Modern Prose

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The ferocity of the tempest obscured how close to shore and safety the ship was. The winds had driven the ships at an astonishing speed and an idyllic tropical island was within swimming distance of the wreckage. This island was inhabited by a mere three souls: Prospero, the true Duke of Milan, his teenage daughter Miranda and their servant Caliban. Prospero also has a spirit, Ariel, in his custody. Prospero watched from the shore as the ship broke up, as he did so he listened to the pleas of his daughter.

“Dear father,” Miranda said, “if it was your magic that has the waters roaring then please calm the waves. The skies appear to be pouring a ferocious torrent which the seas rises up to meet. I’ve suffered simply watching this. A fair ship, doubtless with fair passengers and crew, has been dashed to pieces by those waves. The racket pained the heart. Poor souls, they perished! If I had been any god of power I would have had the sea drain into the earth rather than have that good ship and its desperate passengers wallowed by the waves!”

“Be calm, Miranda. There’s no need to be distressed. Tell your charitable heart that no harm has been done,” Prospero said grandly.

“No harm done!” Miranda countered.

“There has been no harm. I’ve done only that which benefits you- you, my dear one. You, Miranda, who doesn’t know who she is and ignorant of where I came from. Ignorant too of the fact that I was once, still am, someone better than the master of a mere cave, and more than a penniless father.”

“Curiosity has never meddled with my thoughts.”

“Then it is time I informed you further. Assist me in removing my magic cape.”

Miranda did so and Prospero carefully laid the garment at the mouth of the cave. Without the expanse of the cape he appeared slimmer and less intimidating.

“Lay there, my magic coat,” Prospero said and then turned to Miranda: “Dry your eyes, and take comfort. The violent spectacle of the wreck, which touched every element of compassion in you, was ordered by me with the condition that not a single soul, not a single hair from the creatures on that ship, whom you heard cry and scream, be lost. Sit, it is time for you to hear the whole story.”

“You have often begun to tell me who I am, but stopped and left my questions unanswered, concluding, No more, not yet.”

“Now the time is right. The very minute begs you to open your ear. Obey, and be attentive. Can you remember a time before we came to this cave? I do not think so because you were only three years old.”

“Certainly, sir, I can remember.”

“But what? A house or a person? Tell me what you can recall!”

“It’s dreamlike and far away, rather than something solid that is clear in my memory. Had I four or five women who tended me?”

“You did, and more, Miranda! But how is it that you remember this detail? What else can you see in the dark and backward abyss of time? If you can remember things before we came here then you may remember how we came here too.”

“But that I can’t.”

Prospero sighed and wistfully began his story.

“Twelve years ago, Miranda, twelve years ago your father was the Duke of Milan and a powerful prince.”

“Sir, are you not my father?”

“Your mother was the epitome of virtue, and she said you were my daughter. And your father was the Duke of Milan. His only heir was a princess of noble lineage.”

“Oh, heavens! What foul play resulted in us coming here? Or blessed was it that we did?”

“Both, both, my girl. Foul play, as you say, led to our expulsion. But the blessed brought us here.”

“Oh, my heart bleeds when I think of the problem I must have been to you! But I can’t remember. Please, tell me more.”

“My brother, your uncle, was called Antonio. Note this, a brother can be very wicked! Miranda, I loved only you more than him, and I had him manage my estate. At that time Milan was the leading city-state and I was the prime duke because of my stature and unparalleled learning in the liberal arts. I devoted myself to study and trusted my brother with running of the government- until I, rapt and locked in study, became a stranger to my court. Your false uncle- are you listening?”

“Father, I pay heed to every word.”

“Your false uncle perfected the art of granting and denying favours- promoting and demoting tactically. He juggled and favoured, and whenever necessary he replaced the men who had been appointed by me. Having the key to office and the officials in his pocket he then had the state sing the tune that pleased his ear. He became the suffocating ivy which obscured my princely dignity and drained my power. Miranda, you are not listening!”

“Oh, sir, I am.”

“Mark this, I neglected worldly affairs but I dedicated myself to my studies and the bettering of my mind with things more prizeworthy than mere popularity. But my absence awoke the evilness in my brother’s nature. My trust, which was boundless, was rewarded with a depth of deceit and cunning which was similarly boundless. I was like a parent who begot an evil child! Being enriched with the revenue due to my state and what extra he could exact by foul means, he then, like a man who believes the truth by simply saying it is so, deceived his own memory into believing his own lies and convinced himself he was the duke, simply because I had empowered him with my rightful tasks and all the protocols that go with them. His ambitions were boundless- do you hear, Miranda?”

