The Tempest

by: William Shakespeare

Obedience and Disobedience

I prithee
Remember I have done thee worthy service,
Told thee no lies, made thee no mistakings, served
Without or grudge or grumblings. Thou did promise
To bate me a full year. (I.ii.)

Ariel addresses these words to Prospero, emphasizing his loyalty in the hopes that his master will at last grant him his freedom. This moment reveals that Ariel has worked for Prospero not of his own will, but rather as an indentured servant. The way in which Ariel phrases his request for freedom so carefully and indirectly also sheds light on the degree to which he fears Prospero. Despite being a spirit with great abilities, Ariel is ultimately no match for Prospero’s deep learning in the magic arts and must therefore obey his command.

I’ll swear upon that bottle to be thy true
subject, for the liquor is not earthly. (II.ii.)

Caliban utters this oath to Stephano after enjoying his first taste of alcohol. Filled with amazement and wonder at the “celestial liquor” (II.ii.), Caliban calls Stephano a “brave god” (II.ii.) and swears fealty to the mysterious newcomer. A subtle irony is at play in this moment, particularly given Caliban’s violent rejection of Prospero as a figure of power. With regard to Caliban’s previous rejection of a man who wields power of celestial proportions, it seems surprising that he would so quickly kneel to another man simply because that man offers a divine beverage.

I prattle
Something too wildly, and my father’s precepts
I therein do forget. (III.i.)

Miranda says these lines to Ferdinand immediately after confessing her attraction to him. In this confessional moment, she fears that she has disobeyed her father’s wishes, and perhaps that she has even betrayed him by claiming that she “would not wish / Any companion in the world but you [i.e., Ferdinand]” (II.ii.). Once again, Miranda’s fear indicates her father’s power. However, this moment is also ironic, given that Miranda’s affection for Ferdinand has actually fulfilled her father’s wishes. Though unbeknownst to her, Prospero is eavesdropping on this exchange and he approves of her disobedience.