The Tempest : Between Apollo and Dionysus
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
This music of the isle Caliban is talking
about to Stephano and Trinculo is, of course linked to Ariel’s music and
songs, as the spectators have already heard it, and as is immediately seen
when the group of grotesque characters follow Ariel’s music, being thus diverted
from their murderous plot:
The sound is going away. Let’s follow it, and after do our work.
Ariel’s Orphic quality is emphasized several
times in the play, as, for instance, when he drags the supposedly drowned
crew to the shore with his song “Come unto these yellow sands” (1.2.374-387),
or when he sends a musical message to Ferdinand, “Full Fathom Five” (1.2.397-405).
Opposite Ariel stands Caliban, half-human, half-beast, at least in Trinculo’s
What have we here - a man or a fish? - dead or alive? A fish: he
smells like a fish; a very ancient and fish-like smell; a kind of not of
the newest Poor-John. A strange fish! Were I in England now, as once I was,
and had but this fish painted, not a holiday fool there but would give a piece
of silver: there would this monster make a man; any strange beast there makes
Moreover, Caliban’s carnal proclivities,
which are contrasted with Ariel’s ethereal quality, and his confederacy with
drunkards clearly sets him on the side of Dionysus, the god of the vine
(Bacchus in Roman mythology) with his train of satyrs and maenads, among
which Pan whose musical contest with Apollo was a well-known topos in the
Perhaps at this stage, it would be a good idea to review
the myths of Dionysus and Orpheus, since they form the background of the
Dionysus is a god whose origin is in Thrace (Greece). He is the son of
Zeus and Semele who was tricked by Hera (Zeus’ wife) into asking Zeus to
appear to her in full majesty. Semele was thus consumed by his flames. At
the time she was pregnant with Zeus’ son, Dionysus, which the god saved by
enclosing him in his own thigh until the time of birth. Thus Dionysos is
also known as “the twice born” or “Dithyrambos”. Dionysus enforced his own
cult on many people during his travels, and punished those who resisted him
with destroying madness. Several stories of madness are known, the most famous
one immortalized by Euripides in his play The Bacchae, in which the king
of Thebes, Pentheus, is dismembered by his own mad mother, Agave, and the
female followers of Dionysus, the Maenads. It is interesting to note that
the Maenads are also the females who dismembered Orpheus.
Orpheus is not a god but what is usually called a “hero”.
The son of King Œagre (himself son of Ares, and thus grandson of Zeus and
Hera) and the muse Calliope (the muse of epic poetry), he is also said to
be the son of Apollo. In any case, he received a 7-string lyre from Apollo,
which he turned into a 9-string instrument in honour of the 9 muses. It is
also said that he was initiated into the mysteries of the god Dionysus, by
his father Œagre. As we can see, the link between Orpheus and Dionysus is
strong, and through Orpheus, it is with Apollo that Dionysus is contrasted.
Orpheus’ power was to tame the beast with his harmony. Orpheus’ wife Eurydice
having died of a serpent’s bite, Orpheus went to the underworld to fetch
her back and convinced Hades to let him bring her back to earth. Hades agreed
on condition that Orpheus should not look back at her, which, of course,
he did. After losing Eurydice a second time, Orpheus forsook the love of women
and was consequently put to death and dismembered by the Maenads.
So, these are the myths that underly the
text of The Tempest. This, of course, is not to say that the play is a mere
representation of the myths, and that the characters represent those of the
myth. what it means is that the play uses elements of the myths as a background,
to generate and convey a number of ideas linked with the themes of the play
and the relationship between the characters. The myths also provide spectacular
images and scenes. What is particularly striking, of course, is that both
myths are related to art forms : music (Orpheus and Apollo), theatre (Dionysus
- Greek tragedy started in Athens, in 5th century B.C., during the annual
festival in honour of Dionysus). The Tempest itself, is a reflection on
the art of the theatre and its magic, and on the power of illusion. Prospero
appears both as a demiurge and a stage director, manipulating characters-actors,
props, costumes, staging a play-within-a play, even a masque.