“Your tale, father, would cure deafness.”

“His ambitions were boundless and he decided there would be no barrier between the part he merely played and his actual state. Me, poor man, my library was a big enough dukedom for me! He believed me to be incapable of running Milan. He sought an alliance with the King of Naples, and so hungry was he for power that he agreed to pay an annual protection fee and subjected Milan – independent Milan! – to Naples! Alas, poor Milan, an ignoble stoop.”

“Oh, the heavens!”

“Study his agreement with Naples and then tell me if this was the behaviour of a brother!”

“I would sin if I thought ignobly of my grandmother. Good wombs have borne bad sons.”

“Now the alliance! This King of Naples, being a stubborn enemy of mine, listens keenly to my brother’s scheme- which was that in lieu of homage, and who knows how much tribute money, I should be banished from my dukedom and the title conferred upon my brother. When the ink was still wet a treacherous army was raised and one midnight Antonio opened the gates of Milan to admit them. In the heart of the dark night his bullyboys threw us from our city, sobbing and frightened.”

“Alas, for pity! Not remembering how I cried then I will cry again now. It is a memory that brings tears to the eyes.”

“Listen a bit more. And then I’ll bring you to the present business, without which this story’s relevance would be lost.”

“Why didn’t they kill us then?”

“Good question, Miranda. My story has the answer. They didn’t dare. My subjects loved me too much and the conspirators couldn’t risk any blood. They disguised their foul antics with fair colours. In brief they hurried us to a waiting vessel and took us some leagues out to sea. There they had waiting a dilapidated carcass of a ship with neither rigging, nor tackle, nor sails, nor mast. Even the rats had the good sense to abandon this ship! They hoisted us onto this, and left us to plead to a sea that in conjunction with the winds only seemed to scream back, making our plight worse.”

“Alas, what trouble I was to you then!”

“Oh, angel it was you who saved me! You smiled with a fortitude from heaven while I showered the sea with my salty tears and groaned with my burdens. You gave me the strength to endure what might befall us.”

“How did we come ashore?”

“By fate. We had some food and fresh water given to us by Gonzalo, a noble Neapolitan who was appointed overseer of our abduction. He also gave us some fine clothes, linens, and general necessities that have stood us in good stead. Also knowing that I loved my books he, in his goodness, brought from my library the books I valued over my dukedom.”

“I would like to meet that man!”

“Now I am in the ascendant!”

Prospero picked up his magic cape and donned it again.

“Sit still and hear the rest of this tale. We arrived on this island and I educated you more thoroughly than is usual for a princess, accustomed as they are to hours spent on vanity and lackadaisical tutors.”

“And Heaven be thanked for education! And now, please sir, because this is still puzzling me, why did you raise this tempest?”

“At the moment, know only this. By an accident most strange, bountiful Fortune, now my dear lady, has brought my enemies to this shore. By my gifts I can see my fortune depends upon it. If I fail to act upon my luck my fortunes will only deteriorate. Cease your questions, Miranda.”

Prospero stared lovingly but purposefully at his daughter. He swept the palm of his hand across her eyes.

“You are inclined to sleep. It is a comforting sleepiness. Go with it. I know you have no choice.”

Miranda passed into a deep, deep sleep. Prospero smiled and softly called out to the air: “Come here, servant. Come! I am ready now. Approach, my Ariel, come!”

Ariel, Prospero’s principal spirit servant, appeared like a vapour, hovering in the air.

“All hail, great master! Esteemed sir, hail! I come to answer your pleasure, be it to fly, to swim, to dive into fire, to ride on the curled clouds- Ariel and all of his kind are at your command.”

“Spirit, have you executed the tempest I specified?”

“To the letter, sir. I boarded the king’s ship. At the prow, the heart of the upper deck, below, in every cabin I terrified them when I appeared as a fireball. Occasionally I divided myself and scorched several places simultaneously- on the topmast, the yards and bowsprit I appeared as several flames before meeting and forming a sole flame. Jove’s lighting flashes, which precede thunder, were never more agile and lavish. Fire, cracking and roaring, seemed to overwhelm the mighty matter of Neptune.”

“My brave spirit! Who could be so upright and stable that this display would not overwhelm his reason?”

“Not a soul! They all felt the fever of the mad and behaved frantically. All but the sailors leapt overboard as I set the ship aflame. The King’s son, Ferdinand, was the first man to jump- his hair standing on end like reeds, screaming, Hell is empty, all the devils are here!.”

