Charles Lamb.

Tales of Shakespeare online

. (page 1 of 23)
Online LibraryCharles LambTales of Shakespeare → online text (page 1 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Tokuya Matsumoto





The following Tales are meant to be submitted to the young reader as an
introduction to the study of Shakespeare, for which purpose his words
are used whenever it seemed possible to bring them in; and in whatever
has been added to give them the regular form of a connected story,
diligent are has been taken to select such words as might least
interrupt the effect of the beautiful English tongue in which he wrote:
therefore, words introduced into our language since his time have been
as far as possible avoided.

In those tales which have been taken from the Tragedies, the young
readers will perceive, when they come to see the source from which
these stories are derived, that Shakespeare's own words, with little
alteration, recur very frequently in the narrative as well as in the
dialogue; but in those made from the Comedies the writers found
themselves scarcely ever able to turn his words into the narrative
form: therefore it is feared that, in them, dialogue has been made use
of too frequently for young people not accustomed to the dramatic form
of writing. But this fault, if it be a fault, has been caused by an
earnest wish to give as much of Shakespeare's own words as possible:
and if the 'He said,' and 'She said,' the question and the reply,
should sometimes seem tedious to their young ears, they must pardon it,
because it was the only way in which could be given to them a few hints
and little foretastes of the great pleasure which awaits them in their
elder years, when they come to the rich treasures from which these
small and valueless coins are extracted; pretending to no other merit
than as faint and imperfect stamps of Shakespeare's matchless image.
Faint and imperfect images they must be called, because the beauty of
his language is too frequently destroyed by the necessity of changing
many of his excellent words into words far less expressive of his true
sense, to make it read something like prose; and even in some few
places, where his blank verse is given unaltered, as hoping from its
simple plainness to cheat the young reader into the belief that they
are reading prose, yet still his language being transplanted from its
own natural soil and wild poetic garden, it must want much of its
native beauty.

It has been wished to make these Tales easy reading for very young
children. To the utmost of their ability the writers have constantly
kept this in mind; but the subjects of most of them made this a very
difficult task. It was no easy matter to give the histories of men and
women in terms familiar to the apprehension of a very young mind. For
young ladies too, it has been the intention chiefly to write; because
boys being generally permitted the use of their fathers' libraries at a
much earlier age than girls are, they frequently have the best scenes
of Shakespeare by heart, before their sisters are permitted to look
into this manly book; and, therefore, instead of recommending these
Tales to the perusal of young gentlemen who can read them so much
better in the originals, their kind assistance is rather requested in
explaining to their sisters such parts as are hardest for them to
understand: and when they have helped them to get over the
difficulties, then perhaps they will read to them (carefully selecting
what is proper for a young sister's ear) some passage which has pleased
them in one of these stories, in the very words of the scene from which
it is taken; and it is hoped they will find that the beautiful
extracts, the select passages, they may choose to give their sisters in
this way will be much better relished and understood from their having
some notion of the general story from one of these imperfect
abridgments; which if they be fortunately so done as to prove
delightful to any of the young readers, it is hoped that no worse
effect will result than to make them wish themselves a little older,
that they may be allowed to read the Plays at full length (such a wish
will be neither peevish nor irrational). When time and leave of
judicious friends shall put them into their hands, they will discover
in such of them as are here abridged (not to mention almost as many
more, which are left untouched) many surprising events and turns of
fortune, which for their infinite variety could not be contained in
this little book, besides a world of sprightly and cheerful characters,
both men and women, the humour of which it was feared would be lost if
it were attempted to reduce the length of them.

What these Tales shall have been to the young readers, that and much
more it is the writers' wish that the true Plays of Shakespeare may
prove to them in older years enrichers of the fancy, strengtheners of
virtue, a withdrawing from all selfish and mercenary thoughts, a lesson
of all sweet and honourable thoughts and actions, to teach courtesy,
benignity, generosity, humanity: for of examples, teaching these
virtues, his pages are full.




There was a certain island in the sea, the only inhabitants of which
were an old man, whose name was Prospero, and his daughter Miranda, a
very beautiful young lady. She came to this island so young, that she
had no memory of having seen any other human face than her father's.

