| Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare|
|by Edith Nesbit|
|Twenty stories from Shakespeare retold in lively prose. The author makes the complex language of Shakespeare's greatest plays accessible to young children by relating the stories that form the core of the plays. Her graceful, vivid retellings are the perfect introduction to Shakespeare's works. Ages 9-12 |
ROSPERO, the Duke of Milan, was a learned and studious man, who
lived among his books, leaving the management of his dukedom to
his brother Antonio, in whom indeed he had complete trust. But
that trust was ill-rewarded, for Antonio wanted to wear the duke's
crown himself, and, to gain his ends, would have killed his brother
but for the love the people bore him. However, with the help of
Prospero's great enemy, Alonso, King of Naples, he managed to get
into his hands the dukedom with all its honor, power, and riches.
For they took Prospero to sea, and when they were far away from
land, forced him into a little boat with
 no tackle, mast, or sail.
In their cruelty and hatred they put his little daughter, Miranda
(not yet three years old), into the boat with him, and sailed
away, leaving them to their fate.
But one among the courtiers with Antonio was true to his rightful
master, Prospero. To save the duke from his enemies was impossible,
but much could be done to remind him of a subject's love. So this
worthy lord, whose name was Gonzalo, secretly placed in the boat
some fresh water, provisions, and clothes, and what Prospero valued
most of all, some of his precious books.
The boat was cast on an island, and Prospero and his little one
landed in safety. Now this island was enchanted, and for years
had lain under the spell of a fell witch, Sycorax, who had imprisoned
in the trunks of trees all the good spirits she found there. She
died shortly before Prospero was cast on those shores, but the
spirits, of whom Ariel was the chief, still remained in their
Prospero was a great magician, for he had devoted himself almost
entirely to the study of magic during the years in which he allowed
his brother to
 manage the affairs of Milan. By his art he set
free the imprisoned spirits, yet kept them obedient to his will,
and they were more truly his subjects than his people in Milan
had been. For he treated them kindly as long as they did his
bidding, and he exercised his power over them wisely and well.
One creature alone he found it necessary to treat with harshness:
this was Caliban, the son of the wicked old witch, a hideous,
deformed monster, horrible to look on, and vicious and brutal in
all his habits.
When Miranda was grown up into a maiden, sweet and fair to see, it
chanced that Antonio and Alonso, with Sebastian, his brother, and
Ferdinand, his son, were at sea together with old Gonzalo, and
their ship came near Prospero's island. Prospero, knowing they
were there, raised by his art a great storm, so that even the
sailors on board gave themselves up for lost; and first among them
all Prince Ferdinand leaped into the sea, and, as his father
thought in his grief, was drowned. But Ariel brought him safe
ashore; and all the rest of the crew, although they were washed
overboard, were landed unhurt in different parts of the island,
and the good
 ship herself, which they all thought had been wrecked,
lay at anchor in the harbor whither Ariel had brought her. Such
wonders could Prospero and his spirits perform.
While yet the tempest was raging, Prospero showed his daughter the
brave ship laboring in the trough of the sea, and told her that
it was filled with living human beings like themselves. She, in
pity of their lives, prayed him who had raised this storm to quell
it. Then her father bade her to have no fear, for he intended to
save every one of them.
PRINCE FERDINAND IN THE SEA.
Then, for the first time, he told her the story of his life and
hers, and that he had caused this storm to rise in order that his
enemies, Antonio and Alonso,
 who were on board, might be delivered
into his hands.
When he had made an end of his story he charmed her into sleep,
for Ariel was at hand, and he had work for him to do. Ariel, who
longed for his complete freedom, grumbled to be kept in drudgery,
but on being threateningly reminded of all the sufferings he had
undergone when Sycorax ruled in the land, and of the debt of
gratitude he owed to the master who had made those sufferings to
end, he ceased to complain, and promised faithfully to do whatever
Prospero might command.
"Do so," said Prospero, "and in two days I will discharge thee."
Then he bade Ariel take the form of a water nymph and sent him in
search of the young prince. And Ariel, invisible to Ferdinand,
hovered near him, singing the while—
"Come unto these yellow sands
And then take hands:
Court'sied when you have, and kiss'd
(The wild waves whist),
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burden bear!"
