As I sat in the second row in the Barbican watching Simon Russell Beale play Prospero I heard Shakespeare saying goodbye to playwriting, the busy life of London, his king, and to me. The Tempest may well be Shakespeare’s last play. It was performed in 1611, on one occasion before King James I. Shakespeare retired to Stratford on Avon “some years before his death” and died in 1616. And surely Prospero, a man of books exiled to an island (London and playwriting), is in large part Shakespeare himself.
It matters not. As I listened to the play I heard Shakespeare saying goodbye to me, and as I went through the play the next day I picked out the lines that were saying goodbye. Most come directly from Prospero, but some from Ariel (Shakespeare’s inspiration) and a few from Gonzalo, the good wise man Shakespeare aspires to be. Here are the lines that say goodbye.
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.–Sir, I am vex’d:
Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled.
Be not disturb’d with my infirmity.
If you be pleas’d, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I’ll walk,
To still my beating mind.
Shortly shall all my labours end,
I have bedimm’d
The noontide sun, call’d forth the mutinous winds,
And ‘twixt the green sea and the azur’d vault
Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire, and rifted Jove’s stout oak
With his own bolt: the strong-bas’d promontory
Have I made shake; and by the spurs pluck’d up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have wak’d their sleepers, op’d, and let them forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure; and, when I have requir’d
Some heavenly music,–which even now I do,–
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.
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.
All torment, trouble, wonder and amazement
Inhabits here. Some heavenly power guide us
Out of this fearful country!
And thence retire me to my Milan, where
Every third thought shall be my grave.
Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own;
Which is most faint; now ’tis true,
I must be here confin’d by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got,
And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell:
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be reliev’d by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.