They lived in a cave or cell, made out of a rock; it was divided into
several apartments, one of which Prospero called his study; there he
kept his books, which chiefly treated of magic, a study at that time
much affected by all learned men: and the knowledge of this art he
found very useful to him; for being thrown by a strange chance upon
this island, which had been enchanted by a witch called Sycorax, who
died there a short time before his arrival, Prospero, by virtue of his
art, released many good spirits that Sycorax had imprisoned in the
bodies of large trees, because they had refused to execute her wicked
commands. These gentle spirits were ever after obedient to the will of
Prospero. Of these Ariel was the chief.

The lively little sprite Ariel had nothing mischievous in his nature,
except that he took rather too much pleasure in tormenting an ugly
monster called Caliban, for he owed him a grudge because he was the son
of his old enemy Sycorax. This Caliban, Prospero found in the woods, a
strange misshapen thing, far less human in form than an ape: he took
him home to his cell, and taught him to speak; and Prospero would have
been very kind to him, but the bad nature which Caliban inherited from
his mother Sycorax, would not let him learn anything good or useful:
therefore he was employed like a slave, to fetch wood, and do the most
laborious offices; and Ariel had the charge of compelling him to these

When Caliban was lazy and neglected his work, Ariel (who was invisible
to all eyes but Prospero's) would come slily and pinch him, and
sometimes tumble him down in the mire; and then Ariel, in the likeness
of an ape, would make mouths at him. Then swiftly changing his shape,
in the likeness of a hedgehog, he would lie tumbling in Caliban's way,
who feared the hedgehog's sharp quills would prick his bare feet. With
a variety of suchlike vexatious tricks Ariel would often torment him,
whenever Caliban neglected the work which Prospero commanded him to do.

Having these powerful spirits obedient to his will, Prospero could by
their means command the winds, and the waves of the sea. By his orders
they raised a violent storm, in the midst of which, and struggling with
the wild sea-waves that every moment threatened to swallow it up, he
showed his daughter a fine large ship, which he told her was full of
living beings like themselves. 'O my dear father,' said she, 'if by
your art you have raised this dreadful storm, have pity on their sad
distress. See! the vessel will be dashed to pieces. Poor souls! they
will all perish. If I had power, I would sink the sea beneath the
earth, rather than the good ship should be destroyed, with all the
precious souls within her.'

'Be not so amazed, daughter Miranda,' said Prospero; 'there is no harm
done. I have so ordered it, that no person in the ship shall receive
any hurt. What I have done has been in care of you, my dear child. You
are ignorant who you are, or where you came from, and you know no more
of me, but that I am your father, and live in this poor cave Can you
remember a time before you came to this cell? I think you cannot for
you were not then three years of age.'

'Certainly I can, sir,' replied Miranda.

'By what?' asked Prospero; 'by any other house or person? Tell me what
you can remember, my child.'

Miranda said: 'It seems to me like the recollection of a dream. But had
I not once four or five women who attended upon me?'

Prospero answered: 'You had, and more. How is it that this still lives
in your mind? Do you remember how you came here?'

'No, sir,' said Miranda, 'I remember nothing more.'

'Twelve years ago, Miranda,' continued Prospero, 'I was duke of Milan,
and you were a princess, and my only heir. I had a younger brother,
whose name was Antonio, to whom I trusted everything: and as I was fond
of retirement and deep study, I commonly left the management of my
state affairs to your uncle, my false brother (for so indeed he
proved). I, neglecting all worldly ends, buried among my books, did
dedicate my whole time to the bettering of my mind. My brother Antonio
being thus in possession of my power, began to think himself the duke
indeed. The opportunity I gave him of making himself popular among my
subjects awakened in his bad nature a proud ambition to deprive me of
my dukedom: this he soon effected with the aid of the king of Naples, a
powerful prince, who was my enemy.'

'Wherefore,' said Miranda, 'did they not that hour destroy us?'

