David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 1

— 2.1 —

In another part of the island, several members of the upper class who had escaped from the shipwreck were talking together. They included Alonso, the King of Naples; Sebastian, Alonso’s brother; Antonio, Prospero’s brother and the usurping Duke of Milan; Gonzalo, an honest old counselor; and two Lords named Adrian and Francisco. Sebastian and Antonio stood a short distance away from the others.

Gonzalo said to Alonso, King of Naples, “Please, sir, be happy. You have cause, as do we all, for being joyful. Our lives are far more important than the material possessions we have lost. What we have suffered in this shipwreck, others have often suffered. Everyday some sailor’s wife, the captains of merchant ships and the merchants themselves suffer because of shipwrecks. We ourselves have benefited from a miracle that preserved our lives, which few people out of millions have experienced. Good sir, wisely weigh our sorrows against our blessings.”

King Alonso was mourning because he thought that his son, Ferdinand, had died during the shipwreck. He said, “Please, be quiet. Let your mouth be at peace.”

Sebastian whispered to Antonio, “Alonso receives comforting words the way that he would receive a bowl of cold porridge that had been made with peas.”

Antonio whispered back, “Gonzalo is like a visitor determined to help a sick person. He will not easily give up trying to comfort King Alonso.”

Sebastian whispered, “Look, Gonzalo is winding up the watch of his wit; soon it will strike.”

Gonzalo began to speak to King Alonso: “Sir —”

Sebastian whispered, “It has struck once. Let’s keep count of how many times his wit will strike.”

Gonzalo said, “When we entertain — that is, admit and accept — every grief that comes our way, then there comes to the entertainer —”

Sebastian said, “A dollar.”

He had spoken loudly enough for Gonzalo to overhear him.

Gonzalo was quick witted and punned, “Dolor — that is, sorrow — comes to him, indeed. You, Sebastian, have spoken truer than you supposed.”

“You have taken it wiselier than I meant you should,” Sebastian said.

Gonzalo continued, “Therefore, my Lord —”

Antonio and Sebastian continued to speak to each other. They were annoyed and often did not lower their voices as much as they should have.

Antonio said, “Gosh, what a spendthrift is he of his tongue! He does not save his words!”

King Alonso said to Gonzalo, “Please, stop talking to me.”

Gonzalo replied, “Well, I have finished.” He hesitated and then added, “But yet —”

Sebastian finished the sentence: “— he will be talking.”

Antonio whispered, “Let’s make a bet. Who — Gonzalo or Adrian — will be the first one to talk? Who will be the first one to crow?”

Sebastian whispered, “I bet on the old cock — Gonzalo.”

Antonio whispered, “I bet on the young cockerel — Adrian.”

Sebastian whispered, “Agreed. What are we betting for?”

“A good laugh. He who wins, laughs.”

“Agreed.”

Adrian said, “Although this island seems to be deserted —”

Antonio laughed.

Sebastian whispered, “You won — and you have been paid with a good laugh.”

Adrian continued, “— uninhabitable, and almost inaccessible —”

Sebastian whispered, “His next word will be ‘yet.’”

Adrian said, “— yet —”

Antonio whispered, “He was bound to say that.”

Adrian said, “— it has a subtle and tender and delicate and temperate climate.”

Antonio said, “I once knew a woman named Temperance — she was a wench who was not temperate when it came to sexual pleasure.”

Sebastian agreed, “True, she knew subtle and tender and delicate bedroom tricks. Adrian speaks more interestingly than he knows.”

Adrian said, “The air breathes and blows upon us here most sweetly.”

Sebastian said, “In my opinion, the blow comes from rotten lungs.”

Antonio added, “The breath seems to be perfumed by a swamp.”

Gonzalo said, “On this island is everything advantageous to life.”

Antonio said, “True, except the means to live.”

“Of that there’s none, or little,” Sebastian said.

 “How lush and healthy the grass looks!” Gonzalo said, “How green the grass is!”

“The ground indeed is reddish-brown,” Antonio said.

“With a touch of green in it,” Sebastian said.

“Gonzalo does not miss seeing much,” Antonio said.

“No, he doesn’t,” Sebastian said, “but he entirely misinterprets what he sees.”

Gonzalo said, “But the rarity of it is — which is indeed almost beyond credit —”

“— as many vouched-for rarities are,” Sebastian said.

“— that our garments, being, as they were, drenched in the sea, are nonetheless still fresh and appear lustrous. They seem to be newly dyed rather than stained with seawater,” Gonzalo said.

Antonio said to Sebastian, “If one of Gonzalo’s pockets could speak, wouldn’t it say he lies?”

“Yes,” Sebastian said. “If his pocket did not say he lies, his pocket would pocket the evidence and ignore the lie.”

Gonzalo said, “I think that our garments are now as fresh as when we put them on first in Africa, at the marriage of our King of Naples’ fair daughter, Clarabel, to the King of Tunis.”

Sebastian said sarcastically, “It was a sweet marriage, and we are prospering well in our return.”

Adrian said, “Tunis was never graced before with such a paragon as its Queen.”

Gonzalo said, “Not since the widow Dido’s time.”

Antonio said, “Widow! Please! Yes, Dido was a widow who fled the city of Tyre after her brother murdered her husband, but Gonzalo is using the word ‘widow’ to avoid talking about the illicit affair that Dido had with Aeneas after she founded Carthage. No one thinks of Dido as a widow! We think of her as a woman who was abandoned by her lover!”

Sebastian said, “What if he had said ‘widower Aeneas,’ too? Good Lord, how you would take it! Aeneas was a widower because his wife died during the fall of Troy, but no one thinks of him as a widower. We think of him as a man who abandoned his Carthaginian lover so that he could find a new wife in Italy.”

Adrian said, “‘Widow Dido’ — of Tunis, you said? You make me wonder about that. Dido was of Carthage, not of Tunis.”

“This Tunis, sir, was Carthage in ancient times,” Gonzalo said.

“Was it Carthage?” Adrian asked.

“I assure you that yes, it was Carthage,” Gonzalo said.

Sebastian said, “Actually, Tunis and Carthage were two separate cities that were near each other. After Carthage fell to the Romans, Tunis became the dominant city in the area. Gonzalo has made quite a mistake. According to mythology, the miraculous harp of Amphion raised the walls of the Greek city Thebes. Gonzalo’s mistaken words have raised not just the walls of a city — where it does not belong — but all the houses of the city, too.”

“What impossible matter will he easily accomplish next?” Antonio asked.

Sebastian replied, “I think he will carry this island home in his pocket and give it to his son and say that it is an apple.”

“And, after sowing its seeds in the sea, he will bring forth more islands,” Antonio said.

“Yes, indeed,” Gonzalo said, referring to his — incorrect — assertion that Tunis was Carthage in ancient times.

“Yes, indeed, he will,” Antonio said, referring to his and Sebastian’s joke that Gonzalo would carry the island home in his pocket, say that the island was an apple, and use its seeds to create more islands.

Gonzalo still wanted to cheer up King Alonso, to whom he said, “Sir, we were saying that our garments seem now to be as fresh as when we were at Tunis at the marriage of your daughter, who is now Queen.”

Antonio said, “She is the most remarkable and most beautiful Queen who ever came there.”

“Except, of course, for widow Dido,” Sebastian said.

“Yes, widow Dido,” Antonio said. “Of course, widow Dido.”

Gonzalo asked King Alonso, “Is not, sir, my jacket as fresh as the first day I wore it? I mean, in a way.”

“That word ‘way’ was well chosen,” Antonio said. “He weighed well his choice of words.”

Gonzalo said, “I wore it at your daughter’s wedding.”

King Alonso was much annoyed and said to Gonzalo, “You cram these words into my ears against my will. I have no stomach for your words. I wish that I had never married my daughter to a King in North Africa! Because I did that, I have lost my son, who has drowned. He is lost to me, and I believe that my daughter is lost to me as well. She is so far from Italy now that I shall never see her again. As for my son — who would have had power in both Naples and Milan — what strange fish are eating my son’s flesh?”

Gonzalo said, “Sir, your son may still be alive. I saw him beat the waves under him and ride upon their backs; he treaded the water, whose hatred he flung aside, and breasted the most swollen waves that came to him. Your son seemed to ride the waves. His bold head he kept above the contentious waves, and with his strong arms he oared himself with lusty strokes to the shore. The bottom of the shore’s bank had been worn away by waves so that the bank seemed to lean over to welcome him. I do not doubt that your son reached land safely.”

“No, no, he’s dead and gone,” King Alonso said.

Sebastian and Antonio resented the situation they were in; that is one reason why they had been so cynical and mocking in their conversation. Now Sebastian’s resentment came pouring forth.

Sebastian, who was King Alonso’s brother, said to him, “Sir, you may thank yourself for this great loss of your son. You would not bless our Europe with your daughter by marrying her to a European King; instead, you preferred to lose your daughter by marrying her to an African King. At best, she has been banished from your eyes — you will never see her again. Your eyes have reason to grieve both for your daughter and for your son.”

“Please — shut up,” King Alonso said.

Sebastian continued, “All of us kneeled before you and begged you to marry your daughter to a European King. Your daughter — fair soul — herself wavered over what to do: Should she rebel against a marriage she loathed or be an obedient daughter and marry the African King you chose for her? We have lost your son, I am afraid, forever. Because of this marriage you arranged, Milan and Naples have more widows in them than we will bring men — the survivors — home to comfort them. Yes, we will return — eventually — to Milan and Naples, but the rest of your fleet has been lost and the men in those ships drowned. The blame for all of this loss of life is yours.”

“Also mine is the dearest of the loss of life — the loss of life of my son,” King Alonso replied.

Gonzalo said, “Lord Sebastian, the truth you speak lacks gentleness. This is not the right time to speak these words. You are rubbing the sore and making it hurt when you ought to be bringing bandages and stopping the pain.”

“Very well,” Sebastian said. “I will stop.”

Antonio said, “Gonzalo speaks like a doctor.”

Gonzalo said, “King Alonso, when you are in a bad mood, it affects all of us. Foul weather is inside us all, good sir, when you are cloudy.”

“Foul weather?” Sebastian said.

“Very foul,” Antonio said.

Gonzalo said, “If I were able to colonize this island, King Alonso —”

“He would sow it with the seeds of nettles,” Antonio said.

“Or other kinds of weeds,” Sebastian said.

Gonzalo finished, “— and were the King of this island, do you know what would I do?”

“Stay sober because of lack of wine,” Sebastian said.

Gonzalo said, “In my perfect colony, I would do the opposite of what is expected in all things. I would have no business trade, no judges, no education, no riches, no poverty, no servants, no contracts, no inheritances, no boundaries or division of land, no tillage, no vineyards, no use of metal, no corn, no wine, no oil, and no work. All men would be idle, and all women, too. The women would be innocent and pure. I would have no Kings —”

Sebastian said, “Yet he would be King of the island.”

Antonio added, “What he said at the beginning, he has forgotten at the end.”

Gonzalo continued, “Nature would produce all things for the use of everybody without human sweat or work. I would not have treason, crime, swords, pikes, knives, guns, or any kind of instrument of war. Nature would bring forth, by itself with no help from humans, everything in abundance to feed my innocent people.”

Sebastian asked, “Would there be no marriage among his subjects?”

“Idleness is the nurse of lechery,” Antonio said. “All of his subjects would be idle, so they would all be whores and knaves. Besides, marriage is a contract, and he would have no contracts on his island.”

Gonzalo summarized his description of his perfect commonwealth, “I would with such perfection govern, sir, that life in my commonwealth would excel life during the Golden Age.”

Sebastian exclaimed, “God save his majesty!”

“Long live Gonzalo!” Antonio exclaimed.

Gonzalo said, “And —” But becoming aware that King Alonso was not paying attention, he asked, “Are you listening to me, sir?”

“Please, talk to me no longer,” King Alonso said. “You are talking nonsense.”

“Your Highness is correct,” Gonzalo said. “I have been saying these things to amuse these gentlemen, Antonio and Sebastian, who are of such sensitive and nimble lungs that they always are accustomed to laugh at nothing.”

Antonio said, “It was you we laughed at.”

Gonzalo replied, “I am a man who in this kind of merry fooling is nothing to you; therefore, you may continue as you are accustomed to act and laugh at nothing still.”

“What a blow did Gonzalo give!” Antonio said.

“Yes — if it had not fallen flat,” Sebastian said. “It is like a blow given with a flat side of a metal sword. It is a supposedly cutting remark that does not cut.”

“You are gentlemen of brave mettle,” Gonzalo said. “You would steal the Moon except that she outsmarts you by constantly changing and making you insane.”

Ariel, who was invisible, now walked up to the men and played solemn music.

“We would steal the Moon,” Sebastian said, “and use its light as a lantern to hunt birds at night.”

Antonio said, “Gonzalo, don’t be angry.”

“No, I will not, I promise you,” Gonzalo, who was angry, said. “I will not risk my good reputation for discretion for so weak a reason. Will you laugh me to sleep? I am getting very drowsy.”

Antonio replied, “Go to sleep, and listen to our laughter.”

Ariel’s task was to use music to make some of the men fall asleep.

Everyone except King Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian fell asleep.

King Alonso said, “I am surprised that they all fell asleep so quickly! I wish that I could go to sleep and stop thinking my sad thoughts. I do feel drowsy.”

Sebastian said, “Please, sir, do not fight against sleep, which seldom visits sorrowing people. When sleep comes to a mourning person, it comforts that person.”

Antonio said, “We two, my Lord, will guard you while you sleep. We will make sure that you are safe.”

“Thank you,” King Alonso said. “I am amazingly sleepy.”

King Alonso slept, and Ariel stopped playing music and left.

The only two men left awake were Sebastian, who was King Alonso’s brother, and Antonio, who had betrayed Prospero, who was his brother, and become Duke of Milan.

“What a strange drowsiness possesses them!” Sebastian marveled.

“The climate makes them sleep,” Antonio said.

“If that is true, then why aren’t we sleepy? I am not at all sleepy.”

“Neither am I,” Antonio said. “I am wide awake. They fell asleep all at the same time, as if they — or someone — had planned it. They fell to the ground as if they had been hit by lightning. What might, worthy Sebastian … oh, what might come from this … I will say no more … and yet I think I see in your face that which you should be … opportunity is knocking for you, and my strong imagination sees a crown dropping upon your head.”

Antonio had gotten an important title through treachery, so why shouldn’t Sebastian?

“Are you awake or dreaming?” Sebastian asked.

“Can’t you hear me speak?”

“I can,” Sebastian replied, “but you certainly speak a sleepy, dreamlike language, and you are speaking as if you were asleep. What is it that you said? Whatever it was, you are experiencing a strange repose. You are asleep with your eyes wide open. You are standing, speaking, and moving, and yet you are fast asleep.”

“Noble Sebastian, you are letting your fortune sleep — or, more accurately, you are letting it die. You are awake, but your eyes are closed.”

Sebastian replied, “Antonio, you are snoring articulately — your snores have meaning.”

“I am more serious than I customarily am,” Antonio said. “You must be very serious, too, if you want to heed me. If you listen to me and do what I tell you to do, you will become much more powerful than you are now. You can jump over Alonso, Ferdinand, and Claribel to become the King of Naples.”

“I am waiting for you to explain things more clearly,” Sebastian said. “It is as if I am water that stands still. I am not inclined to move one way or another.”

“I’ll teach you how to flow,” Antonio said.

“Do so,” Sebastian said. “As a younger brother, I have been forced to be idle and so I know how to ebb. I decline, rather than increase. Younger brothers inherit little.”

“Your words mock ambition, but I know that you are ambitious,” Antonio said. “The more you mock ambition, the more you cherish it. Ebbing men, indeed, decline and stay at the bottom because of their fear or sloth. To change your fortune and cease to be a declining man, you must not be afraid or indolent.”

“Please, say more,” Sebastian said. “Your eyes and face tell me that you have something important to say, but they also tell me that it takes an effort to openly and clearly say it.”

“Let me speak openly and clearly,” Antonio replied.

He pointed to Gonzalo and said, “Although this Lord of weak memory, who shall be little remembered after he has been buried, has almost persuaded King Alonso that Ferdinand, his son, is still alive — Gonzalo is a spirit of persuasion because his job is to offer advice — it is as impossible for Ferdinand to still be alive as it is that Gonzalo here is awake and swimming.”

“Ferdinand has definitely drowned,” Sebastian said. “It is impossible for him to have safely reached this island. There is no hope that he safely reached land.”

“Out of that ‘no hope’ comes great hope for you! No hope that Ferdinand is alive is so high a hope that you can become King of Naples that even the most ambitious man cannot hope for more without doubting that what it hopes for is unreal. Do you really believe — as do I — that Ferdinand has drowned?”

“He is dead and gone,” Sebastian said.

“Then, tell me, who is the next heir of the King of Naples?”

“Claribel.”

“Claribel is Queen of Tunis,” Antonio said. “She dwells in a place that is 30 miles more than the journey of a lifetime. She can receive no news from Naples unless the Sun itself carries a letter to her — the Man in the Moon is too slow because the Moon takes a month rather than a day to complete its cycle. Any letter she receives will be written when a baby boy is born and delivered when the boy begins to shave his beard. Who will undertake to deliver that letter? Claribel is the woman from whom we were sailing when we were swallowed by the sea, though some of us were cast up on shore because we are destined to perform an act whose prologue is the recent past: the tempest and the shipwreck. The future is the part that you and I will play.”

Antonio had exaggerated the distance between Tunis and Naples. In reality, 300 miles lay between the two cities, and merchant ships regularly engaged in trade between Italy and North Africa.

“What stuff and nonsense is this! What are you saying?” Sebastian said. “It is true that my brother’s daughter is the Queen of Tunis; she is also the heir of the King of Naples. It is also true that between Tunis and Naples is a great space.”

“It is a space whose every inch seems to cry out, ‘How can Claribel travel back to Naples? Let her stay in Tunis, and let Sebastian wake himself up and enjoy his good fortune.’ For a moment, imagine that these sleeping men had been seized by death — they would be no worseroff than they are now. Other people can rule Naples as well as this King who sleeps. Other Lords can prate as amply and unnecessarily as this Gonzalo; I myself could make a jackdaw chatter as profoundly as Gonzalo. I wish that you thought the way that I do! The sleep of these men can lead to your advancement — you can become King of Naples! Do you understand me?”

“I think I do,” Sebastian said.

“And what do you think about your opportunity? Are you willing to take action to make your fortune?”

“I remember that you supplanted your brother: Prospero. You drove him out of Milan and seized his title: Duke of Milan.”

“True,” Antonio said, “and look how well my garments sit upon me; they fit me much better than before. When my brother was Duke of Milan, his servants were my fellows; now they are my servants.”

“What about your conscience?”

“What about it?” Antonio said. “If my conscience were a sore on my heel, it would make me wear soft slippers, but my conscience does not bother me. If twenty consciences lay between me and my becoming Duke of Milan, all twenty consciences would have to be coated with sugar and then softened by compassion before they would bother me. Here in front of you lies your brother; he is no better than the earth he lies upon. We can get rid of the people who stand in your way. I, using only three inches of the obedient steel of my sword, can put your brother at everlasting rest. You can do similarly to this ancient morsel, this Sir Prudence, this Gonzalo. As for the other Lords, they will do and say whatever we tell them to do and say as eagerly as a cat laps up milk. They will agree to anything we propose — they will say that the time is whatever we say it is.”

Sebastian made up his mind to murder his brother.

He said to Antonio, “Your biography, my friend, shall be my precedent. The way that you became Duke of Milan is the way that I will become King of Naples. Draw your sword. With one stroke, you will kill my brother. Your reward will be that you and Milan will no longer have to pay tribute to the King of Naples and that I the new King will be your ally.”

“Let us draw our swords together, and when I rear my hand and sword, you do the same thing. I will kill your brother the King, and you will kill Gonzalo.”

They drew their swords, but Sebastian said, “Just a moment. I have something to say.”

As Sebastian and Antonio talked quietly, Ariel flew to the group of men. He said over the sleeping Gonzalo, “Prospero, my master, has used magic to foresee the danger that you, his friend, are in. He has sent me forth — because otherwise his plan will fail — to keep you and the King of Naples alive.”

Ariel sang this song in Gonzalo’s ear:

While you here do snoring lie,

Open-eyed conspiracy

His opportunity does take.

If for your life you have a care,

Shake off slumber, and beware:

Awake, awake!

Antonio said, “Let us both act quickly.”

Gonzalo — the only one who could hear Ariel, and even he could not hear Ariel distinctly — woke up, saw Sebastian and Antonio with their drawn swords, shook the King to wake him, and shouted, “Now, good angels preserve the King!”

King Alonso woke up and asked Sebastian and Antonio, “What is going on? Why have you drawn your swords? Why do you look so frightened?”

Gonzalo asked, “What’s the matter?”

Sebastian thought quickly and then lied to his brother, the King, “While we stood here and guarded you as you slept, just now we heard a loud burst of bellowing like bulls, or rather lions. Didn’t it wake you? The bellowing struck my ears most terribly.”

“I heard nothing,” King Alonso said.

Antonio said, “Oh, it was a din to frighten a monster’s ears or to make the earth tremble like an earthquake! Surely, it was the roar of a whole herd of lions.”

“Did you hear this roaring, Gonzalo?”

“Upon my honor, sir, I heard a humming, and that a strange humming, too, which woke me,” Gonzalo said. “As my eyes opened and I saw their weapons drawn, I shook you, sir, and cried out. There was a noise — that is certain. It is best that we stay upon our guard, or that we leave this place. Let’s draw our weapons.”

King Alonso said, “Lead us away from this ground, and let’s make a further search for my poor son, in case he is still alive.”

“May Heaven protect him and keep him away from these beasts!” Gonzalo said. “I am sure that your son is on the island.”

“Lead us away from here,” King Alonso said again.

As they left, Ariel thought, Prospero, who is my Lord, shall know what I have done. So, King Alonso, go safely on to seek your son.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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