Page images

a faint star, trembling and streaming along with a sparkling blaze, half the height upon the main-mast, and shooting sometimes from shroud to shroud, tempting to settle as it were upon any of the four shrouds.'1 Nevertheless, when the ship's company set foot upon the dreaded island, they found the ayre temperate . . and the country abundantly fruitfull.'2 But the 'divels' which they did not find they bred; for 'divers discontents nourished amongst us had like to have been the parents of bloody issues and mischiefs.'3

Something like a first sketch was here given of Shakespeare's shipwreck, a hint of the bickerings and conspiracies of the crew, and some elementary suggestions of the island scenery. Here, for the first and last time, Shakespeare touched that world of sea-marvel which it was reserved for the poet of The Ancient Mariner finally to annex to English poetry. The sea-wonders of the inland-bred poet are not evolved, like those of Coleridge, from the horrors of solitary wandering in 'a wide, wide sea.' They belong to the sea only in its dealings with the shore, to the seafarer only in his dealings with strange lands. Elves and sea-nymphs dance with printless foot upon the yellow sands and toll the knell of the drowned; unseen spirits mock the stranded seamen with the semblance of baying watchdogs and crowing cocks in farms on shore. And all the subtle poetic suggestiveness of the enchanted legend of the Bermudas seems to have been cunningly distilled in Ariel-the spirit of wind and fire, who sweeps the ship irresistibly to its 'deep nook' on the shore, and 'flames amazement' on its masts.1

1 Strachey.

2 Jourdain.

3 Howe's continuation of Stowe's Annals, quot. by Delius. 4 The name Ariel, glossed by

Shakespeare as 'an ayrie spirit' may have been taken from the great popular repertory of supernatural lore, Heywood's Hierarchy of Angels. But the

Shakespeare's island, however, is much more than a poetically sublimated 'Isle of Divels.'1 To the supernatural prodigies of the uninhabited Bermudas was added a sample of the human wonders of the new world, of the aborigines and 'strange fishes' which the Elizabethan townsman gaped at as they were landed in the little havens of Dorset and Devon, or paid his ten doits to see in the booths of a country fair. Both aspects of the Isle are cunningly compounded and transcended in the 'fishlike man-monster, offspring of a devil and a witch.'2

Into this scenery Shakespeare has transported the traditional story of the banished prince, blending them in a marvellously harmonious whole.

The haunted island is subdued to the art of Prospero, and an undisciplined democracy of irresponsible spirits turned into a despotically ordered realm. Ariel becomes his minister and Caliban his slave, and his enemies from first to last are merely automatons of his art. Power so absolute, so unshadowed by a suspicion of remorse or fear, belongs to romance rather than to drama. In this romantic absoluteness Prospero differs from all other enchanters of the Elizabethan stage. There is as little trace in him of the tragic compunctions and misdoubts of

character is Shakespeare's own, 'Ariel' being there associated withEarth.'

1 That it was not meant literally to be 'the Bermudas' or any other earthly island is obvious from the deliberate blending of the geography of the Mediterranean with the marvels of the Indies. Resolute efforts were made by the older critics to fix its site in Lampedusa (Hunter, Douce), Corcyra (Bell), or the Bermudas, from which last in

i. 2. 229 it is expressly distinguished.


2 The name of Sycorax has not been explained. W. W. Lloyd too learnedly interpreted it as uxoppń, 'heart-breaker.' Lamb identified her with a historical witch of Algiers. name Setebos was taken from Eden's History of Travayle (1577), where it is the name of a Patagonian god. Several of the names of the shipwrecked courtiers likewise occur there.

