Betrayal at midnight, and a sobbing child (1.2.127-135) #StormTossed

PROSPERO                                         Whereon—

A treacherous army levied—one midnight

Fated to th’purpose did Antonio open

The gates of Milan and i’th’ dead of darkness

The ministers for th’ purpose hurried thence

Me and thy crying self.

MIRANDA                                          Alack, for pity.

I, not rememb’ring how I cried out then,

Will cry it o’er again. It is a hint

That wrings my eyes to’t. (1.2.127-135)

Is it a literal or a metaphorical detail that Antonio himself opened the gates of Milan? Either, it’s a great touch, and it makes this a quintessential act of betrayal, treachery, treason, a city given over to foreign powers by one of the people meant to be leading and protecting it. There was an army levied – paid to rise against their lawful duke – a brief glimpse of the weakness and corruptibility of ordinary people, or perhaps the fact that political principles are sometimes a luxury that only the rich can afford. (In this play, however, it is not just the powerful who are exposed as being easily swayed by money, or the prospect of power, or drink.) Midnight and the dead of darkness, intensely atmospheric. But the best detail, probably, is that it was not simply Prospero hurried out of the city (hurried conveying not just speed but potentially roughness, and perhaps coercive force) by ministers, those acting on Antonio’s behalf: it was Miranda too. Me and thy crying self. A shocked, angry man, and a tiny, confused child, plucked out of her bed in the middle of the night, by strangers. For the briefest moment, the hearer or the reader hears the cries of that child. And empathetic Miranda is again moved to tears: she cannot remember this distressing experience, but she cries again now. It is a hint – a detail, a glimpse, an implication, a prompt – that crying child, to which the child herself, now grown, responds. And these are not Cordelia-like sunshine and rain tears, gently coursing down beautiful cheeks. Miranda’s eyes are wrung by the thought, screwed up like a sobbing child, a mixture of shock and fear and anger and sadness, even at the thought of it.

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