ALONSO These are not natural events; they strengthen
From strange to stranger. Say, how came you thither?
BOATSWAIN If I did think, sir, I were well awake,
I’d strive to tell you. We were dead of sleep
And—how we know not—all clapped under hatches,
Where but even now with strange and several noises
Of roaring, shrieking, howling, jingling chains
And more diversity of sounds, all horrible,
We were awaked; straightway at liberty,
Where we, in all our trim, freshly beheld
Our royal, good and gallant ship; our master
Cap’ring to eye her. On a trice, so please you,
Even in a dream, were we divided from them
And were brought moping hither.
ARIEL [to Prospero] Was’t well done?
PROSPERO Bravely, my diligence. Thou shalt be free. (5.1.227-241)
Well done, Alonso, no, these are not natural events, and yes, the things you’re hearing and experiencing are getting stranger and stranger. The Boatswain (always more loquacious than the Master, who spoke the first line in the play and only one other, and is silent – although presumably nodding agreement – throughout this exchange; so it’s interesting to think about casting) frames what they’ve experienced as a dream, sort of, and he’s not sure that he’s yet fully awake; everything (especially how they have come hither, to this spot, now) is unclear and mysterious. All he can tell is that they were all dead of sleep, clapped under hatches, below deck, when they were woken by terrible noises. He doesn’t imagine a source and the description doesn’t suggest anything in particular (although it’s mostly vocal, roaring, shrieking, howling; the jingling chains are a nice touch); what matters is that they were awaked, suddenly, and were able to move (and presumably to come up on deck). And that’s when they realised that the ship was undamaged, and that they themselves were all in their trim too, fresh and neat, bearing no signs of the hardships of the storm and the wreck. (Compare Gonzalo in 2.1, noting that our garments being, as they were, drenched in the sea, hold notwithstanding their freshness and gloss, being rather new-dyed than stained with salt water.) Touchingly, the Master is described as so overcome with joy at the sight of his beloved ship restored that he was cap’ring to eye her, which should get a laugh if the silent Master here capers again at the recollection. And then, on a trice, the two of us were divided from the rest of the crew, and brought moping, amazed, bewildered, here.
Was this well done too? asks Ariel. Yes, very well done, my faithful, obedient servant. Thou shalt be free, says Prospero. (But when?)