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Is Revenge a Dish Best Served Cold?

The Meeting of Ferdinand and Miranda with Prospero by William Frost (1810-1877)

By Canon Ian Morter, Priest Vicar

Last week I was given the most wonderful opportunity to go to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on London’s South Bank. The afternoon performance in this wonderfully reconstructed Elizabethan theatre was The Tempest which explores the themes of complex family relationships over-shadowed by revenge. Hence my question: ‘Is revenge a dish best served cold?’ The story starts with a ship caught in a great tempest at sea where the passengers seemed doomed to perish.

What is revealed is that this tempest is conjured up as the result of a magic spell cast by the complex and contradictory character, the sorcerer Prospero. He had formerly been the Duke of Milan but was deposed by his envious and scheming brother, Antonio, who felt that Prospero was more interested in practicing his magic arts than ruling the Dukedom of Milan. He and his daughter, Miranda, are exiled to a remote island inhabited only by Caliban, a wild savage of a man, and Ariel, an airy spirit.

As a result of Prospero’s storm, the passengers of the ship are all washed up on the island, but in a number of separate locations. They know nothing of the survival of their fellow passengers. The first character we meet is Ferdinand, the son of Prospero’s sworn enemy, the King of Naples. Ferdinand chances upon Miranda and they immediately fall in love. Prospero, on meeting Ferdinand, requires that he should work for him collecting logs.
Elsewhere on the island, another group of survivors are gathered: Alonso (King of Naples), with his brother Sebastian, and Antonio (Prospero’s brother, now the usurping Duke of Milan). They all fall out and bicker and are put to sleep by the spirit, Ariel.

Meanwhile, Caliban, reluctantly gathering wood for Prospero and cursing his master, meets a further two men from the shipwreck: Stephano, who is King Alonso’s drunken butler; and Trinculo, Alonso’s jester. Stephano gives Caliban some wine, which causes him to plot with them the down fall of his master Prospero. The faithful spirit Ariel overhears these plans and rushes to enlighten Prospero.

Ferdinand, now Prospero’s de facto prisoner, gathers logs for him. Ferdinand and Miranda talk and pledge their love for each other. Unbeknownst to either of them, Prospero is listening in, ‘eavesdropping ’ their conversation from a distance. Prospero gives Ferdinand and Miranda’s union his blessing.

Now Prospero recalls the plot against him by Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo. As the three wannabe usurpers drunkenly prepare to overthrow Prospero, Ariel goes and ensures the three of them are chased off into the swamps by goblins.

Prospero agrees to free King Alonso and his followers (who are still asleep elsewhere on the island, after the spell Ariel cast on them). He welcomes them to the island. Alonso is remorseful for his past deeds against Prospero. He forgives Antonio, Alonso, and Sebastian for overthrowing him as Duke of Milan, and they agree to restore Prospero’s dukedom. Prospero discovers Ferdinand and Miranda, now ‘fully loved up’ playing chess together. Alonso is overjoyed to discover his son is alive and has survived the tempest. Prospero commands Ariel to free Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo. Caliban vows to serve Prospero from now on and behave himself, realising what a mistake it was to follow the drunken Stephano as a likely king. Meanwhile, Stephano and Trinculo are restored to Alonso. Prospero prepares to leave the island along with Alonso and Antonio and the others, freeing Ariel from his servitude.

At the end of the play Prospero forgives everyone who have served him so badly in the past and says: ‘Let us not burthen our remembrance with a heaviness that’s gone.’ So the answer to my opening question is NO – revenge is not a dish best served cold! Just remember: ‘to err is Human, to FORGIVE Divine!’