A True History of Prince Prospero: a variant text from the Isle of Caliban



SCENE 1: IN THE BLACK, waves and seagulls. LIGHTS UP on a lone, stunted pine.

Enter GONZALO, dressed out of Holbein, laden with over-sized atlas, map and sextant.

He is followed by MATE, a roguish seaman bearing a pennant. Both wear black armbands.

GONZALO speaks Oxford English, MATE has a Latin lilt.



What name is given to this island, mate?

These Southern Seas prove not to navigate

As easily as I have read upon the matter.



Senor Vespucci never sailed these waters.

You’ll find maps here are difficult to follow,

Senor… Gonzago, is it?



It’s Gonzalo.



This “island,” sir, is not on any chart,

For it defies the navigator’s art

To steer a wandering bark unto these shores,

Or learn’d astronomer to find it by the stars.

No, you’ll not find this isle on any map.

Serendip-like, we find it by mishap.


GONZALO: (aside)

A nameless rock far from a nameless coast, eh?

It’s perfect for the purpose of my master.



I did not say, sir, that the isle is nameless.

The ancients called this rock Old Setebos.

The mariner’s myth is that it disappears

In fogbanks, then magically reappears

At some other longitude and latitude.



Enchanted, then?



Bewitched’s a better word.



A legend I recall, about a sea-witch—

Like Circe, or the Sirens… Sycorax?



Exactly. Some say this her island is.



Heraclitus, he called it Caliban, yes?



And is Heraclitus a name that I should know?



Poet. Third Century BC.



I didn’t think so.

But Setebos or Sycorax, it’s all the same.

It’s just a rock, and a rock it will remain.

To give the rock a name? Here’s what I think:

I vote for Caliban. It sounds more Greek.


MATE plants the pennant. Offstage, a hautboy plays John Dowland’s “Flow My Tears.”

Enter PRINCE PROSPERO, wearing a black Doge’s cap and robes, in either arm

clutching his infant daughter, swaddled in white, and a silver urn, resting on a red pillow.



My good Prince Prospero, I did as I was bid.

You said to find a place remote. I did.

This formal dirge and burial detail owing

Unto the Duchess Ariel notwithstanding,

I must protest that we delay our voyage

When swords are drawn and at an edge

Of readiness, to be brought down upon

Your brother the Usurper.


MATE: (with pennant)

“Free the homeland.”



Your Grace well knows the customs maritime

Observable throughout recorded time

That serve in such a melancholy case.

When pressing matters make pressing need of haste,

Sagacious sailors do not make for port.



Just dump my Duchess’ ashes from the starboard poop,

And put us out to sea in a leaky cask?



A caravel was all I dare to ask

When not an admiral I found but he

Was suspect in your brother’s mutiny.



Go! Private grief is not for public scrutiny.

My duchess is dead. I have no power.

I’ll never see the son she carried inside her.

Our infant daughter pines for her mother.

I have no power. Tell His Grace my brother

That I wish him well, and leave me here.

What awaits me, awaits me. What’s past is past.





Is that a command, your Grace?



My last.


GONZALO bows, MATE kneels. Exuent. Manet PROSPERO, who kneels at the foot of the pine, laying both his burdens to either side. He weeps, beats the earth in frustration, and cries to Heaven.


Oh Angel, high or fallen, whatsoe’er

By this Rough Magic or by simple prayer

Can be so summoned, come and aid me now.

I’ve lost my love, my light. I do not know

If I possess the strength to raise our child

Alone, without her. I find I am beguiled

By grief, waylaid by woe. Even the will

Is wanting that would have me end it all.

Oh, gladly I’d change place to be entombed

Instead of he who died within his mother’s womb.

Or die he, if in dying he did not take

My dear beloved Ariel in his wake.


                        LIGHTS SHIFT. The wind comes up. We hear the recorder playing Dowland’s

                        “Come again, sweet love.” The urn’s lid flies open, releasing a cloud of ash

                        which materializes into an exotic blue-skinned jinn in a masque by Inigo Jones.

                        This is the spirit we’ll call ARIEL.



I am a jinn, a spirit bound in service

Unto thou, thou who has freed me, Magus.



What, Ariel?



My history, false or true:

It has been a dozen long and languid years

Since I appeared. What is it that placed me here?

Old Sycorax, they used to call her,

The demons who paraded ‘round her fire,

For generation after generation.

A spell was cast that cleft this pine, encasing

My poor spirit there. Now Sycorax is fled.



