The composer punched out the final chords and the room resonated with his orchestral style. Almost immediately, he slumped with fatigue into his favorite reading chair; carved in solid oak, it had the newest cushioning: a velvet upholstery that cost a pretty pound; for years, the furniture had been roughly hewn wood.
He unwrapped a brick of cheese, cutting neat cubes, stacking them on the brown wrapper resting on his reading table. He delighted in the aromatic bouquet of the sherry before sipping, and finally picked up his new press of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. The music played in his head, like a miller’s wheel rushing in a stream; it was glorious and pleasant grinding.
“...Tend to the master’s whistle! Blow till thou burst thy wind, if thar be room enough!”1*
Henry muttered, ‘I’ve read this opening too often, I am skipping ahead.’
“If by your art, my dearest father, you have put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.
The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch, but that the sea, dashes the fire out. How I have suffered with those that I saw suffer!
A brave vessel (who had no doubt some noble creature in her)
Dashed all to pieces! O, the cry did knock against my very heart! Poor souls, they perished!”
“No more amazement. There’s no harm done.”2
Shakespeare wrote speeches, not dialogue. His head dropped, the book slipped, a few pages flipped. He yanked his head up.
“Twelve year since Miranda, twelve years since thy father was the Duke of Milan and a prince of power—
“Sir, are not you my father?”
“Thy mother was a piece of virtue and... Thy mother was a piece of virtue and-”
I read that twice. I’m a tad tippled.
“She said thou was my daughter, and thy father was Duke of Milan, and his only heir a princess.”
MIRANDA “Oh the heavens!
What foul play has brought us here? Or blessed was it we did?” 3
‘I’ll not make it through this page,’ he said aloud, jerking himself awake.
PROSPERO: “Dost thou hear?”
MIRANDA: “Your tale, sir, would cure deafness...”
‘They’ve been on this island twelve years—he’s a deposed duke. Why is the fatigue so great when I read?’
PROSPERO: Me, my Library was dukedom large enough…”4
1 Shakespeare, ‘The Tempest,’ The Pelican Shakespeare, Penguin Books, pg. 29; Act 1.1, vs. 6-8.
2 Ibid., pg. 32; Act 1.2, vs. 1-15.
3 Ibid., Act 1.2, vs. 54-60.
Her Evil Charms*
*See glossary at end of chapter for all period words marked with *.
he poppet—a charm made of wax in a man’s image by the Witches of Pendle. She stabs at it with pins, her cruel nails, curved and sharp, curling around the head, raking it from head to toe. The Duke of Derby is in his chamber!
‘Henry, ye suffer from a wasting sickness. There must be some power behind thy illness,’ said the Duke.
‘I know of none, I hath no sin or mark upon me. My bed rocks like a ship upon waves. Good Duke–if in truth you are good–what is it you have lifted from my cedar trunk?’
‘I fear to say to you Sir, this confirms my worst suspicions.’
‘What then Duke, can it be much worse?”
‘This figure is a poppet, and it is melting swiftly!’
‘What’s this poppet’?
‘Made of wax–the work of witches, man, have ye never heard?’
‘Bring it no closer to me. Destroy it kind Duke! What hath it nails piercing it?’
‘I would not destroy it for fear of hastening thy end Henry. You must get a priest, or at least a mouldwarp staff to kill the evil mole I saw before your garden door.’
‘Nonsense! Mouldwarp staff! Methinks mouldwarp is what grows in the corners of your house when it rains too long. No priest or physician shall attend me with his superstitions or yours, Duke of Derby!’
‘I fear sir; if you look upon the moor, west to the sea you will see the fire thereon. Mist and smoke cloak an evil witches’ sabbat burning tonight, along the seashore by Fingal’s Cave—a group from the Forest of Pendle.’
‘Puugh! Tis nothing but a barbecue. Thou is bedeviled Duke! My thoughts may be in confusion, yet I can still tell truth from illusion.’
‘That cat,’ pointing to a scrawny white and black cat sitting on the table, ‘is their familiar! Beware Henry!’
‘And that cat there Duke, is my cat. My defender of sorts—at least from rodents. Bother yourself no further Duke. Here, help me leave this bed. I can’st seem to rise. And, do not touch my cat, dear Duke. Why is your face changing so—what is this fearsome appearance? This hat you now wear; an admiral cap of sorts. Your cloak is blowing in gusts. Do not open that window fearsome sir!
What? [A rocking bed, now taking wings in flight out the window!] Help me Newton if you can. I’ll catch a death of chill in this night air!’
Where’s the Duke gone? Is this the death of me then? Yet, ‘tis pleasant, not painful.