In a sense, Prospero’s rejection from his
own dukedom of Milan recalls Dionysus rejection from Thebes, and Prospero’s
vengeance, when he conjures up the tempest to wreck the ship, and drown her
crew, and her passengers, provides an analogue to the dismemberment of Pentheus.
However, this “dismemberment” is a beginning, not and end, and it is mere
illusion. It functions as a tabula rasa which erases the false order established
by usurpation, and then allows Prospero to reconstruct a new order. Because
of Prospero’s position as master of ceremony and stage director, the whole
play functions as a metaphor of comedy, moving from disorder to order, sterility
to fertility and regeneration. Thus the potential tragic elements contained
in the opening scene are at once annhilated when Prospero reassures Miranda
(and the audience), stating that the tempst is an illusion created by him
with the help of Ariel - his stage manager, as it were. The tragic undertones
linger throughout the play, in particular with the resurgence of the Dionysac
element , in the drunken plot of Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano, who
serve as analogue to Dionysus’ train of drunken satyrs. However, Prospero
is constantly aware of what is going on and makes their plot his own, never
allowing it to develop beyond a certain point. With the help of Ariel’s
music and the Apollonian element, he “tames” the “beasts” whose evil doings
are rendered inefficient. Indeed, Caliban’s description of the way to kill
Prospero sounds like Dionysiac frenzy:
Why, as I told thee, ‘tis a custom with him
I’ th’ afternoon to sleep. there thou mayst brain him,
Having first seized his books; or with a log
Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake,
Or cut his weasand with a knife.
In the parallel way, it is in a sort of
trance that Sebastian listens to Antonio’s plot to kill Alonso, the Duke of
speaks thee, and
My strong imagination sees a crown
Dropping upon thy head.
What, art thou waking ?
Do you not hear me speak?
I do, and surely
It is a sleepy language, and thou speak’st
Out of thy sleep. What is it thou didst say?
This is a strange repose, to be asleep
With eyes wide open - standing, speaking, moving,
And yet so fast asleep.
Their murderous hands are stopped in time
by Ariel who “sings in Gonzalo’s ear” and draws him out of sleep:
while you here do snoring lie,
His time doth take.
If of life you keep a care
shake off slumber, and beware.
here and his “taming the beast” works by proxy, and it is Gonzalo who unwittingly,
stops the murderous plot. Ariel’s Orphic action has been established from
the start. After managing the storm, he uses music to draw the noble men
and the crew to the shore:
Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands.
Curtsied when you have, and kissed
The wild waves whist,
Foot it featly here and there,
And sweet sprites bear
The burden. Hark, hark!
(Burden dispersedly) Bow-wow.
The watch dogs bark.
(Burden dispersedly) Bow-wow.
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting Chanticleer
Cry cock a diddle dow;
(Burden dispersedly) Cock a diddle dow.
What is particularly interesting here is
the way the song develops the idea of familiarity and order, replacing the
danger of the storm and the sea by the steadier ground, first of the shore,
then of the farm-yard with its familiar animals. the song,
The song actualizes Gonzalo’s prayer at the end of Act I, scene 1:
Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground
– long heath, brown furze, anything. The wills above be done, but I would
fain die a dry death.
Gonzalo’s prayer conjures up the picture
of a receeding sea and the appearance of the shore (“barren ground”), then
of vegetation which becomes clearer and clearer (“long heath”, “brown furze”).
This prayer is then answered in Ariel’s song: the dance takes place on the
beach (“yellow sands”), and reorganizes space whereas the tempest had annhilated
all possible distinction between sky, sea, and earth. But the shore is only
the first stage towards the reconstruction of the world in which the domestic
element prevail (“watch dogs’, “Chanticleer”), and where order and civilization
rule (the farm). Art, in the form song, dance, and literature (“Chanticleer”
is a character from Le Roman de Renard and from Chaucer’s The Canterbury
Tales) transforms the chaos created by the tempest into a familiar, reassuring
and well-ordered world. The tempest has calmed down and what is left is the
familiar sounds of the waves echoed in the alliterations and paranomasia of
the song (/w/, /f/, /s/). These sounds are then drowned by the domestic animals’
cries in the distance.
This reconstruction of order is confirmed
by Ferdinand who, still very much confused, makes the distinction between
air, earth and water, as he recognizes the Orphic quality of Ariel’s music,
transposing its taming effects to the fury of the waves:
Where should this music be? - i’ th’ air or th’ earth?
It sounds no more; and sure it waits upon
some god o’ th’ island. Sitting on a bank,
Weeping agian the King my father’s wreck,
this music crept by me upon the waters,
Allaying both their mury and my passion
With its sweet air. thence I have followed it,
Or it hath drawn me rather.
Thus, the destructive
power of Diosysus is pitted against Apollo’s harmony which, through the lyre
given to Orpheus, tames the wild elements and restores order after Dionysian
chaos. One of the most spectacular expression of this opposition between
Dionysiac and Apollonian forces can be seen in the use of the masque and
masque-like elements dispersed throughout the play.
But first, let us examine
the masque as theatrical genre and its history.
time the word “mask” appears in England is in Hall’s Chronicles of The Union
of the Two Noble and Illustrate Families of Lancastre and York (1548), in
which the historian describes such an event :
In the daie of the Epiphanie at night, the Kyng with 11 other were disguised,
after the maner of Italie, called a maske, a thing not seen afore in England,
thei were appareled in garments long and broad, wrought all with gold with
visers and caps of gold, and after the banquet done, these maskers came in,
with 6 gentlemen disguised in silk, bearing staff torches, and desired the
ladies to daunce, some were content, and some that knew the fashion of it
refused, because it was not a thing commmonly seen.
What is described here is just the kind of masque Romeo,
Mercutio and their friends use in order to be accepted at the Capulet’s feast,
or the masquers Shylock is complaining about in The Merchant of Venice. In
both plays, Shakespeare is referring to the earliest form of this genre known
in England. However, the form developped throughout the 16th century, as
we can see in Shakespeare’s use of the masque in other plays, such as A Midsummer
Night’s Dream, or Much Ado About Nothing, or Love Labour’s Lost. By the
time Shakespeare wrote The Tempest, the masque had reached its highest and
most developped forms under James 1st. It was a purely aristocratic entertainment,
devised for one night only, presented at court in the Royal Presence. It
combined music, song and dance, as well as dialogue and poetry, in an architectural
setting using scenery and perspective. Since the general public was not
admitted at the performance of these masques, the text, with all the indications
as to what happened, was usually published afterwards and sold. As a consequence,
many playwrights included masque-like elements in their plays for the public
The Stuart masque was
generally composed of contrasting parts, with what is usually called an “anti-masque”
(probably deriving from “antic masque” since we sometimes find the expression
“a masque of antics”), referring to the dance of satyrs, wild men, grotesque
figures, often with animal masques or heads, which functions in opposition
to the more formal dance, songs and dialogue of the masque proper.
All the elements of
the masque are present in The Tempest at various degrees of inclusion. The
firrt to consider, since it gives us the major clue as to the importance
of the masque in the play, is the “Masque of Hymen” presented by Prospero
and his spirits to Miranda and Ferdinand. It is, indeed, one of the major
functions of the masque at court to celebrate a happy event such as a royal
wedding, as it is the case here. The figures represented in the masque are
traditionnal for such an occasion: Iris, the messenger of the gods (here of
Juno) appeals for Ceres, goddess of agriculture and fertility to come and
bless the wedding. Juno (Jupiter’s wife) is the goddess of matrimony. Hymen
is mentionned, as well as Venus and Cupid in order to signify the appropriate
relationship between Miranda and Ferdinand: Venus here is opposed to Juno,
as lust vs chastity (usually the opposition is between Juno and Diana) in
what can be considered as an allusion to the contest of the three goddesses
on Mount Ida, in the judgement of Paris. Here Juno and matrimony triumph,
since sexual intercourse is postponed until after the wedding:
Here though they [Venus and Cupid]
to have done
Some wanton charm upon this man and maid,
Whose vows are, that no bed-right shall be paid
Till Hymen’s torch be lighted: but in vain.
