Enter Prospero and Miranda and, who made the storm? (1.2.1-5) #StormTossed


MIRANDA      If by your art, my dearest father, you have

Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.

The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch

But that the sea, mounting to th’welkin’s cheek,

Dashes the fire out. (1.2.1-5)

This is a stunning transition; on the page, it’s a shift from scene to scene, but in performance it’s a shift of focus, of tone, and also a shift into verse. It’s as if we’ve been plunged into a different idiom, a different space, a different relationship with the stage and what we’ve just seen on it. Thus far it’s been as if the stage were the deck of a ship, the audience witnessing a more or less immersive spectacle of crisis. Now it’s revealed that there’s also been another audience within the world of the play, Prospero and his daughter Miranda. Have they been there all along? If so, where? Where have they been watching from? Miranda’s perspective, the view she has apparently had, is a wider one than the theatre audience: she vividly describes the relationship between the sky, its louring blackness and flashing fire which suggests that the rain should be like pitch, molten tar, except that the waves are so enormous that they’re putting the fire out. It’s primarily visual: she does refer to the roar of the sea, but it’s the way in which she evokes a storm so violent that waves and sky have become one dark, roiling mass which is more striking. Even more crucial, however, is her first sentence: did you do this, she asks Prospero? Have you, through your skill, your magic, your art, made this storm? Is this storm some kind of illusion? (It’s a theatrical illusion; so, was it a ‘real’ storm in the previous scene?) And, even more – even though you are my dearest father (and that note is so important for the play) – if you did this, can you make it stop? Because it’s terrifying. The power to calm a storm is a divine one: in Matthew 8.24-7, when Jesus is on a boat with the disciples, ‘arose a great tempest in the Sea, insomuch that the ship was couered with the waues’; the disciples wake Jesus, who ‘rebuked the winds and the Sea, and there was a great calme’, leaving the disciples to ask, ‘What maner of man is this, that euen the winds and the Sea obey him?’ The nature of Prospero’s power and art, and of art and power more generally, will be a central concern of the play.

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