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Abbott's Shakespearian Grammar, 3d edition.
Clarendon Press Series.
Dramatis Personæ. This list is given in the Ff, where it follows the Epilogue.
ACT I – SCENE 1
This opening scene, contrary to Shakespeare's usual practice, throws little light on the subsequent action of the play. It serves merely to transport us from the world of realities to the domain of enchantment. It contains a vivid sketch of naval operations, which proves that Shakespeare was proficient in the details of seamanship. Dr. Johnson asserted that in this dialogue,“ perhaps the first example of sailors' language exhibited on the stage, there are, as I have been told by a skilful navigator, some inaccuracies and contradictory orders.” But the second Lord Mulgrave communicated to Malone “
a most satisfactory refutation” of this criticism, maintaining that this scene “is a very striking instance of the great accuracy of Shakespeare's knowledge in a professional science, the most difficult to attain without the help of experience.” Lord Mulgrave's explanations of the successive operations are given below.
Enter a Ship-Master and a Boatswain. Captain John Smith, in his Accidence for Young Seamen, 1626, says that“ The Master and his mate is to direct the course, command all the saylors for steering, trimming, and sayling the ship. The Boteswaine is to have the charge of all the cordage, tackling, sailes, fids, and inarling spikes, needles, twine and saile-cloth, and rigging of the shippe.”
3. Good is not used in answer to the Boatswain's question, what cheer? The Master could not speak of tie cheer as good, when the ship was in danger of running aground. The word expresses satisfaction that the Boatswain is ready to take orders. A similar interjectional use of good occurs in l. 16:
Nay, good, be patient”; and in l. 20: Good, yet remember whom thou hast aboard.” It is probably a contraction of a common form of address, e.g. “ Good, my lord.”
3-4. fall to 't, yarely, or we run ourselves aground. “Land discovered under the lee: the wind blowing too fresh to haul upon a wind with the topsail set. This first command is therefore a notice to be ready to execute any orders quickly ” (Mulgrave).
8. master's whistle. In Shakespeare's day a great whistle of gold was the ensign of a naval commander, even of the highest rank. Cf. Pericles, iii. 1. 8–10:
“ The seaman's whistle Is as a whisper in the ears of death, Unheard.”
The description of the storm in Pericles, iii. 1 should be compared throughout with the present scene.
Blow, till thou burst thy wind: addressed to the storm. A similar apostrophe in Pericles, iii. 1. 44: “ Blow, and split thyself.”
9. if room enough, if there be sea-room enough. danger in a good sea-boat is only from being too near the land (Mulgrave).
11. Play the men, act with spirit.
17-18. What cares these roarers. When the verb in E. E. precedes à plural subject, it is frequently in the singular.
When the subject is as yet future and, as it were, unsettled, the third person singular might be regarded as the normal inflection (Abbott, § 335, where numerous examples are quoted). A plural nominative is also often followed by a singular verb, which Abbott regards as a survival of the M. E. Northern plural in es.
18. roarers. In the language of Shakespeare's time a blustering bully was called a roarer. Cf. Massinger, The Renagado, i. 3:
A lady to turn roarer, and break glasses." for the name of king? In this allusion to the contempt of the elements for regal authority we have an anticipation of the problem of the true limits of obedience and service which underlies this play.
To cabin. Notice the contempt of the “old salt ” for the “landlubber,” however high his rank. The Boatswain is an extraordinarily lifelike sketch. “ What a grand old sea-dog is he! Neither Smollett, nor Marryat, nor even Fenimore Cooper ever drew a more graphic character. In the space of a single page we learn to know him as thoroughly as though he lived and moved in our presence - a thorough seaman is he; a fine, hardened, blustering, dogmatic, domineering old fellow, whose shaggy beard has been outspread in a hundred tempests, one not apt to spare either himself or his subordinates in the way of duty (“ Shakespeare a Seaman,” St. James's Magazine, July, 1862).
24. work the peace of the present, create peace at this instant. Of, signifying “ coming from, belonging to,” when used with time signifies“ during.” (Abbott, § 176.)
31-36. An allusion to the proverb, He that's born to be hanged needs fear no drowning."
33. the rope of his destiny, the hangman's rope.
37-38. The gale increasing, the topmast is struck to take che weight from aloft, make the ship drift less to leeward, and bear the mainsail under which the ship is laid to” (Mulgrave).
37. Down with the topmast! strike or lower the topmast down to the cap.
38. Bring her to try with main-course, keep her close to the wind with the mainsail. To“ lie at try
is to keep as close to the wind as possible. Cf. Hakluyt's Voyages, 1598, I. 277:
And when the barke had way, we cut the hawser, and so gate
the sea to our friend, and tryed out al that day with our maine
39-40. they are louder than the weather or our office, they drown the roaring the storm and my orders.
49. for drowning, against drowning. Cf. Abbott, § 154.
51. lay her a-hold . . lay her off. The Boatswain, finding the effect of the single sail unsatisfactory, and the danger of shipwreck ever more imminent, issues fresh orders: “Keep her to the wind as close as possible, set her foresail as well as her mainsail, so as to carry her off to sea again."
55. must our mouths be cold? Possibly a contemptuous reference by the seaman to the chilling effect of prayer at such a crisis. Cf. Beaumont and Fletcher, The Sea Voyage, i. 1:
Thou rascal, thou fearful rogue, thou hast been praying.
Is this a time
In The Scornful Lady, however, the phrase is used simply in the sense of being dead, which it may bear here.
59. merely, absolutely.
60-61. lie drowning The washing of ten tides. Pirates, in the time of Elizabeth, were hanged on the shore at low-water mark, and left until three tides had washed over them. Antonio declares that for the Boatswain three tide-washings are not enough — he deserves ten.
69. long heath, brown furze. The reading of the Ff has been altered by Hanmer to ling, heath, broom, furze, on the ground that the epithets long and brown are stiff and out of place here. In support of the Ff reading, Furness quotes a passage from Lyte's Herbal (1576): There is in this countrie two kindes of Heath, one of which beareth his flowers alongst the stemmes, and is called long leath. The other bearing his flowers in tutteys or tuftes at the toppes of the branches, the which is called smal Heath.” Lyte further speaks of heath growing on mountains that be “ drie, hungrie, and barren," and of furze being found “in untoyled places by the way-sides.” Furness therefore thinks that “the names of both plants were suggested by the word “barren’ in Gonzalo's wish for ‘an acre of barren ground,' and in calling the furze“ brown’ an additional hue of desolation is imparted by suggesting that the acre is so barren that even the weeds on it are dried up and discoloured.”
70. The wills above, the will of the Powers above.
With this scene we enter the domain of enchantment, and in lines 1-374 we have, for the most part, a sketch of the ancient history of the wonderful island. As has been mentioned in the Introduction (p. xxiii), The Tempest, being practically in the form of a classical drama, requires an equivalent for the classical prologue, which explains to the audience the events that have produced the crisis with which the play is concerned. Prospero's conversations with Miranda, Ariel, and Caliban fulfill this function admirably. They are models of lucid narrative, heightened by the fresh and vivid touches which dialogue imparts.
1–13. Miranda's opening speech forms a skillful mode of transition from the preceding scene.
It describes the storm, not as experienced on sea, but as witnessed from the land, and suggests that instead of being a natural outbreak of elemental fury, it is due to the influence of Prospero's art.
Throughout this dialogue Miranda invariably addresses her father in the second person plural of respect, while he, except in l. 17, speaks to her in the second person singular of affection.
5-13. These lines give us the key to Miranda's character, in which tenderness and simple faith in good are throughout the leading notes. Notice her description of the vessel as
brave” and good,” and her instinctive confidence that it carried “ noble creatures.”
7. Who follows a neuter antecedent when it is personified, as here, in her.”
11. or ere. The phrase is really pleonastic. Or represents E. E. ær,
“ before.” As this meaning of or died out, it seems to have been combined with ere for the sake of emphasis. Cf. Abbott, § 131.
13. fraughting souls, the souls who composed the fraught or freight.
14. piteous, pitying.
15. O, woe the day! Miranda, when she speaks these words, supposes not that the crew has escaped, but that her father counts their destruction no harm."