The speeches of the
three goddesses are followed by the “graceful dance” of the Reapers and the
Nymphs. The masque is brutally interrupted by Prospero who suddenly senses
danger in the conspiracy of “the beast Caliban and his confederates” (4.1.139-140).
This reference incites
us to see in the conspiracy and the plotters the elements of the anti-masque.
But the anti-masque is also present in some of Prospero’s conjurations: thus,
Ariel transforms himself into a harpy to interrupt the banquet presented
to the noblemen:
Thunder and lightning. Enter ARIEL,
like a harpy; claps his wings upon the table; and, with a quaint device,
the banquet vanishes
You are three men of sin, whom Destiny,
That hath to instrument this lower world
And what is in't, the never-surfeited sea
Hath caused to belch up you; and on this island
Where man doth not inhabit; you 'mongst men
Being most unfit to live. I have made you mad;
And even with such-like valour men hang and drown
Their proper selves.
Alonso and Sebastian &c. draw their swords
You fools! I and my fellows
Are ministers of Fate: the elements,
Of whom your swords are temper'd, may as well
Wound the loud winds, or with bemock'd-at stabs
Kill the still-closing waters, as diminish
One dowle that's in my plume: my fellow-ministers
Are like invulnerable. If you could hurt,
Your swords are now too massy for your strengths
And will not be uplifted. But remember--
For that's my business to you--that you three
From Milan did supplant good Prospero;
Exposed unto the sea, which hath requit it,
Him and his innocent child: for which foul deed
The powers, delaying, not forgetting, have
Incensed the seas and shores, yea, all the creatures,
Against your peace. Thee of thy son, Alonso,
They have bereft; and do pronounce by me:
Lingering perdition, worse than any death
Can be at once, shall step by step attend
You and your ways; whose wraths to guard you from--
Which here, in this most desolate isle, else falls
Upon your heads--is nothing but heart-sorrow
And a clear life ensuing.
He vanishes in thunder; then, to soft music enter the Shapes
again, and dance, with mocks and mows, and carrying out the table.
Ariel’s speech turns the banquet and the noblemen into elements
of the anti-masque, the spirit’s dance with their mocking and mowing (grimacing),
is also an imitation or a representation of the “antic dance” of the grotesque
figures of the anti-masque. Moreover, Ariel’s speech reminds the spectators
of two plots: the plot devised by Antonio twelves years before to seize his
brother’s throne and banish Prospero; and the plot devised by the same Antonio
with Sebastian, to get rid of the duke of Naples. As the instigator of both
plots, Antonio is reduced to the level of Caliban, who is plotting against
Prospero. The elements of the anti-masque then link the three plots and
all the characters participating in these plots may be equated to the grotesque,
deformed figures of the anti-masque. In the case of Antonio, the distortion
is mental rather than physical. Caliban’s, however is both mental and physical.
Half-man, half-fish, he is constantly addressed by Stephano as “monter”
or “moon-calf”, but his physical aspect seems to be in keeping with his
warped mind. Thus, even if he is capable of poetic language, as in the speech
about the music of the island, he willfully appropriates language and misuses
it as curse:
You taught me language; and my profit on’t
Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language.
Other motifs are connected to the anti-masque,
such as the transformation of spirits into dogs sent by Ariel in pursuit
of the plotters (4.1.S.D. 254). All these elements dispersed throughout the
play constitute the anti-masque to the masque of Hymen.
The opposition between masque and anti-masque
is also at work in the oppsition between Apollonian and Dionysiac music.
