Many people don’t read Shakespeare, but simply know about him. They laugh and play with the language, but they really don’t want to read anything written in Shakespearean language because they consider it hard to understand. Of course! Language is living because we are living. We are constantly changing, and when we use our language, we are constantly changing the language. We add new words. We add new meanings to words. We stop using other words. We recalculate how verbs should be conjugated (changed for time like past, present, and future). Shakespeare wrote his plays in 1611, and is it 2016. That is a long time for the language to change. For example, if we were to say “The Tempest” today, we would say “The Big Storm at Sea.” When I was a middle school and high school English teacher in America once upon at time, I tried to introduce a Shakespearean play to my students. I had a movie from the library, and the students were at a complete loss! They couldn’t understand it. I found myself translating from English to English for them. I understand these things because I am an avid reader and became an English major. There are lots of interesting Shakespearean plays, but we skip over lots of them because they are hard to understand, so I decided occassionally, I will relate the story of one of the plays for you in modern English. This time, I will relate the story of “The Tempest.”
The play begins with Prospero and Miranda. Prospero is the father and Miranda is his daughter. Prospero has been banished from Italy, and went to live on an island in the sea with his infant daughter. Miranda has no memory of Italy. All she knows is the time they have been living on the island.
They lived in a cave on the island. There were several rooms in the cave. He called one of the rooms his study. In this room, he kept his magic books. The books had been left on the island by a witch named Sycorax who had died shortly before they arrived on the island. Prospero had studied magic back home and was delighted to find all the magic books and continued his study. Sycorax had put a spell on the island and every living thing and every spirit on the island had become a tree, a rock, or some kind of plant except her son Caliban. Caliban was cursed to be very ugly and very dumb because of his mother practiced black magic and wished others ill. Sycorax died before Prospero got to the island, but Caliban was still there. Caliban couldn’t talk when Prospero met him, but Prospero taught him to speak, and Caliban became Prospero’s servant because his mother had taught him so many terrible things that being a servant was all he could do.
Sycorax had imprisoned many good spirits on the island in trees because they refused to do the terrible things she asked them to do. Prospero undid the spell for many of these spirits, and they were very grateful when he freed them. They all became Prospero’s servants. The chief of these spirits was named Ariel. Ariel liked to play jokes and played a lot of mischievous jokes on Caliban. Ariel was the one who also gave Caliban the orders that Prospero asked him to do. When Caliban didn’t do the work, Ariel tormented him.
Since all these powerful spirits were at Prospero’s command, he was able to even control the waves in the sea. He would summon a large storm, winds,,etc. that would threaten to swallow ships. One day, Prosperso showed Miaranda, his daughter, a large ship at sea. He told her there were people like her and him on the ship. Miranda asked him to have pity on the ship and not sink it. She was worried that the ship was going to hit the rocks and be completely destroyed and all the people would die. She said if she had the power, she would sink the sea under the ship before she would smash the ship.
Prospero told her not to be afraid. He wasn’t planing on destroying the ship or hurting anyone. He told her that he had brought the ship there to take care of her. He reminded her that she didn’t know who she was or where she came from. Then asked, “Am I not right? What can you remember?’ She confirmed what he said by saying, “You are right. I can’t remember back beyond the time I was three years old, and we were on this island.” She added, “However, sometimes, I have a dream, and I wonder if they were memories. Were there at one time four or five women who waited on me and took care of me?” Propero confirmed that she was right, that it was not a dream, but actually happened, then he asked, How on earth do you remember that?’ After that he asked, “Do you remember how we came to this island?” Miranda responded saying she didn’t remember anything else.
Properso begins to tell her who he actually is. He says, “We came here 12 years ago. Before we came here, I was Duke of Milan, and you were a princess, and my only heir. I trusted my younger brother, Antonio, with everything. I let him run the state while I stayed in my study and studied. I shouldn’t have trusted him. I was so busy getting smarter by studying every book I could find! Antonio began thinking he was the Duke instead of me. Because I let him run the government so much, he became very popular with my subjects, and they forgot me. Antonio had too much ambition, and he teamed up with the King of Naples, a powerful prince who didn’t like me, to get rid of me.”
Miranda asked, “Why didn’t they just kill us?” Her father replied, “They didn’t dare. The people loved me. Antonio forced us onto a ship. When we were some leagues out to sea, he forced us into a row boat. He didn’t give us even a sail or tackle so we could fish, or anything. He thought we would die. He didn’t know that Gonzolo, a lord of my court, had secretly put water, provisions, clothes, and books in the life boat. I treasure those things above being a Duke because they kept us alive.”
