Get out of the way! (1.1.9-18) #StormTossed


ALONSO         Good boatswain, take care. Where’s the master? Play the men!

BOATSWAIN  I pray now, keep below!

ANTONIO       Where is the master, boatswain?

BOATSWAIN  Do you not hear him? You mar our labour. Keep your cabins! You do assist the storm.

GONZALO       Nay, good, be patient.

BOATSWAIN  When the sea is! Hence. What care these roarers for the name of king? To cabin! Silence! Trouble us not. (1.1.9-18)

A brilliantly swift and economical introduction of most of the court characters. Alonso, the king, speaking first, as if he would take charge; he is courteous (Good boatswain) but also encouraging (or admonishing), telling the sailors to Play the men! Man up, as it were. (The mostly silent, or improvised, presence of the Mariners here is key: are they tolerant, incredulous, mutinous – or simply too busy with ropes, and with making the storm and the terrible danger of the ship with their voices and bodies?) Antonio is more abrupt, less courtly; there is an irony in that it is the usurping Duke of Milan who asks, where is the master? although of course we probably don’t know who any of these men are yet (the king might be wearing a crown; not wildly practical on a ship in a storm, but…). The Boatswain isn’t going to mince words, voicing the impatience of all workers with the so-called bosses who are incapable of doing anything except being underfoot, getting in the way. And here, there is real danger: the stage, the deck, is already crowded and chaotic, and the courtiers are preventing the sailors from doing their job; they are, in effect, assisting the storm. Gonzalo, kindly, misguided, urges patience, at which the Boatswain really starts to lose his temper: he’ll be patient when the sea is, that is, never. The king, or the name of a king, has no power here (halt, in the king’s name, as a guard or officer might say), it cannot silence the roaring of the sea: shut up and get below decks. (The sea roars in The Winter’s Tale, too, when the young shepherd describes the wreck of the Sicilian ship and the death-by-bear of Antigonus. The noise of the sea can be both evoked and staged, and with the added suggestion that the sea is rebellious, animate, a beast, a leviathan even. But the crashing waves themselves cannot easily be represented, if the budget doesn’t stretch to hi-tech video projections: a stylised billow of blue silk might work in a smaller venue, but it risks being too flowing and tasteful…)

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