‘Below Henry! Catch this binocular and take a look! Ha! I told you Sir. Have a nice trip Sir Henry. An adventure, good or evil, is at least an adventure! Here catch this sprig of St. John’s Wort. Take it with you and toss it into the witches’ fire; you will be free of their curse.’
‘Is that you below in my focus?’ Such a strange activity, tapping the ground, poking that stick into each hole he finds–What’s it all about?
I know the legend of Merlin’s “Mouldwarp Prophecy”: the evil mole is killed. (I have really never thought of moles as evil. I suppose ‘tis cause they lived beneath the earth.) That ghost of a man is killing moles is he? The evil mole is driven from England by a dragon, a wolf and a lion, whilst England is divided into three parts. Then my country’s in peril and the Mouldwarp has ascended to the throne. Yet I see no beasts—so the price we pay is division!
[The beach and the fire.]
‘So this is the sabbat I should fear, yet I’m aloof of it. Hear that?’
“Wayward sisters, you that fright the lonely traveler by night. Who, like the dismal ravens crying, beat the windows of the dying. Appear at my call, and share in the glory of this mischief we make tonight!”1
Then in chorus, three witches in diabolical harmony:
“Harm’s our delight and mischief all our skill—”2
‘I recognize my words and music, heralding my demise.’
I am falling out of the sky to that rocky shore. More illusion! Puughh! This is the Duke’s doing, or, my stomach makes a nightmare for me.
“Ah! Our Royal Composer, a prince of heavenly music, whom we hate, as we do all in prosperous state. Thy lovely wife shall pine for thee in vain—Ha!—when thou dost suffer thy reign of pain!”
What’s this? Some sort of scepter making little explosions each time she thrusts it into the ground. Might she be looking for moles as well, or, is she doing some fiery dousing? I dare say I prefer the other two sisters to the likes of that old hag.
‘What’s that brewing in yer cauldron, women?’
I smell Valerian Root, and something I do not remember, but seems familiar. That’s Hop and Skullcap over that fire. These are all sleep inducing herbs if I remember what Culpepper said. That brew is a stupefying potion to induce me to lose my senses, no doubt. That odor. I remember, that’s catmint, one my cat would love. Intoxicating, no doubt.
“Ye know herbs as well as music, musician?” The old hag pointed her rod directly at me.
“This potion will inspire you. A few sips and you’ll be ready to sing a stranger music with us. Come on thin man, you know its a cure like love not poison.”
‘Old hag hence! I fear not your cheat.* I’ll be no cony* for your cony-catching ways. Your cheat will not send me to the cheats*.’
“Ha! Very funny, handsome roaring boy. Ye must have had a pottle* of beer to be so brave tonight! We girls are tipplers ourselves. Here, try a cup of our brew!” Their laughs wove a twisted melody of contrapuntal syllables.
‘Ye said it yourself seedless hag! Woman thou art a maltworm.’ *
‘If ye have nerve enough, come and share some of your seed with us seedless hags; ye have so much to spill, roaring boy. Did ye not see the “sign of the smock”* hang from our cave-like stews?* Our gift will be to lift this curse then. Come you cup-shotten altar boy and press deeply here—Or choose my younger sister for your whore and I’ll turn this toad into your “apple-squire.” *
‘Shut thy filthy mouth, toothless cony of the devil, and take thy goose-turd* haired sister with ye. I have a lovely wife in waiting, and a loyal bluecoat to serve me. I would rather copulate with that toad than a spawn-less Sycorax* like thyself.’
“That can be arranged, my skinny skeleton boy!”
‘Ye do not frighten me hapless wench; do not lift thy skirt. Ye would be so sterile you could not even feel pain let alone pleasure. So, you can turn yourselves into toads. Oh, how trivial and cliché worn. You think you can fool me again, eh? A beautiful woman perhaps—all blonde like a Nordic queen, draped in a lacy gown, with her metallic tit protruding to tempt me. This is nothing but the chicanery of your foreplay. The smoke from your burning herbs is giving me illusions like some vaporous drug.
Come no closer to my lips—deceptive wench, you are Sycorax, or the hag-seed of her. You dost not fool me, slithering snake. Touch not, hag! I will not make love to a pathetic woman, witch or not! I save mine for my love—my wife no doubt.
So now, you think you’ll fool me by taking the form of my beauteous beloved. Here! A sprig of greenery to give thee—some St. John’s Wort! This is my courting gift to you, mirage! Whoops, it almost dropped.’
‘I think,’ said the elder witch, ‘ye do not believe in superstition but a greater bewitchment, science! Else, ye would burn the wort in the fire by now and be free! Science! Ha, there’s no power in that plant against us. I and my sisters are true , we take these forms by our power of black-magic.”