Miranda responded by saying, “Oh, I was so small! It must have been so hard for you to take care of me!”
Properso returned in saying, “You were no problem. You were a gift from God. I lived because of you. Our food lasted until we came to this deserted island. My whole life became taking care of you and teaching you. You brought me happiness, and you have learned all your lessons wonderfully!”
“I am thankful to God for the lessons you have taught me. Now, why did you raise this storm at sea?” Properso responded, “Because of this storm, Antonio and the King of Naples have been cast ashore on our island.”
After he said that, he touched her with his magic wand, and she fell asleep because Ariel had just arrived to give his report about what he had done with the ship and the people on it. You see, Miranda couldn’t see the spirits, and Prospero didn’t want her to see him talking to thin air.
Propero directed his attention to Ariel, “How are things going, my friend?” Ariel responded by saying, “All the people on the ship are safely ashore, but they are not together, and they all think that the others have died. The son of the king of Naples was also on the ship, and he is sitting on the beach crying because he thinks his dad is dead even though he isn’t. The Prince is all wet, but he and his clothes are in perfect condition.”
Properso said to Ariel, “Wonderful! A job well done! Bring the prince here so my daughter can see him. Where is the king and my brother?” Ariel said, “The last time I saw them they were looking for Prince Ferdinand. They think he is dead. Everyone else is separated and think they are the only survivor even though they all survived. The ship is fine too, but I have made it invisible, so they can’t see it.”
Propero commended him saying, “You have done an excellent job! There is more to do, though.” Ariel responded to him saying, “There is more? Please remember that you promised to free me. I have done everything you asked me to do. I haven’t lied or made mistakes, and I have done it all happily.”
“Don’t you remember that you were in complete torment when I freed you? Have you forgotten the wicked witch Sycorax who imprisoned you in that tree? Remember how ugly she was? She was completely bent double. Tell me more about her. Where was she born?” Replied Prosperso.
Ariel responded, “She was from Algiers.” Properso continued, “Do I have to tell you again how I found you? What Sycorax did to you and others was so bad it should never be spoken! She had done such terrible things in Algiers that she was banished from Algiers, and some sailors left her here. When she found you, you were too good inside to do the bad things she asked you to do, and she was angry, so she shut you up in that tree, and I found you howling in pain and anguish, so I freed you!”
“Oh, I am so sorry, dear Prosperso. I didn’t mean to seem ungrateful. I will do whatever you ask” said Ariel ashamed of what he had said before.
Properso then said to Ariel, “Just continue doing what I ask a little longer, and I will free you.” Propero then gave Ariel further instructions on what to do with the people who had been tossed ashore in the storm, and Ariel left Prospero to do what he had asked and went to where Prince Ferdinand was still sitting on the grass extremely sad.
When Ariel saw Ferdinand, he said in a voice Ferdinand couldn’t hear, ” Oh, young gentleman, I have to take you to see Miranda so she can see how good looking you are. Follow me,” and then Ariel began singing, “Your father is under the sea. His bones are coral, you see. Those pearls were his eyes. Nothing of him is gone, but there has been a change into something rich and strange. Sea nymphs hourly ring the bell. I can hear them now! Ding-dong, bell!” Strangely, Ferdinand could hear the song and got up and began following the strange song about his father. He followed as if he were in a trance all the way to Prospero and Miranda.
The only man Miranda had ever seen was here father. When Properso saw Ferdinand approaching, he said to Miranda, “What do you see there?” She responded, “Oh father! It must be a spirit because it is so beautiful! It is a spirit, isn’t it?” Her father replied, “No, girl, he is like us, a person. He was on the ship. He doesn’t look as good as he could look because he is so upset thinking his father has died, but I can see this young man is still good looking. He is looking for the others from the ship.”
Miranda had thought all men had gray hair, beards, and serious faces like her dad and was thrilled with Ferdinand’s looks. When Ferdinand saw Miranda, he thought she was completely beautiful! He couldn’t understand how anyone could be on this deserted island. Since the song he had heard seemed to come from another world, he concluded that Miranda must be some sort of goddess and began talking to her as if she were a goddess.
