Ariel Stays On The Island, And I Just Can’t Even

I’ve admitted on plenty of occasions that I still have a lot to learn about Shakespeare. In fact, it is when I learn something new that I am again thrown back into my love for the subject as I run to the text and visit with my old friends again.

I have always, always read the end of The Tempest as:

  1. Ariel, now freed, disappears. Where does he go? Don’t know. Not sure we can even fathom the possibility. Ariel being an “aerie spirit,” could be pan-dimensional for all I know. Prospero says go, and he’s gone. I loved Mr. Teller’s interpretation where Ariel does a vanishing act, literally disappearing before our eyes.
  2. Caliban is left alone to be king of his island, a civilization of one, as he always wanted.

So it came as quite a shock last week when I was shown a line I’d never really noticed before.  As he prepares for his upcoming freedom, Ariel says:

Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

And my world changed. After all their time together, Prospero frees Ariel and Ariel basically just heads off to the other side of the island?  I imagine him sitting in a hammock sipping a drink out of a coconut like something from Gilligan’s Island. He might as well have said, “I miss my cloven pine, it was a little snug but really quite comfortable once you got used to it.”

I hate that so much. That means that, for starters, Caliban is not left alone on the island as he wanted. Worse, he doesn’t even have a kingdom, because Ariel’s not about to listen to him. Ariel and Caliban hate each other. So now I envision the ending of my favorite play with Caliban trying to be left alone and Ariel, now bored silly, forever tormenting him because there’s nothing else to do.

Somebody tell me I read that wrong, and the play isn’t completely ruined for me. I really hate that ending.  My way, everybody – even Caliban – gets a happy ending.  As it should be. This way doesn’t even make any sense. Wouldn’t Ariel want to escape the island as soon as he is able? He’s been a slave here for all those years, so he’ll celebrate his freedom by hanging around? I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.




3 thoughts on “Ariel Stays On The Island, And I Just Can’t Even

  1. I don’t know that this means s/he stays on the island. This is the rest of the song:

    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.

    If I were directing this, I would read it as Ariel is now free to go: Where the bee sucks. In a cowslip’s bell. Where the owls cry. On a bat’s back.

    The blossom s/he is under can be anywhere s/he chooses. Ariel is now off to explore the world.

  2. Given the rest of the song that Sally provides it sounds to me like Ariel’s headed to England…

  3. I’m with Sally here, especially since cowslips were not native to the specific island on which The Tempest is set.

    Freedom is freedom—Ariel can go any range of places. Yes, Amy, England included.

    But, from the song, I think it’s more likely that Ariel is going to visit cousins in the woods outside Athens to cause trouble.

    But, as Shakespeare Geek points out, Ariel could also remain on the island. Anyone up for writing a sequel set on the island as Caliban and Ariel battle it out?


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