But you are Ariel, my wife who’s dead.



Before the time of Sycorax, I was a maid

Who never aged; at other times, the bawd

Of Setebos, this isle’s ancestral god,

Our father, our son, and our unholy lover.

A slave appears as their master sees them.

What to you, Magus, will I be or seem?



My Ariel, the wife I thought was gone.



Pity. That will not make you free me soon.

And yet, one day, you’ll see me for who I am.


                                    ARIEL kisses PROSPERO. From the place where PROSPERO struck the earth,

                                    a figure sits up –the manifestation we call CALIBAN.



Oh many years of study it shall take

Before thou shouldst a proper human make.



It lies not in our power, but in his sympathies.



Damnation ! Oh, we’ll be here centuries!


                                    CALIBAN falls back to earth, frustrated. PROSPERO rises appalled.



What thing is that?



Yo ho, what thing is this ?

A perfect poesy, all innocence!


CALIBAN sees the baby-bundle between him and PROSPERO. ARIEL retrieves it, staring at PROSPERO, shaking her head, and holding a finger to her pursed lips.



I’ll ask again, what thing are you?




I’m Caliban. Doest thou not know me, Da?


CALIBAN hugs PROSPERO, who freezes. ARIEL hugs the baby, who cries. BLACKOUT. END OF SCENE 1.


                                    SCENE 2. LIGHTS UP. INTERIOR OF A CAVE. ARIEL stands center, wearing

an apron and nursing the baby, quieter now. In her other hand, she holds a mirror, in which she admires herself. PROSPERO kneels at her feet, consulting a book and working with flash paper. After a poor effect, he checks his text; after a good one, he makes a note. ARIEL flashes reflected light from the mirror on him. 



I could make fire for you easier.




Fire is a man’s work, though I thank you, wife.



Her name was Ariel.



Yes, Ariel.



What would the boy’s name be, had he seen life?


                                    CALIBAN enters, a good boy, eager to help, and deposits a bundle of logs.


Caliban! Look, mother, I found firewood.

What, haven’t got the fire started quite yet, Dad?



No, boy, I lack your mother’s patient skill.

Don’t you have something else to do?

(to ARIEL:) Your son’s a pill!



Isn’t he your son too?


                        PROSPERO ignores them, busy with his spells. CALIBAN scowls, now a sullen teen.



There’s naught but meanness I can see in him.



He’s lost his love. Love is what makes them human.

I know that it is hard to understand.

He loves you, but he thinks he lost you –Caliban!


                        CALIBAN exits, muttering to himself. PROSPERO continues with his spells, oblivious.

                        ARIEL flicks the cloth, and the infant disappears, the cloth now a prop for the following

                        —by turns a face-towel and shoulder wrap for MIRANDA, who enters as a petite girl

                        carrying a teddy bear larger than she is. With ARIEL’s help, she transforms before us

                         from toddler to teen.


Our children grow –What is she, two?— so quick!

She’s taking solid food, she’s walking, talking.

Before you know it, now she is six.

She’s off to school, she’s eight, she’s ten, a gawking

Adolescent. She’s twelve already. So quick.

To keep them at that age, now that’s a trick!


                        ARIEL spreads the cloth on the ground for a picnic. MIRANDA sits with the teddy bear.                                   

                        CALIBAN enters, bearing a tea-service. PROSPERO works with flash paper, oblivious.




You really only need the one, you know.

The one spell. I await your bidding.

Where is Miranda?



Oh, I let her go

Collecting shells with Caliban.



You’re kidding.



With scores of spells, I’ve got that rascal bound –

Enough to render even Caliban obedient.



Ah! “Give him boundaries.” Haven’t you found

That’s less effective than it is expedient?


ARIEL watches as MIRANDA places a bandana on the teddy bear as bib.

                        CALIBAN puts a bandana on his own head and sits cross-legged on the cloth

                        as MIRANDA takes out flash cards, holding them up for CALIBAN.



“A.” “A” is for At One Ment.



It’s “Atonement.”



“Atonement.” What’s Atonement?



It says the moment

Of Grace that we derive from Worldy Acts.



Oh. Worldly acts, eh?



Yes. Of Grace.



That sucks.

“B.” “B” is for Beat It, Dude.






beeby-beeby-beeby-beeb!— “Attitude.”




Cal! Be serious. “C.”



“C” is for Caliban!


                        MIRANDA glares at CALIBAN. It does no good. He does a little dance.


