Modern Prose

1/1 1/2 2/1 2/2 3/1 3/2 3/3 4/1 5/1

The day was passing quickly into night. Only a few hours ago the tempest had beached the survivors on Prospero’s island and now they were about to confront the misdeeds that had brought them here

“Now my project nears its conclusion. My spells are successful and my spirits are obedient, and everything is going according to plan. What time is it, Ariel?”

“Six o’clock. The time you said everything would be done.”

“That I did say when I first raised the tempest. Tell me, my spirit, how fares the King and the survivors?”

“Confined in the manner you instructed, just as you left them. They are all prisoners, stranded in the lime grove which protects your cave from the elements. They cannot budge until you release them. King Alonso and his brother Sebastian and your brother Antonio are morose, with the rest mourning on their account, full of sorrow and dismay. None more so than him you called the good old lord, Gonzalo. His tears run down his beard like the hurricane rains of September. Your spell is so effective if you saw him now you would relent.”

“Do you think so, spirit?”

“I would, sir, if I were human.”

“Then I will. If you Ariel, composed only of air, can be touched by their plight then I, as one of their own who can experience everything in the way that they can, must also be compassionate. Though their wrongs pain me to the quick, I will side with my reason rather than my anger. Forgiveness is more dignified than revenge. If they are penitent then my purpose is over. Ariel, go and release them. I’ll break my spells, their senses will be restored and they again will be themselves.”

“I’ll fetch them, sir,” Ariel said, flying off to the lime grove.

Prospero stood still and pensive. The world he had known for twelve years was about to change. He opened his arms as wide as possible and addressed the invisible forces of the island.

“You elves of hills, brooks, placid lakes and groves! And you invisible spirits that chase Neptune’s waters and then flee when his tides come back! You fairies that by night pattern the grass with sour rings that even the hungry ewes refuse to graze! And you whose pastime is to make mushrooms grow in the sunless midnight and rejoice at the solemn curfew bell! With your aid -minor spirits though you are- I have darkened the noonday sun, summoned ferocious winds, and between the green sea and the azure vault of the sky I have plotted war. To mere thunder I added fire, and split stout oaks- those trees of Jove- with that god’s own thunderbolts. I have made the ocean cliffs shake and plucked pine and cedar by their roots. At my command graves have awakened their sleeping citizens and opened up to release the dead- all this through my potent art. But this crude kind of magic I now renounce. And when I request some heavenly music- which I will do now- to conclude my spell on the survivors’ senses, I will break my staff and bury it in the depths of the earth and in the deepest trenches of the ocean I will drown my magic book!”

When Prospero finished his speech the heavenly music he had requested began and drifted over the survivors of his tempest. Ariel was watching them and led them to Prospero’s cave just as the spell was in its final moments. Alonso was behaving like a mad man. Gonzalo tried to comfort him. Sebastian and Antonio were also behaving like demented men, while Adrian and Francisco attempted to calm them down. Ariel led them onto a prearranged magic circle and Prospero addressed them. He stared at Alonso first.

“A solemn tune, the best comfort for a rancid mind, cure the useless stewing brains contained in your skull! Stay still you lot, you have been struck by a spell. Holy Gonzalo, a man of honour, my eyes cry tears of fellowship. The spell dissolves as speedily as morning catches up on night, so their senses dispel the ignorant mist that clouds their reason. Oh, good Gonzalo, my saviour and a loyal follower of the King! I will reward you in word and deed. Alonso, you most cruelly mistreated me and my daughter, your brother Sebastian was your cohort. How your conscience punishes you now! Antonio, my brother, my own flesh and blood, who entertained ambition and expelled remorse and fraternity from his being! You with Sebastian would have killed your King here. I forgive you, unnatural though you are.”

Prospero paused again and watched as the survivors became liberated from the impact of the spell.

“Ah, their understanding returns like the tide. What is obscure and muddy will be washed clear. None of them can see me yet nor would they recognise me anyway. Ariel, fetch me my hat and rapier from my cave. I will remove this garment and present myself as I did as the Duke of Milan. Quickly, spirit! Your freedom beckons.”