“Why, that’s my spirit! But was this near the shore?”

“Close by, my master.”

“But are they safe, Ariel?”

“Not a hair singed, not a blemish on their clothes. They are fresher than before. And as you commanded I’ve dispersed them around the island in groups. Ferdinand I have landed in isolation. I left him despairing away in an odd corner of the island, sitting with his arms folded rather sadly.”

“The King’s ship, the mariners- how have you disposed of the rest of the fleet?” Prospero asked.

“The King’s ship is safely harboured. It is hidden in that deep inlet where you called me one midnight to fetch dew from the vexed Bermudas. The sailors are all under the hatch, snoring away under the influence of one of my spells and their own exhaustion. As for the rest of the fleet, once the tempest abated they met up again and are headed for their Mediterranean home to tell Naples that they saw the King’s ship wrecked and their monarch drown.”

“Ariel, you completed my orders to perfection. But there’s more work. What time is it?”

“Past midday.”

“Probably two o’clock. The time between now and six must be used judiciously.”

“Is there yet more work? Since you are such a hard taskmaster let me remind you what you have promised, but have not yet done for me.”

“What? Moody? What can you demand?”

“My liberty?”

“Before your time is up? No more!”

“Respectfully, remember I have obeyed you, told no lies, made no mistakes, served without complaining or moaning. You promised to free me a year early.”

“Have you forgotten the torment I freed you from?”

“No.”

“You have, and now you think it is unreasonable to ask you to tread the ocean floor, ride upon the sharp North wind, to do my work in the subterranean tunnels of the earth, or when the earth is crusted with frost.”

“I do not, sir.”

“You lie, you malignant thing! Have you forgotten the foul witch Sycorax, who was bent double with age and evil? Have you forgotten her?”

“No, sir.”

“You have! Where was she born? Speak: tell me!”

“Algiers, sir.”

“Oh, was she indeed? Once a month I must have you recount that which you have clearly forgotten. This dammed witch Sycorax was banished from Algiers for innumerable mischiefs and sorceries to vile to recount. They wouldn’t execute her here for one thing. Is this not true?”

“Yes, sir.”

“The hag was brought here pregnant and abandoned by the sailors. You, my slave as you describe yourself, were her slave then. Because you were too delicate to enact her vile and abhorrent commands she, in a consuming rage and assisted by her powerful lackeys imprisoned you in the split of a tree. In that space you lay for a dozen years, in pain. While you were imprisoned she died and you were left to groan endlessly like the wheels of a watermill. Save for that freckled freak she bore there were no humans on this island.”

“Only her son, Caliban.”

“Idiot! Haven’t I said that? Caliban, whom I now keep in service. Only you know the torment I found you in. Your groans made the wolves howl, they touched the hearts of the fiery bear. It was a torment of the dammed, which Sycorax could not undo. When I arrived and heard you, my magic freed you from the tree.”

“I thank you, master.”

“Any more of your antics and I’ll split an oak and place you in it until you’ve howled away another twelve seasons!”

“Pardon, master. I will obey your commands and do my duties without complaint.”

“Do so, and two days from now I will discharge you.”

“That’s my noble master! What shall I do? Say what it is and I shall do it?”

“Turn yourself into a sea nymph. Be subject to the eyesight of none except yours and mine. Go, take this shape, and return to me. Go, quickly and diligently.”

Ariel slipped away to assume his new shape and Prospero returned to his sleeping daughter. He cast his palm across her face gain, but this time forming a breeze: “Awake, dear heart, awake! You have slept well. Awake!”

Slowly Miranda came round.

“The strangeness of your story made me sleepy.”

“Shake of your sleep. Come, we will visit my slave Caliban, who never addressees us appropriately.”

“He’s a villain, sir, I don’t like to look at him.”

“But as it is, we need him. He lights the fire and fetches the wood, and is at our beck and call.”

Prospero walked the short distance to Caliban’s cave.

“Hey! Slave! Caliban! You thing, you! Speak!”

“You have enough wood already!” Caliban yelled from his den.

“Come out, I say! There are other tasks, too. Out, tortoise! When are you planning to come out?”

Then Ariel reappeared as a sea nymph. Prospero was delighted at Ariel’s transformation.

“Very convincing likeness, my talented Ariel! A word in your ear.”

Prospero quietly whispered an instruction into Ariel’s ear, who grinned and replied, “My lord, it shall be done.”

