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Incidentally, the Hebrew plural is, characteristically, indicated by an "-im" suffix, so that one can speak of one cherub, but two cherubim. Such a plural is utterly foreign to English, of course, and the tendency is to consider cherubim (or cherubin) as a singular and then speak of cheru-bims or cherubins if the plural is needed. Shakespeare uses such a false singular here.

… my Ariel.. .

Having completed his tale, Prospero makes Miranda sleep by his magical art and proceeds about the more serious business of the day. He calls to him the chief spirit at his command:

Come away [here], servant, come! I am ready now. Approach, my Ariel! Come!


—Act I, scene ii, lines 187-88

Ariel is a spirit of the air, wild and free, and untainted by any form of earthiness or earth-bound humanity.

The name has a biblical sound. In Isaiah 29:1 the prophet says: "Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt!" The word means "lion of God" or possibly "hearth of God" and is meant as a poetic synonym for Jerusalem.

Yet it sounds like the name of a spirit or angel, since all the angelic names in the Bible and the Apocrypha end in the suffix "-el" (God), as Gabriel, Rafael, Azrael, and Uriel. The first part of the name, "Ari-" sounds like "airy," which makes it fitting for an airy spirit.

The name Ariel is also to be found in the heavens through a queer concatenation of events.

In 1787 the German-English astronomer William Herschel discovered two satellites of the planet Uranus (which he had discovered a few years earlier) and broke with the long-established custom of naming bodies of the solar system after Greek and Roman deities. Instead, he called them Titania and Oberon (see page I-28).

In 1851 the English astronomer William Lassell discovered two more satellites, closer to the planet, and went along with the spirit names. He called the new satellites Ariel and Umbriel.

These two spirits are from the poem The Rape of the Lock by the English poet Alexander Pope, published in 1712. In the poem, Ariel is the name given to a sylph who guards Belinda, the heroine. (It seems quite reasonable to suppose that Pope borrowed the name from Shakespeare.) Umbriel, on the other hand, is a melancholy spirit, always sighing and weeping, with a name suggested by the fact that umbra is Latin for "shadow." Umbriel is always in the shadows and the name occurs nowhere else in literature.

Nevertheless, so much better known is The Tempest than The Rape of the Lock that the satellite Ariel is much more likely to be associated with the former than with the latter.

Thus, in 1948, when the Dutch-American astronomer Gerard P. Kuiper discovered a fifth satellite of Uranus, closer (and smaller) than any of the others, he automatically allowed Ariel to suggest another name from The Tempest and the new satellite he named "Miranda."

I flamed amazement…

When Ariel arrives, it appears that the tempest is no true tempest but an appearance raised by magical arts, designed to frighten the men on the ship and set the stage for Prospero's plan to set all things to rights. Ariel explains how he carried out his task of creating panic:

Now on the beak, Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin, I flamed amazement. Sometime I'd divide And burn in many places;

—Act I, scene ii, lines 196-99

Ariel was, in other words, converting himself into "St. Elmo's fire." This is the glow produced on dark, stormy nights by gathering static electricity, which is discharged from pointed objects. Such a discharge, if vigorous enough, will produce a glow.

It will appear on the points of masts or spars, for instance. If one glow is seen it is called "Helena" (in reference to Helen of Troy) and if it divides in two it is "Castor and Pollux" (the twin brothers of Helen).

There is no St. Elmo. The name is thought to be a corruption of "St. Erasmus," the patron saint of Mediterranean sailors. The glow was thought to be the visible sign of the saint guarding them during the storm.

… the still-vexed Bermoothes …

Ariel carefully explains that no one has been hurt, although they have been separated: the King's son brought to shore alone; the other royalty brought to another place; the ship itself taken safe to harbor; and the rest of the fleet sent sadly on its way thinking they had seen the flagship, with the King on board, wrecked.

Ariel describes the place where he has bestowed the ship, saying:

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-vexed [always stormy] Bermoothes …

—Act I, scene ii, lines 226-29

The Bermoothes are the Bermudas, a group of small islands which, all together, are no larger than Manhattan. They had come dramatically into the news shortly before The Tempest was written.

In 1607 the English had made their first permanent settlement in what is now the United States, at Jamestown in Virginia. The settlement barely managed to survive its first few years and it required periodic infusions of new colonists and supplies from England to keep going. In 1609 a fleet of nine ships sailed westward to supply Jamestown.

A storm hit them off the Bermudas and the flagship, carrying the admiral and the new governor of Virginia, was separated from the rest. The remaining eight ships made it to Jamestown; the flagship did not and was given up for lost.

Apparently, though, it had managed to come ashore in the Bermudas and there its passengers and crew managed to eke a living until they could build two small boats that carried them west across the six hundred miles that separated them from the mainland. They showed up in Jamestown nearly a year after the storm and it was as though they had come back from the dead.

It was a sensation and the tale of the adventure filled England to the point where Shakespeare calls the islands "still-vexed" because of the association with the storm that wrecked the flagship, though the.Bermudas are not more stormy than other places. The description of the Bermudas by those who were stranded there so long was most favorable and Prospero's magic island seems modeled on the reports of Bermuda (which has remained British territory ever since).

In fact, there seems no question but that the tale of this shipwreck inspired Shakespeare to write The Tempest. There is a storm that separates the flagship from the fleet. Men are lost and yet not lost but are saved in almost miraculous fashion after spending time on an almost magical island. All Shakespeare had to do was add an Italian-style romance.

The foul witch Sycorax.. .

Pleased with himself, Ariel reminds Prospero that the long term of service he has rendered draws to a close and that he has been promised his freedom. Prospero, who is working out his climactic scheme, and needs only another day, is irritated, and reminds Ariel from what misery he had been rescued.

Prospero says:

Hast thou forgot The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy Was grown into a hoop?


—Act I, scene ii, lines 257-59

The name is an invention of Shakespeare's, though it may have arisen out of the combination of Greek words for "pig" and "crow." Prospero asks Ariel where Sycorax was born and the spirit answers:

Sir, in Argier.


—Act I, scene ii, line 260

Argier is a distorted version of Algiers, a city on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, 650 miles southwest of Naples. It had been founded in 950 as a Moslem town and has remained Moslem ever since. To the Christians of Europe, a Moslem town would seem like a natural birthplace for a witch.



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