Act IV

Scene 1

Prospero sees in Ferdinand and Miranda an encounter of fair affections, and a worthy son-in-law, and anticipates a union on which the heavens should pour grace, if they honour their bond:

"If thou dost break her virgin knot before
All sanctimonious ceremonies may
With full and holy rite be minist'red,
No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall
To make this contract grow; but barren hate,
Sour- ey'd disdain, and discord, shall bestrew
The union of your bed with weeds so loathly
That you shall hate it both" (IV.i.15-22)

Here then Prospero presents us with the rewards for restraint, sanctified love and modesty, seeing perfection in ceremony, holy ritual and loving order. The punishment for excess passion and lack of temperance is imagined in terms of disorder, infertility, discord and repulsion. We can see this stringent belief in order and chastity and fear of desire and passion throughout the play as Prospero enslaves the emblem of such passions, Caliban, and emphasises a life of literature and books over instinct and appetite. His life on the island is one of dream-like isolation, protecting Miranda from the earthly and secular, she has never seen other humans before the opening of the play. Rather, he surrounds her with sprites, ethereal beings and illusions under his control.

To celebrate the betrothal he organises a masque, which is performed by spirits impersonating Greek Goddesses such as Iris (messenger goddess and of the Rainbow), Juno (wife of Jupiter and queen of Gods) and Ceres (Goddess of fertility and harvest). It is an image of majestic splendour, fecundity, fertility and harmony as they sing. There is the feeling and association of spring, new beginnings and peace after the tempestuous storms signalling a future of peace and happiness. The verse appears in archaic language and enhances the lovers' role within the pastoral idyll.

"Earth's increase, foison plenty,
Barns and garners never empty
Vines with clustering bunches growing:
Plants with goodly burthen bowing;
Spring come to you at the farthest
In the very end of the harvest!"

The spectacle draws attention to Prospero as playwright as the masque creates the feel of a play within a play, Prospero's within Shakespeare's, as he manipulates the other characters like puppets and directs the spirits as if they were actors. The masque heightens the theatricality of The Tempest and the layers of players and audience is increased as we watch them watching a play. The implanting of the play within the play dissolves and blurs representational boundaries as illusion and reality merge and there is a "constant interchange between fictional reality and fictional illusion" (Shakespeare's Other Language by Ruth Nevo). Prospero's speech further collapses boundaries between nature and art, reality and illusion, waking and fantasy, theatre and existence, sleep and death, life and dreams:

"These our actors,
As I foretold you were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud capp'd towr's, the gorgeous palaces,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep." (IV.1.148-57)

Prospero is drawn away from his reflections by the remembrance of Caliban's plots that disturb his pulse and the elegiac resigned quality of the verse is disarrayed by the need to "still my beating mind". And so, Ariel and Prospero deal with the rebels and lead them to a stagnant muddy pool and luring Trinculo and Stephano by rich garments over which they argue. They finally chase them away by spirits in the shape of hounds and Prospero orders their punishment as fitting their grotesque actions and base, undignified characters:

"Go, charge my goblins as that they grind their joints
With dry convulsions; shorten up their sinews
With aged cramps, and more pinch-spotted make them,
Than pard or cat o'mountain".

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