‘More to the point, you wrongly use the power of herbs to induce a drugged state. Though I know of none that would produce this nightmare; then I do not play with mixing libations.’
“Sister, we shall not get his collaboration for our desires by weak words. By our command, this puppet will regret his resistance.” The second witch grabbed the wax figure:
“Sunrise shall most wretched prove for thee and thy pretty wife; deprived of fame, love, and of thy life!”
‘To give the lie to your charms, I feel neither pain nor fear; yet a sickening queasiness.’ Dangling the figure above the flames, resembling me, she cackles in glee, snatching away the wax puppet, just in time to sing this tuplet:
“And charge him sail tonight—with his ship of fools delight! “Ha! Ha! Ha!”
“But, ere we this perform, we’ll conjure for a storm”3
‘Tis my opera! Word for word, note for note. I hear a better harmonic relation in that ‘Witches Chorus’ than I used in ‘89. Make a note of that.’
This younger third sister could almost pass for a decent woman, if she had a few more teeth. That reminds me, I didn’t brush my teeth tonight with my new brush from France. Why do the French come up with all the latest inventions?
“The doll sister! Put the lover and composer on his ship tonight. We conjure thee a deadly fright!”
Floating above a podium with a stone tablet, but no bed under me. This cannot be. That younger witch in a priestly cassock is reaching for me… Read then wench!
“We toss him into the sea, where he will lastly be. Upon a ghostly ship, he will lose his grip, of life and love and fame. No one but his self to blame, and cursed for his swimming, he is now like the fish. He lastly wins his deadly wish; to stroke and float to safety on shore, only to know the pain of never leaving or loving evermore!”
“Now, in our deep vaulted cell—the charm we’ll prepare. Too dreadful a practice, too dreadful for this open air!”
Fingal’s Cave is an empty brothel for these lonely, despised women. Under a sagging moon, old mother sea grasps the shore like these hags’ misshapen fingers; as if some old crone swathed in garments, bending aside, was endlessly rocking her empty cradle. These outcasts derive their pleasure from playing with potions, and scorning that which they can never have. I have a pathetic sympathy for them.
Thunder and lightning! Horrid music—not my music—but a “Dance of Furies.” They sink into their cave in a drugged stupor.
s that a toy ship? I’m plunged upon a forbidding, stormy sea! (Voices in confusion):
‘Hey, what are you doing to that lady! Unhand her mariner. Hold on dear! Dorinda!! Excuse me Sedwick. I must help my wife. Sedwick!! What in the powers, are you all doing here? You were to bring the girls home after tutoring! Answer!’
‘Sir, I am late. Sorry to be so, just brought the girls along to say good-bye one last time.’
‘Have you quite gone mad or am I? Where are Cedaria and Cecilia?—Hands off my wife, rogue! Do you know who we are?’
“What’s the likes of ya to do about it mate? She’s a witch and she’s going in for a dousing, Captain’s orders. You be going too if ye have anythin’ to do with the likes of ‘em.”
‘Henry! If you had drowned your books this would not have happened. Throw those confounded science books overboard and spare my life!’
‘Where are my books dear?’
‘By the forecastle! Where the captain stands by a smoking stove. Those are either yours or your books are his!’
That cloaked captain is familiar. The Duke!! ‘Are you the Duke of Derby? I demand! Give me my books.’
‘Captain Prospero, at your service, Sir. Of the Duke of Derby, I know nothing. You may have safe passage on my ship if you’ll oblige the rules at sea, but Royal patron or not, you’ll not bring books of witchcraft or familiars on board. My ship is cursed by storms, and this woman, you claim wife, is the reason. If you claim these books, you are suspect of sorcery as well. I’ve no need for a Jonah!’
‘Curse the books! Throw them into the sea for all I care, but unhand my wife!’
‘Mariner, are the horseshoes glowing red in the stove?’
‘Yes Sir, shall I nail them to the mast?’
‘I’ll not have my ship bewitched. Nail the two red-hot shoes to the mast. Throw her overboard and those devilish books. Put him in irons, if he gives you trouble.’
‘Look! Along the topmast—the yards and the bowsprit! A flaming ball divides and burns on the halyards. We’re cursed—Hell is empty and all the devils are aboard!’
‘MARINERS! Do not abandon your duty. This is a Royal ship, with precious cargo. These are effects of a fierce storm!’
‘Captain, some of the crew are quitting in desperation. Shall we drop them a boat Sir?’
‘Certainly not. Leave them to their fates if they choose. Overboard witch! These books have to do with it!’
‘Sedwick! Where are the girls?’
‘I took them below Sir, so as to spare them the grief of this scene.’
‘Good man. I will not stand by helpless. I’m a good swimmer; assist me Sedwick.’