Miranda responded to him saying, “I’m not a goddess. I am simply a girl.” She was going to tell Ferdinand who she was when Prospero interrupted. He could see that they had fallen in love at first sight, and it was fine with him, but he wasn’t going to let it happen so easily. He wanted them to work for it. He came to Ferdinand and said with a stern voice, “You are a spy! You came here to take my island! I am going to tie you up, and you will drink sea water and eat withered roots and acorn husks!”
“Not on your life!” replied Fedinand. “I am not going to be treated like that! I am more powerful than you are!” and he drew his sword! Prospero waved his wand, and Ferdinand couldn’t move.
Miranda didn’t like what her father had done, “Why are you so mean? Have pity on him! I will vouch for him! He is the second man I have ever seen, and he seems to be a good one.” said Miranda.
Prospero responded to her saying, “One more word from you, and I will scold you! He is an impostor! Why on earth do you defend him? The only men you have ever seen are me, Caliban, and him. Most men are so much better than him. He may be a mile above Caliban, but most men are a mile above him. You are silly!” He said this to try to make sure his daughter really loved this guy. She replied, “He is exactly what I want. I don’t need anyone better.”
Propero addressed himself to Ferdinand, “Come on! You have to obey everything I say.”
Ferdinand replied to Prospero, “No I don’t!” However, he found that he couldn’t do anything except what Prospero told him to do. He didn’t know it was through magic and was amazed at himself. Ferdinand followed Prospero just as Prospero had commanded. They went into the cave. Ferdinand said as he went, “I seem to have no will of my own. I feel like I am in a prison. I can’t do what I want. I have to follow this man, but I want to go back and be with the beautiful girl.”
Prospero didn’t keep Ferdinand long. They came back outside soon, then Prospero gave Ferdinand a hard job making sure that Miranda knew what he was doing. After that, Prospero pretended to have something to do in the cave and went back inside letting Ferdinand continue working.
King’s sons were not accustomed to hard labor, but Prospero had forced Ferdinand into stacking heavy logs of wood on one another. After working a bit, Ferdinand was almost dying he was so tired. It upset Miranda to see how tired Ferdinand was and she tried to get him to take a rest saying her father was inside, and he could stop and rest. Ferdinand replied, “Oh, sweet girl, I can’t. I have to finish, then I can rest.”
Miranda said, “If you will sit down a few minutes, I will do your job while you are sitting,” but Ferdinand wouldn’t agree to it. Instead of being a help, Miranda became a hindrance because she just kept bothering him wanting him to stop, and the job went much slower.
Prospero was not in the cave with his books as they both thought. He had become invisible and was standing there watching and listening to them.
Ferdinand asked, “What is your name, pretty lady?” Miranda replied, “My name is Miranda, but don’t tell my dad I told you because he doesn’t like me to tell anyone my name.”
Prospero smiled because his daughter had never disobeyed him. He knew it was because of his magic that she had fallen in love at first sight, but he wasn’t angry that she showed her love by going against his wishes. Prospero kept listening to their conversation, and Ferdinand told Miranda he loved her more than any woman he had ever met. He also said to Miranda, “You are the most beautiful woman in the world!” Miranda replied, “I have never seen another woman or any men except you and my father. I don’t know what people are supposed to look like. However, I don’t want to be with anyone but you, and I can’t imagine anyone I want to look at more. Oh my, I am talking too much! I am forgetting everything my father taught me!”
When Prospero heard this, he smiled thinking, “This is happening just as I want it to happen. My daughter will be the Queen of Naples!” After that, Ferdinand addressed Miranda again saying, “One day, I will be the King of Naples, and you will be my Queen.” Miranda wept tears of joy! She responded saying, ” I am crazy for crying because I am happy! I will be your Queen if you marry me!”
Just then, Prospero decided to make himself visible, and it prevented Ferdinand from answering. Prospero said, “I have been listening, and I approve of everything you guys have said! Ferdinand, I am sorry for treating you so badly, and to make amends, I will give you Miranda as your wife! I was just testing you when I gave you hard jobs, and you have passed the test. You may marry my daughter! She is wonderful, and I am not bragging!” At that point, Prospero excused himself to go and take care of some business and told Miranda and Ferdinand that they could sit and visit and get to know one another better while he was gone.
When he left, Prospero called Ariel to find out what had happened to his brother, Antonio, and the King of Naples. Ariel said, “I have left them hungry and scared out of their senses! As they were wandering about trying to find their way, they became extremely hungry. At that point, I put a huge, delicious meal before them. Just when they were about to eat, I made a harpy appear!” (A harpy is a Roman and Greek god that looks like a woman with wings, and is completely crazy! They come and eat all the food as quickly as possible–This is my explanation, not part of the story.) “The food disappears, and then the harpy screams at them saying all the hard things they are going through right now are their own faults because of the way they treated Prospero and Miranda. The harpy reminds them that they left you and your baby daughter to die. After that, both the King of Naples and Antonio, your brother, actually became sorry for the bad things they did to you guys, and I truly think their sorry is real, and they have changed, and I want to pity them.”
Finally, Prospero says to Ariel, “Good! Bring them to me! If a spirit could pity them, then I can have pity on them too because I am a human being like they are. Bring them to me, my old friend!”
Ariel makes strange music again like he did to make Ferdinand follow him, and the King of Naples, Antonio, and Gonzolo follow the music wondering where it is coming from. They come to where Prospero is.
Antonio and the King of Naples were so upset they had no idea who he was or where they were. When Prospero sees Gonzolo, he is thrilled saying, “My old friend! It is so nice to see you! Thank you so much for the provisions you put on the life boat! Without them, Miranda and I would have died!” At that point, Antonio and the King of Naples realized who Prospero was.
Antonio crying addressed Prospero, “Oh brother! I am so sorry for what I did! I don’t know how I could have treated someone like you so badly! Can you forgive me?” The King of Naples followed suit saying, “We did a terrible thing! We should never have treated you like that! I am sorry too!” Prospero said, “Don’t worry, I forgive you both.” At that point, the King of Naples and Antonio told Prospero he could be the Duke of Naples again. Prospero responded saying, “I have a gift for you too,” and then he showed them Ferdnand and Miranda playing chess.
The King of Naples was overjoyed that his son was alive, and Ferdinand was ecstatic to see his father was well because each thought the other had drown in the storm.
Miranda decided to pipe in saying, “This is wonderful! These people are so nice! If the world is full of people like this, I will enjoy it so much!” The King of Naples was almost as astonished by Miranda’s beauty as his son had been, “Who is this beautiful girl? Is she a goddess that has brought us all back together?’ “No, father,” replied Ferdinand, “She is a human being just as we are. I made the same mistake when I first encountered her. She is so beautiful, and that beauty is now mine. We plan to marry. I am sorry, I thought you were dead, and I asked her without your permission. She is Prospero’s daughter. Prospero is the famous Duke of Milan I have heard about. He saved me, and now he will be my father in law because he said I could marry his daughter.”
“That means that I will be Miranda’s father in law too. Oh my! How strange it is that we should have a close relationship, but I am going to have to ask her forgiveness!”
Prospero decided to speak, “Oh, stop it! Let’s forget what happened in the past because now we are all happy.” Then, Prospero hugged his brother saying it was all just a big accident that he and Miranda had been put to sea and ended up on the island, concluding by saying, “And, now we are all together and happy again by some big miracle!” He then explained that he was happy that Ferdinand loved Miranda. Prospero’s kindness made Antonio cry, and Gonzolo was also so touched he began to cry.
At that point Prospero said, “Your ship is fine, and all the sailors are aboard. In the morning, we will go with you, and we will all go home together.” With that, Prospero called Caliban and had him set the table and prepare a nice evening meal for them. The others were astonished at how ugly Caliban was and that he had been Prospero’s only servant all this time.
Before they left the island, Prospero called Ariel and told him he was free. Ariel had wanted to be free for so long! He began singing about flying through the air like a bird, enjoying the trees, and enjoying the fruit and flowers. Prospero said, “Ariel, you are a good friend, and I am going to miss you.” Ariel replied, “Let me help you get home quicker. I can make wind for your sails. Let me go with you before we depart from one another. When I am free, I will live so happily!” He began to sing again:
“The bees and I gather honey from the flowers; I sleep in the flowers! That is where I hide when the owls are crying! I jump on the back of a bat for a ride when they are flying! Everything is summer now! I will live happily every after, in the flowers!”
Prospero dug a deep hole and buried his magic books and wand. He decided never to practice magic again. He was so happy that he had overcome his enemies and was reconciled to his brother and the King of Naples! He looked forward to seeing his native land again, to be the Duke of Naples again, and to see his daughter get married to a future King. Because Ariel took care of them on the way home, they arrived back in Italy quickly, safe, and sound.
–The play is over. I hope you enjoyed reading it in a more modern version as a story.