The Tempest Navigator Home

The Tempest Navigator: Notable Quotes
[Click on any quote to see it in the complete
annotated text of The Tempest.]

I have great comfort from this fellow: methinks he
hath no drowning mark upon him; his complexion is
perfect gallows.
— Gonzalo, fearing the ferocity of the storm, takes comfort from the fact that the boatswain's complexion marks him as a probable candidate for hanging, conforming to the then well-known proverb which states, "He that is born to be hanged need fear no drowning."

Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an
acre of barren ground, long heath, brown furze, any
thing. The wills above be done! but I would fain
die a dry death.
— Gonzalo swears that he would trade a thousand furlongs (one furlong equals 220 yards) for an acre of barren, useless ground which will grow nothing but heath flowers. Gonzalo grants the gods their supremacy ("The wills above be done!"), but avidly prefers to die on land.

                                        What seest thou else
In the dark backward and abysm of time?
— Prospero is surprised that his daughter, Miranda, can remember having several attendants as a child of three, so Prospero asks her what else she can remember from that deep, dark pit of past ("backward") time, when she was but three.

                                  by telling of it,
Made such a sinner of his memory,
To credit his own lie, he did believe
He was indeed the duke
— Prospero is telling his daughter, Miranda, their family history: it seems that Prospero used to be the Duke of Milan, a duke who fully trusted his brother Antonio, and gave him many responsibilities for the dukedom, while Prospero spent his time pursuing the life of the mind. Antonio became a skilled power broker and told so many lies so many times that he began to believe his own lies—the biggest lie being that Antonio (not his brother Prospero) was the Duke of Milan.

Your tale, sir, would cure deafness.
— Prospero is in the middle of a long and complicated tale of his brother's betrayal; every time he pauses for breath he has accused Miranda of not paying attention, an accusation which Miranda has denied several times. When her father asks her once again if she is listening, she gently replies that his tale would cure deafness.

                                my library
Was dukedom large enough
— Prospero continues explaining to his daughter how his brother was able to wrest away his dukedom, when he tells her that his old library was large enough to encompass his interests, so that was where he spent most of his time.

A rotten carcass of a butt, not rigg'd,
Nor tackle, sail, nor mast; the very rats
Instinctively had quit it
— Prospero is telling his daughter, Miranda, how they first came to live on their remote island; Antonio, his brother, (daring not to kill the popular Prospero) had his men take Prospero and the infant Miranda far out to sea before setting them afloat upon a sad excuse for a boat. The boat was more like a tub, as it was not equipped with sails or rigging—even the rats knew by instinct to flee ("quit") their leaky tub, as abandoning ship is what rats instinctively do when a ship is about to sink.

Knowing I loved my books, he furnish'd me
From mine own library with volumes that
I prize above my dukedom.
— Prospero is explaining to Miranda how they would not have survived had it not been for Gonzalo who, in addition to the necessities of life, had provided Prospero with some of his own books, which Prospero vows that he valued more than his dukedom.

Safely in harbour
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.
— Ariel, an airy spirit, has just told Prospero that his enemies survived the storm he ordered and are safe and unharmed; now Prospero wants to know what has become of their main ship. Ariel replies that the king's ship is also safe at harbor, in the very inlet ("nook") where Prospero commanded his spirit to fetch the magic dew from the always stormy ("still-vex'd") Bermuda Islands.

Pardon, master;
I will be correspondent to command
And do my spiriting gently.
— Ariel becomes submissive to his master, Prospero, who threatens to imprison him in an oak box for twelve years. Ariel replies that he will do exactly as instructed, plus he will go over and above Prospero's commands by adding graciousness to his spiriting.

You taught me language; and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!
— Caliban is denouncing Prospero for teaching ("learning") him his language, declaring that the only good Prospero's language has done him is enabling him to curse; Caliban gives an immediate example of his cursing ability by calling upon the red plague to destroy Prospero for teaching him his language.

Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:
Courtsied when you have and kiss'd
The wild waves whist,
Foot it featly here and there.
— These romantic song lyrics, which describe a beach with yellow sand and incoming waves dashing about while two lovers hold hands, curtsy and kiss, initiate the spell Ariel is putting on Ferdinand; the charm which will induce Ferdinand to fall in love with Miranda per her father's whispered instructions to Ariel (which Prospero later confirms in aside 1.2.439).

This music crept by me upon the waters,
Allaying both their fury and my passion
With its sweet air: thence I have follow'd it
— Ferdinand asks himself where the music which mellows out the passions is coming from; Ferdinand follows the "sweet air" of Ariel's music which has enchanted him.