Can-Can Caliban! Stole a kiss and away he ran! Can-Can Caliban!



Cal! You’re not playing right!



I’m sorry, Randy.

…Not speaking to us now? Oh that’s just dandy!



My name’s Miranda.



But you call me Cal!

What’s up with that, Ted? It’s just you and me, pal.



Don’t call him Ted! Don’t try to make me laugh!

You with your attitude, that stupid scarf!

An artless jackanapes, a tart-tongued knave,

The ape of fashion and a willful slave!

You’re nothing but a— You’re ridiculous!


                                    CALIBAN, hurt to the quick, takes this with dignity.



That doesn’t make you more. It only makes me less.

I’m not your slave, and you’re the one who’s willful.


                                    MIRANDA melts into CALIBAN’s awkward arms.



I’ve not shamed you. I’ve only shamed myself, Cal.

I’m sorry. Cal! I love you so. I do.


                                    MIRANDA kisses CALIBAN.



You hurt me with your words, but kiss me too?

Oh, so that is love. But it’s not sublime.

It’s painful. If that’s what Father feels, I pity him.



I’m sorry, Cal. I love you.




Do you, Half Sis?



Why do you call me that?



Because… of… THIS!


                        CALIBAN jumps on MIRANDA and tickles her. Frisky turns amorous. CAL stops.



It’s alright, Cal. It’s alright. You don’t have to stop.



She’s what, fifteen now? Sixteen? All grown up.



But me, I can’t. I can’t. If I were human,

Why, I would fill this isle with Calibans.


                        Roused by the tussle, PROSPERO discovers the two kids.



Unhand my daughter, fiend!



But father, we—



Be silent, girl! I trusted you, but now I see

You’re not the son I lost! You’re nothing to me!

You’re worse than nothing! You’re—



I’m Caliban.



A monstrous fiend! A wretch! A thing! Inhuman!



You’d rather see her topped by some young gentleman?



A sharp-tongued monster! Well, monster, learn your place.

I’ll master you! I’ll scar your back and brand your face

To make you look the monster that you are.


                                    ARIEL steps forward, holding the mirror. It glints in the light.



With all this smoke, great Magus, where is the mirror?




Mirror? Behold what thou has monstered forth.



Behold what you have brought forth for yourself.

If he’s a monster, I’m a monster, too.



I don’t know what you’re talking about.



You do.


A flash of lightening, no sound yet.


If you don’t see it yet, you really ought to know.

I told you when you came here, Prospero.

I’m not your wife, your Ariel.



Who are you, then?



My name was sometime Sycorax.



And him?



Some call me Setebos. But you can call me Cal.



And I am your grown daughter, your Miranda.


                                    There is a distant roll of thunder.



Fate intervenes. The time has come for candor.

A tempest is now rising, which will bring

The past come sailing back to you, to fling

Your enemies upon the rocky verge

You’ve built around yourself. Now Fate will urge

The issue of forgiveness, not just of others,

Of faithless councilors, usurping brothers,

The men who took your kingdom, stole your wealth,

But of that hatred in you –you, yourself.


                        Lightning flashes once, again. The mirror glints in PROSPERO’s eyes.








Your loss was grievous, and it made you hard.

A hermit in a cave, obsessed with an arcane art,

Without a thought to your poor daughter’s love

For strange new worlds that you’ve grown weary of.


MIRANDA: (putting her arm around CAL)

Made you deny the boy that you’d called son.

Made you reject a love that you’d once won.


CALIBAN: (putting his arm around ARIEL)

Made you neglect the woman you adored.

Made you abuse her, treat her like a chore.


ARIEL: (holding the mirror up to PROSPERO)

Made you do terrible things, while you decried

The monster in the glass you darkly scried.


Thunder, growing louder. The mirror glints in PROSPERO’s eyes.



I see a powerful magic raised against me.

But you’ve not reckoned with my potency.


Lightning, closer now. PROSPERO pushes ARIEL and CALIBAN.


Chant spells, make signs, do what you can.

Do your worst, I’ll stand it, as I am a man.


                                    Thunder, closer now. PROSPERO draws a whip from his belt.








ARIEL hands the mirror to MIRANDA. She holds it toward the audience,

beyond which she has just sighted something. Thunder and lightning.



Think you that ought will stay me in my rage?

Bethink you, what can spare you from my whip?



What turns an angry man into a sage?



A ship!


                                    THUNDER. LIGHTNING. RAIN.