The plot to depose Prospero (finally…) (1.2.117-127) #StormTossed

PROSPERO     Mark his condition and th’event, then tell me

If this might be a brother.

MIRANDA                                          I should sin

To think but nobly of my grandmother;

Good wombs have borne bad sons.

PROSPERO                                                     Now the condition.

This King of Naples, being an enemy

To me inveterate, hearkens my brother’s suit,

Which was that he, in lieu o’th’ premises

Of homage, and I know not how much tribute,

Should presently extirpate me and mine

Out of the dukedom and confer fair Milan,

With all the honours, on my brother. (1.2.117-127)

Was this a brotherly thing to do? asks Prospero. (We might think briefly about other plays in which Brothers Go Bad: Hamlet, obviously, although this is a more subtle, gradual betrayal. In Winter’s Tale, Leontes and Polixenes are described as being like brothers. It might be observed here that Miranda’s mother, Prospero’s wife, is apparently dead, perhaps having died in giving birth to Miranda: at any rate, she forms no part of her husband’s or her daughter’s memories of life in Milan, other than the brief attestation that she was a piece of virtue.) And Miranda repeats the joke or commonplace about women’s virtue, that it would be an insult, a sin (sin, again) to imagine that her grandmother had committed adultery, and therefore, although there can be no question but that Prospero and Antonio are indeed brothers, good wombs have borne bad sons. There is perhaps a gesture here at ideas about free will and fate: Antonio has chosen to do bad things, but he was not born (or raised, implicitly) evil. Compare Edmund’s discussion of his ‘bastardizing’ in King Lear.

Now the condition. Finally! Or almost! Some more backstory: Prospero and the King of Naples had always been enemies, so he was easily persuaded by Antonio to support Prospero’s deposition and exile by the promise of money and loyalty. And not just Prospero’s – me and mine – it was intended to be the complete eradication of Prospero’s branch of the family as rulers of Milan, and quite literally, as extirpatemeans to pull up by the roots. Prospero’s attachment to his identity as duke of Milan, and to Milan itself, remains strong: here he refers to fair Milan, and the addition of fair gives the line a feminine ending, an extra syllable; it’s as if Milan has been Prospero’s beautiful wife, now divorced from him and given in marriage to Antonio. (Milan here, and most of the time, is probably pronounced with the stress on the first syllable.)

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