Now, I must act now, and, approach, my Ariel… (1.2.177-188) #StormTossed

PROSPERO                             Know thus far forth:

By accident most strange, bountiful fortune

(Now, my dear lady) hath mine enemies

Brought to this shore; and by my prescience

I find my zenith doth depend upon

A most auspicious star, whose influence

If now I court not, but omit, my fortunes

Will ever after droop. Here cease more questions.

Thou art inclined to sleep; ’tis a good dullness,

And give it way. I know thou canst not choose.

[to Ariel] Come away, servant, come; I am ready now.

Approach, my Ariel. Come. (1.2.177-188)


There’s a dense conjunction here of chance and providence, accident most strange and bountiful fortune. The enemies whose machinations he has just described are here, brought to this shore by chance, but by his prescience, here apparently his skill and knowledge in astrology (or astronomy; the two are more or less interchangeable), Prospero also knows that the stars are favourably aligned for him to act. His zenith, his success, the highest possible point in his fortunes, depends on his acting now, because the stars are so propitious (zenith is astrological/astronomical language too, appropriately). Depend is about consequences, cause and effect, but it also means to hang upon (as in pendant, for instance) – it’s almost as if the high point of Prospero’s fortunes, his luckiest moment, is pinned to a heavenly body – and if he doesn’t act now, and follow the star, everything will fall. (Compare Romeo and Juliet: Some consequence yet hanging in the stars, 1.4.108.) It must happen now: as Prospero began his tale (some 150 lines ago), ’Tis time … The hour’s now come. And the suggestion of Prospero’s fortunes drooping gives rise to his suggestion that Miranda is inclined to sleep: is she already nodding? No more questions now: after that convoluted exposition which took so long to come to the point, he’s not going to let her ask anything else for the moment. She sleeps; he puts her to sleep. The last few lines of this long, long movement of the scene return the focus to Prospero’s power: he is the book-loving duke of Milan, yes, and Miranda’s father – but he is also learned in astrology (entirely respectable), and he has magical powers. And now he will summon a servant, the first we’ve heard that there’s someone else on the island. Ariel. Come.

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