'My child,' answered her father, 'they durst not, so dear was the love
that my people bore me. Antonio carried us on board a ship, and when we
were some leagues out at sea, he forced us into a small boat, without
either tackle, sail, or mast: there he left us, as he thought, to
perish. But a kind lord of my court, one Gonzalo, who loved me, had
privately placed in the boat, water, provisions, apparel, and some
books which I prize above my dukedom.'

'O my father,' said Miranda, 'what a trouble must I have been to you

'No, my love,' said Prospero, 'you were a little cherub that did
preserve me. Your innocent smiles made me bear up against my
misfortunes. Our food lasted till we landed on this desert island,
since when my chief delight has been in teaching you, Miranda, and well
have you profited by my instructions.'

'Heaven thank you, my dear father,' said Miranda 'Now pray tell me,
sir, your reason for raising this sea-storm?'

'Know then,' said her father, 'that by means of this storm, my enemies,
the king of Naples, and my cruel brother, are cast ashore upon this

Having so said, Prospero gently touched his daughter with his magic
wand, and she fell fast asleep; for the spirit Ariel just then
presented himself before his master, to give an account of the tempest,
and how he had disposed of the ship's company, and though the spirits
were always invisible to Miranda, Prospero did not choose she should
hear him holding converse (as would seem to her) with the empty air.

'Well, my brave spirit,' said Prospero to Ariel, 'how have you
performed your task?'

Ariel gave a lively description of the storm, and of the terrors of the
mariners; and how the king's son, Ferdinand, was the first who leaped
into the sea; and his father thought he saw his dear son swallowed up
by the waves and lost. 'But he is safe,' said Ariel, 'in a corner of
the isle, sitting with his arms folded, sadly lamenting the loss of the
king, his father, whom he concludes drowned. Not a hair of his head is
injured, and his princely garments, though drenched in the sea-waves,
look fresher than before.'

'That's my delicate Ariel,' said Prospero. 'Bring him hither: my
daughter must see this young prince. Where is the king, and my brother?'

'I left them,' answered Ariel, 'searching for Ferdinand, whom they have
little hopes of finding, thinking they saw him perish. Of the ship's
crew not one is missing; though each one thinks himself the only one
saved: and the ship, though invisible to them, is safe in the harbour.'

'Ariel,' said Prospero, 'thy charge is faithfully performed: but there
is more work yet.'

'Is there more work?' said Ariel. 'Let me remind you, master, you have
promised me my liberty. I pray, remember, I have done you worthy
service, told you no lies, made no mistakes, served you without grudge
or grumbling.'

'How now!' said Prospero. 'You do not recollect what a torment I freed
you from. Have you forgot the wicked witch Sycorax, who with age and
envy was almost bent double? Where was she born? Speak; tell me.'

'Sir, in Algiers,' said Ariel.

'O was she so?' said Prospero. 'I must recount what you have been,
which I find you do not remember. This bad witch, Sycorax, for her
witchcrafts, too terrible to enter human hearing, was banished from
Algiers, and here left by the sailors; and because you were a spirit
too delicate to execute her wicked commands, she shut you up in a tree,
where I found you howling. This torment, remember, I did free you from.'

'Pardon me, dear master,' said Ariel, ashamed to seem ungrateful; 'I
will obey your commands.'

'Do so,' said Prospero, 'and I will set you free.' He then gave orders
what further he would have him do; and away went Ariel, first to where
he had left Ferdinand, and found him still sitting on the grass in the
same melancholy posture.

'O my young gentleman,' said Ariel, when he saw him, 'I will soon move
you. You must be brought, I find, for the Lady Miranda to have a sight
of your pretty person. Come, sir, follow me.' He then began singing:

'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.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them, Ding-dong, bell.'

This strange news of his lost father soon roused the prince from the
stupid fit into which he had fallen. He followed in amazement the sound
of Ariel's voice, till it led him to Prospero and Miranda, who were
sitting under the shade of a large tree. Now Miranda had never seen a
man before, except her own father.

'Miranda,' said Prospero, 'tell me what you are looking at yonder.'

'O father,' said Miranda, in a strange surprise, 'surely that is a
spirit. Lord! how it looks about! Believe me, sir, it is a beautiful
creature. Is it not a spirit?'

