Set adrift to certain death? and, an angel (1.2.144-158) #StormTossed

PROSPERO     In few, they hurried us aboard a bark,

Bore us some leagues to sea, where they prepared

A rotten carcass of a butt, not rigged,

Nor tackle, sail, nor mast—the very rats

Instinctively have quit it. There they hoist us

To cry to th’ sea that roared to us, to sigh

To th’ winds, whose pity, sighing back again,

Did us but loving wrong.

MIRANDA                                          Alack, what trouble

Was I then to you?

PROSPERO                                         O, a cherubin

Thou wast that did preserve me. Thou didst smile,

Infused with a fortitude from heaven,

When I have decked the sea with drops full salt,

Under my burden groaned, which raised in me

An undergoing stomach to bear up

Against what should ensue. (1.2.144-158).


And now that Prospero gets to the real heart of his story, the pace picks up, like the action, but there’s that additional twist: they weren’t just transported away from Milan into exile, somehow ending up on the island, but rather deliberately shipwrecked themselves. The details of the boat into which father and child were transferred would have been depressingly familiar to the riverside people of London, accustomed to shipping of all kinds, and to assessing the sea- (or river-)worthiness of the vessels to which they regularly trusted their lives, not least in crossing the Thames to the bankside and the theatres. (London Bridge was the only bridge.) It was barely a boat at all: butt suggests a cask or barrel, dilapidated, and rotten, like a carcass, dead and deadly. No mast, no sail, no ropes; no rats (they knew that it would sink). And so Prospero and Miranda were set adrift, to cry to th’ sea that roared to us, to sigh to th’ winds. At the mercy of the elements, and even as the wind carried them away from the ship, it seemed to pity them. Miranda, again, shows her great capacity for imagination, and for loving empathy: I must have been such a nuisance, such a worry, such a burden; I must have been in the way. No, says Prospero, you kept me going. I stayed alive for you. You were like a little angel (and the cherubin, cherub, is vividly childlike, a chubby toddler), and your smiles gave me strength. I was in despair, groaning, weeping, pointlessly adding more salt water to the sea with my tears, but you gave me the courage to face whatever was going to happen to us. The vignette is poignant and compelling: darkness, waves and wind, a rotten, leaking boat; the weeping, desperate father, the tiny, loving child, together, helpless, set adrift.

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