How do you love me?

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I am still thinking about the short stories in Shakespeare’s plays, or perhaps the hidden or untold stories the sense of which gives his plays their depth.

This led me to think about one of my favourite lines in Shakespeare’s cannon, a line which Ariel in The Tempest speaks to Prospero. For those of you who don’t know the play, Ariel is a sprite whom Prospero frees from torment. At best Ariel becomes Prospero’s servant at worst Prospero enslaves Ariel. The exact nature of their relationship is not clear which is perhaps why I find it one of the most compelling relationships that Shakespeare ever imagined.  It is not clear whether Ariel is male, female, both or neither. It is not clear whether Ariel is human, spirit, or merely a figment of Prospero’s imagination. But whatever or whoever Ariel is Ariel’s feelings for Prospero are complex.

Proud to be of use to Prospero, impatient to be free, yet desirous of praise the relationship has something of love, something of servitude, something of rebellion. Should one imagine Prospero as a father figure? As the closest thing Ariel has to a friend? As a human mystery beyond Ariel’s comprehension, or as an adored other whom Ariel has something of a crush on?

What brings about all this speculation?

Ariel’s line in Act 4, scene 1 of The Tempest.

Prospero has asked Ariel to bring some of the other characters to him, Ariel asked if he should do this right away and Prospero tells him yes, to which Ariel replies

“Before you can say ‘come’ and ‘go’,
And breath twice and cry ‘so, so’
Each one tripping on his toe,
Will be here with mop and mow.
Do you love me master? No?”

That final line is such a sudden interjection into a merry rhyme that it carries an emotional cachet that fascinates me. It is as if a sudden thought occurs to Ariel and is voiced. But just how should it be read? Where is the emphasis? Is Ariel asking about the concept of love? (Do you love me master?) About whether Ariel is loveable? (Do you love me master?) Does Ariel ask because the concept of love is unfamiliar? Or because it is all too familiar? Is it to be read as baffled, or incredulous or hopeful or horrified?

What about the ‘No’? Is it asking for confirmation, is it said in relief or disappointment? I set some of our actors the challenge of saying the line in as many ways as possible just to show you what different effects variation can create…. So here you have Andrew as the male Ariel and Emma as the female version

And what is Prospero’s reply? Well that’s another story…

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT
  • Julia Rivington

    There are so many 'stories' going on in the Tempest, to me, it seems a drawing together of many discourses that have been represented in other plays.
    As you discuss the love between Prospero and Ariel, I would like to highlight one of the lines that, well to be frank, floored me with its weighty simplicity! Ferdinand expresses his feelings for Miranda and the truth of his royal position.
    Act III, i, 63

    'Hear my soul speak:'

    That is all, but such gravity and resonates sincerity – despite the magic that has contrived their meeting.
    Like Ariel, Miranda also asks 'Do you love me?'
    Truth, power and love, subject and subjected. The Tempest fathoms these unfathomable tangles.

  • Liz Woledge

    Very interesting comments. Yes Ferdinand’s declaration is also very moving. There are lots of echo’s in the tempest between various characters – Ariel and Miranda included. I always felt that the play resonated with the sonnet “being your slave” in which shakespeare also explores the intersections between love, power, subjugation etc.

  • Liz Woledge

    Very interesting comments. Yes Ferdinand’s declaration is also very moving. There are lots of echo’s in the tempest between various characters – Ariel and Miranda included. I always felt that the play resonated with the sonnet “being your slave” in which shakespeare also explores the intersections between love, power, subjugation etc.

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