Ariel, chick … to the elements, be free (5.1.312-319) #StormTossed

ALONSO                                             I long

To hear the story of your life, which must

Take the ear strangely.

PROSPERO                                         I’ll deliver all,

And promise you calm seas, auspicious gales

And sail so expeditious that shall catch

Your royal fleet far off. [aside to Ariel] My Ariel, chick,

That is your charge. Then to the elements

Be free, and fare thou well.

[to the others] Please you, draw near.

Exeunt omnes.            (5.1.312-319)

The story will be told, finally, and Alonso is apparently keen to hear it: yes, Alonso, it will indeed take the ear strangely. (Strange is as much a Tempest word as is wonder.) I’ll deliver all, says Prospero, tell you everything—but deliver hangs in the air here, full of other possibilities—of liberation and release—of everything and everyone. There will be no more storms, but calm seas and exactly the right sort of wind, enabling the king’s ship to catch up with the rest of the royal fleet. It’s all going to be alright.

And the words we have (perhaps) been waiting for, to Ariel. They are to be responsible for the ship’s fair sailing, its propitious winds. Then to the elements—to water, fire, and air (surely not earth?)—be free, and fare thou well. And, chick. Ariel flies, yes, but chick: this is affectionate, lovingly parental. Ariel has been in effect enslaved, for all that they have been treated less harshly than Caliban, and called a servant, not a slave. Here they are finally set free, albeit conditionally, and in the (near) future. But there is also, here, the answer to their question: do you love me, master? Prospero’s not good at talking about feelings, but in that little word, chick, so unexpected in this controlled, magnanimous, formal summation, there is such tenderness, such sharp awareness of imminent loss (the farewell to Ariel here can only anticipate his leave-taking from Miranda; the chick must be fledged and fly away) – and love. Go with love, Ariel.

The Epilogue remains.



View 6 comments on “Ariel, chick … to the elements, be free (5.1.312-319) #StormTossed

  1. Great insight, especially into the impact of ‘chick’.

    I sometimes wonder if Prospero has any real magical powers of his own, despite him having declared that he had created earthquakes etc. And Ariel’s powers seem to be mainly the ability to create illusions (such as the storm which doesn’t wet clothing). Having said that; a fake gale can’t move a ship. Do you think Prospero will summon the auspicious gale with some power of his own, or is it a final task for Ariel?

    1. Hello! I think it’s interestingly ambiguous: yes, a final task for Ariel, mostly – and I do think that Prospero has had ‘real’ powers – but he’s given them up, and by this point he’s dressed again as the Duke of Milan – which seems to matter, given that there’s been emphasis on his magical garment before?

  2. Apologies, I missed the part where the text says “[aside to Ariel]”. I thought Ariel was already gone by that point.

    I wondered why Prospero, if he was a powerful magician (“my so potent art”) took 12 years to get off the island. But perhaps that was his plan all along: isolate Miranda from a corrupt society (where she would probably have been bumped off) until she was old enough to marry. Perhaps him saying that he had performed great feats of magic, is him saying he could have gone back to Italy and demolished his enemies if he had wanted to?

    1. Well, the square brackets mean it’s editorial – but it’s a reasonable assumption that it’s an aside to Ariel! In a sense I don’t want to think about ‘why 12 years’ – because the play is so ostentatiously about the moment of crisis, about everything coming together in this moment, more or less in real time. Yes, there is a backstory, but it has to remain unknowable, in a sense. (Compare Winter’s Tale where the story ostentatiously jumps over 16 years – and there’s really no way of knowing what Leontes and Perdita, let alone Hermione, have been doing, and so asking the question seems beside the point?) What matters most is the action of the play as we have it, in the moment of performance; imagining the before and after, more than we’re told, is almost outside its spirit? (An actor would probably and properly want to think about how to respond to your question; I don’t know if an audience does, or a reader or critic?)

  3. Thanks Hester. I know it seems like I’m looking for plot holes in the play. I just thought it strange that we never see Prospero performing any actual magic feats, except for paralysing Ferdinand temporarily, and perhaps putting Miranda to sleep. Everything is done by Ariel, and is not even real, yet Prospero thinks it important to let the spirits of the Island know that he is capable of powerful magic controlling the forces of nature. Does he wants to scare the spirits into abeyance? Perhaps Shakespeare is making a self-deprecating autobiographical joke to the audience – “my only power, as playwright, is to put people to sleep or paralyse them with boredom.” I do love the play, so that’s not my take on it.

    1. Interesting! A lot depends on the masque, doesn’t it? if that’s properly spectacular, then what magic is, within the play, is theatre itself (like the storm, for instance). Magic in the play is often something that’s happened in the past – we hear about it, and so imagine it, in retrospect – it happens in our imaginations – which is a very particular form of playwright’s power – making us believe that we can remember something, even more than making us believe that we’re seeing it? and unrestricted by what’s actually theatrically possible… (Ye elves of brooks is such an extraordinary speech – but it’s about giving something up – and Our revels too – but it’s describing something which perhaps was never there.)

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