And Ferdinand followed the magic singing, as the song changed to
a solemn air, and the words brought grief to his heart, and tears
to his eyes, for thus they ran—
"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!"
And so singing, Ariel led the spell-bound prince into the presence
of Prospero and Miranda. Then, behold! all happened as Prospero
desired. For Miranda, who had never, since she could first
remember, seen any human being save her father, looked on the
youthful prince with reverence in her eyes, and love in her secret
"I might call him," she said, "a thing divine, for nothing natural
I ever saw so noble!"
And Ferdinand, beholding her beauty with wonder and delight,
"Most sure the goddess on whom these airs attend!"
 Nor did he attempt to hide the passion which she inspired in him,
for scarcely had they exchanged half a dozen sentences, before he
vowed to make her his queen if she were willing. But Prospero,
though secretly delighted, pretended wrath.
"You come here as a spy," he said to Ferdinand. "I will manacle
your neck and feet together, and you shall feed on fresh water
mussels, withered roots and husk, and have sea-water to drink.
PRINCE FERDINAND SEES MIRANDA
"No," said Ferdinand, and drew his sword. But on the instant
Prospero charmed him so that he stood there like a statue, still
as stone; and Miranda in terror prayed her father to have mercy
on her lover. But he harshly refused her, and made Ferdinand
follow him to his cell. There he set the Prince to
 work, making
him remove thousands of heavy logs of timber and pile them up;
and Ferdinand patiently obeyed, and thought his toil all too well
repaid by the sympathy of the sweet Miranda.
FERDINAND AND MIRANDA
She in very pity would have helped him in his hard work, but he
would not let her, yet he could not keep from her the secret of
his love, and she, hearing it, rejoiced and promised to be his
Then Prospero released him from his servitude, and glad at heart,
he gave his consent to their marriage.
"Take her," he said, "she is thine own."
In the meantime, Antonio and Sebastian in another part of the island
were plotting the murder of Alonso, the King of Naples, for
Ferdinand being dead, as they thought, Sebastian would succeed to
the throne on Alonso's death. And they would have carried out
their wicked purpose while their victim was asleep, but that Ariel
woke him in good time.
Many tricks did Ariel play them. Once he set a banquet before
them, and just as they were going to fall to, he appeared to them
amid thunder and
 lightning in the form of a harpy, and immediately
the banquet disappeared. Then Ariel upbraided them with their
sins and vanished too.
Prospero by his enchantments drew them all to the grove without
his cell, where they waited, trembling and afraid, and now at last
bitterly repenting them of their sins.
Prospero determined to make one last use of his magic power, "And
then," said he, "I'll break my staff and deeper than did ever
plummet sound I'll drown my book."
So he made heavenly music to sound in the air, and appeared to them
in his proper shape as the Duke of Milan. Because they repented,
he forgave them and told them the story of his life since they
had cruelly committed him and his baby daughter to the mercy of
wind and waves. Alonso, who seemed sorriest of them all for his
past crimes, lamented the loss of his heir. But Prospero drew
back a curtain and showed them Ferdinand and Miranda playing at
chess. Great was Alonso's joy to greet his loved son again, and
when he heard that the fair maid with whom Ferdinand was playing
 was Prospero's daughter, and that the young folks had plighted
their troth, he said—
"Give me your hands, let grief and sorrow still embrace his heart
that doth not wish you joy."
So all ended happily. The ship was safe in the harbor, and next
day they all set sail for Naples, where Ferdinand and Miranda were
to be married. Ariel gave them calm seas and auspicious gales;
and many were the rejoicings at the wedding.
Then Prospero, after many years of absence, went back to his own
dukedom, where he was welcomed with great joy by his faithful
subjects. He practiced the arts of magic no more, but his life
was happy, and not only because he had found his own again, but
chiefly because, when his bitterest foes who had
 done him deadly
wrong lay at his mercy, he took no vengeance on them, but nobly
As for Ariel, Prospero made him free as air, so that he could wander
where he would, and sing with a light heart his sweet song—
"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."
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