‘How will we get her back on board, Sir?’
‘Can you steal a boat, man? Try something! There! Awash in the whitecaps!’
‘Look Sir, an island coast, not far off. Swim there!’
‘Captain, the Royal’s gone over after her! And, he’s swimming! That proves he has no faith.’
‘Aye Bosun, a swimmer’s no sailor. His books have brought this witchery on us. Drown the damn things. May he float on them to that bedeviled shore!’
orinda! Where are you? Cry aloud!’ I saw her a moment ago—so much foam—it stings my eyes.
She could not have drowned. I refuse to believe it. What’s this place? A forest? Dorinda! What, in the powers, is that? A tree with a human head and womanly breasts. Are you my darling encased in leafy safety? Or, another of those witches’ tricks? You’ve the wings of a butterfly, hair of fair green, naked to your shapely hips, your button-hole showing, but, your legs and feet are the trunk and roots of a tree, planted firmly in the sandy soil of this island. Your face, pretty, but not the face of my poor drowned wife.
“Do you know, is my wife alive or dead?”
‘Not a hair on her pretty head perished. Nor, a stain on her garments, dry and fresher than before thrown to the hungry sea. And, the Royal contingent, I have seen to safe shore, dispersed about the island. The King’s ship safely in harbor in the deep nook of the far side, the mariners I have left asleep.’
“Master, grave sir, greetings! I come to answer thy best pleasure; be it to fly, to swim, to float upon the foamy waves, to dive into the fire, to ride on the curled clouds. Bid me to task, I am Ariel your servant.”4
‘How, when you are imprisoned in a cloven oak? But if you can, lead me to my wife and my sweet girls!’
‘By your command to put me to task, I am freed from this torment and only then. The foul witch Sycorax, who has sent you here, has chained me to this form, a slave to any who can free me. That blue-eyed hag, left here once by sailors, was brought with child.’
‘To act out her abhorred commands, no doubt.’
“But I was then her servant; a spirit too delicate for such work. Refusing her, she did confine me by her more potent ministers, into this oak, within which, I painfully remain this dozen years. She left me here, and save for the son that she littered here—a darkly freckled, hag-born whelp—then was this island not visited by a human shape.”5
‘I bid thee to find my family or show me they are safe!’
“By your fine art of magic, undo this curse. Rend this oaken trunk and let me out, and I shall.”
‘I have no ‘art of magic’ that I know of.’
‘Yes thou hast, the same power that quickens your music, and puts lightning in your pen. Your wife I cannot find, for I am your future wife transformed by the powers of your art. You are keeper of the magic books of Prospero. Your daughters have never left their home, but your wife I fear is drowned in sorrow...
‘What shall I do? If I am Prospero and you refuse my command, I will rend another oak and peg you in its knotty entrails ‘til you’ve howled away twelve more winters.’
‘Pardon master, I will correspond and do my bidding quickly.’
‘Do so, and after two days I will discharge thee. Make yourself like a nymph of the sea, subject to no sight but yours and mine, invisible to every eyeball else. Go with haste!6 Find my wife, she can’t be drowned. Bring her to me!’
‘Is that you girls? How came you to this island?!’
“Awake dear heart, awake! You’ve slept long enough.”
“Daddy, we are here. Shake it off father!”
‘My little darlings. You’re off the ship! Dorinda, is that you leaning on the tree? Where’s Ariel? —You are alive...’
“Snap to Husband, yet another of your nightmares. Shake him hard girls, you know how he gets after a glass or two. I told you Henry, to leave off the wine. And cheese too!
You know the consequences. Why do you insist?”
* Footnotes for above quotes, glossary terms, see below.
1 Purcell, ‘Dido and Aeneas,’ ed. William H. Cummings, Dover Publications, ’no. 13, ‘Prelude for the Witches, pgs. 33-34.
2 Ibid., ‘no.14, Witches’ Chorus’ pg. 35.
3 Ibid., ‘no. 19, Duet’ pg. 42.
4. Shakespeare, ‘The Tempest,’ The Pelican Shakespeare, Penguin Books, pg. 39; Act 1.2, vs. 190-194, 218-233(paraphrased).
5 Ibid., Act 1.2, vs. 271-286(paraphrased).
6 Ibid., Act 1.2, vs. 296-307.
Glossary: Period terms:
cheat - ‘trick’; also, archaic word for ‘thing’
cony - ‘victim’, or ensnare a victim, to snare like a rabbit (coney)
cheats - ‘gallows’
sign of the smock - a flag with a red penis shaped symbol used to signify brothels
stews – a brothel
apple-squire - a brothel servant
goose-turd - as in the color of goose-turd green.
“Sycorax” – the witch as named in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest