Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Alonso the King of Naples; his rotten brother Sebastian — his name an anagram for Base Stain (Ogburn and Ogburn 852) — Gonzalo, the elderly councillor; Antonio, Prospero’s usurper brother — whose name the Ogburns think must be a later emendation by another hand (Ogburn and Ogburn 543) — and other lords and survivors are on the island. Only Gonzalo is optimistic about the lost Ferdinand. He tries to cheer the King but the snarky Sebastian and Antonio keep heckling with both sneering cynicism and tiresome court word-play. They even make bets as to who will speak first.
The castaways seem to have different perceptions of the island, almost beyond a matter of attitude. Gonzalo perceives sweet air (II.i.47); Antonio smells a swamp (II.i.49). Gonzalo notes the lush grass, sustenance, and sea-freshened clothes: “Here is every thing advantageous to life” (II.i.50) — and he references “tawny” (II.i.55), one of de Vere’s livery colors; and Francisco, a lord, thinks Ferdinand is probably fine, though Alonzo remains despairing, apostrophizing to his lost son, “what strange fish / Hath made his meal on thee?” (II.i.113-114). There may be a reference to Jonah and the whale here (Garber 865). Sebastian and Antonio grouse about Gonzalo: “I think he will carry this island home in his pocket, and give it his son for an apple” (II.i.91-92) — perhaps a grim allusion to William Cecil again, and his son Robert (Ogburn and Ogburn 549). The two grouse also about the marriage of Alonso’s daughter to an African, the event which prompted this trip to begin with.
Gonzalo also delivers a wistful speech about the idyllic “plantation” (II.i.144) — a new colony or commonwealth — in which absence of social rank, treason, felony, etc. would yield a utopia:
I’ th’ commonwealth I would, by contraries,
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation, all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty —
Sebastian and Antonio interrupt to point out that by virtue of this being his conception, he already hypocritically is king of it. Gonzalo’s speechifying has been compared to Lord Burghley’s “loquacious philosophizing” (Ogburn and Ogburn 543). He resumes:
All things in common nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavor: treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people.
. . .
I would with such perfection govern, sir,
T’ excel the golden age.
“[T]his passage has been cited as one of the earliest statements in imaginative literature of the idea of the value of primitivism” (Carey 570). It sounds good, but perhaps Gonzalo’s natural goodness borders on naïvete in its failure to recognize the unavoidability of predatory scum like Antonio and Sebastian. Moreover, Alonso’s grief for his son Ferdinand is not lightened by all this.
Gonzalo chides Sebastian and Antonio: “You are gentlemen of brave mettle; you would lift the moon out of her sphere, if she would continue in it five weeks without changing” (II.i.182-184) — which sounds like a condemnation of the treachery of Howard and Arundel against Elizabeth (Ogburn and Ogburn 549). Everyone grows heavy with sleep except for the two carping rats, who tell Alonso they’ll stand guard. Antonio and Sebastian decide that there’s no way Ferdinand is “undrown’d” (II.i.237, 239), and that Alonso’s daughter Claribel, who was recently married to the African king of Tunis, won’t pose a problem with the kingdom being so far away. So, “what’s past is prologue, what to come / In your and my discharge,” says Antonio (II.i.253-254). He persuades Sebastian to murder his brother, he’ll kill Gonzalo himself, and Sebastian can take over Naples just as Antonio has Milan. And everyone else will just fall into line: “For all the rest, / They’ll take suggestion as a cat laps milk; / They’ll tell the clock to any business that / We say befits the hour” (II.i.287-290). These two malcontents seem to forget that they’re stranded on a desert island and that all this court plotting, sniping, and backstabbing is pointless and absurd.
Ariel awakens Gonzalo in time to abort the assassination attempt, and the two would-be murderers come up with an excuse why their swords were drawn: they thought they heard wild bulls, uh, lions maybe (II.i.312). Alonso wants to resume the search for his son. Ariel will report all these doings to Prospero.
Caliban, carrying firewood, gripes about his lot but fears punishment. As the jester Trinculo approaches, Caliban thinks he’s another “spirit” from Prospero and falls flat to hide under his cloak. Trinculo senses another storm coming (yet another perception of the island) and stumbles upon Caliban which he takes to be some kind of fish-monster due to his stink and webbed feet:
A strange fish! Were I in England now (as once I was) and had but this fish painted, not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver. There would this monster make a man; any strange beast there makes a man. (II.ii.27-31)
He thinks he can make money using it as a freak show: another instance of not quite comprehending that we’re all stranded on an island! “When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian” (II.ii.31-33) — possibly a reference to the display of Native American cadavers in London (Anderson 133). Trinculo decides to creep under the thing’s gaberdine (cloak) until the storm passes, noting that “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows” (II.ii.39-40). The term “strange” occurs three times in this monologue, and frequently throughout the play, creating a stronger connection to the Stanley family and their Lord Strange title, and the Earl of Derby in particular (Anderson 289).
Stephano, a butler (keeper of the cellar) either from the ship itself or in the employ of the nobles, enters drinking and singing a bawdy sea chanty about a shrew named Kate. Caliban cries out, “Do not torment me!” (II.ii.56), and so Stephano sees and pokes at a creature with what looks like four legs. Like Trinculo, he considers the fortune he could make with this oddity. He gives the Caliban side some booze, and is dumbfounded when the other side speaks too. Trinculo recognizes Stephano, emerges, and gets a drink as well. Caliban, getting tipsy, worships these two as gods. Stephano plays upon his ignorance and superstitiousness: “I was the Man i’ th’ Moon, when time was.” And Caliban says, “I have seen thee in her” (II.ii.138-140) — an intriguing implication when one recognizes the frequency with which Elizabeth has been identified as the moon! Caliban seems an easy mark for religiosity, since all hints point to a recurring pattern: Prospero too gave him delicious berry-water in exchange for showing all the subtler features of the island. Stephano plays along with his newly bestowed divinity. Caliban raves about this fortune meaning, for him, “Freedom, high-day! high-day, freedom! freedom, high-day, freedom!” (II.ii.186). Throughout this, and with some lapses, Caliban is generally more lyrical than the others, delivering poetry rather than prose: “Phonetically it is heavy with fricatives, sibilants, and explosives, lending a bestial sound” (Carey 571). Although crude, perhaps he has more potential than those jaded by the crass values of civilization.