Ariel flew away and Prospero once again turned his attention to Caliban.

“You wicked slave, begotten by the devil and your wicked witch of a mother- come out!”

Caliban stumbled out of the cave. He was deformed and grumpy.

“May a wicked dew as ever my mother blew from a putrid fen with a raven’s feather drop on you both! May a fierce Southwest wind blow on you until you blister all over!”

“For that you’ll be certain to suffer cramps tonight. And side stitches that will have you gasping for breath! Goblins will spend the vast darkness of the night working on you. You’ll be pinched until you skin looks like a honeycomb, each pinch like a bee sting!”

“You’re disturbing my dinner! This island’s mine, inherited from my mother Sycorax and you’ve taken it from me. When you first came you tricked me and made a fuss over me. You gave me water and berries and taught me the names of the big light of the day and the small lights of the night sky. I loved you then and showed you all the features of the island- the fresh water holes and the salt pits, I showed you the barren fields and the fertile ones. Becursed that I did so! All the curses of Sycorax, toads, beetles and bats, fall on you! I am the only subject you have. I was here first, my own king! You keep me in captivity and ban me from the rest of the island.”

“You lying slave, you! Whipping is more effective on you than any amount of kindness. Filth though you are, I’ve treated you humanely and let you sleep in my own cave until you tried to molest my daughter!”

“Oh ho! Oh ho! If only I had! You stopped me- I would have peopled this island with Calibans!”

“You vile slave!” Miranda screamed. “Goodness doesn’t have any effect on you. You’re completely evil! I pitied you. I took the trouble to teach you to read. An hour didn’t pass without me teaching you something knew! Before that, savage, you couldn’t understand your own thoughts and would gabble like a brute. I gave you language to express yourself. But your species, educated or not, is instinctively vile! Therefore you were justly confined to this cave, you actually deserved more than mere prison.”

“You taught me language- my benefit is that I can curse you! May a plague of red rashes kill you for teaching me your language!”

“Away, spawn of a witch!” Prospero bawled. “Fetch us some firewood and be quick about or you’ll have some explaining to do! Are you shrugging, you spiteful article? If you are neglectful or lazy I will punish you with cramps that will make your bones chatter and your squeals will make the beasts tremble.”

“No don’t,” Caliban said meekly while muttering to himself. “I better obey his magic is of such potency it could make a slave of Setebos, my mother’s god!”

“So, slave- away!” Prospero yelled.

Caliban scurried away and for a few moments Miranda and Prospero where alone in the peaceful tropical afternoon. Ariel reappeared, visible to Prospero but not Miranda. Not far behind him was a stranger. A man. It was Ferdinand, King Alonso’s son. Ariel was singing gleefully:
“Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:
Curtsy now and you can kiss;
The wild waves now soothed:
A dance in which none can lose,
And sweet chorus of spirits: Hark, hark.”

“Bow-wow!” an invisible chorus sung.

Ariel sang: “The watchdogs bark!”

“Bow-wow!” the chorus sang again, and then Ariel continued:
“Hark, hark! I hear
The strutting cockerel, the great chanticleer
Cry…..”

Again the chorus complemented Ariel: “Cock-a-doodle-do!”

“Where is the music coming from?” Ferdinand wondered aloud. “Is it from the air or the earth? It’s stopped! Maybe it’s done to appease some gods of the island. I was sitting on the shore weeping for the loss of my father when this music crept up on me. Its sweet air seem to calm the waters as it calmed my soul. I’ve followed it from the shore, or more properly it has led me. But it’s gone. No, it begins again!”

Ariel darted through the air singing his song:
“Full fathoms five your father lies;
Of his bones coral will be made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
There’s nothing of him that doesn’t fade,
Him in the sea has changed
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his death knell…”

At that the chorus began again too: “Ding-dong bell.”

“Hark! Now I hear them, Ding-dong, bell,” Ariel continued.

Ferdinand had listened closely and he was startled: “This song is in remembrance of my father. This is not the behaviour of mortals, or an earthly sound. I hear it now, above me.”

Prospero turned to Miranda: “Open the fringed curtain of your eye and tell me what you see over there in the foliage.”

“What is it? A spirit? Father, it is so inquisitive! Believe me, sir, it’s very attractive but it’s a spirit.”

“No, daughter. It eats and sleeps and has the same senses as ourselves. The gentleman you see was in the shipwreck. And he is very handsome apart from the show of grief which distorts his looks. He has lost his fellow travellers and is looking for them.”

“I might call him divine because in nature I have never seen anything so noble!”

On hearing this Prospero smiled smugly: “Things are going as planned,” he said to himself, and then turned and whispered to Ariel: “Spirit, fine spirit! I’ll free you within two days for this!”

As Prospero and Miranda were talking Ferdinand stumbled from the foliage into the clearing where Prospero had his cave. Ferdinand was as amazed as Miranda.

“Ah, this is the goddess on whom the musicians attend. Pray, may I ask if you live on this island? And may you give me instruction in the protocol of your domain? And my prime request, which I ask last, are you, wondrous woman, a mortal or not?”

“Not a wonder, sir, but I certainly am a girl.”

“My language! Heavens! If I was where it is the native tongue I’d be king!”

“Why do you say that?” Prospero asked. “What would you be if the King of Naples heard you say that?”

“As alone as I am now, but dismayed to hear you speak of the King. He does hear me. And that he does makes me weep- I am the King of Naples. With my own eyes, which have been wet since, I saw my father the King shipwrecked.”

“Oh, mercy!” Miranda said.

“Yes, mercy, and all his lords- the Duke of Milan and his brave son among them.”

“The Duke of Milan and his even braver daughter have news for you, when the time’s right,” Prospero said to himself.

Prospero studied Miranda and Ferdinand closely. It’s love at first sight, he thought. Oh, Ariel, I’ll set you free for this! He then turned to Ferdinand: “Good sir, a word, I think you have misled yourself. A word, a word….”

Prospero’s tone immediately set Miranda panicking. “Oh, why does father exhibit such poor manners? This is only the third man I have ever seen! And the first that caught my eye! May pity incline my father to see things my way!”

“Oh, if you are a virgin and not betrothed to another I will make you Queen of Naples!” Ferdinand said.

“Calm down, sir!” Prospero bawled.

He paused for a moment and thought to himself: They are infatuated with each other so I must create a few obstacles in case a quick race belittles the prize! He spoke again to Ferdinand: “Pay attention! You are a usurper who has come to this island as a spy to seize it from me, its rightful lord!”

“No, I swear!”

“There’s nothing evil that could dwell in such a temple! If evil lived in such handsome abode, the good within would conquer it!” Miranda said, rather doe eyed.

“Follow me,” Prospero said to Ferdinand. “Miranda, don’t you speak for him- he’s a traitor! Come, you, I’ll chain your neck and feet together. You live on saltwater, mussels and roots. Now, follow me!”

“No!” Ferdinand yelled. “I will resist such entertainment until my enemy is more powerful!”

Ferdinand tried to draw his sword on Prospero, but he put a spell on Ferdinand and he froze.

“Oh, dear father, don’t be too hard on him. He’s a gentleman and not aggressive.”

“What! Do I think with my feet?”

Prospero fixed a cold stare on Ferdinand: “Put your sword away, traitor! You try to use your sword but dare not strike because your conscience is plagued by guilt. I can disarm you with my stick and make you drop your weapon.”

Prospero gestured with his staff and Ferdinand’s sword flew from his frozen hand.

“Father, I beg you…” Miranda pleaded, seizing her father’s arm.

“Stop, don’t tug my clothes!” Prospero yelled at Miranda.

“Sir, have pity!”

“Silence! One more word and I will have to discipline you, if not hate you! What! You want to be an advocate for an impostor! Hush! You think men are in short supply because you’ve only seen him and Caliban. You foolish girl! In comparison with most men, he’s a Caliban! And they to him are angels!”

“My tastes are very humble. I have no desire to see a more handsome man.”

Prospero brushed his daughter’s pleas aside and turned once more to Ferdinand: “Come on, and obey! You muscles are like a baby’s, no vigour at all.”

Ferdinand tried to stretch and flex his limbs.

“So they are! My senses feel as if they are suspended in a dream. But the loss of my father, and the loss of all my friends and the threats of this man who has me subdued, are inconsequential as long as I can see this girl once a day from my prison. Let the liberated use every corner of the earth but let me have enough space in my prison!”

It’s working, Prospero told himself.

“Come on!” he said to Ferdinand.

“Ariel, you’ve done well. Now, listen to what else is to be done.”

Miranda ran after her new love: “Don’t worry. My father is much nicer than this situation suggests. This is not at all how he usually behaves.”

“Ariel, you shall be as free as the mountain winds but follow my commands to the letter.”

“To the letter.”

“Come you, follow me!” Prospero bawled at Ferdinand and then warned his daughter, “Miranda, don’t speak for him.”