A Note on “The Tempest”
Act III, Scene I
The following brief essay was contributed by Butler to a small miscellany entitled Literary Foundlings: Verse and Prose, Collected in Canterbury, N.Z., which was published at Christ Church on the occasion of a bazaar held there in March, 1864, in aid of the funds of the Christ Church Orphan Asylum, and offered for sale during the progress of the bazaar. The miscellany consisted entirely of the productions of Canterbury writers, and among the contributors were Dean Jacobs, Canon Cottrell, and James Edward FitzGerald, the founder of the Press.
A Note on “The Tempest,” Act III, Scene I
When Prince Ferdinand was wrecked on the island Miranda was fifteen years old. We can hardly suppose that she had ever seen Ariel, and Caliban was a detestable object whom her father took good care to keep as much out of her way as possible. Caliban was like the man cook on a back-country run. “’Tis a villain, sir,” says Miranda. “I do not love to look on.” “But as ’tis,” returns Prospero, “we cannot miss him; he does make our fire, fetch in our wood, and serve in offices that profit us.” Hands were scarce, and Prospero was obliged to put up with page 196 Caliban in spite of the many drawbacks with which his services were attended; in fact, no one on the island could have liked him, for Ariel owed him a grudge on the score of the cruelty with which he had been treated by Sycorax, and we have already heard what Miranda and Prospero had to say about him. He may therefore pass for nobody. Prospero was an old man, or at any rate in all probability some forty years of age; therefore it is no wonder that when Miranda saw Prince Ferdinand she should have fallen violently in love with him. “Nothing ill,” according to her view, “could dwell in such a temple—if the ill Spirit have so fair an house, good things will strive to dwell with ’t.” A very natural sentiment for a girl in Miranda’s circumstances, but nevertheless one which betrayed a charming inexperience of the ways of the world and of the real value of good looks. What surprises us, however, is this, namely the remarkable celerity with which Miranda in a few hours became so thoroughly wide awake to the exigencies of the occasion in consequence of her love for the Prince. Prospero has set Ferdinand to hump firewood out of the bush, and to pile it up for the use of the cave. Ferdinand is for the present a sort of cadet, a youth of good family, without cash and unaccustomed to manual labour; his unlucky stars have landed him on the island, and now it seems that he “must remove some thousands of these logs and pile them up, upon a sore injunction.” Poor fellow! Miranda’s heart bleeds for him. Her “affections were most humble”; she had been content to take Ferdinand on speculation. On first seeing him she had exclaimed, “I have no ambition to see a goodlier page 197 man”; and it makes her blood boil to see this divine creature compelled to such an ignominious and painful labour. What is the family consumption of firewood to her? Let Caliban do it; let Prospero do it; or make Ariel do it; let her do it herself; or let the lightning come down and “burn up those logs you are enjoined to pile”;—the logs themselves, while burning, would weep for having wearied him. Come what would, it was a shame to make Ferdinand work so hard, so she winds up thus: “My father is hard at study; pray now rest yourself—he’s safe for these three hours.” Safe—if she had only said that “papa was safe,” the sentence would have been purely modern, and have suited Thackeray as well as Shakspeare. See how quickly she has learnt to regard her father as one to be watched and probably kept in a good humour for the sake of Ferdinand. We suppose that the secret of the modern character of this particular passage lies simply in the fact that young people make love pretty much in the same way now that they did three hundred years ago; and possibly, with the exception that “the governor” may be substituted for the words “my father” by the young ladies of three hundred years hence, the passage will sound as fresh and modern then as it does now. Let the Prosperos of that age take a lesson, and either not allow the Ferdinands to pile up firewood, or so to arrange their studies as not to be “safe” for any three consecutive hours. It is true that Prospero’s objection to the match was only feigned, but Miranda thought otherwise, and for all purposes of argument we are justified in supposing that he was in earnest.