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
— According to Ferdinand, Ariel's song lyrics commemorate the death of his father, which further charms Ferdinand with heroic images ("pearls that were his eyes") and an hourly sea-nymphs' celebration of his father's life and person, which has been turned into "something rich and strange" from the effects of a "sea-change."

The fringed curtains of thine eye advance
And say what thou seest yond.
— Prospero is encouraging his daughter, Miranda, to appreciate the sight of Ferdinand, the young "gallant": the sight of the beloved was thought to fuel and inflate sexual passion.

They are both in either's powers; but this swift business
I must uneasy make, lest too light winning
Make the prize light.
— Prospero is refining his scheme to unite his daughter Miranda with Ferdinand: he knows that love (or any "prize") won too easily is not fully appreciated, so he decides to place some impediments between Miranda with Ferdinand to delay their courtship ("this swift business").

There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple:
If the ill spirit have so fair a house,
Good things will strive to dwell with't.
— Miranda is expressing her infatuation for Ferdinand: the "temple" is Ferdinand's body where even ill spirits will improve, as good spirits will be tempted by the "fair" house of Ferdinand's body to co-exist with the ill.

He receives comfort like cold porridge.
— After Gonzalo's speech about how lucky they all are to be alive, Alonso asks him to stop talking: Sebastian remarks to Anthony that Alonso "receives comfort" as if it were cold soup or cold oatmeal broth.

I' the commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure.
— Gonzalo is dreaming out loud about what a utopia this island could become if he were in charge, as he would run ("execute") things completely differently ("by contraries"): no business ("traffic") would be allowed, no government ("magistrates"), no education ("letters"), no servants ("use of service"), and no inherited land titles would exist. Nobody would be rich and nobody would be poor; neither vineyards nor farming would be allowed and all men and women would remain idle, yet all the women would be pure and innocent.

We all were sea-swallow'd, though some cast again,
And by that destiny to perform an act
Whereof what's past is prologue, what to come
In yours and my discharge.
— Antonio has been trying to talk Sebastian into killing his own brother (Alonso, the King of Naples). His disappearance would make Sebastian king now that Alonso's daughter is too far away to inherit the rule of Naples and Alonso's son has most certainly been drowned, which makes Sebastian the next in line to his brother's kingdom. Antonio continues his persuasion by saying they have all been through a shipwreck, a trauma which has changed things (presumably by drowning Alonso's son, Ferdinand) and has forced them to reconsider their futures: that trauma, the shipwreck, might form the prologue to a future they had not formerly considered. Together they can take destiny in their hands with two simple murders—Alonso's and Gonzalo's.

While you here do snoring lie,
Open-eyed conspiracy
His time doth take.
— Ariel hears Antonio's scheming persuading Sebastian and awakes Gonzalo so the conspirators cannot kill him in his sleep.

A fish: he smells
like a fish; a very ancient and fish-like smell; a kind of
not of the newest Poor-John. A strange fish!
— Trinculo comes across Caliban and wonders if he is a fish due to his unsightly appearance, commenting to himself that Caliban does smells like the old kind of cheap salted fish, not the newer kind of salted fish eaten by the poor ("Poor-John"), and finally concludes that whatever Caliban is, he is an altogether "strange fish."

Alas, the storm is come again! my
best way is to creep under his gaberdine; there is no
other shelter hereabouts: misery acquaints a man with
strange bed-fellows.
— Trinculo desperately decides to seek shelter from the storm under Caliban's cloak ("gaberdine"), commenting wryly that "misery acquaints a man with strange bed-fellows"; normally he would not choose to bunk with a grotesque, but misery changes normal expectations.

I shall laugh myself to death at this puppy-headed
monster. A most scurvy monster! I could find in my
heart to beat him
— The drunker Caliban gets, the more he declares his new-found adoration for Stephano (who has provided his alcohol), the more appalled Trinculo becomes at the "scurvy monster" and seems tempted to attack Caliban.

'Ban, 'Ban, Cacaliban
Has a new master: get a new man.
Freedom, hey-day!
— Caliban is drunkenly singing a celebration of his change in masters: Caliban uses a nickname for himself ("'Ban") who now has sworn to serve Stephano instead of Prospero and feels a sense of freedom due to his decision.

For several virtues
Have I liked several women; never any
With so full soul, but some defect in her
Did quarrel with the noblest grace she ow'd
And put it to the foil
— Ferdinand is confessing to Miranda that he has been intrigued with various other women who have charmed him with one virtue or another, but never before has he felt this strongly ("with so full soul"); additionally, the women would only charm him temporarily─until he discovered a fault ("defect") that negated their original charm.

FERDINAND
Here's my hand.
MIRANDA
And mine, with my heart in't
— Ferdinand and Miranda are affirming their love for one another. Ferdinand speaks literally and Miranda figuratively.

Moon-calf, speak once in thy life, if thou beest a
good moon-calf.
— Stephano is affectionately and drunkenly admonishing Caliban to be a good moon-calf, which was a name for those born deformed, as the influence of the moon was thought to somehow cause deformity.

Why, thou deboshed fish thou,
was there ever man a coward that hath drunk so much
sack as I to-day? Wilt thou tell a monstrous lie,
being but half a fish and half a monster?
— Stephano has just declared that Caliban, "My man-monster hath drown'd his tongue in sack," ("sack" was a common intoxicant) when Trinculo calls Caliban a debauched ("deboshed") fish, because he has told Stephano that Trinculo himself is not valiant which Trinculo calls "a monstrous lie" and asks how Caliban with his grotesque, scaly appearance dares to lie.

Trinculo, keep a good tongue in your head: if you
prove a mutineer,—the next tree! The poor monster's
my subject and he shall not suffer indignity.
— Stephano admonishes Trinculo for insulting Caliban, telling him to speak politely ("keep a good tongue in your head") to Caliban, threatening (probably) jokingly to hang Trinculo if he proves disloyal, as Caliban has suffered enough humiliation.

Flout 'em and scout 'em
And scout 'em and flout 'em
Thought is free.
— Caliban requests Stephano to sing the song he just taught him, and after Stephano begins a ditty on treating others with contempt and insults because saying what you think is freedom, Caliban protests that that was not the song he requested.

He that dies pays all debts
— Stephano is spooked by Ariel's music, as Ariel is invisible to Stephano, who is trying to look on the bright side of a potential death, noting that the dead are debt-free.

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
— Caliban reassures his new master Stephano, telling him not to be afraid, as the island is full of strange noises, voices and instruments which induce dream-laden sleep that seems to promise to reveal the secrets concealed in clouds just before waking, which makes a person cry out to dream that dream again.

Although they want the use of tongue, a kind
Of excellent dumb discourse.
— Alonso is impressed by the mime show of shapes which brought in a banquet and asked them to eat without the use of words.

Look thou be true; do not give dalliance
Too much the rein: the strongest oaths are straw
To the fire i' the blood: be more abstemious
— Prospero is advising Ferdinand on the proper way to treat his daughter, Miranda, after marriage, warning him to be honest and loyal ("true"), and not engage in too much flirtatiousness ("dalliance"), as the strongest marriage vows can turn to highly flammable straw in the fire of passion; Prospero advises temperance.

Our revels now are ended. 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 towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye 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.
— The charm of the play is revealed in Prospero's explanation of the revels, and the spirit actors who melt into thin air, as does the imagined setting ("baseless fabric") of the vision itself—the cloud-capped towers, palaces and temples dissolve just as easily as the real people who inherit the actual world, leaving not a rack behind, which makes us all the stuff that dreams are made on who begin life with womb sleep and end the insubstantiality of our lives with the sleep of non-existence.

I will have none on't: we shall lose our time,
And all be turn'd to barnacles, or to apes
With foreheads villanous low.
— Caliban refuses Trinculo's command to cover himself with lime (birdlime—a sticky substance used to capture small birds was also slang for sticky-fingered thieves), saying that he refuses to take part in tactics which will only waste their time and make them look as brainless as barnacles or as criminal as apes with low foreheads first appear.

I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.
— Prospero declares that after this last bit of magic is complete, he will break his magic staff and bury it deep in the earth and he will drown his magic book deeper than sound has penetrated the sea.

Where the bee sucks. there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
— Ariel, the airy spirit, (apparently about the size of Peter Pan's Tinkerbell) sings a sweet song describing his upcoming summer of freedom, when he will feast upon pollen like the bees do, sleep within the elongated cowslip blossom at night ("There I couch when owls do cry"), fly on the backs of bats, and live happily under summer's blossoms.

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!
— Miranda, who has been raised in seclusion on an island with few people, expresses her delight at the newly discovered world which is full of such wonderful people.

Let us not burthen our remembrance with
A heaviness that's gone.
— Alonso has just expressed his regret for past actions, but Prospero tells him that they must not burden themselves with sadness that is now in the past.

Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
— Prospero is speaking directly to the audience, and has asked for their applause ("With the help of your good hands"), as he now lacks "spirits to enforce" and "art to enchant" (since the play is over); his end will be despair unless he "be relieved by prayer" (his petition to the audience), which forgives all faults, just as the audience would like to have their sins pardoned, Prospero says the audience's approval will pardon and free him from his island of confinement to resume his dukedom and begin his new future in Milan.

The Tempest Navigator Home