdinand doing Caliban’s work. His upbeat sense of things, “some kinds of baseness / Are nobly undergone, and most poor matters / Point to rich ends,” puts him on the right side of things. The love scene between F. and M. seems meant to be sweet and charming, and their vows would again seem to constitute marriage vows, if only there were a witness. Which there is in Prospero’s overhearing.

Act 3 scene 2 gives more Stephano/Triculo/Caliban comedy, and we get the details of C’s plot against Prospero and also the ragged singing that Ariel ends up accompanying with his tabor and pipe. Caliban gives a memorable account of the music of the isle, which furthers our sense of him. In 3.3 we hear that Antonio and Stephano haven’t given up on the plot against Prospero. Ariel’s on-and-off banquet must have given an opportunity for special effects in its disappearance (“quaint device”). Ariel’s speech seems pure Prospero and seems to continue apprehension about what’s going to be done with the malefactors. But it does seem to evoke repentance in Alonso, so perhaps he’ll be spared.

4.1 seems to complete the love plot, at least if the lovers can contain their desire. Prospero warns about this in the clearest and even unattractive way. But Ferdinand satisfies him in his response, and the Prospero does seem satisfied, at least for now. Ariel churns out some super-rhyme in response to P’s order to bring in the rabble. But then Prospero reiterates his warning to the lovers, which again features his sharp and uncompromising nature. Had Ferdinand touched Miranda’s hand or stolen a kiss? Would Prospero’s sharpness be even more in evidence if nothing had occurred between the lovers?

But I’ll stop here and leave the rhyming masque for you. The verse reminds me of the poetry of “Comus.”


The more I think about it, the stranger this play seems. Strange in its mixture of elements not found in earlier plays (Ariel, invisibility, Caliban, the disappearing banquet, the Jonsonian Masque of Juno et al), the unmotivated entrances and exits, our uncertainty about Prospero’s plans. The high drama — or melodrama?  (plotting to kill sleeping companions) — seems almost cartoonish, as does the cheek-by-jowl very low physical comedy (drunken butler et al). It makes me think about “The Magic Flute” as opposed to, say, “The Marriage of Figaro.”

Maybe what’s new and important in 3.2 is that Caliban says Prospero cheated him out of the island. Is that really a “lie”? It’s a bit odd that after resenting the loss of “his” island, Caliban recommits himself to serve Stephano as master. If we focus on Caliban, we also note that he is responsive to the island’s music, and his account of the island tends to corroborate that of Gonzalo — though as I noted before Caliban seems more in touch with the concrete reality of the island than does Gonzalo.

What’s Prospero’s purpose in staging  the banquet in 3.3? Is it just to taunt his enemies? Antonio and Sebastian continue to be almost caricatures in their villainy. Ariel’s speech does, as you suggest, prompt Alonso to acknowledge his guilt. So we have some predictive division of the bad guys into very-bad and not-so-bad. Prospero’s lines at 83-92 suggest that he too is enjoying the show that he is presenting, and knows that all his enemies are “in my pow’r.” But do we yet know what he plans to do with them? Does he know?

Dusty Griffin & Michael O'Connell