Ariel glided around in ecstasy, knowing that the conclusion of all Prospero’s plan was almost upon them. Ariel began to sing:
“Where the bees sucks, there suck I;
In a cowslip’s bell I lie;
There I rest 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! I shall miss you, but you shall have your freedom. Now go to the King’s ship, invisibly. You will find the mariners asleep under the hatches. When the master and the bosun are awake make them come here. And try to be quick, please.”

“I’ll soar through the air and will be back before your pulse can beat twice!”

Ariel flew away, and as he did so the survivors began to chatter amongst themselves, slowing regaining their logic.

“Torment, trouble, wonder and amazement are all you’ll find on this island!” Gonzalo said. “Some heavenly power guide us from this fearful country!” he pleaded to the sky.

Prospero was now visible to them and he addressed King Alonso first: “Behold, Sir King, the wronged Duke of Milan- Prospero! To assure you that a living prince that is now addressing you I will embrace you.”

Prospero hugged the bewildered monarch like a long lost friend.

“To you and your company I bid a hearty welcome,” Prospero added with a delighted confidence.

“Whether you be he or not, or some piece of the magic I have encountered lately I know not,” King Alonso said. “Your pulse beats as though you are flesh and blood. Upon seeing you the madness I feared hade me in its grasp has lifted. If this is actually happening then it is part of something strange. The dukedom of Milan I relinquish. I beg you to pardon me my wrongs. But how can Prospero be living, and here of all places?”

Prospero smiled and turned then to Gonzalo, for it was with him, of course, the explanation lay: “First, noble friend, let me embrace you, whose honour is immeasurable.”

“Whether this is really happening or not, I too cannot say!” Gonzalo said.

“You are still experiencing the latter effects of this island’s magical powers, which stop you from believing certain things. Welcome, my friends all!” Prospero proclaimed.

Prospero then turned to the scheming and traitorous Sebastian and Antonio: “But upon you my brace of lords, were I so inclined, I could unleash the King’s glare. At this time, I will tell no tales…”

“The devil is speaking through him,” Sebastian whispered to Antonio.

“Not true!” Prospero bawled, glaring at Sebastian.

He then addressed Antonio: “As for you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother would make me ill, but I forgive even your gravest misdeeds. All of them. I require the return of my dukedom, fate has left you no option but to return my title.”

“If you are Prospero,” King Alonso said, “give us the details of how you came to be saved and how you met us here when barely a few hours ago we were shipwrecked on the shore of this island, where I have lost -how sorrowful is the memory- my dear son Ferdinand.”

“My condolences, Sir,” Prospero said softly.

“The loss is irreparable. Patience can never cure it.”

“I rather think you have not sought her help. She is assisting me in a similar loss, and thanks to her help I am now content.”

“You face a similar loss?”

“As great to me, and just as recent. To cope with my loss I have far less resources than you call upon, for I have lost my daughter.”

“A daughter? If only they were both living in Naples, the King and Queen there! If that could be I’d wish myself buried in that muddy ocean grave, where Ferdinand now lies. When did you lose your daughter?”

“In the tempest. I see that these lords look baffled and are speechless by this encounter. They question the reliability of their eyes and search in vain for an explanation. But know this: I am Prospero, the very duke who was expelled from Milan and who, strange though it is, was landed on this shore to be lord of the island on which you have been shipwrecked. No more of that story yet. It would require several days to tell, not a story to be told over breakfast or an initial meeting. Welcome, sir. This cave is my court. Here I have a few attendants, but no colonies abroad. Please, look in. Since my dukedom is mine again I will requite you with the return of something just as good. At the very least I will conjure a wonder as pleasing to you as my dukedom is to me.”

Prospero pulled back a curtain in part of the cave to reveal Ferdinand and Miranda playing chess.

“Sweet lord, how you cheat!” Miranda said in mock-disgust.

“No, my love! I wouldn’t do that for the world!”

“Yes, you would! And even if the wager was a mere score of kingdoms, and I’d call it fair play!”

King Alonso stared speechless and vexed.

“If this proves to be another island trick, one dear son I’ll have lost twice!” King Alonso said tearfully.

“A miracle from Heaven!” Sebastian said.

The young lovers turned from their game to see the guests. Ferdinand looked at his father and back to his future wife as though seeking her confirmation of what he was seeing.

“Though the seas are dangerous, they are also merciful. I have cursed them without reason,” Ferdinand said, and fell to his knees.

“Now all the blessing of a happy father surround you! Arise, son, and tell me how you got here,” King Alonso said to Ferdinand.

“Oh, wonderful! How many manly specimens there are here! How lovely is the male sex! Oh, brave new world that has such people in it!” Miranda squealed.

“It’s just new to you,” Prospero said wryly.

“Ferdinand, who is the young lady with whom you play? Your longest acquaintance can be but three hours. Is she the goddess who separated us and has now brought us together?” King Alonso asked.

“Father, she is mortal. But by immortal Providence she is mine. I chose her when I could not ask my father for advice, indeed thought I no longer had a father. She is the daughter of this famous Duke of Milan, of whom I often heard about but never saw, and from whom I have received a second life. This lady, Miranda, then makes him my father-in-law.”

“I am hers, too. But how oddly it will be for me to ask my child for forgiveness!” King Alonso said sadly.

“There, sir, stop! Let’s not burden the present with the past,” Prospero interrupted.

“I’ve been weeping to myself,” Gonzalo said, “otherwise I would have spoken. Look down, you gods, and drop a blessed crown upon this couple. For it is they who have mapped the route that brought us back together.”

“I say Amen to that, Gonzalo!” the King said.

“Was the Duke of Milan expelled from his dukedom so that his grandsons should become kings of Naples?” Gonzalo said. “Oh, rejoice, rejoice! Carve it on golden pillars: On one voyage Claribel found a husband in Tunis. And Ferdinand, her brother, found a wife when he was lost. Prospero reclaimed his dukedom on a poor island. And all of us discovered ourselves when we were lost.”

“Ferdinand and Miranda, give me your hands,” the King said. “Let grief and sorrow embrace the heart of he who would not wish you joy!”

“Be it so, Amen!” Gonzalo concurred.

Then Ariel invisibly glided back to Prospero. And not far behind him muttering and cursing were the sailors.

“Oh, look sir, look sir!” Gonzalo excitedly yelled as the sailors staggered into view. “Here’s more of our party. Didn’t I prophesy that if a gallows were on land that fellow wouldn’t drown! Now, Bosun Blasphemy, who was happy to throw god’s Grace overboard, where are your oaths now you’re on dry land? Nothing to say with your land legs? What’s the news?”

“The best news is that we have safely found our King and company. The next, our ship- which barely three hours ago we abandoned as it split- is as ready and rigged as when we left Naples,” the bosun said.

“Sir, all this I have done since I left you,” Ariel whispered in Prospero’s ear.

“My accomplished spirit!” Prospero chuckled.

“None of this in natural. It goes from strange to stranger still! Explain how you got here?” King Alonso demanded.

The bosun paused, scratched his head and grimaced.

“If I thought I was wide awake, sir, I would strive to tell you! We were sleeping like the dead and -how we know not- we were prisoners below the decks. Then, just as you’ve heard, a cacophony of strange and peculiar shrieking and howling and a whole chorus of strange sounds, all horrible, awakened us! Instantly we were free! We, as fit as fiddles, then saw our good and gallant ship was ship-shape. The captain cheered at the sight. Then in an instant we were separated from the crew and brought here.”

“Was it well done?” Ariel pleaded of Prospero.

“Superbly, my trusted servant! Soon you shall be free.”

“This is as strange a maze as any man walked! And there is more in this business than the hand of nature. Some oracle must reveal the missing chapter,” King Alonso said.

“King Alonso,” Prospero said, “don’t trouble yourself with the strangeness of this business. At a chosen time in private I will reveal to you the probable cause of all these strange happenings. Till then be cheerful and look at everything positively.”

King Alonso forced a slight fazed smile and Prospero once again to Ariel: “Come here, spirit. Set Caliban and his cronies free. Untie the final strand of my spell!”

Ariel once more glided away to enact the last chapter.

“King Alonso, are you all right?” Prospero asked, seeing the King was still amazed by everything that had happened. “There are still a few of your lads missing.”

The King was about to speak when the ragtag trio of Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo were led to the cave by Ariel. They were still drunk and oblivious to what had happened and what was happening now. Stephano was bawling, totally oblivious to King Alonso.

“Every man take care of everyone else! Let no man take care of himself! It’s all down to fortune! Cour-age, bully monster, cour-age!”

“If the eyes in my head are reliable this is something to see!” Trinculo said, clearly more sober and logical than Stephano.

Caliban was captivated, just as he had been by the appearance of Stephano, all over again.

“Oh, Setebos, what wonderful spirits are these! How fine my master looks! I’m afraid he’ll punish me!” Caliban said, grovelling to Prospero.

“Ha, ha, my lord Antonio,” Sebastian said, “what things are these? Will money buy them?”

“Very likely!” Antonio said, his money racing with ideas at the sight of Caliban. “That fish certainly has commercial possibilities!”

“Mark the garments these gentlemen are wearing and then judge their honesty,” Prospero said. “As for this misshapen knave, his mother was a witch, one so satanic that she could control the moon, and alter the tides of the oceans without the moon’s permission. These three have robbed me – this half devil, Caliban, plotted with the sailors to murder me. Two of these fellows you must know and own. This thing of darkness is mine.”

“He’ll have me pinched to death!” Caliban squealed.

“Is that not Stephano, my drunken butler?” King Alonso asked.

“He’s drunk now. Where did he get the wine?” Sebastian asked.

“And Trinculo is not far off it,” the King added. “Where could they find alcohol to leave them so drunk? Trinculo, how did you come to be so stewed?”

“I’ve been in such a pickle since we last met that I’m preserved like marmalade!” Trinculo said rather grandly.

“How are you, Stephano?” Sebastian said, mockingly.

“Oh don’t touch me! I’m not Stephano. I’m a hangover with legs!”

“Erstwhile King of the Island, eh?” Prospero snapped.

“I’d have been a sore one,” Stephano said.

“I’ve never seen anything so strange,” King Alonso said, pointing to Caliban.

“He is as ugly in his manners as he is in his being!” Prospero said. “Get to my cave, creature. Take your cronies with you. If you’re looking for my forgiveness you better watch your step.”

“I will! I will! From now on I will be sensible and seek your approval. What a three times and double it fool I was to take this drunkard for a god and worship this dull joker!” Caliban lamented.

“Enough! Away, now!” Prospero yelled, with just a hint of pity.

“Yes, and put your booty back where you found it,” King Alonso said.

“Or stole it, rather,” Sebastian added.

Stephano and Trinculo meekly discarded their stolen robes and Caliban followed them away.

“King Alonso,” Prospero said, “I invite Your Highness and the party to my meagre cave, where you can rest for this one night. I will take the time to spend our company in discourse that will enable the night to pass swiftly. I will tell you the story of my life since Milan and the details of my residency on this island. In the morning I will take you to your ship and then we will depart for Naples, where I hope to witness the marriage of our children. Then I will retire to Milan, where every third thought will be of my grave.”

“I long to hear this story, which will surely tantalise my ears!” the King said.

“I will tell you everything. And I promise you calm seas, auspicious winds and a journey so swift it will catch the royal fleet already en route to Naples, no matter how far off.”

King Alonso smiled and Prospero subtly gestured for Ariel to come closer: “What I have just said are you orders. Fulfil them and then be as free as the air, farewell my little spirit, farewell.”

Ariel soared on Prospero’s orders for the last time and set about conjuring perfect weather for the journey to Naples.

“Come, gentlemen, join me in my cave.”

Prospero ushered the royal party into his cave and when they were all inside he let the curtain fall behind him, he stood for a few moments alone in the moonlight to address the world:
“Now my charms are finished,
And what strength I have is mine,
Which is faint. Now it’s true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
On this bare island by your spell.
But release 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 pardoned be,
Let your applause set me free.”

He broke his staff and threw into in the air and sighed when he heard it splash on the sea. He paused briefly then threw the rest of his books too. The skills of Prospero were gone. The salty sea dissolved the ink in which the formulae were written and the two parts of the staff were swept away in different directions. Prospero’s magic was lost. The fate of man once more beholden to the random genius of life.