As we have seen, the Orpheus motif is heard in Ariel’s music when he draws
the noblemen and Ferdinand to the safety fo the shore. It is also present
in the scene where Ariel attracts Gonzalo’s attention to a lurking danger
(2.1.292-302), or when distracts the conspirators them from their savage plot
and makes them follow his music (3.2). In contrast to this Apollonian music,
the drunken songs of Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban are the true signs of
the Dionysas spirit.
It may then be worth while then taking a
closer look at the function of the songs in the play.
Most plays by Shakespeare include song, dance
and/or intrumental music. The Tempest is no exception, and as usual, music
and songs are closely related to the context. They never merely serve an
ornemental purpose, but are part and parcel of the dramatic fabric. Even if
we do not count the goddesses’ speeches, which may have been sung during the
masque, the play contains no less than 8 songs of different forms:
“Come unto these yellow sands”: Ariel (1.2. 375-387)
“Full fathom five”: Ariel (1.2. 397-405)
While you here do snoring lie”: Ariel (2.1. 298-303)
“I shall no more to sea”: Stephano (2.2. 41-42)
“The master, the swabber, the boatswain, and I”: Stephano: (2.2. 45-53)
“Farewell, master”: Caliban (2.2. 172-182)
“Flout ‘em and cout ‘em”: Stephano – Trinculo (3.2. 119-121)
“Where the bee sucks, there suck I”: Ariel (5.1. 88-94)
If we consider the music of the masque (Act
4), and the possibilities for the speeches to be sung, then each act includes
various songs . The opposition between the group of characters and therefore
the Apollonian and Dionysac is made obvious by the distribution of these
songs. The first three, which belong to Ariel, are part of the Orpheus motif
and serve to restore harmony when it has been threatened, either by the storm,
or by Antonio and Sebastian’s plot to kill Alonso. The masque and Ariel’s
last song belong to this restoration of harmony: on the one hand, the masque
celebrates the marriage between Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, with Ferdinand,
Alonso’s son, thus marking a reconciliation between the two kingdoms of Milan
and Naples, and the union of the two dukedoms; on the other hand, Ariel’s
song of freedom restores the island to its original inhabitants, and celebrates
harmony with nature. The Dionysac songs are all concentrated in Act 2 and
3 and involve the conspirators against Prospero’s life, Stephano, Trinculo,
The form of the songs is also significant.
Three of Ariel’s songs are Ayres, a form of solo song accompanied by an instrument.
They are by a famous composer of the time, Robert Johnson and appear in
a songbook in the form of a melody accompanied by a bass line which can
be developped and realised by a solo instrument such as a lute or a keyboard.
The song by the bacchic trio, however, are of a totally different nature.
They are popular songs akin to different folk genres, such as the sea shanty
(Stephano’s songs), the drink song (Caliban’s), or the catch (“Flout ‘em”),
which has the musical form of the canon. None of these songs needs an instrumental
accompaniment. However their deficiency is underlined in various ways: First,
Stephano calls his two song “scurvy tunes” (2.2. 43-56). The word “scurvy”
point to a well-known and feared sailor’s disease caused by malnutrition
and a deficiency in vitamin A. The word here implies a deficiency in the
music itself. Then, in Caliban’s song, noise is associated with music, and
is another representation of Caliban’s hybrid nature which shows in his physical
appearance, in the hybridation of his language, and in his music. Finally,
the catch, a perfectly circular form, is also based on a shift, or displacement
in the voices.; moreover, Caliban remarks that they are not singing in tune:
That’s not the tune.
Ariel plays the tune on a tabor
This is the tune of our catch, played by the picture of Nobody.
Ariel puts the tune
right and restores harmony. It is interesting to see, though, that Ariel
is here using an instrument (the pipe) usually associated with Dionysus. It
would then suggest that Ariel plays the part of the god and simulates his
presence to entice the conspirators and make them follow him.
