The Tempest by Charles and Mary Lamb
Charles Lamb and his sister Mary Lamb wrote shorter versions of many classic tales, many of which appear in their work Tales from Shakespeare, some of which are referenced as introductions to the full-length original classics assigned in the Excellence in Literature curriculum.
Tales from Shakespeare
by Charles and Mary Lamb
There was a certain island in the sea, the only inhabitants of which were an old man, whose name was Prospero, and his daughter Miranda, a very beautiful young lady. She came to this island so young that she had no memory of having seen any other human face than her father’s.
They lived in a cave or cell, made out of a rock; it was divided into several apartments, one of which Prospero called his study; there he kept his books, which chiefly treated of magic, a study at that time much affected by all learned men: and the knowledge of this art he found very useful to him; for being thrown by a strange chance upon this island, which had been enchanted by a witch called Sycorax, who died there a short time before his arrival, Prospero, by virtue of his art, released many good spirits that Sycorax had imprisoned in the bodies of large trees, because they had refused to execute her wicked commands. These gentle spirits were ever after obedient to the will of Prospero. Of these Ariel was the chief.
The lively little sprite Ariel had nothing mischievous in his nature, except that he took rather too much pleasure in tormenting an ugly monster called Caliban, for be owed him a grudge because he was the son of his old enemy Sycorax. This Caliban, Prospero found in the woods, a strange misshapen thing, far less human in form than an ape: he took him home to his cell, and taught him to speak; and Prospero would have been very kind to him, but the bad nature which Caliban inherited from his mother, Sycorax, would not let him learn anything good or useful: therefore he was employed like a slave, to fetch wood and do the most laborious offices; and Ariel had the charge of compelling him to these services.
When Caliban was lazy and neglected his work, Ariel (who was invisible to all eyes but Prospero’s) would come slyly and pinch him, and sometimes tumble him down in the mire; and then Ariel, in the likeness of an ape, would make mouths at him. Then swiftly changing his shape, in the likeness of a hedgehog, he would lie tumbling in Caliban’s way, who feared the hedgehog’s sharp quills would prick his bare feet. With a variety of such-like vexatious tricks Ariel would often torment him, whenever Caliban neglected the work which Prospero commanded him to do.
Having these powerful spirits obedient to his will, Prospero could by their means command the winds, and the waves of the sea. By his orders they raised a violent storm, in the midst of which, and struggling with the wild sea-waves that every moment,threatened to swallow it up, he showed his daughter a fine large ship, which he told her was full of living beings like themselves. “O my dear father,” said she, “if by your art you have raised this dreadful storm, have pity on their sad distress. See! the vessel will be dashed to pieces. Poor souls! they will all perish. If I had power I would sink the sea beneath the earth, rather than the good ship should be destroyed, with all the precious souls within her.”
“Be not amazed, daughter Miranda,” said Prospero; “there. is no harm done. I have so ordered it, that no person in the ship shall receive any hurt. What I have done has been in care of you, my dear child. You are ignorant who you are, or where you came from, and you know no more of me, but that I am your father and live in this poor cave. Can you remember a time before you came to this cell? I think you cannot, for you were not then three years of age.”
“Certainly I can, sir,” replied Miranda.
“By what?” asked Prospero; “by any other house or person? Tell me what you can remember, my child.”
Miranda said: “It seems to me like the recollection of a dream. But had I not once four or five women who attended upon me?” Prospero answered: “You had, and more. How is it that this still lives in your mind? Do you remember how you came here?” “No, sir,” said Miranda, “I remember nothing more.”
“Twelve years ago, Miranda,” continued Prospero, “I was Duke of Milan, and you were a princess, and my only heir. had a younger brother, whose name was Antonio, to whom I trusted everything; and as I was fond of retirement and deep study I commonly left the management of my state affairs to your uncle, my false brother (for so indeed he proved). 1, neglecting all worldly ends, buried among my books, did dedicate whole time to the bettering of my mind. My brother Antonio, being thus in possession of my power, began to think himself the duke indeed. The opportunity I gave him of making himself popular among my subjects awakened in his bad nature a proud ambition to deprive me of my dukedom; this he soon effected with the aid of the King of Naples, a powerful prince, who was my enemy.”
“Wherefore,” said Miranda, “did they not that hour destroy us?”
“My child,” answered her father, “they durst not, so dear was the love that my people bore me. Antonio carried us on board a ship, and when we were some leagues out at sea, he forced us into a small boat, without either tackle, sail, or mast; there he left us, as he thought, to perish. But a kind lord of my court, one Gonzalo, who loved me, had privately placed in the boat water, provisions, apparel, and some books which I prize above my dukedom.”
“O my father,” said Miranda, “what a trouble must I have been to you then!”
“No, my love,”‘ said Prospero, “you were a little cherub that did preserve me.Your innocent smiles made me bear up against my misfortunes. Our food lasted till we landed on this desert island, since when my chief delight has been in teaching you, Miranda, and well have you profited by my instructions.”
“Heaven thank you, my dear father,” said Miranda. “Now pray tell me, sir, your reason for raising this sea-storm?”
“Know then,” said her father, “”that by means of this storm, my enemies, the King of Naples and my cruel brother, are cast ashore upon this island.”
Having so said, Prospero gently touched his daughter with his magic wand, and she fell fast asleep; for the spirit Ariel just then presented himself before his master., to give an account of the tempest, and how he had disposed of the ship’s company, and though the spirits were always invisible to Miranda, Prospero did not choose she should hear him holding converse (as would seem to her) with the empty air.
“Well, my brave spirit,” said Prospero to Ariel, “how have you performed your task?”
Ariel gave a lively description of the storm, and of the terrors of the mariners, and how the king’s son, Ferdinand, was the first who leaped into the sea; and his father thought he saw his dear son swallowed up by the waves and lost. “But he is safe,” said Ariel, “in a corner of the isle, sitting with his arms folded, sadly lamenting the loss of the king, his father, whom he concludes drowned. Not a hair of his head is injured, and his princely garments, though drenched in the sea-waves, look fresher than before.”
“That’s my delicate Ariel,” said Prospero. “Bring him hither: my daughter must see this young prince. Where is the king, and my brother?”
“I left them,” answered Ariel, “searching for Ferdinand, whom they have little hopes of finding, thinking they saw him perish. Of the ship’s crew not one is missing; though each one thinks himself the only one saved; and the ship, though invisible to them, is safe in the harbor.”
“Ariel,” said Prospero, “thy charge is faithfully performed; but there is more work yet.”
“Is there more work?” said Ariel. “Let me remind you, master, you have promised me my liberty. I pray, remember, , I have done you worthy service, told you no lies, made no mistakes, served you without grudge or grumbling.”
“How now!” said Prospero. “You do not recollect what a torment I freed you from. Have you forgot the wicked witch Sycorax, who with age and envy was almost bent double? Where was she born? Speak; tell me.”
“Sir, in Algiers,” said Ariel.
“Oh, was she so?” said Prospero. “I must recount what you have been, which I find you do not remember. This bad witch, Sycorax, for her witchcrafts, too terrible to enter human hearing, was banished from Algiers, and here left by the sailors-; and because you were a spirit too delicate to execute her wicked commands, she shut you up in a tree, where I found you howling. This torment, remember, I did free you from.”
“Pardon me, dear master,” said Ariel, ashamed to seem ungrateful;
“I will obey your commands.”
“Do so,” said Prospero, “and I will set you free.” He then gave orders what further he would have him do; and away went Ariel, first to where he had left Ferdinand, and found him still sitting on the grass in the same melancholy posture.
“Oh, my young gentleman,” said Ariel, when he saw him, ‘I will soon move you. You must be brought, I find, for the Lady Miranda to have a sight of your pretty person. Come. sir,, follow me.” He then began singing:
“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.”
This strange news of his lost father soon roused the prince from the stupid fit into which he had fallen. He followed in amazement the sound of Ariel’s voice, till it led him to Prospero and Miranda, who were sitting under the shade of a large tree. Now Miranda had never seen a man before, except her own father.
“Miranda,” said Prospero, “tell me what you are looking at yonder.”
“Oh, father,” said Miranda, in a strange surprise, “surely that is a spirit. Lord! how it looks about! Believe me, sir, it is a beautiful creature. Is it not a spirit?”
“No, girl,” answered her father; “it eats, and sleeps, and has senses such as we have. This young man you see was in the ship. He is somewhat altered by grief, or you might call him a handsome person. He has lost his companions, and is wandering about to find them.”
Miranda, who thought all men had grave faces and gray beards like her father, was delighted with the appearance of this beautiful young prince; and Ferdinand, seeing such a lovely lady in this desert place, and from the strange sounds he had heard, expecting nothing but wonders, thought be was upon an enchanted island, and that Miranda was the goddess of the place, and as such he began to address her.
She timidly answered, she was no goddess, but a simple maid and was going to give him an account of herself, when Prospero interrupted her. He was well pleased to find they admired each other, for he plainly perceived they had (as we say) fallen in love at first sight: but to try Ferdinand’s constancy, he resolved to throw some difficulties in their way: therefore, advancing forward, be addressed the prince with a stern air, telling him, he came to the island as a spy, to take it from him who was the lord of it. “Follow me,” said be. “I will tie your neck and feet together. You shall drink sea-water; shell-fish, withered roots, and husks of acorns shall be your food.”
“No,” said Ferdinand, “I will resist such entertainment till I see a more powerful enemy,” and drew his sword; but Prospero, waving his magic wand, fixed him to the spot where he stood, so that he had no power to move.
Miranda hung upon her father, saying: “Why are you so ungentle? Have pity, I will be his surety. This is the second man I ever saw, and to me he seems a true one.”
“Silence!” said the father. “One word more will make me chide you, girl! What! an advocate for an impostor! You think there are no more such fine men, having seen only him and Caliban. I tell you, foolish girl, most men as far excel this as he does Calliban.” This he said to prove his daughter’s constancy; and she replied:
“My affections are most humble. I have no wish to see a goodlier man.”
“Come on, young man,” said Prospero to the prince; “you have no power to disobey -me.”
“I have not indeed,” answered Ferdinand; and not knowing that it was by magic he was deprived of all power of resistance, they were going to eat, he appeared visible before them in the shape of a harpy, a voracious monster with wings, and the feast vanished away. Then, to their utter amazement, this seeming harpy spoke to them, reminding them of their cruelty in driving Prospero from his dukedom, and leaving him and his infant daughter to perish in the sea, saying, that for this cause these terrors were suffered to afflict them.
The King of Naples, and Antonio the false brother, repented the injustice they had done to Prospero; and Ariel told his master he was certain their penitence was sincere, and that he, though a spirit, could not but pity them.
“Then bring them hither, Ariel,” said Prospero: “if you, who are but a spirit, feel for their distress, shall not I, who am a human being like themselves, have compassion on them? Bring them quickly, my dainty Ariel.”
Ariel soon returned with the king, Antonio, and old Gonzalo in their train, who had followed him, wondering at the wild music he played in the air to draw them on to his master’s presence. This Gonzalo was the same who had so kindly provided Prospero formerlywith books and provisions, when his wicked brother left him, as he thought, to perish in an open boat in the sea.
Grief and terror had so stupefied their senses that they did not know Prospero. He first discovered himself to the good old Gonzalo, calling him the preserver of his life; and then his brother and the king knew that he was the injured Prospero.
Antonio, with tears and sad words of sorrow and true repentance, implored his brother’s forgiveness, and the king expressed his sincere remorse for having assisted Antonio to depose his brother: and Prospero forgave them; and, upon their engaging to restore his dukedom, he said to the King of Naples, “I have a gift in store for you, too”; and, opening a door, showed him his son Ferdinand playing at chess with Miranda.
Nothing could exceed the joy of the father and the son at this unexpected meeting, for they each thought the other drowned in the storm.
“Oh wonder!” said Miranda, “what noble creatures these are! It must surely be a brave world that has such people in it.”
The King of Naples was almost as much astonished at the beauty and excellent graces of the young Miranda as his son had been. “Who is this maid?” said he; “she seems the goddess that has parted us, and brought us thus together.”
“No, sir,” answered Ferdinand, smiling to find his father had fallen into the same mistake that he had done when he first saw Miranda, “she is a mortal, but by immortal Providence she is mine; I chose her when I could not ask you, my father, for your consent, not thinking you were alive. She is the daughter this Prospero, who is the famous Duke of Milan, of whose renown I have heard so much, but never saw him till now: of him I have received a new life: he has made himself to me a second father, giving me this dear lady.”
“Then I must be her father,” said the king; “but, oh, how oddly will it sound, that I must ask my child forgiveness.”
“No more of that,” said Prospero: “let us not remember our troubles past, since they so happily have ended.” And then Prospero embraced his brother, and again assured him of his forgiveness; and said that a wise overruling Providence had permitted that he should be driven from his poor dukedom of Milan, that his daughter might inherit the crown of Naples, for that by their meeting in this desert island it had happened that the king’s son had loved Miranda.
These kind words which Prospero spoke, meaning to comfort his brother, so filled Antonio with shame and remorse that be wept and was unable to speak; and the kind old Gonzalo wept to see this joyful reconciliation, and prayed for blessings on the young couple.
Prospero now told them that their ship was safe in the harbor, and the sailors all on board her, and that he and his daughter would accompany them home the next morning. “In the mean time,” says he, “partake of such refreshments as my poor cave affords; and for your evening’s entertainment I will relate the history of my life from my first landing in this desert island.” He then called for Caliban to prepare some food, and set the cave in order; and the company were astonished at the uncouth form and savage appearance of this ugly monster, who (Prospero said) was the only attendant he had to wait upon him.
Before Prospero left the island he dismissed Ariel from service, to the great joy of that lively little spirit, who, though he had been a faithful servant to his master, was always longing to enjoy his free liberty, to wander uncontrolled in the air, like a wild bird, under green trees, among pleasant fruits, and sweet-smelling flowers.
“My quaint Ariel,” said Prospero to the little sprite when he made him free, “I shall miss you; yet you shall have your freedom.”
“Thank you, my dear master,” said Ariel; “but give me leave to attend your ship home with prosperous gales, before you bid farewell to the assistance of your faithful spirit; and then, master, when I am free, how merrily I shall live!” Here Ariel sang this pretty song:
“Where the bee sucks, there suck !;
In a cowslip’s bell I lie:
There I crouch 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.”
Prospero then buried deep in the earth his magical books and wand, for he was resolved never more to make use of the magic art. And having thus overcome his enemies, and being reconciled to his brother and the King of Naples, nothing now remained to complete his happiness but to revisit his native land, to take possession of his dukedom, and to witness the happy nuptials of his daughter and Prince Ferdinand, which the king said should be instantly celebrated with great splendor on their return to Naples. At which place, under the safe convoy of the spirit Ariel they, after a pleasant voyage, soon arrived.
If you’d like to learn more about the author of this simplified version of The Tempest, you can read EIL’s Charles Lamb Biography or enjoy our index of other works by Charles Lamb. You should, of course, read the original Shakespeare version, which is part of Introduction to Literature Module 1.8: