Monday, March 28, 2011

Appendix I: The Tempest: Sulphurous Roaring

One of the interesting opportunities that this blog presents is to be able to present the materials that didn't quite FIT into "Acting at the Speed of Life; Conquering Theatrical Style." Amid the discussion of the early phases of rehearsal of the three scenes presented in the book, I suggest that an extensive appendix would give the reader a clearer image of how issues and ideas present themselves as the rehearsal and development process continues. All three of those pieces can be found at my website,
Today, I'd like to share the first of those appendices: my discussion of the Prospero/Ariel scene in Act I of "The Tempest."

Appendix I
The Tempest: Sulphurous Roaring
ARIEL          All hail, great master, grave sir, hail! I come

Ariel begins with wide open vowels: the “long a” sound of “hail,” “great,” “grave” and “hail.” These vowels are easily extended, especially when they fall upon the stressed syllable of the iamb.

                    To answer thy best pleasure; be’t to fly,
                    To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride

The “long a” shifts into a “long i" sound, as Ariel calls out “fly,” “dive,” “fire” and “ride.” Again, these words virtually “sing,” all by themselves.

                    On the curl’d clouds. To thy strong bidding, task
                    Ariel and all his quality.
PROSPERO                                             Hast thou, spirit,
                    Perform’d to point the tempest that I bade thee?

We quickly spot the contrast between Ariel’s open vowels and Prospero’s plosive punctuation. Seven of the twelve words in this sentence end with either a “t” or a “d”. (“t” and “d” demand identical movements of the lips, though “d” is “voiced”.) Prospero is speaking with exactitude, “nailing down” the points he intends to make.

ARIEL          To every article.
                    I boarded the King’s ship; now on the beak,
                    Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,

One is tempted to run counter to the scansion in these lines, to give more emphasis to Ariel’s open vowels in the repetition of “now.” I suspect you have already read it that way instinctively.

                    I flam’d amazement. Sometime I’ld divide,

“Flam’d amazement” is a terrific phrase. We note the “long a” in both words, but the words also “sing” with imagery, as the act of “flaming” creates the “amazement” in the eyes of the crew. The two stressed syllables not only echo the vowel, but also reflect the consonant, as “a-m” of “flamed” gives way to “m-a” of “amazement.” It’s as if Ariel’s flame bounces off of a wall and heads the other direction, turning faces into “amazement” in the process.  “Divide” once again, delivers the “long i” of the earlier speech, but briefly, Ariel will begin to pick up Prospero’s speech with the t’s and d’s of “topmast,” “yards,” boresprit,” ‘distinctly,” occasionally reviving her open vowels with “flame,” “meet,” “join.”

                    And burn in many places; on the topmast,
                    The yards and boresprit, would I flame distinctly,
                    Then meet and join. Jove’s lightning, the precursors
                    O’ th’ dreadful thunder-claps, more momentary
                    And sight-outrunning were not; the fire and racks
                    Of sulphurous roaring the most mighty Neptune

“Fire and racks of sulphurous roaring” may remind us of our King Lear exercise, as the description of the weather, sound and feel like the weather she describes. Can one deliver this without feeling the storm?

                    Seem to besiege, and make his bold waves tremble,
                    Yea, his dread trident shake.

Again, counter to the iambic pentameter, the long “a” of “Yea” begs to be sung. But don’t be surprised if dwelling on this vowel diminishes the impact of “HIS dread TRIdent SHAKE.”

PROSPERO                                                       My brave spirit!
                    Who was so firm, so constant, that this coil
                    Would not infect his reason?

Prospero, himself, has become “infected” a bit by Ariel’s style with the “calling vowels” of “My,” “brave,” “coil” and “reason”.

ARIEL                                                                 Not a soul
                    But felt a fever of the mad, and play’d

By now these “calling vowels” are popping up noticeably, as in “soul,” “fever,” and “mad.” It’s becoming Ariel’s signature. The rest of this line is packed with these vowels, especially in “FOAMing BRINE,” “ALL aFIRE with ME” and “HAIR upSTARing” and “ALL the DEVils are HERE.” Who can resist the vivid image of Ferdinand’s hair “up-staring” as he leaps into the foaming brine?

                    Some tricks of desperation. All but mariners
                    Plung’d in the foaming brine, and quit the vessel;
                    Then all afire with me, the King’s son, Ferdinand,
                    With hair up-staring (then like reeds, not hair),
                    Was the first man that leapt; cried, “Hell is empty,
                    And all the devils are here.”
PROSPERO                                                   Why, that’s my spirit!
                    But was not this nigh shore?

Prospero will not let Ariel’s amazement divert him from his task, and responds in direct single syllables with pinched final consonants, clipped and driving.

ARIEL                                                               Close by, my master.
PROSPERO  But are they, Ariel, safe?
ARIEL                                                              Not a hair perish’d;
                    On their sustaining garments not a blemish,
                    But fresher than before; and as thou badst me,
                    In troops I have dispers’d them ‘bout the isle.
                    The King’s son have I landed by himself,
                    Whom I left cooling of the air with sighs,
                    In an odd angle of the isle, and sitting,
                    His arms in this sad knot.

Again, Ariel paints images irresistible to the actor, first slowing the response with open vowels: “cooling,” “air,” “sighs,” “odd,” “angle,” “isle,” and then with the visual effect of languid despair, with “his arms in this sad knot.” It is almost impossible to deliver this line without choosing a spot on the ground to curl up, sigh and pine.

PROSPERO                               Of the King’s ship,
                    The mariners, say how thou hast dispos’d,
                    And all the rest o’ th’ fleet.
ARIEL                                                           Safely in harbor
                    Is the King’s ship, in the deep nook, where once
                    Thou call’dst me up at midnight to fetch dew
                    From the still-vex’d Bermoothes, there she’s hid;
                    The mariners all under hatches stowed,
                    Who, with a charm join’d to their suff’red labor,

Ariel’s words begin to push forward in the mouth, as though the cheeks were tightening, and the words squeezing through. The mouth spreads wide for “King’s”, but tightens with ship, and words like “nook,” “where,” “once,” “call’dst,” “dew,” “still,” “Bermoothes,” “under,” “hatches,” stowed,” “join’d,” and “labor.” Ariel has gone from her previous wide open “flamed amazement” to a new attitude, it segues into a ghost story, reflected in the tightened “oooh” shape of the face.

                    I have left asleep; and for the rest o’ th’ fleet
                    (Which I dispers’d), they all have met again,
                    And are upon the Mediterranean float
                    Bound sadly home for Naples,
                    Supposing that they saw the King’s ship wrack’d
                    And his great person perish.

Ariel’s words have grown final consonants, and the forced closure to each of these words, such as “King’s ship wrack’d” and “great person perish” punctuates and encumbers the delivery as the mariners drag themselves slowly, reluctantly, home.

PROSPERO                                                      Ariel, thy charge
                    Exactly is perform’d; but there’s more work.
                    What is the time o’ th’ day?

Prospero waits but a couple of seconds before breaking this mood and pushing Ariel back into her task.

ARIEL                                                                Past the mid season.
PROSPERO  At least two glasses. The time ‘twixt six and now
                    Must by us both be spent most preciously.

The ss’es of these words hiss out from Prospero, suggesting a furious activity.

ARIEL           Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me pains,
                    Let me remember the what thou hast promis’d,
                    Which is not yet perform’d me.

“Pains,” “promis’d” and “performed” all suggest the “p” of payment, which Ariel is now demanding.

PROSPERO                                                        How now? Moody?

 “How now” is its own internal rhyme, but “Moody” is a stand-alone accusation. A powerful Prospero can make Ariel cringe and quell from this word alone.

                    What is’t thou canst demand?
ARIEL                                                                 My liberty.
PROSPERO  Before the time be out? No more!

The giant that is Prospero has begun to awake, and “No more!” begins to anticipate the roar that lives in Prospero’s powerful voice. Even though Ariel continues to respond, and has obviously steeled herself to resist this first wave of Prospero’s reaction, her vowels stand in contrast, meek and pinched. The face pushes forward for “prithee,” “worthy service,” “grudge or grumblings” and “full year.” It’s hard to speak these words without seeming petulant and small.

ARIEL                                                                                         I prithee,
                    Remember I have done thee worthy service,
                    Told thee no lies, made thee no mistakings, serv’d
                    Without grudge or grumblings. Thou did promise
                    To bate me a full year.
PROSPERO                                        Dost thou forget
                    From what a torment I did free thee?

Meanwhile, Prospero’s face spreads wide, filled with threat and potential, “Dost thou forget,” and “what a torment” barely hold back the impending roar.

ARIEL                                                                                No.
PROSPERO  Thou dost; and think’st it much to tread the ooze
                    Of the salt deep,
                    To run upon the sharp wind of the north,
                    To do me business in the veins o’ th’earth
                    When it is bak’d with frost.

Again and again, these words spread the face wide and open, with words that are simultaneously threatening, and dripping with imagery of the elements: water, air, fire and earth. “Tread the ooze” feels wet and sticky; “sharp wind” is stiff and cold, with the “w” of “wind” whipping the cold air past, while “do me business” somehow descends into the earth itself.

ARIEL                                                              I do not, sir.
PROSPERO  Thou liest, malignant thing! Hast thou forgot
                    The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy
                    Was grown into a hoop? Hast thou forgot her?

Prospero shifts from deep, booming roars into harsh, lashing accusation. “Liest” slaps Ariel in the face, and “malignant thing” flares the nostrils with disgust. The “ss’s” lash at her: “liest,” “hast” and especially, “Sycorax,” a name that Shakespeare must have invented especially for the impact that it makes in this moment.

ARIEL          No, sir.
PROSPERO                Thou hast. Where was she born?
                    Speak. Tell me.
ARIEL                                     Sir, in Argier.

Even as Prospero’s hisses lash out, his logic gets shaky. His newfound energy has so overwhelmed Ariel that she might not notice, or dare to mention that there is no inherent contradiction in what Ariel has said and what Prospero counters with. Sycorax may well have been born in Argier, for all we know. Or she may have been born somewhere else, while later being banished from Argier. But Prospero is moving far too fast to explain this detail, and Ariel is caught up in his fury.

PROSPERO                                                     Oh, was she so? I must
                    Once in a month recount what thou hast been,
                    Which thou forget’st. This damn’d witch Sycorax,
                    For mischiefs manifold, and sorceries terrible
                    To enter human hearing, from Argier
                    Thou know’st was banish’d; for one thing she did
                    They would not take her life. Is not this true?

Again, wonderful booming words: “Damn’d witch Sycorax,” “mischiefs manifold,” “sorceries terrible,” “knowst was banished.” And then the curious allusion of the “one thing she did” which would keep the town from taking her life. Certainly, she was a witch in a time when witch burning was common, but what would have made her so unclean that the folk of Argier might not want to defile themselves in the process of killing her? Given that Sycorax arrived on the island pregnant and gave birth shortly thereafter to a deformed monster, one may wonder weather this is an allusion to bestiality (perhaps recruiting Ariel to secure such companionship); Prospero uses this as a tool to further frighten and disgust Ariel. In his next speech, Prospero may be alluding to it again, as “earthy and abhorr’d commands.”

ARIEL          Ay, sir.
PROSPERO               This blue-ey’d hag was hither brought with child,
                    And here was left by th’ sailors. Thou my slave,
                    As thou reports thyself, was then her servant,

Prospero is quoting Ariel, but also taunting her for her use of the word “slave,” as she has not lived up to its promise. And yet, slavery is slavery, and Prospero is no hero in his exploitation of Ariel. The fact that he “saved” her, much as a genie is released from a bottle, may mitigate the ugliness, but it is only by comparison to Sycorax that Prospero actually seems benevolent.

                    And for thou wast a spirit too delicate
                    To act her earthy and abhorr’d commands,

The sarcasm seems to well up from the vowels, here. “Delicate,” “act,” “earthy and abhorr’d commands” all fall neatly into the teasing lilt of Prospero’s taunt, hiding behind pursed lips and flaring nostrils.

                    She did confine thee,
                    Into a cloven pine, within which rift

“Confine” and “cloven” echo with “closed” and drive home the clasping, clamping containment.

                    Imprison’d, thou didst painfully remain
                    A dozen years; within which space she died,
                    And left thee there, where thou didst vent thy groans.

If Ariel is not yet overwhelmed, this line will drive her to torment. The open vowels of “THOU didst VENT THY GROANS,” strike out powerfully. She is so trampled by this that Prospero can lighten slightly, and return to an offhand recollection.

                    Then was this island
                    (Save for the son that she did litter here,
                    A freckled whelp, hag-born,) not honor’d with
                    A human shape.

There are two ways to read this: that the island was not honored with a human shape, as the placement of the parentheses would suggest, or (ignoring the parentheses as the addition of a later editor) that Caliban himself was not honored with a human shape. If the latter, then Prospero has wandered from whatever point he first intended to make with “Then was this island …” and as Ariel pipes up, Prospero is brought back to his more important action: slapping down Ariel, and he goes back to “piling on.”

ARIEL                                           Yes – Caliban her son.

As much as she may loathe Caliban, Ariel is certainly happy to change the subject.

PROSPERO  He, that Caliban
                    Whom now I keep in service. Thou best know’st
                    What torment I did find thee in; thy groans
                    Did make wolves howl, and penetrate the breasts
                    Of ever-angry bears. It was a torment
                    To lay upon the damn’d.

After his momentary distraction, Prospero returns to torment Ariel. The words beg to be sung, howled and roared, echoing with sounds that they imply: “groans,” “wolves howl” and “ever angry bears.” And to thrust the “torment to lay upon the damn’d” in the face of one who has endured that very torment, reflects a vicious streak almost unthinkable in one of Shakespeare’s heroes.

                    It was mine art,
                    When I arrived and heard thee, that made gape
                    The pine, and let thee out.
ARIEL                                                            I thank thee master.
PROSPERO  If thou more murmur’st, I will rend an oak
                    And peg thee in his knotty entrails till
                    Thou hast howl’d away twelve winters.

The big storm has passed, but Prospero still must finish the threat, making clear that the torment Ariel once faced will come again. He does so, once again with his punctilious consonants, words laced with t’s and d’s, as well as k’s and g’s. They have their own punctuation, as implied in “peg,” suggesting a sharp swing of the hammer which will poke Ariel into her new position. (And, of course, Prospero cannot resist one more threatening roar on “howl’d.”)

ARIEL                                                                                Pardon, master,
                    I will be correspondent to command
                    And do my spriting gently.
PROSPERO                                                Do so; and after two days
                    I will discharge thee.

There may well be a pause after “Do so,” as Prospero holds Ariel in his spell a moment longer, testing her resolve and her loyalty, before turning to toss the bone of “I will discharge thee.”

ARIEL                                                   That’s my noble master!
                    What shall I do? Say what? What shall I do?

As if she’s been tossed a bone, Ariel’s newfound energy recalls that of a puppy dog who has been whipped, and looks to make good with her master. One can almost hear the panting underneath “What shall I do?”

PROSPERO  Go make thyself like a nymph o’ th’ sea; be subject
                    To no sight but thine and mine, invisible
                    To every eyeball else. Go take this shape
                    And hither come in’t. Go. Hence with diligence!

Prospero repeats “go” three times, and yet he continues to speak. Ariel is likely very happy to be given leave to go, and may actually try to exit each time, drawn back in again with the awareness that there is yet more. And since this is a comedy, the third time is different, as Ariel returns for more information, but Prospero suggests “why aren’t you gone yet?”


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