Ariel’s Orphic function, as we saw with his first song,
is inscribed in the very words of the songs which are perfectly integrated
to the context in which they appear. It is, then, worth our while to analyse
the text of these songs and see how they contribute to most aspects of the
play: they produce images through their text and music which related to the
themes and the dramatic action which they reinforce.
I have already analysed the text of “Come unto these yellow sands”, and,
unfortunately, we do not have the original music for this song. However,
its musical form can be guessed at from the text. It is, in fact a dance of
the spirits, and probably a “round” (“take hands”). The musical form is that
of solo and chorus (“burden”).
The Orphic quality of Ariel’s music is emphasized here,
first in the mention of animals, then in the way Ferdinand feels “drawn”
to it. Reversing the Sirens’s song, Ariel’s music releases Ferdinand from
the sea, and his “drowning” now appears as a regeneration and a second baptism,
the first stage of his initiation. Music has also released him of his “passion”
(hear “excess of grief”) over his father’s death. Ariel’s next song, then,
is the locus of a passage, a transmutation.
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Hark! now I hear them,--Ding-dong, bell.
When Ariel intones
this song, he has already attracted Ferdinand’s attention with his music.
Now the song is directly addressed to him. The name of the father not only
appears as such in the first line, but it is also inscribed in the paronomastic
effect of all the words of the line. The /f/ alliteration reminds us of the
receeding waves, but the tumult of the tempest is now replaced by the quietness
of the grave. Two major ideas are present here: first the deceitful announcement
of Alonso’s death, then his metamorphosis. In the pure Ovidian tradition,
his bones are now transformed into coral, his eyes into pearls. Words related
to death (“lies”, “bones”, “Nothing”, “knell”, are pitted against the notion
of change. The dark assonances of the first lines
(/u:/, /a:/, /ai/) give way to the clear sounds of the last line (/i:/,
We are fortunate to
have the music of this song, composed by Robert Johnson. Its form
is that of a solo song, accompanied by a polyphonic instrument (a lute-song,
or a song with keyboard accompaniment, possibly also a bass viol). What we
notice in the melodic progression is a gradual rising of the line which contradicts
the words sung by Ariel. If we take the first line, for instance, we see
that, although it starts with the repetition of one of the lowest notes of
the song (G, in fact the modal note here), the line goes up to the word “lies”,
when we may have expected a reverse movement, from high to low to express
both drowning and death. The rhythm also contributes to this rise since
it appears to accelerate on “thy father” as if the body were quickly rising.
Figurative music, or “word-painting” as it is sometimes called, is one of
the major features of English Renaissance music. The devices used here seem
to belie the information given by the text, i.e. Alonso’s death. All the
important words (“bones”, “pearls”, “eyes”, “fade”) conclude a rising musical
phrase. Each time, though, we fall on a lower degree (D, C, B, A), but never
as low as the modal note which opens the song. The general impression is
that of a rising movement by stages, dragging the corpse up to the surface,
without quite ever reaching it. The culmination is linked to the idea of
change: whereas the whole song gives a strong flavour of the G tonality,
a change is announced in the base line bar 11, on “sea change” with the alteration
of F# into F natural, which culminates on “something” with the F natural
as the highest note of the song. However, we cannot here really talk of a
modulation (from G Major to C Major), and the alteration is only momentary,
the “strangeness” emphasized by the text is then reproduced in the music
when the musical phrase falls on the note D (“strange”), when we expected
it to fall on C, which would have expressed a modulation and a real change.
The whole point, of course, is that there has been no change since Alonso
is only dead to Ferdinand. The knell attributed in the song to the sea-nymphs
represents a descent by stages in contradiction to the rising movement of
“Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell”, with yet a tension between rise and fall.
What is interesting is that the idea of change is emphasized again in the
“Ding dong bell” burden since the top vice has it in the original tonaity
(D) where as the bass has it in C. Eventually, it is as if the “corpse” were
relocated at the bottom of the sea, the song ending, as it started, on a
low G. However, we must bear in mind that Ariel’s purpose is both to make
Ferdinand believe that his father is indeed dead, and to comfort him.
