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The Scrivener: Something Rich And Strange

Brian Barratt gives examples of the memorable words and phrases conjured up by Shakespeare, the greatest of all wordsmiths, in his magical play The Tempest.

This is the fourth in a five-part series of articles on this great work. To read earlier chapters, and many more splendid articles by Brian, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

And do please visit Brian's engaging Web site www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

There are many memorable lines in Shakespeare's play "The Tempest". Here are some of them. The references are a simple way of indicating act, scene and line numbers, though the line numbers might vary in different editions of the play.

1,1,33: His complexion is perfect gallows.

A wonderful turn of phrase. In the midst of a storm at sea, when all face the prospect of drowning, someone looks so ghastly that he has the appearance of a hanged man.

1,2,397. Ariel, a supernatural spirit, sings the well loved ditty:

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.

Apart from the poetic beauty of these lines, two phrases in particular have stayed with us and have been cited by other writers: "A sea-change" and "Something rich and strange''.

2,1,10: He receives comfort like cold porridge.

A delightfully picturesque put-down for someone who refuses to be encouraged or comforted!

2,2,42: Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.

Spoken by Trinculo when he needs to shelter from bad weather by creeping beneath a gaberdine (cape) with the fishy-smelling semi-human Caliban.

4,1,148: Towards the end of the play, Prospero explains what has been happening. These lines must surely be among Shakespeare's most sublime, especially when spoken in the immaculate diction of actors such as Sir John Gielgud and Sir Michael Hordern:

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,
Yea, 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.

5,1,183: Miranda's reaction to what she eventually sees is expressed in memorable lines. The first two words are a pun on her own name (see the explanation of her name, below). One phrase became the title of another great work of literature:

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is
! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!

5,1,315: Prospero at last liberates Ariel and makes a promise to his companions, in direct contrast to the feeling of "His complexion is perfect gallows":

I'll... promise calm seas, auspicious gales.


And now for some comments on names and phrases of particular interest.


The word cannibal had several spellings, including canibal. It was originally used by the Spanish to denote the people of the Caribbean whom they believed ate the flesh of humans. The word came into English in the 1550s and Shakespeare adapted it in this play the early 1600s Caliban is his anagram of canibal.


Gonzalo: ...The truth you speak doth lack some gentleness,
And time to speak it in: you rub the sore,
When you should bring the plaster.
Sebastian: Very well.
Antonio: And most chirurgeonly.

Means "like a trained surgeon". Chirurgeon, first used in the 13th century, is the word from which evolved our word "surgeon".

abundance, a good harvest
From Old French in the 13th century. The word became obsolete in the early 1800s.

...nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance.

Earth's increase, foison plenty,
Barns and garners never empty;


The name of Prospero's daughter. It is the feminine form of Latin mirandus, admirable, to be admired, to be wondered at. Probably coined as a name by Shakespeare. In 3,1,39, he has Ferdinand make a pun in the declaration, "Admired Miranda! Indeed the top of admiration!"



When Stephano finds Tinculo hiding beneath a gaberdine (cape), with Caliban, he declares that Caliban is a moon-calf, a monster. The term was first borrowed from German in the mid-1500s and Shakespeare, quick off the mark with new words, used it in "The Tempest" in 1611.


Magic and mayhem, revenge and romance, poetry and puns, new words and timeless phrases they're all there in Shakespeare's remarkable play "The Tempest".
Copyright Brian Barratt 2009


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