'No, girl,' answered her father; 'it eats, and sleeps, and has senses
such as we have. This young man you see was in the ship. He is somewhat
altered by grief, or you might call him a handsome person. He has lost
his companions, and is wandering about to find them.'

Miranda, who thought all men had grave faces and grey beards like her
father, was delighted with the appearance of this beautiful young
prince; and Ferdinand, seeing such a lovely lady in this desert place,
and from the strange sounds he had heard, expecting nothing but
wonders, thought he was upon an enchanted island, and that Miranda was
the goddess of the place, and as such he began to address her.

She timidly answered, she was no goddess, but a simple maid, and was
going to give him an account of herself, when Prospero interrupted her.
He was well pleased to find they admired each other, for he plainly
perceived they had (as we say) fallen in love at first sight: but to
try Ferdinand's constancy, he resolved to throw some difficulties in
their way: therefore advancing forward, he addressed the prince with a
stern air, telling him, he came to the island as a spy, to take it from
him who was the lord of it. 'Follow me,' said he, 'I will tie you neck
and feet together. You shall drink sea-water; shell-lush, withered
roots, and husks of acorns shall be your food.' 'No,' said Ferdinand,
'I will resist such entertainment, till I see a more powerful enemy,'
and drew his sword; but Prospero, waving his magic wand, fixed him to
the spot where he stood, so that he had no power to move.

Miranda hung upon her father, saying: 'Why are you so ungentle? Have
pity, sir; I will be his surety. This is the second man I ever saw, and
to me he seems a true one.'

'Silence,' said the father: 'one word more will make me chide you,
girl! What! an advocate for an impostor! You think there are no more
such fine men, having seen only him and Caliban. I tell you, foolish
girl, most men as far excel this, as he does Caliban.' This he said to
prove his daughter's constancy; and she replied: 'My affections are
most humble. I have no wish to see a goodlier man.'

'Come on, young man,' said Prospero to the prince; 'you have no power
to disobey me.'

'I have not indeed,' answered Ferdinand; and not knowing that it was by
magic he was deprived of all power of resistance, he was astonished to
kind himself so strangely compelled to follow Prospero: looking back on
Miranda as long as he could see her, he said, as he went after Prospero
into the cave: 'My spirits are all bound up as if I were in a dream;
but this man's threats, and the weakness which I feel, would seem light
to me if from my prison I might once a day behold this fair maid.'

Prospero kept Ferdinand not long confined within the cell: he soon
brought out his prisoner, and set him a severe task to perform, taking
care to let his daughter know the hard labour he had imposed on him,
and then pretending to go into his study, he secretly watched them both.

Prospero had commanded Ferdinand to pile up some heavy logs of wood.
Kings' sons not being much used to laborious work, Miranda soon after
found her lover almost dying with fatigue. 'Alas!' said she, 'do not
work so hard; my father is at his studies, he is safe for these three
hours; pray rest yourself.'

'O my dear lady,' said Ferdinand, 'I dare not. I must finish my task
before I take my rest.'

'If you will sit down,' said Miranda, 'I will carry your logs the
while.' But this Ferdinand would by no means agree to. Instead of a
help Miranda became a hindrance, for they began a long conversation, so
that the business of log-carrying went on very slowly.

Prospero, who had enjoined Ferdinand this task merely as a trial of his
love, was not at his books, as his daughter supposed, but was standing
by them invisible, to overhear what they said.

Ferdinand inquired her name, which she told, saying it was against her
father's express command she did so.

Prospero only smiled at this first instance of his daughter's
disobedience, for having by his magic art caused his daughter to fall
in love so suddenly, he was not angry that she showed her love by
forgetting to obey his commands. And he listened well pleased to a long
speech of Ferdinand's, in which he professed to love her above all the
ladies he ever saw.

In answer to his praises of her beauty, which he said exceeded all the
women in the world, she replied: 'I do not remember the face of any
woman, nor have I seen any more men than you, my good friend, and my
dear father. How features are abroad, I know not: but, believe me, sir,
I would not wish any companion in the world but you, nor can my
imagination form any shape but yours that I could like. But, sir, I
fear I talk to you too freely, and my father's precepts I forget.'

At this Prospero smiled, and nodded his head, as much as to say: 'This
goes on exactly as I could wish; my girl will be queen of Naples.'

And then Ferdinand, in another fine long speech (for young princes
speak in courtly phrases), told the innocent Miranda he was heir to the
crown of Naples, and that she should be his queen.

'Ah! sir,' said she, 'I am a fool to weep at what I am glad of. I will
answer you in plain and holy innocence. I am your wife if you will
marry me.'

Prospero prevented Ferdinand's thanks by appearing visible before them.

'Fear nothing, my child,' said he; 'I have overheard, and approve of
all you have said. And, Ferdinand, if I have too severely used you, I
will make you rich amends, by giving you my daughter. All your
vexations were but trials of your love, and you have nobly stood the
test. Then as my gift, which your true love has worthily purchased,
take my daughter, and do not smile that I boast she is above all
praise.' He then, telling them that he had business which required his
presence, desired they would sit down and talk together till he
returned; and this command Miranda seemed not at all disposed to

When Prospero left them, he called his spirit Ariel, who quickly
appeared before him, eager to relate what he had done with Prospero's
brother and the king of Naples. Ariel said he had left them almost out
of their senses with fear, at the strange things he had caused them to
see and hear. When fatigued with wandering about, and famished for want
of food, he had suddenly set before them a delicious banquet, and then,
just as they were going to eat, he appeared visible before them in the
shape of a harpy, a voracious monster with wings, and the feast
vanished away. Then, to their utter amazement, this seeming harpy spoke
to them, reminding them of their cruelty in driving Prospero from his
dukedom, and leaving him and his infant daughter to perish in the sea;
saying, that for this cause these terrors were suffered to afflict them.

The king of Naples, and Antonio the false brother, repented the
injustice they had done to Prospero; and Ariel told his master he was
certain their penitence was sincere, and that he, though a spirit,
could not but pity them.

'Then bring them hither, Ariel,' said Prospero: 'if you, who are but a
spirit, feel for their distress, shall not I, who am a human being like
themselves, have compassion on them? Bring them, quickly, my dainty

Ariel soon returned with the king, Antonio, and old Gonzalo in their
train, who had followed him, wondering at the wild music he played in
the air to draw them on to his master's presence. This Gonzalo was the
same who had so kindly provided Prospero formerly with books and
provisions, when his wicked brother left him, as he thought, to perish
in an open boat in the sea.

Grief and terror had so stupefied their senses, that they did not know
Prospero. He first discovered himself to the good old Gonzalo, calling
him the preserver of his life; and then his brother and the king knew
that he was the injured Prospero.

Antonio with tears, and sad words of sorrow and true repentance,
implored his brother's forgiveness, and the king expressed his sincere
remorse for having assisted Antonio to depose his brother: and Prospero
forgave them and, upon their engaging to restore his dukedom, he said
to the king of Naples: 'I have a gift in store for you too'; and
opening a door, showed him his son Ferdinand playing at chess with

Nothing could exceed the joy of the father and the son at this
unexpected meeting, for they each thought the other drowned in the

'O wonder!' said Miranda, 'what noble creatures these are! It must
surely be a brave world that has such people in it.'

The king of Naples was almost as much astonished at the beauty and
excellent graces of the young Miranda, as his son had been. 'Who is
this maid?' said he; 'she seems the goddess that has parted us, and
brought us thus together.' 'No, sir,' answered Ferdinand, smiling to
find his father had fallen into the same mistake that he had done when
he first saw Miranda, 'she is a mortal but by immortal Providence she
is mine; I chose her when I could not ask you, my father, for your
consent, not thinking you were alive. She is the daughter to this
Prospero, who is the famous duke of Milan, of whose renown I have heard
so much, but never saw him till now: of him I have received a new life:
he has made himself to me a second father, giving me this dear lady.'

'Then I must be her father,' said the king; 'but oh! how oddly will it

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryCharles LambTales of Shakespeare → online text (page 1 of 23)