To carry on with Ariel, let’s now examine
his final song:
Where the bee sucks. there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch 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.
Ariel’s freedom song is also the promise
of a victory ower death. It partakes of the regeneration theme and the acceptance
of death as part of the cycle of life. The references to Nature and the pastoral
world leads to a metaphorical interpretation of the song. Ariel is here
a spirit of the air who takes his flight towards an eternal summer. He is
associated to three flying animals, whose connotation is death: in the ancient
pastoral, bees are the messengers to whom news of a death is brought so
that they may convey it to the gods; the owl and the bat are traditionnally
known as the harbinger of Death. The first part of the song seems then to
appear as a taming of death as part of nature. Ariel’s flight on the bat’s
back points to this mastery of Death in the cycle of Nature, since spring
and summer follow and replace winter in an eternal regeneration. In the music
we may notice two elements: on the one hand, word-painting is again at work
in the way Ariel’s flight is conveyed by the highest note of the score (E)
on “I” (bar 7), over the repeated lower “D” which was the note on the first
“I” in the text, as if Ariel was freed from the original contraint imposed
on him by Prospero. On the other hand, there is a clear break at bar 12 with
a change of rhythm in the music, and a change of tense in the text. Thus
we move from a binary to a ternary rhythm (from 2/2 to 6/4), and from the
present to the future (“shall”). We should understand the change in the rhythm
also as a change in tempo since the beat represented by a minim in the first
part, is now equal to the dotted minim ( = .). Thus the accelaration of
the rhythm may represent Ariel’s flight, and the movement from binary (imperfect)
to ternary (perfect) rhythm is associated to the promise of freedom and eternal
Unfortunately, we do not have the original music for the other songs,
and we can only rely on textual evidence to interpret their importance and
meaning in the context in which they appear, but also their relevance to
the play as a whole.
Ariel song of warning to Gonzalo (2.1.) obviouly
has a dramatic function. It is a direct address and Gonzalo wakes up startled
and confused as if from a bad dream. Indeed what he and Alonso see upon waking
up is Antonio and Sebastian about to kill them. The two murderers get away
with it with a lie, but their plot has obviously been spoiled. “Good” Gonzalo
is chosen as the protector, probably because, even though somewhat naive,
he is, after all a just and loyal man. The theme of sleep is interesting here
since it is presented as linked to death (sleep is a metaphor of death, Hypnos
and Thanatos being the twin sons of Night in Greek mythology), but also as
circumventing death. Gonzalo is the fisrt to submit to sleep, which is a
sign of his good faith, whereas the two murderers cannot find sleep (“open-ey’d
conspiracy). We may quote here Macbeth who, after having killed Duncan, his
king and guest, is said to have “murdered” sleep.
In a totally different context, Stephano’s,
Trinculo’s and Caliban’s songs belong to the Doinysian aspect, opposed to
Ariel’s Apollonian music. These characters provide a parallel plot with yet
another conspiracy. They are the inheritors of pre-Shakespearean drama secondary
characters who provide a sub-plot in court comedies, as well as the more
distant vices of the moral interludes, always ready to sing a song. As usual
with Shakespeare, it is difficult to speak about “subplots” as such, since
all the elements are carefully interwoven. In the case of Stephano’s song
“I shall no more to sea, to sea / Here shall I die ahore”, it echoes Gonzalo’s
“dry death”, but also what he says about the boatswain in Act 1, scene 1
: “Methinks he hath no drowning mark upoin him – his complexion is perfect
gallows” (28-29), or “He’ll be hanged yet / Though every drop of water swear
against it” (57/58). It belongs to the theme of the safe return to firm land
and the reorganization of space. It also marks Stephano as a “false” sailor,
more at ease with alcohol than with water. The second song then is a sort
of usurpation since it is a shanty (i.e. a sailor’s song) in the form of
a drink and bawdy song:
The master, the swabber, the boatswain, and I,
The gunner, and his mate,
Loved Moll, Meg, and Marian, and Margery,
But none of us cared for Kate;
For she had a tongue with a tang,
Would cry a sazilor, ‘Go hang!’
