Now that I am growing old, I was thinking of changing my motto to “33 until I die.” But then the band played Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” and I changed my mind back again to 18…
John Geilgud starred in a weird movie-version of The Tempest called “Prospero’s Books” in 1991. But that is not our subject matter here. Our subject is Prospero’s actual books.
Ironically enough, Prospero suffered miserable misfortune.
Prospero reigned as Duke of Milan, exercising his power with a philosopher’s detachment. But his ambitious brother conspired to set Prospero adrift on the sea.
The King of Naples, too, had betrayed Prospero.
But his old friend Gonzalo saved Prospero’s books and devised a means to get them to him on the deserted island upon which the exiled Duke made his home.
Like the Bard himself, Propsero grew, by reading, to godlike power. The spirits served him. The one enemy he had on his island was Caliban, the son of a witch.
When a boatload of Italians were shipwrecked on the island, Caliban tried to convince some of them to murder Prospero.
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 wezand with thy knife. Remember
First to possess his books; for without them
He’s but a sot, as I am, nor hath not
One spirit to command: they all do hate him
As rootedly as I. Burn but his books.
Our godlike power comes from books. And, of those books, the best teach us about the sweet pity of God.
Prospero’s old enemies are among the shipwrecked. He visits mild chastisement upon his brother and the King. But then he forgives.
Prospero’s reading has filled him with the greatest of all powers: perspective.
He invokes the spirits to bless the betrothal of his daughter to a prince.
But then he admonishes the young man with this speech from the “We-Love-Weddings-But…” sub-folder of the Sister Death file:
You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay’d: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
At the end of the play, Prospero reliquishes all his magic powers.
This is as close as we get to Shakespeare the man. He was bidding farewell to the stage. He never wrote another play after “The Tempest.”
Prospero hopes that he has pleased his audience. We have seen him use his frightening power with kindness and mercy.
Then he begs for our prayers and exits.