Faustus as of the impostures of Jonson's Alchemist. Nor does it occur to any one in the drama to question the lawfulness of his art. Antonio himself had never thought, like Caliban in Renan's brilliant sequel, of inviting the Inquisition to deal with the secret student of necromancy. But Prospero is detached as completely from the traditional aims of magic as from its actual perils. If he was originally prompted to it, like Faustus, by the Humanist's passion for knowledge and power, he has long been emancipated, as Faustus never is, from the egoism of either passion, and uses his giant's strength, like a divine providence, first to bring a crew of criminals to justice, and then to extend to them the 'rarer virtue of mercy.' Before this, in tragedy, and in the quasi-tragic comedy of Measure for Measure, Shakespeare had drawn with pathos, or with irony, the endeavours of a Brutus, or a Vincentio, to take arms against evil. Prospero, the creation of a serener mood, clearly stands on a different plane of reality. More daringly detached from experience than any other purely human character in Shakespeare, he is drawn with a seriousness of conviction, and charged with a wealth of ethical suggestion, which belong in poetry only to the σκίαι τῶν ὄντων, the shadows of things that are. That more is symbolised than expressed in him every one feels. It is rash to define too peremptorily Shakespeare's thoughts; but that wonderful first decade of the seventeenth century, which had witnessed Shakespeare's achieved creation and Bacon's hardly less stupendous vision of discovery, could hardly have found an apter emblematic close.

Prospero makes the enchantments of the island the instruments of his art; its new-world simplicity is a condition of Miranda's virginal charm. That it was not the sole or the chief condition is thrust upon us

with almost violent emphasis in the contrasted picture of Caliban, bred in the same island and by the same hand, but void of the saving birthright of noble race and inherited civility, so that upon his nature 'Nurture will never stick.' This contrast has a kind of inverted counterpart in the several groups of the wrecked crew-samples of civilised breeding at its best and worst ;-from Ferdinand, almost the peer of Miranda, and 'holy' Gonzalo, the kindly friend of Prospero, to the traitors, Antonio and Sebastian, and the dregs of humanity, Stephano and Trinculo, in whose vulgar cynicism Caliban himself, with his pathetic awe, his naïve poetry of wonder, finds a foil.

The slightness of its plot-interest has not prevented The Tempest from exercising a fascination upon poșterity which in kind and variety belongs to no other play. It combines the profound and inexhaustible intellectual suggestiveness of Hamlet with the enchanted scenery, the piquant invention, the lyrical loveliness of the Midsummer-Night's Dream. It amused Pepys by its 'innocence,' and furnished new instruments of expression to a Browning and a Renan.

In its own century The Tempest served to some extent as an early edition of Robinson Crusoe. The honours of fame were fairly divided between Miranda and Caliban. 'The woman who had never seen a man' was a piquant conception, over which Fletcher in The Sea Voyage and Sir John Suckling in The Goblins (pr. 1646) drew the trail of their grosser fancy. After the Restoration it was witnessed by thronged houses with half-unwilling delight faithfully reflected in the naïve records, already mentioned, or Pepys (1667-8). Dryden, nearly at the same time, paid The Tempest the ambiguous compliment of an adaptation in The Enchanted Island (produced in 1667, published in 1670). Nothing can better illus

trate Shakespeare's admirable economy in the use of the marvels at his command, than this bustling composition of an ingenious playwright intent solely upon stage-effect. The banished Duke of Milan is doubled with an heir to the duchy of Mantua, and 'the woman who has never seen a man' with 'a man who has never seen a woman,' carefully secluded in another part of the cave. Ariel has a mistress, and Caliban a sister, Sycorax, who marries Trinculo. There is much cleverness in all this, and some wisdom; for Dryden perfectly understood that, as he confessed in the Prologue,

Shakespeare's magic could not copied be.

[ocr errors]

Twelve years later he showed by a masterly appreciation of Caliban (in The Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy, 1679) that he had penetrated further than any contemporary into the methods of that magic. In our own century no one has ventured, on this elaborate scale, to make good the economies of Shakespeare; but the unexhausted zest of single aspects of the Isle has repeatedly overpowered the usual reluctance of wise men to carry further the stories which Shakespeare left half told. The voyage home to Naples proved adventurous in the hands of F. C. Waldron, whose The Virgin Queen, a melodrama, appeared in 1797. But it is chiefly the story of Caliban that has arrested the imagination of modern Europe. The grovelling worshipper of drink and Freedom' became in the hands of Renan an embodiment of prosperous and unspiritual democracy; and Browning elicited from the poor cowerer before the terrors of his dam's god Setebos the subtlest expression of the being of 'natural theology.' And among the imaginative progeny of The Tempest must be reckoned a long line of critical interpretations.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »