Prospero was the Duke of Milan, in the kingdom of Naples. He was such a studious and learned scholar that he spent most of his time reading books, while his brother Antonio managed the business of ruling his dukedom.
Now, Antonio was a treacherous man, and he wanted to become Duke of Milan in his brother’s place. In fact, Antonio would not have hesitated to kill Prospero -but he knew that the people loved their Duke, and would never forgive his murderer. So Antonio got together with Alonso, the king of Naples, who was Prospero’s enemy. They took Prospero to sea, and when they were far away from land, they put Prospero and his baby daughter Miranda into a broken, old boat and sailed away. Prospero and Miranda were left to drift into the wide, open sea. Thus Antonio managed to take over the Dukedom of Milan, with all its wealth and power.
Now, among Prospero’s courtiers was a true and loyal Lord called Gonzalo. Out of love and loyalty for the rightful Duke, Gonzalo had secretly placed in the boat fresh water, food and clothes-and along with them, Prospero’s most valued possessions, his books.
You can imagine the hardships faced by Prospero, cast adrift in an oarless boat, with a baby girl to care for! However, they were fortunate that the boat reached an island, and they landed in safety.
The island was an enchanted island. For years together, it had come under the spell of an evil witch Sycorax, who had imprisoned all the good spirits she found on the island. She herself had died before Propspero arrived on the island, but the spirits remained trapped in their ‘prisons’-the trunks of the large trees on the island.
Prospero was a great magician, for his life had been devoted to the study of magic. The power of his art enabled him to set free the imprisoned spirits, of whom Ariel was the chief. The spirits were so grateful to Prospero that they promised to be ever obedient to his will.
In the woods nearby, Prospero found Caliban, a twisted, ugly monster. He was the son of Sycorax, the witch. Caliban became Prospero’s servant. Apart from being hideous and horrible in appearance, he was also vicious and brutal in his habits. No matter how hard he tired, Prospero could not make him change his ways for the better. And so it was Ariel’s job to see that he carried out his tasks properly.
Time passed, and Miranda grew up to be a sweet and beautiful girl. The spirits of the island were loyal and faithful to Prospero, who ruled them wisely and well.
Now, it came to pass that Alonso, king of Naples, his brother Sebastian and Antonio, the wicked brother of Prospero were sailing in a ship, close to the enchanted island. The ship was also carrying Prince Ferdinand of Naples, and the old, loyal courtier Gonzalo. The entire party was returning after the marriage celebrations of their Princess in a far-off kingdom.
Knowing that his enemies were near his island, Prospero raised a great tempest with the power of his magic. The royal ship was turned and tossed on the stormy waves. It seemed as if it would sink any moment, along with all the people on board.
As the tempest raged, Prospero led his daughter to the shore of the island and showed her the ship struggling on the wild waves.
Miranda, a kind-hearted girl, begged her father to have pity on the people caught in the storm “O Father!” she begged, “if by your art, you have raised this dreadful tempest, please, please quell the storm now! Save the poor souls on board!”
Prospero told his daughter not to be afraid. “I have so ordered it that no person on that ship will be hurt in any way. I intend to save every one of them-but what I have done now is in your interest,” he said to her.
Miranda was puzzled. Why should her father put the ship and its crew in peril for her sake? Then, for the first time, Prospero told her the story of their past life. He explained that he had caused the tempest in order to bring his enemies, Alonso and Sebastian, within his power.
Having narrated this story, Prospero touched Miranda with his magic stick, and she fell fast asleep. Now Ariel appeared before him to give an account of the storm. He gave a lively story of the fears of the sailors, the anxiety of the lords and how Prince Ferdinand, king Alonso’s son, had leaped into the sea. His father and the rest of the royal party feared that he was dead; the Prince, for his part, believed that his father and the other lords had gone down with the ship.
Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich, and strange:
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
– Hark ! now I hear them.
In reality, Ariel informed Prospero, the ship was safely anchored in one corner of the island; Ferdinand was all alone on the beach, and Alonso, Antonio, Gonzalo and the others were wandering about on the island, not knowing where to go.
“Ariel, my joyful spirit,” Said Prospero. “Bring Ferdinand here at once, for my daughter must see him.”
“Remember, Master, I have served you joyfully all these years. And you promised me that you would set me free one day.”
“Obey my commands now,” Prospero said to him, “and in two days I shall set you free!”
Ariel, assuming a form invisible to Ferdinand, enchanted the prince with a beautiful song, leading him carefully into the presence of Prospero and Miranda. And, all happened exactly as Prospero had planned.
Miranda, who had never ever seen any human being except her father, looked at the handsome, young prince and was thrilled.
“I might call him a thing divine,” she exclaimed, “for nothing natural I ever saw so noble!” Ferdinand too, was astonished to see such a beautiful young girl in a desolate place like the island. “Most sure, she is the goddess of the island!” he thought to himself.
As they gazed at each other in wonder, admiration and love, Prospero was secretly pleased. But outwardly, he pretended to be angry. He accused the Prince of spying on the island, to capture it for himself. “Follow me,” he said to the Prince, “I shall tie you up, neck and feet together.”
The brave prince drew his sword to defend himself-but Prospero waved his magic stick, and the prince was forced to stand like a statue, as still as stone.
Miranda begged her father to be kind to the sweet prince; but Prospero took the prince to a cave, where he was made to work, carrying heavy logs. This was only as a trial of his love, for as he watched them from afar, he saw the young people talking to each other, getting to know each other, and very soon, falling in love with each other.
“I shall be king of Naples one day,” Ferdinand said to Miranda, “and you shall be my Queen, I promise you!”
At this, Prospero smiled, and appearing before them, said to Ferdinand, “All your troubles were merely trials of your love; and you have nobly stood the test. Now, I give you my daughter, a priceless gift.”
In the meanwhile, in another part of the island, the evil and treacherous Antonio was once again plotting a murder. This time he planned to kill king Alonso, so that his brother Sebastian could become the king. The two wicked men were about to kill the sleeping king, when Ariel woke him up, saving his life in the nick of time.
Many more tricks did Ariel play on Prospero’s enemies. He caused them to wander about; he filled their ears with strange and frightful noises; when they were faint with hunger, he set a huge banquet before them, only to take it away when they touched the food.
When the men were nearly out of their senses with fear and hunger, Ariel reminded them of their treachery and wickedness in the past.
King Alonso and the loyal lord Gonzalo were filled with grief, for all the injustice that had been done to Prospero.
In this repentant mood, Ariel brought them before Prospero. At first, they could hardly recognise the former Duke of Milan, for he was clothed in his magic robe. But Prospero revealed himself to them in his own form. He thanked Gonzalo for his kindness, and reproached the king and Antonio for their treachery.
The king and the other courtiers were ashamed. They begged Prospero’s forgiveness. “I have been duly punished for my sins.” Cried king Alonso, “For I have lost my son, and my kingdom is without an heir!”
Prospero drew back a curtain from the entrance of his cave. Inside, they saw Ferdinand and Miranda, happily playing a game of chess.
How happy Alonso was to see his lost son! How thrilled he was to hear that Ferdinand was to marry the Duke of Milan’s beautiful daughter! So it all ended happily! Prospero assured them that their ship was safely anchored and each and every sailor was safe on board.
On the following day, they all set sail for Naples, where Ferdinand and Miranda were to be married. Waving them goodbye, Ariel promised them calm seas and favourable winds. Prospero had set him free to wander where he would, as free as the air!
Thus, after many years of hardship, Prospero was back in Milan, where his people welcomed him with great love and joy. He decided to break his magic stick and give up the practice of magic. He was happy and pleased to be back in Milan – but he was happy above all, to forgive his old enemies who had wronged him cruelly. Even though they had been at his mercy, he did not take revenge on them, but very nobly, forgave them!