PROSPERO Sir, I invite your highness and your train
To my poor cell, where you shall take your rest
For this one night, which (part of it) I’ll waste
With such discourse as, I not doubt, shall make it
Go quick away—the story of my life,
And the particular accidents gone by
Since I came to this isle—and in the morn
I’ll bring you to your ship, and so to Naples,
Where I have hope to see the nuptial
Of these our dear-beloved solemnized;
And thence retire me to my Milan, where
Every third thought shall be my grave. (5.1.301-312)
A real sense of drawing to a close, here, as it’s signalled that (almost) everyone will shortly leave the stage – and the island. They will remain on the island one further night, with Prospero, now transformed from master manipulator, even tormentor, into gracious, humble host. (He has, presumably, got supplies in, and perhaps the cell has bunks.) And yes, the story will be told, the story of the last twelve years, and the particular accidents gone by since I came to this isle. He’s addressing the king; the suggestion is there that he will also be speaking to Antonio, his brother (if he is part of the king’s train) but he’s not singled out at all. That relationship remains fraught. An announcement: in the morn I’ll bring you to your ship, and so to Naples. Will Prospero be going with them, and so leaving the island? Yes, he will. He wants to be there for the wedding of Miranda and Ferdinand, our dear-beloved (echoing the marriage service in his words here). And then? He will retire to his Milan, as its duke, presumably, although retire suggests a retreat into private life; perhaps the implication is that Ferdinand and Miranda will take over.
And every third thought shall be my grave. This cuts through the practicalities, the winding down, the optimistic looking to the future with a considerable chill. Does this mean that Prospero is contemplating his imminent death? No, absolutely not. He’s not an old man; this is not Shakespeare’s farewell, off back to Stratford to die. It can be delivered with an ironic self-awareness, yes, me, back off to my books again, to meditate on mortality, what am I like, super-fun. More seriously, it’s an entirely legitimate account of scholarship, especially within a Christian framework, to live and think and work in the contemplation of death. (St Jerome in his study, archetypal scholar, with books and crucifix and skull. And lion.) But it’s also, perhaps, a recognition that this is (nearly) it for Prospero. He will leave the island, and soon Miranda will leave him and begin a new life, exactly as he planned and worked for all those twelve years, keeping her safe, caring for her, teaching her, loving her. But what will he have left to live for?