She loved not the savour of tar nor of pitch,
Yet a tailor might scratch her where’er she did itch.
Then to sea, boys, and let her go hang!
Indeed, Stephano concludes
both songs with what sounds like a refrain, though it is not part of the
songs: “This is a very scurvy tune to sing at a man’s funeral. / Well, here’s
my comfort. drinks” And “This a scurvy tune, too, but here’s my comfort. He
drinks. The distortion of the sea-shanty (part of a genre called “work song”)
into a drink song displaces Stephano as an erring character. Displacement
is also present in the song, with the mention of the women/whores. All their
names start with “M”, apart from one, Kate, also singularized by her shrewish
attitude towards sailors, prefering tailors. She, of course, reminds us of
another shrewish Kate (The Taming of a Shrew). Displacement and erring show
Stephano claiming a place which is not truly his. It is not surprising, then
to see him plotting to take Prospero’s place. Failing as a true sailor, he
will fail in his other enterprise, and will be reduced to what he really
is: a stupid drunkard.
Caliban’s place in
the universe of the play, is also problematic. Lost between two realms (animal
and human), he is the exact opposite of Prospero who stands between the human
and the divine realms. His song of freedom is miles apart from Ariel’s and
shows primitive forms of music inscribed in the text. The song is probably
unaccompanied, with may be some form of dancing and banging on the part as
a kind of percussion. It is divided into two part whch, in a sense contrary
the freedom theme established by the “No more ... nor... nor” sequence. First
Caliban is claiming his wish to be rid of the constraints imposed by his
master Prospero, but then, in the second part, after what sounds like a simulation
of killing (banging on Prospero’s head ?) : “Ban, ban, Caliban”, he claims
another master. The reiteration of the word “freedom” becomes ironic.
Flout ‘em and cout ‘em
And scout ‘em and flout ‘em
Thought is free.
This is a canon sung
by Stephano and Trinculo. A canon is a simple imitative form. There are several
musical possibilities, the simplest is that the first singer starts, then
the second singer enters after the first line, each repeating the song ad
lib. Such songs were also called “catches” since the second voice can never
catch the first in an endless repetition. Caliban, who apparently has been
taught the song and asks them to sing it, does not actually join in. The
situation is very much an inversion of the moment when, in the moral interludes,
the vices manage to “catch” the protagonist and make him do what they please.
Here, it is Caliban who, as an evil creature, convinces the two drunkards
to plot Prospero’s death with him. The inversion is doubled by the fact
that they cannot sing in tune, and, when they hear the proper tune played
by Ariel, they think it is a manifestation of the devil. Paradoxically, Caliban
recognizes the harmony of the island and launches in his famous speech about
the music of the isle. As they all follow Ariel’s music, we realize that
the Dionysian tone gives way to the Apollonian mood. However, just like
concord cannot exist without discord, the Dionysian and the Apollonian principles
are always linked, and this is clearly expressed by Prospero at the end of
the play, when he acknowledges the presence of evil in any community, even
in any man. Thus, even though pardonned, Antonio and Sebastian remain wicked
men; the difference lies in Prospero who now knows how to deal with them:
Prospero : (aside to Sebastian
But you, my brace of lords, were I so minded,
I here could pluck his highness’ frow upon you,
And justify you traitors. At this time
I will tell no tales.
The devil speaks in him !
For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother
Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive
Thy rankest faults – all of them – and require
My dukedom of thee, which perforce I know
Thou must restore.
As for the Dionysac trio, each must be acknowledged and accounted
Two of these fellows you
Must know and own; this thing of darkness I
Only at that price can harmony eventually prevail.
1. All references to the play are to the follwoing edition: William Shakespeare.
The Tempest. Stephen Orgel, ed. Oxford World's Classics. O.U.P.,
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